You can find them every Sunday, usually in a group of fewer than 10, quietly sketching the buildings, streetscapes and faces of Yangon in a bid to document a time of rapid change and progress in the city.
It’s been just four months since the launch of Yangon Urban Sketching, the Facebook group that brought them together, but the small group of diligent artists has seen its community grow from just a handful to more than 90 in that time.
Founded in December by French national Jules Fougeroux, the group’s first meeting saw only four or five expats show up. Within the first two months, however, locals began joining, doubling the size of the small group that now meets regularly around the city, putting ink, watercolor and pencil to paper.
When Fourgeroux leaves Myanmar after Thingyan, co-founder Aung Htut Khaung will become the sole administrator, in charge of organizing the group’s meet-ups. The 35 year old is a shoe manufacturer by day, an artist, photographer, and visual storyteller by night.
Typically, Khaung scouts out potential locations prior to a meet-up, looking for any interesting aspects to capture — an old building, a particularly interesting street scene — then letting the group make a final decision on where and when to draw.
“Before we choose, I go around Yangon looking for a location for the group to sketch. We discuss what we want to sketch and then figure out what’s the best way for everyone. After we finish our session, we go and eat at a restaurant or just talk over drinks,” he said.
Khaung told Coconuts Yangon that there is no shortage of material in Yangon and that his passion is documenting the city so future generations can appreciate its beauty.
“Modern buildings, modern clothes, they are slowly changing Yangon. Some aspects are disappearing, like wearing thanaka (the familiar ground-bark cosmetic paste worn by local women). Before they disappear, I want to take photos, draw, anything that preserves. I’m not being nostalgic, but I want to keep, in one place, what has happened in Yangon,” he said.
Urban sketchers are a global phenomenon, with groups operating in thousands of cities around the world. A 2012 article in Florida Weekly, tabs Urban Sketchers, a group founded on Flickr in 2007 by Seattle-based artist Gabriel Campanairo, as the first official online group.
In the decade plus that has followed, that group has grown into a fully-fledged global non-profit, with hundreds of thousands of artists contributing to the site. Their motto, “See the world, one drawing at a time,” is something that resonated deeply with Khaung.
“If people can see that Yangon used to look like this, have these streets, have these trees, and these houses, I think this record will be useful for later generations to get a feel for what it’s like now,” he said.
Queenie, a Singaporean living in Yangon and a member of the group, told Coconuts Yangon that she was part of a Singaporean sketching group before she stumbled onto Yangon Urban Sketching.
“You get to learn drawing and painting techniques from other sketchers and meet sketchers from all different jobs. Some are professionals in the art field, some are hobbyists like me,” she said.
Khaung stressed that the group is for anyone interested in sketching, anyone that loves Yangon, and encouraged even novices to join.
You can do that on Facebook.