Wednesday, July 5, 2017

Drawing from Life

I started drawing again because of an animation programme I took in 2009. Many might find that peculiar because 3D softwares like Maya was the main staple.  During the first semester, drawing (with pencils) took up most of the day’s schedule - from short gestural poses to sketching simple still life set ups. The classically trained animation-based instructor, Philip Garcia, took us outside the classroom to draw too, like the zoo, botanic gardens, bird park and Gunther von Hagens' BODY WORLDS exhibition. That eye-opening semester began to change the way I thought about art. 

The last time I picked up a pencil before the animation programme was probably during the first year of design college. After which, I used the mouse to draw logos, design advertising campaigns and churn out illustrative graphics. Fast forward to 2011 – the time after the animation programme.  I headed to the city of Los Angeles for a short 3-month stint in concept design with some of my animation classmates. Most of the classes I signed up for were drawing classes at the Animation Guild in Burbank. It was there that I was able to study under two great living instructors of the human figure - Glenn Vilppu (bottom left) and Karl Gnass. Although I didn’t pursue the field of animation after the three months in LA, my appreciation for traditional arts deepened. 

2012 was the year I decided to move away from a digital artist to become a traditional one. Some of the things I did to achieve this goal were to 1) request for more illustrative works, 2) buy an annual zoo pass and faithfully headed there once a week and 3) sign up for portrait studies and figure drawing at the local community clubs. I heard about Urban Sketchers Singapore (USKSG) who meet to sketch every month end and decided to join them. Finally, I was able to connect with like-minded people with a passion for drawing. I learned heaps about inks, watercolours and sketchbooks from the various art groups that I joined. The more I sketched, the more I craved for it. By the summer of 2012, I decided it was time to attempt a sketching journey on the Camino de Santiago and make a book out of it.

Sketching in the Pyrenees

After completing 800km and using up four sketchbooks, a revelation hit me - life is too short to be doing something else. After publishing my first sketchbook in Dec 2012, I made plans to study art… from scratch. And by April 2013, I began my basic training at the Angel Academy in Florence under Maestro John Michael Angel. It was only a year after (spring of 2014), did I begin to learn the methods of oil painting like the traditional old masters. 

The difference between ink sketching and oil painting

Initially I thought that I would be weaning off my ink and watercolour sketching at some point in order to focus on oil painting. But over time, I realized how the doodles that I do on the streets complemented my oil painting, and vice-versa. For example, the amount of ink sketching I do would directly translate to quicker and more accurate drawings in the painting stage. Likewise, the oil paintings I make sharpen the way I see values and depth, and that would allow me to easily apply those concepts while I’m sketching or watercolouring.

Using inks give me the needed breathing space away from oil paints. This time allows me to absorb  and process what I just did, instead of moving immediately into the next project. It’s almost like giving the food I eat some time to be digested before rushing to my next meal. 

I let myself stay loose when doodling in my sketchbook. When I do my oil paintings, I tend to be a little more precise and meticulous. This sketchbook play time helps me stay creative (without any boundaries) and maintains that balance I need as an artist. 

The tools used for sketching takes up very little space, all I need is a pen and a piece of paper.  This is crucial when I want to create art in tight spaces like cafes where an easel or the smell of turpentine is not too pleasing to customers. One of my favourite spaces to sketch would be onboard a plane. Imagine all that flying time to draw!  1

My oil paintings are usually kept for a specific group of art collectors. Sketching allows me to turn my art into products for the masses. I turn my sketches into books, posters, postcards, collar pins, mugs, etc... you name it. And I would put myself in art fairs to sell them and also use the opportunity to sell myself as an oil painter.

What inspires me to draw?

I get inspiration from everywhere. It could be a new cafe that just opened in the neighbourhood. Or an old coffeeshop that might be closing down permanently. It might be a book that I am working on that gets me sketching a certain theme like my recent book about the coffee scene in Singapore called La Kopi.

Seeing beautiful work by other artists who share them on social media also encourages me to post mine online. It’s always a joy to be able to connect with another artist via social media. 

I travel fairly often. For every trip that I make, I will sketch. Just being in a new environment and checking out the local sights and smell, it’s all eye candy for my sketchbook. I used to take home thousands of photographs when I travel. But ever since I got into the habit of sketching, I find more joy in being at a location where I can carefully observe (and sketch) the place or structure. It also opens up the possibility for communication between the locals. Sketching creates memories that are etched more deeply than what a photo can do.  2

I know a lot of urban sketchers around the world. When I travel, I make it a point to meet up and sketch with them. Not only are they a better guide of the city or town, it is always good to see how others approach the art of sketching within a certain region.  3

Commute Sketching is also a good way to practice figure drawing outside the studio environment. When I commute on a train or bus, I get models of different height, shapes and colour. And the best thing is that I don’t have to pay model fees.  4

Not a day goes by without me not sketching. If I take a 3-day break from drawing, I do see a difference when I get back to it – a drop in quality. It's subtle, but this reminds me how pen mileage makes the difference.

Besides the drawing and painting commissions I get, my next sketching journey takes me to Art in the Open in Wexford, Ireland where I will run a sketching workshop on July 30, following by a series of sketching trips to Bhutan. I am blessed to have all these opportunities as an artist. Looking back, I am ever so grateful to have taken that leap of faith during that Fall of 2011. 

Video and blog links from the article above:

1 -  Catch a sketch done 30,000ft up here: 

2 - Sketching an outdoor kitchen in Bangkok:

3 - My day out with some Urban Sketchers in Tokyo:

4 - Catch a short documentary on Commute Sketching:

More on Commute Sketching:

More on The Short Pose:

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instagram (oil paintings):
instagram (inks and watercolours):

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Alvin Mark Tan is a traditional oil painter residing in Singapore.  He also illustrates in ink and watercolour.  

A graphic design graduate from Woodbury University in Burbank, California, Alvin began his graphic design career with the Ministry of Defence in Singapore.  Later, at the Singapore Press Holdings, he branched out into advertising, environmental design and documentary-making.  He also has an Animation diploma, with a focus in concept art.  

After walking the Camino de Santiago in 2012, Alvin made a bold decision to sell and leave everything to study what he was always called to do - traditional oil painting.  He graduated from Angel Academy of Art in Florence, Italy, where he studied Natural Realism under Maestro Michael John Angel for three years.

Apart from doing commissioned art works ranging from still lifes to portraits to ink sketches to wall murals, Alvin loves drawing directly from nature.  So he is often outdoors doing plein air paintings, on the streets urban-sketching, or commute sketching in his travels.  His goal by being a full-time artist, is to encourage people to live out their vocations in life. 

Sunday, June 4, 2017

Cyanotype print

I was given the opportunity to make a cyanotype print at Deck. The closest thing I ever did to this was exposing a small amount of light in a darkroom to photographic prints with some objects on it and this was during my time as a photo lab assistant in the photography darkroom at college.

What is Cyanotype?
It's a photographic printing process that produces a cyan-blue print, same as those old school blueprints one would find in architectural offices. In fact, technical drafters and engineers used the process well into the 20th century as a simple and low-cost process to produce copies of drawings.
The cyanotype process was first introduced in 1842 by English scientist Sir John Herschel. He was an astronomer trying to find a way of copying his notes.

Here is a step by step to see how the process is being done:

Here's the prep. The 2 important chemicals: 
ammonium iron(III) citrate and potassium ferricyanide.
Remember to prepare this in a shaded area. :) 

Mix the 2 chemicals in a 1:1 ratio and 
smear a couple of drops on your canvas

Place and design your flat objects or negatives on the canvas

Flatten your art with a piece of glass with pegs
and place it in the sun for about 10 mins. If it's an
overcast day, maybe 30 mins might do the trick.

Notice the darker coloured background... you're ready
for the next step.

Dip your art in water to further darken the cyanotype print

Once the colour changes to a darker blue, hang  it out to dry

Voilà !

If you are interested in trying out cyanotype, kits can be purchased here:

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

La Kopi Tour

The first stop of the La Kopi promotional tour is at Brunner Coffeeshop. The guys from the management invited me to collaborate with them for 3 weeks, from May 1 to 21st.  So technically, I was a hawker for 21 days. The long hours in a non-airconditioned environment producing endless perspiration and smell is very real. Art or art show in a kopitiam environment has probably not been done before, so logistically, this was going to be a learn while you work out the kinks exhibition. 

The biggest thing to deal with is all that grease floating around the coffee shop, so putting up my oil paintings is not an option and also because of that, I had to bag all my products with a ziplock. Another big thing is that customers visiting the coffee shop come with the mindset to eat. To have them realise it's an Art pop-up stall or having them switch from food shopping to 
art shopping mode can be exhausting. 

"My name is Alvin Mark, I am an oil painter by profession, this is a pop-up exhibition... ."

"No, I am not selling kopi here, but I'm selling copies of my books..."

"Nope, the prata guy left." 
(My stall is right under a prata signboard.)

"Really, I'm not kidding...  I don't serve coffee..."

The idea of this pop-up was to 1) let the public know about my new book, 2) open up minds that art exhibitions don't have to be held in a fancy gallery or art space), 3) test out peoples' reactions, 4) see how creative I can push my work, and 5) doing my bit to preserve heritage (specifically food and architecture here) through art where the general public can absorb 
and understand easily.  

It was a great 3 weeks!  Besides handing out my calling cards, I made a quite a lot of friends, la-kopied with old friends (I used to live in this part of town) and forged a couple of kickass partnerships. Stay tuned for more art at Brunners! :) 

Posters of my art inspired by the book, La Kopi, are displayed all over the coffee shop.

I worked out some coffee shop deals with some of the hawkers!

I had a lot of time to sketch and that attracted a lot of customers, 
even customers from the surrounding eateries. :) 

Even the staff at the coffee shop were inspired by my work! 
[The painting you see is a still life from the porridge stall.]

 The best part of it was having food waiting for you immediately after a sketch session.
[Plein air of the coffee shop from diagonally across the road.]

Sketching the hawkers busy at work. Here are Sally and Huimin preparing porridge.

Work in progress: a night sketch of the gas station across.

As with all art exhibitions, the surprise visit time is by Chen Chi Sing, son of Mr Chen Chong Swee - 
one of the 4 Nanyang painters from China that came to Singapore in the 1930s. 

I end all blogs with a video clip. 
So here's a little more about my time at Brunners Coffeeshop.

I am so grateful for the management team at Brunners Coffeeshop for spotting my work and were willing to try something unheard of in Singapore. Looking forward to more collaborations! 

Do let me know if this has inspired you in anywhere or if you have 
a comment about my art adventures, do send me a message. 

Till the next post! 


This weekend 27 - 28 May 2017, I'll be at Open Deck selling my small framed oil paintings.
More info here. Drop by to say "Hi!" and see these works of art up close. 

If you are interested, La Kopi can be found here: 

Sunday, April 30, 2017

The La Kopi Booth debuts at SABF2017

The 4th annual Singapore Art Book Fair happened on 27 - 30 April 2017. It brought some 30 over publishers and independent artists from around the region to showcase their art and books in this 3.3 day event. 

As with any event that I have been given ample time to prepare, I decided on a local coffeeshop theme for the booth this time around because of my latest book sketchbook - La Kopi. 

Believe it or not, the booth was conceptualised at the last Singapore Art Book Fair in 2016 at the Art Science Museum. It took me 5 full days to build the working structure - meaning I could put items on the shelves and have it not collapse. :) It comes with an LCD display for my timelapse work, old traditional signboard and a couple of geckos called Chi and Chak. The reason why I invested the time in this booth is because:

1) It's my booth, I want to be proud of it.

 2) I'm a hardcore Disney theme parks fan.
(I was once designated as an Imagineer by my former company Singapore Press Holdings 
because I used to do creative experiments like these and more during my tenure there.)

3) It's my 4D portfolio: Yes, sight, sound and smell of coffee! :)

4) I want fairgoers to smile... especially if they journeyed long to get there.

5) I want to encourage people to take the time to make things with their hands.

6) I realised that I needed a place to vent all my creative energy, 
because... yes, I am still looking for a studio space to paint. 

Thank you to the event director, the organisers, the A-team at BooksActually who were so so helpful, my chauffeurs, Doreen and Silas, who gave me and my shop a ride to the fair and back!  I am thankful!!  I am also grateful to meet so many creative people during the fair. And my awesome neighbour, Fable, who took care of my booth during my toilet and lunch breaks. 

Next up: I'm looking forward to the sale of La Kopi to the masses. :) 
Stay very tuned! 

7, Lock Road, Gillman Barracks

La Kopi - a traditional old shop signboard for my booth

3/4 view of the booth

Behind the scenes

Sketching the busy crowd during the pockets of timeout I had

Presenting... my latest sketchbook!!!

Smiles from happy customers are confirmation of a job well done! :) 

Philip Garcia - my instructor who re-introduced me to 
figure drawing at animation school - paid the booth a visit. 

The gang from Brunners Coffeeshop came to show their support...
thanks guys! This is one of the tapestries I was selling from my 
Society 6 page. We look like a soccer team!

As with all blog posts, I end with a little neat video:
Setting up the La Kopi Booth

Monday, April 10, 2017

Coffee Art To Go

For those of you who didn't make it to the Singapore Art Book Fair 2017, here are a list of coffee art items from the fair that is up for grabs. Whenever you purchase these pieces, it just means giving more time for the artist to get creative.

Presenting La Kopi - published by Math Paper Press, 
this is my first sketchbook publication about this little red dot. 
Specifically coffee in Singapore.  
SGD 29.00

Puzzle  (A4 size)
SGD 20.00

phone covers 
(in collaboration with Society 6)
USD 35.00

Coffee Mug 11oz
(in collaboration with Society 6)

Metal travel mugs
(in collaboration with Society 6)
15oz at USD 24.00

Iced Jem Biscuits
 Free for visitors to my booth 41-B
(You won't miss the booth!)

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

A Moving Activity

Recently, a bunch of us artists who are part of the Commute Sketchers founding group from Singapore collaborated with one of the main transportation companies in Singapore - SBS Transit, to have our sketches displayed in several MRT stations and bus interchanges. Heading the group is Erwin Lian of the Perfect Sketchbook success, and all of these sketches are done live while commuting in public.  Thank you SBS Transit for getting our work out there for the public to see. 

An actual wall with our works at one of the bus interchanges

I first started actively sketching on trains during a trip to Yokohama, Japan, for an Animation Festival. That was at the beginning of 2010 during my animation diploma days.  And because I was there during the winter season, I enjoyed sketching commuters in their winter wear, something I don't get to see much in tropical Singapore. It allowed me to focus on volumes as the
gear they wore were of the bulky sort.

The main reason why I sketch while on the go because as a traditional painter, there's always this monotonous and echoey voice that keeps playing like a broken record player in my head that says, "Keep drawing all the time... ." And since I'm in a space with (free) models, why not? I'd like to think of it as using my time wisely. Back in Singapore while on the trains, I love sketching people standing up. Also scenes that I often don't see everyday: cosplayers riding the train, babies in prams, travelers with huge luggages on their way to the airport, etc. 

One of the thrills while sketching commuters is to sketch them without seeing you do it. In the last 6 years or so of commute sketching, I may have been caught about 4 times. You just get better at being a ninja over time and practice. 

If your daily commute is long and if you're interested in picking up this activity, head over to my youtube link for a quick video intro to Commute Sketching. 

Word even got outside of Singapore about our moving activity

Related topics: 

The Art of Subway Sketching

The Short Pose

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Escape to Hong Kong (with Oils)

So after a couple of exciting projects that I kick started 2017 with, it was time to take a short breather before continuing on. I packed my bags and left for Hong Kong to meet my old schoolmates and some new friends from Urban Sketchers Hong Kong.  The cool Spring weather was perfect for painting. Not to mention the good food the have there! Here are some of the highlights:

I seldom post pictures of me painting, but Alison from USKHK, 
took some shots of me working on the streets. Thank you!

I started this one at 12 noon. This, I would never do in Singapore. :)
Hong Kong is filled with street signages and I'm happy to be able to capture a pawnshop sign 
at the Sham Shui Po area.

Thank you USKHK for being warm and friendly, and also for sharing the streets with me.

I ventured to the Aberdeen side of Hong Kong Island. A lot of water on this part of town.

Still at Aberdeen, but later in the evening. What got my attention were the pinks
and that this butcher was right next to the street.

Not often do I get to hangout in high places. So here's chancing the opportunity to paint.

Here's a short doc of my time in Aberdeen, enjoy! 

See my Ink and Watercolour sketches from Hong Kong:

For more videos of me painting, go here:

Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Escape to Hong Kong (with INKS)

The first 2 months of 2017 kept me extremely busy. There were the series of vessels to paint for a shipping company, a private wall mural, 2 lion statues and of course the next book I'm working on.  I needed a breather, and also had to catch up with some old friends. And so I packed my bags, painting equipment & an empty stomach and left for Hong Kong. Here are some of the highlights:

After the plane landed, and after checking in, I headed straight to this Noodle House 
called Cart Noodle Expert on 104 Jervois Street. 

Last year (2016), I remembered sketching a butcher right here on Gage Street down by Central. Now, it's gone. 
Just a sketch left to remind me of the place. And this is one of the reason why I sketch.

Hello Toy Story Land! 

OK, so I fell for it. Right after the new Iron Man ride (that was made from the former Star Tours ride), 
I had to eat this at the restaurant. 

This curry fishball stall just outside Sham Shui Po MTR station seems to be very popular! 

Many buildings like this is up for redevelopment in the Sham Shui Po area.
So that makes it a fantastic location to sketch.

Met some of the wonderful people from USK Hong Kong. 
I had plenty of great tips of where to paint from them.

Sketchbook Exchange with Alison Hui. She spent several months in South America doodling.
If you are interested in my book, Ciao Firenze!, it can be found here: 

I love the food so much, I had it for lunch and dinner... on the same day!! 
Maxim's MX 美心

See my Oil sketches from Hong Kong:

For more videos of me painting, go here: