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Why Sketchwalking Might Be The Most Fun Fun Group Activity You Can Do

A friend of mine goes pub-crawling/bar-hopping every time he’s in a new destination as he insists it’s the best way to get to know the locals. I’m such a light drinker that a bottle of beer would knock me out for days, not to mention the risk of being accidentally involved in a bar fight, which would knock me out for weeks.

But a few years ago I was introduced to sketch-crawling/sketchwalking when I was in Manila, the Philippines. I remember everything about that afternoon in Manila in exquisite details, and this is from someone who locks himself out of his own apartment every other day!

Sketchwalking around Escolta, one of Manila’s historical neighbourhoods.

What is Sketchwalking?

Sketchwalking is everything the word implies: it’s about walking together in a group, searching for the perfect spot, and finally settling down before starting to sketch. One community you can find all over the world is Urban Sketchers, a global community of sketchers with more than 156 regional chapters worldwide with over 80,000 members.

05 Urban Sketchers Kuching Brooke Dockyard 3 Aug 2014 11in x 5in
Brooke Dockyard by Gabrielle Lim (Urban Sketchers Kuching). The dockyard, which opened in 1912, is a lesser-known historic structure from the British colonial era.

I’ve always liked doodling, as it forces me to slow down and just be in the moment. But I’ve never thought of joining a group.  I asked Tae, one of the administrators of Bangkok Sketchers (a local chapter which affiliates with Urban Sketchers), why should one sketch in a group. “You will draw attention when you sit down in a corner with your art supplies, so being in a group can boost your confidence. There’s also safety in number,” she told me. Personally, I can also add another benefit: joining a sketchwalk gave me the illusion that I had friends other than my anime waifu and husbando.

Sketchwalk in Malaysia

You don’t have to travel far just to sketchwalk, sketching your own hometown can open up new horizons and change the way you see it forever. Don’t worry, the community welcomes anyone of any skill who wants to join them for a sketchwalk. All the sketchers I met in Manila and Bangkok were very supportive, even though I can barely draw a hand without adding an extra finger.

If you’re from Malaysia, consider joining Malaysian chapters of Urban Sketchers (USk) on one of their sketchwalks. They can be found in Kuala Lumpur, Penang, Ipoh, Kuching and Batu Pahat, with each chapter having its own story to tell.


01 Urban Sketchers Penang Group Photo
Urban Sketchers Penang Group Photo

Formerly known as Penang Sketchers, the Urban Sketchers Penang group became part of USk in 2011. Today they have more than 3,000 members and are amongst the most active chapters with weekly outdoor Sketchwalks every Sunday and the occasional public sketching events.

02 Urban Sketchers Penang Artwork 02 King Street, sketch by Chng Kiah Kiean
King Street by Ch’ng Kiah Kiean (Urban Sketchers Penang). The one-way street Lebuh King situated between Chulia Street and Light Street is considered the historic core of George Town. In this sketch, the artist captured the essence of the heritage buildings that line the UNESCO World Heritage Site.


03 Urban Sketchers Kuching USk Kch group
Urban Sketchers Kuching USk Kch group

Urban Sketchers Kuching was the second Malaysian chapter to be founded in 18 September 2012 by architect Peggy Wong. USk Kuching members meet every first Sunday of the month. The group specialises in documenting World War II buildings before they are demolished.

04 Urban Sketchers Kuching KCH WATERFRONT
Kuching Waterfront by Peggy Wong (Urban Sketchers Kuching). The watercolour sketch shows the changing skyline of the Kuching Waterfront, which used to be lined with boat landings and godowns of the Main Bazaar. These days, it is a local favourite for a leisurely stroll or jog, official events and the annual Sarawak Regatta.


06 Urban Sketchers Ipoh USI Ipoh Group photo_9
Urban Sketchers Ipoh USI Ipoh Group

Urban Sketchers Ipoh traces its beginnings back to 2012 when the leader of the group, Chin Kok Yan, began sketching some of the buildings and scenes around Ipoh on his own. The group finally got officially registered with the greater Urban Sketchers Group in April 2016.

08 Urban Sketchers Ipoh Jalan Panglima._Rene
Jalan Panglima by Rene Enriquez (Urban Sketchers Ipoh). An estimated 300+ historical buildings still stand, providing plenty of inspiration to USk ­Ipoh, whose main mission is to preserve the memory of these buildings and scenes for future generations. The interesting juxtaposition of the old building and the new car caught this artist’s interest.


Kuala Lumpur Urban Sketchers

Formed by KC Lee in November 2015, Kuala Lumpur Urban Sketchers (KLUSK) has more than 1000 members, who regularly meet to sketch their beloved city, observing and capturing the dynamic capital city of Malaysia with its many, multicultural facets.

12 Urban Sketchers Kuala Lumpur San Kow Tang
Sam Kow Tong by Miao Peng (Kuala Lumpur Urban Sketchers). Sam Kow Tong is located in the vicinity of KL Sentral, parallel to the street where the monorail station is. The most eye-catching feature of its exterior is the elegant Hokkien-style temple roof, where the curving ridgelines taper at the ends like swift tails with intricate sculptures of dragons and deities sitting on top.
13 Urban Sketchers Kuala Lumpur National Textile Museum
National Textile Museum by Liew Yong Kian (Kuala Lumpur Urban Sketchers). The building that houses the National Textile Museum is deemed as one of the most important heritage landmarks in the heart of Kuala Lumpur, and the attractive Indo-Saracenic Revival architecture of the structure mesmerised the artist who focused on the bulbous dome of the slender tower and the alternating vertical stripes of the plaster, set against a tall, modern skyscraper.


09 Urban Sketchers Batu Pahat group pic
Urban Sketchers Batu Pahat group photo

Urban Sketchers Batu Pahat is the youngest subchapter in Malaysia. Although it is not by far the largest city in the state of Johor, Batu Pahat has always been an important site where royalty and important dignitaries of olden times resided, which makes for an interesting ground for sketchcrawling.

10 Urban Sketchers Batu Pahat jalan zabedah 150516 yunroo
Jalan Zabedah by Yunroo (Urban Sketchers Batu Pahat). A combined Sketchcrawl between USk Kuala Lumpur and USk Batu Pahat was held on 15 May 2016 at Jalan Zabedah, the main street of Batu Pahat. The artist captured the precious little moments of this important event, the first sketchcrawl after USk BP received its official recognition as a subchapter.


Get connected with sketcher communities around the Asian region:

How to Prepare for a Sketchcrawl

07 Urban Sketchers Ipoh Jalan Sultan Yusuff_ Yan
Jalan Sultan Yusuff by Chin Kok Yan (Urban Sketchers Ipoh). Ipoh is the capital city of Perak state and is the second largest heritage city in Malaysia after Penang. It grew rapidly as a mining town, especially in the 1920s and 1930s and it was also during this period that several of Ipoh’s landmark buildings were built, including the ones found along Jalan Sultan Yusuff.

Whether it’s a solo trip or a community-based activity, it helps to be prepared for your next sketching adventure.

  1. Take only basic art supplies with you. No need to bring a big and bulky bag when in the end you’ll just work with a few materials.
  2. Find a quiet place and don’t be in the way of traffic and/or pedestrians.
  3. Focus on particular features that attract you the most rather than going for the whole picture.
  4. Start with outlines to guide you before working on the foreground and filling in the details.
  5. Know beforehand how much detail you will be putting into the sketch, but understand that even an unfinished sketch can be beautiful.

Sketchwalking as a Personal Journey

Nowadays I always have a sketchbook with me whenever I travel. Sketching helps me to have a greater appreciation of the sights and sounds of my trip, and what I decide to focus on is something personal.

Some people like to focus on certain parts of a building, others prefer to capture the ambiance of a public space. Tae of Bangkok Sketchers says that people who don’t move around make the best subjects, hence her fondness for drawing people who are commuting.

I find the sketchers themselves, so engrossed in their art, are the best subject. I didn’t show my sketches to the Filipino friends I met in Manila because I was too self-conscious with my skill, but my sketchbook is filled with sketches of them sketching, because meeting them was the highlight of my trip. These people taught me what sketchwalking is all about and opened up a new horizon for me. They are the reason I’ll go back to the Philippines later this year. That, and because they paid for my lunch!

What do you think?

Written by Ari Vanuaranu

Albeit claiming to be a vegetarian, this self-professed culture vulture says that he’s willing to make an exception every time he is in an exotic place, as trying the local food is essential to widening a traveller’s horizon. But then each and every single place in the world outside of his hometown in Indonesia’s South Borneo counts as an ‘exotic place’...

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