Monday, July 5, 2010

The Straits Times : Tiong Bahru's draw

The Straits Times
By boon chan
Jul 5, 2010

Tiong Bahru is turning out to be one of the most inspiring neighbourhoods in Singapore.

The artists (front, from left) Tia Boon Sim, Paul Wang, Don Low and Miel (standing) with their sketches of Tiong Bahru. -- PHOTOS: WHITE CANVAS GALLERY

First there was the documentary, Civic Life: Tiong Bahru, shot by London-based film-makers Joe Lawlor and Christine Molloy last month.

Now, there is an exhibition titled Tiong Bahru Sketches: Outside-In at the new White Canvas Gallery which opened last Wednesday. It will be on till July 17.

The sketches are by four artists: Tia Boon Sim, manager at Temasek Design School; Paul Wang, a lecturer at Temasek Polytechnic; Don Low, a graphic designer; and Miel Prudencio, senior executive artist with The Straits Times.

Over 60 per cent of the more than 40 pieces in pen, ink and watercolour have been sold, according to gallery owner Maria Ng. They cost between $250 and $900 and were drawn over several weekends in May and last month.

Corner 71 (above), a pen, ink and watercolour on paper sketch by Tia Boon Sim

On the allure of Tiong Bahru, Ms Ng says: 'In a sense, you can't find another place like that in Singapore. In terms of location, it is very central but when you walk through the back lanes, it's a very kampung feeling.'

Backlane (above) a pen, ink and watercolour on paper sketch by Miel

Architect Kelvin Ang, 38, who is a resident there, agrees. He says: 'There's a stronger sense of community in Tiong Bahru because the design of the neighbourhood helps you to meet people - the small scale of it, the five-foot-way, the balconies and back staircases.'

He is a member of the Seng Poh Residents' Committee in Tiong Bahru and his two-bedroom walk-up apartment is featured in several sketches by Wang. He has bought two of the sketches, but not those of his own home as 'that would be too indulgent'.

Kelvin's Balcony (above), a sketch by Paul Wang

Another distinctive feature of Tiong Bahru is the architecture. Mr Leong In Chau, 56, who has lived there for over 20 years, says the buildings are pre-war. He says: 'I like the architectural details so I live there.'

While he likes the sketches, he says with a laugh that he is not planning to buy anything as there are no drawings of his block in Eng Hoon Street.

In addition to the nostalgic charm of the low- rise walk-ups, there is also the draw of the food.

Tia admits: 'Everytime we go down to sketch, we would end up eating somewhere. We know every eating corner there.'

This is lovingly reflected in the depictions of famous foods and restaurants such as Tiong Bahru Chwee Kuey by Low, and Ting Heng by Wang.

Monkey God Temple (above) a pen, ink and watercolour on paper sketch by Don Low

Tia's passion for sketching extends beyond the Tiong Bahru project. She founded the Singapore chapter of Urban Sketchers, a global organisation started by Seattle journalist and illustrator Gabi Campanario in 2007. The organisation's aim is to show the world one drawing at a time. She has also organised sketch walks to neighbourhoods such as Little India and Geylang and the results can be seen at

Those who are keen to learn more about drawing on location can sign up for a sketch walk with the four artists on July 17.

Miel, 45, says: 'Those who sign up are expected to sketch with us and pick up sketching tips from us and we could also act as mini-tourist guides.

'But the piece de resistance would be this - learning where the best food is to be found after all that walking and sketching.'


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Where: White Canvas Gallery, 78 Guan Chuan Street, 01-41 Tiong Bahru
When: Until July 17


Where: Meet at the gallery
When: July 17, 2pm

Info: Call 6220-8723 or e-mail