Hi! My name is Yoon Min Joo. I am from Seoul, Korea, and living in Singapore. I am turning 29 in a couple of weeks, and a lawyer. My job takes up most of my time, but when I get some time to myself, I sketch, jog, and do Pilates.
I started sketching slightly over 2 years ago, almost accidentally. I stumbled upon an adult colouring book (before it became such a fad!) while online shopping on Book Depository, and bought a set of colouring pencils for the first time since I was in elementary school. After a month of colouring a little each day after work, I decided to try using my pencils to draw, though I had little idea how.
While searching for articles and videos online and dabbling at sketching with pencils and colouring pencils, I stumbled upon a sketch that knocked the breath out of me. Until then, my knowledge of art had been severely limited to pencil sketches that I had seen art students skilfully render or huge oil paintings hanging on the walls of art gallery and museums. They were all magnificent and impressive, but had made little impact to me personally.
But this sketch was different – it had such a whimsical yet warm feel to it, and I was captivated, but I had no idea what it had been made with. After searching high and low, I finally found out that it was a “line-and-wash” sketch done using waterproof ink and watercolour washes. I decided I had to do this and make this my own, somehow.
So I voraciously read more articles, watched numerous videos, ordered books, studied the beautiful artworks of numerous talented artists on Instagram, and took online courses on platforms such as the Sketchbook Skool and Craftsy. From Danny Gregory’s books (Every Day Matters, A Kiss Before You Go, Creative Licence, An Illustrated Life, An Illustrated Journey, Art Before Breakfast), I immediately took to the idea of sketching to record the daily life which may occasionally be punctuated with beautiful, significant and amazing events, but are mostly made up of the mundane, ordinary, boring things, as well as obstacles, heartbreaks and tragedies.
So I prefer observing, sketching and recording things around my room and house – my bedroom, sketch tools, cosmetic products, shoes, jam bottles, candles – rather than from photo references of places that are beautiful and majestic but I have never been to and have no connection to me. I found that sketching took my mind off work, chores, and concerns.
While I love my job, it can be mentally draining, and sketching helps me become more balanced by switching the rational left side of the brain off and engaging the creative right side of it. Perhaps because I have had no education in art and I was surprised that I could even draw, I don’t really place any pressure on myself to draw well. If a piece turns out better than I expected it to be, I am pleased as punch. Even if it doesn’t, it’s alright, because I just like it that I got to put ink and washes down on my sketchbook, have an extra page to flip through in my sketchbook, and have laid another building block in my learning.
During my searches, I also stumbled upon the Urban Sketchers group, and it’s been the cherry on top of my sketching experience. I try to join the monthly sketchwalks organized by the Singapore Urban Sketchers group as often as I can, join the adhoc sketchcrawls organized by friends I have made in the group, and have participated in two International Urban Sketchers Symposium in Singapore and Manchester, England.
I love being able to record life not just at home at my desk, but with other sketchers, braving the extremities of weather and discomfort, and having to make decisions on-the-spot on what and who to capture, and how best to do it. Ink and watercolour are great tools for urban sketching, because they can be easily transported, whipped out, and stored on the move.
My favourite pen and ink is Lamy Safari and De Atramentis document ink. For watercolour paints, I use a variety – Schmincke, Daniel Smith, Winsor & Newton, Holbein, but my favourite is Schmincke because the paint dissolves like butter with a little bit of water to create intense washes. I still remember the first time I went out to try urban sketching and being overwhelmed by the vastness and dynamics of the scene that unfolded and moved before my eyes, feeling thoroughly confused, and feeling rather apologetic to curious on-lookers who came to peer at my sketchbook over my shoulder and looked as confused I was by the chicken crawls and muddy washes I had laid down.
Thankfully, I decided to keep trying, because it got better over time. More importantly, when I flip through my urban sketching sketchbooks, they immediately take me back to where I was when I sketched them – the sight, smell, sound of where I was, the thoughts that raced through my mind as I sketched them, and the conversations I had with other sketchers and passersbys in a way few other experiences enable you to. Since I’ve started urban sketching, I’ve found that there is no experience that is too mundane, no person who is not interesting enough to observe, and no place I can go one too many times.
So really, I don’t think I am exaggerating, when I say sketching has given me fresh eyes and fresh breath of life. And if you’re reading this, I hope you give it a go too, even if you have never picked up a pencil in your life as I hadn’t.
Yoon Min Joo