Meeting the city through sketches

Urban Sketchers, Delhi, is a group of artists, who come together every week at different spots to make portraits of its known and unknown haunts in an exercise of drawing the city together.
'Mehrauli Archaeological Park' and 'Lodhi Garden' by Shivani VK. (Photo | Express)
'Mehrauli Archaeological Park' and 'Lodhi Garden' by Shivani VK. (Photo | Express)

It is a pleasant Sunday morning and soft sunlight is pouring in through the glass roof of Delhi’s India Habitat Centre (IHC), creating patterns on the floor. A group has gathered inside the building, holding sketch-books and pencils, watercolours and paintbrushes, and they are intent on capturing the light, and its play. They are members of the Delhi chapter of Urban Sketchers (USkD), a global community of artists and art-lovers who practise on-location sketching, meeting every Sunday to draw together.

A just concluded exhibition at the IHC showcased over 50 paintings made by members of the group on spots across the city. The displayed paintings, done with watercolours and sketching pencils and pens, are portraits of places, some familiar, some not so much. Touristy locations like India Gate, the Red Fort, Qutub Minar and Humayun’s Tomb have all been sketched out and coloured in.

Hanging alongside them are glimpses of less crowded spots like the Mehrauli Archaeological Park or the National Craft Museum. All the paintings are marked by a telling presence of the artist, which comes across in the perspective that was chosen for making the drawing. A painting shows the splendid tulips of Lodhi Garden at sunrise, while another depicts the amalgamated shops of Chandni Chowk. Some works are sketched from inside buildings, looking out through windows and archways. Others show famous monuments such as the Old Fort bordered by over-arching branches of trees. One can easily imagine the sketcher taking their spot at a location and diligently tracing what they have in front of them.

The art of details

For Niraj Gupta, who founded USkD in May 2017, sketching is an exercise in paying attention. “Sketching is like meditation,” he says. “People take hundreds of photographs of places they visit. But they do not notice the details. When you are sketching a place, you are aware of all that is in front of you. You notice the number of windows on a building or the intricacies of its architecture,” Gupta adds. Gupta used to paint with Urban Sketchers of New York, one of the oldest chapters of the community, during his visits to the US. He was inspired by how it brought artists, established and aspiring, together. After retiring from an accomplished career in telecom, he decided to form a sketching community in Delhi. “When we started out, it was only seven or eight people.

Now, almost 50 people show up every Sunday,” he says. The exhibition at the IHC also marked the 300th meeting of the USkD. “We try to capture the essence of a place,” says Shivani VK, an architect who has been part of the USkD for over a year. Originally a Malayali who moved from Bangalore to Delhi about two years ago, Shivani says that the the group helped her explore the city where “the past is so vividly alive in its monuments and ruins”. The USkD’s membership is open for all. It has members from the age of 10 to 80; they come from different walks of life, while sharing a love for art. “There are school and college students, architects, doctors, civil aviation officers, visa counsellors from embassies, retired IAS officers and people who just love to draw and have a peaceful time, away from their busy professional lives,” notes Gupta.

Showing up

That is the case for Kritika Agrawal, an advocate-on-record at the Supreme Court of India; she has been drawing with the USkD for a year now. The Sunday meets are for her a muchneeded “digital detox” and a chance to better her art. She admires the “sense of commitment” members of the USkD maintain, and also the “nonjudgemental” creative space it offers. “Come rain or sun, every Sunday, the sketchers will be there,” she says. Agrawal fondly recalls an especially chilly December morning last year when they gathered at Janpath and made sketches, but only after the un-forgoable chai. The USkD is active across its Facebook and Instagram handles. The location of the next meeting is decided every Friday. Anyone with a love for sketching or a wish to learn it can show up. In fact, ‘Anyone can sketch’ is the title of the series of three instructive books Gupta has published for aspiring artists. The USkD has also conducted multiple workshops as part of its exhibition, including ones on digital sketching and calligraphy. “Urban Sketchers is a global movement,” says Gupta. With over 500 chapters across the globe, including one in every major city in India, thousands of sketchers gather under the banner of Urban Sketchers every Sunday to make sketches of the cities, towns or villages they live in. These are artists who like going out of the comfort of studios and study rooms and look at life up close.

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The New Indian Express