Thursday, March 8, 2018

Sketchbook exhibition in Singapore

Check out this awesome video by Erwin (Cherngzhi) Lian and the people who created the "Perfect Sketchbook." (Direct link to video)

Today they opened a gallery show in Singapore with a bunch of artists (including me) who painted in the sketchbooks and offered them to collectors. I love the way they have used sketchbooks to bring artists together into community so that we can share in the fun of creating.

Teoh Yi Chie of Parka Blogs was there, too and made this video. (Link to YouTube video)

My own painting of the "Perfect Typewriter" was included in the show. Erwin Lian graciously was willing to do an interview about the journey that led him to this show.

For those who aren't familiar with The Perfect Sketchbook, could you please describe it and tell us why you created it?

The Perfect Sketchbook was first introduced on the crowdfunding platform, Kickstarter, in August 2014. Following the fulfillment of the first project, backers were impressed with the quality of the book and the project quickly expanded, garnering immense support from international backers.

The project was then funded on Indiegogo and The Perfect Sketchbook’s very own platform, raising a total of USD$150,000 to date.

I first began toying with the idea of making my own sketchbook when I couldn’t find one that met my all of my criteria: hardcover, compact, opened flat and filled with top-grade 100% cotton paper.

One day, out of sheer boredom, I looked up the local company that produces the sketchbooks I used most and contacted them about a visit. Impressed by their manufacturing capabilities, I proposed a high-quality sketchbook and convinced them to make a prototype for Kickstarter. Without an advertising budget, I produced all the marketing materials and took on the mammoth task of getting this entire project funded. Thanks to the generous artists who shared my project on social media, my friends, my Columbus College of Art family and the urban sketchers community, we eventually reached our goal of USD$50,000 and made the first Perfect Sketchbook.
(funding process for the first book took 45 days, it was not an easy climb)

Naming it The Perfect Sketchbook was a deliberate move to elicit attention since I lacked advertising and visibility. However, the cost of calling something ‘perfect’ meant that I also assumed the task of making something extraordinary. Did I exceed the expectations of most, with the quality of materials? I consciously made some silly decisions like over packing the book with more pages, that caused excessive stress to the book spine. I also underestimated the cost, time and risk it took to physically ship all of the books.

(The First Perfect Sketchbook)

When many people requested that I make a larger book, I was in trepidation from our first project. A larger book would incur higher shipping charges because it’s heavier and would cost much more to make. Since most of our backers are overseas, the collective support was too spread out for any sort of shipping discount. And a sketchbook has a low psychological price ceiling. International shipping charges are extremely high and we needed to price these into our product, in order to cushion this impact. 

(Properly bubble wrapped to cushion for the impact during shipping)

Would a much bigger sketchbook company, with the advantage of scale, follow me/us and create something similar? I took on a radical approach during our second crowdfunding project. Instead of being worried about pricing, I focused on making an over-the-top sketchbook. During The Perfect Sketchbook B5 production, I convinced my collaborator, Bynd Artisan, to fulfill all my crazy requests like hand tearing the cotton paper and personalization. At the same time, they offered me a huge discount on the production costs. I told them: “We can at least clinch the title of The Perfect Sketchbook for our madness.”

(image of our production. Notice the deckle edges on the side of the book)

The Perfect Sketchbook B5 was launched on Indiegogo two years ago and it was so successful that I was persuaded by many of our backers to make the third sketchbook last year. We do not intend on any more editions and I am just glad to have made and fulfilled these super fine quality watercolor sketchbooks.

(We chose to deliver via DHL -Costly but much more reliable)

2. What are some of the ways that artists have used the sketchbook that have surprised you?
One interesting feedback I had gotten from some backers was that the sketchbooks felt and looked so high quality that they are afraid to open or start it. Another thing I noticed was the dramatic improvements to the watercolor paintings of our backers, who were first introduced to high-quality watercolor paper through The Perfect Sketchbook. Many told me that they can no longer revert to low-quality sketchbooks for watercolor. The biggest surprise was how fast artists filled the sketchbooks after opening them.

(instagram images of paintings by backers)

3. Some of my readers aren't very familiar with the Urban Sketchers movement. Can you describe the unique vibe of your sketch outings?
Urban Sketchers was founded by Gabriel Campanario from Seattle and I believe they initially started as a group on image sharing site Flickr in 2007. It was a group started to support and promote sketching on-location. Over the years they grew into an international movement and now have chapters all around the world, where sketching events and symposium are held on quite a regular basis. All are run by volunteers. Here in Singapore, the USK Singapore group gathers once every month at a different location to sketch on-site. Unlike other art groups, there aren’t any skills prerequisites and you get to interact and network with many sketching enthusiasts outside of the art industry.

The Urban Sketchers Singapore February 2018 Sketchwalk @ Pang Sua Pond, Bukit Panjang. 

4. You recently led a sketching trip to Bhutan. What was it like to sketch in public in that culture?

Sketch by one of our participant, Yina Goh

Actually, I led a sketching tour there last year and will be leading another one this June. The tranquility and pristine quality of Bhutan's landscape make it the perfect location for sketching and traveling. It’s no mystery why the Kingdom of Bhutan is often called the “Last Shangi-La”.

(sketch Bhutan- image of us sketching in Punakha, Bhutan)

I wrote a very detailed article about Sketch Bhutan on Parka’s blog:

5. How did the idea for the group sketchbook show "Interlace" come about?
A sketchbook is known to hold an artist’s most intimate ideas and processes. Naturally, with a higher quality sketchbook, I thought it will be a great idea to showcase the works of our best and most influential backers from The Perfect Sketchbook campaign. I also truly believe that only great art can make a sketchbook perfect.

6. What have been some of the challenges in making this show a reality? 
Knowing early on that I couldn’t turn The Perfect Sketchbook project into a sustainable business, I reserved some books after every release and would approach galleries and museums to pitch the idea of a group show. Even with book sponsorships, these galleries, mostly in America, would turn me down. A few informed me that it will not be profitable and I shelved this idea until Winnie, the owner of Bynd Artisan suggested that I hold the show in their retail store. We would be limited by space but the location is great and there would be considerable foot traffic. To mitigate the cost of shipping these books to our Artists, we would sell the last reserved copies (about 50) of The Perfect Sketchbook B5 during the launch of our group show, Interlace. 

(image of Bynd Artisan's retail store during their opening)

Since the art show would feature 20 sketchbooks, we needed to create custom frames that would hold these sketchbooks and at the same time allow for easy page changes. E.g. If the sketchbook has 5 painted spreads; someone must be able to easily remove the sketchbook from the frame, flip to the next page, and reinstall it. 

My sketchbook pages

It’s really challenging to not lose money for such an art-show. Apart from logistics and collation, I needed to account for artists who are unable to submit, after agreeing to be in the show. Then, there is the all-important question of where and how to solicit customers? Who would purchase our artworks in Singapore? Though I have invited many successful, well-known artists to this show, they are relatively unknown to the Singapore art patrons.

Sketchbook work by Isabella Kung 

Thankfully, the owners of Bynd Artisan are active in the local arts community and I believe we can successfully introduce our talented artists to new audiences. I am also positive that the collective strength of all the artists involved can raise the visibility so that everyone will receive their well-deserved recognition.

7. What are your hopes for the show?
I hope that ‘Interlace’ and The Perfect Sketchbook can inspire more artists to take charge and reinvent the business models involved with art-making. Too often art students are ill-equipped to deal with the many realities of the commercial world. As long as we have to pay for our art supplies and food with money, we need to be financially literate. I also hope that my projects inspire and encourage artists to support one another. Truly, none of our projects could have taken off without the support of many artists.

(works by Namchai Saensupha, Isabella Kung, Tracy Lewis, Nathan Fowkes, Jackson Dryden and Audrey) 

The artists include: 
Anthony Francisco 
Catherine Hamilton
Don Low
Erwin Lian
Fawn Veerasunthorn
Hiroshi Hayakawa
Isabella Kung
Iuri Lioi
Jackson Dryden
James Gurney
Jerome Moo
Justin Pastores
Marvin Chew
Namchai Saensupha
Nathan Fowkes
Nathaniel Underwood
Ryan Green
Steve Mitchell
Tracy Lewis


rock995 said...

A shame one can't buy them anymore, no?

Steve said...

Thanks for giving us such a comprehensive look at the exhibit and the process. I had wondered whether only the two displayed pages had been removed from the sketchbook of each artist or whether the entire book was being offered. It was a pleasant surprise to learn the books were intact. Did your book have other paintings?

Erwin has wonderful energy. I was able to be an early supporter for both the first edition and the B5 edition featured in the exhibit. They are beautifully made books. The paper and binding are excellent. I liked having the value scale page in the first edition.

My only mild dissatisfaction with the B5 is that I do not share Erwin's appreciation for the presence of the watermark (Fabriano Artistico) on so many of the pages. The letters in the watermark run 1.25 inches into the 7 inch side of the paper. 12 of the 30 pages of my book had the watermark. When working on larger sheets a prominent watermark can be a non-issue, but with the limited size of a sketchbook page, the letters became unintended elements in washes. Not a big deal; just a matter of personal preference. I seem to recall Erwin valuing the watermarks as evidence of the paper's quality.

I can attest to the beauty and inspiration of visiting Bhutan. It's a powerful landscape with a remarkable human culture.

Side Hustle Trades said...

Thank you so much for supporting my project, @Steve. Yes, we retained the watermark for a number of reasons and you are right about valuing the watermark as an evidence. The other reason stem from the fact that we don't have a large enough order to request for customizations. Fabriano Artistico sheets come in a certain format and we have to work with these constraints.


Mel Gibsokarton said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Mel Gibsokarton said...

Who is the author of the picture in the upper right corner of the lowermost photo? It looks virtuoso.

Side Hustle Trades said...

@Mel I believe you are referring to the Jackson Dryden's work.
You may look at all the work at this URL:

Click under more info to get to their instagram/website

Side Hustle Trades said...

I am sorry we failed to reach you. Unfortunately, there was no magic button for me to reach everyone who wanted it. Thank you for your interest.

Warren JB said...

Would've loved to visit, but the only way for me to be situated further away from Singapore would be to go off-planet. Thanks for the heads-up, though.

I still have my original perfect sketchbook, still squirreled away in a drawer, more terrified of making a mark in it than with other bound sketchbooks because it's the only example I'll ever have! Heck, I even hand-bound a watercolour sketchbook since then, because of the lack of other options. It looks terrible, so I've less trepidation about further ruining it.

On that, and the matter of calling the sketchbook 'perfect', I wonder if it's an added phsychological block. Perfect sketchbook, with hamfisted markmaking, made imperfect...

Side Hustle Trades said...

@Warren JB
hahaha, that's funny. Thank you once again for supporting my project :)
We made it :) Yes,I understand that most of the backers are far away and hence made this over-the-top video for everyone.
The collection can be view at: