Sketch a glimpse of the city with Urban Sketchers Manila

Perhaps you can remember the last time you took a picture. You could have snapped your lunch, posted a travel shot on Instagram, or taken a quick selfie. Chances are you’d sooner recall opening your camera app than a pack of colored pencils, unless you’re an art hobbyist.

For the Urban Sketchers (USk) community, however, colored pencils trump filters any day.  The Seattle-based initiative now has 182 chapters across six continents — that’s all of them except Antarctica. Cue their monthly “sketchwalks”: day trips, on foot, to interesting landmarks around town, to be sketched on location or painted, or etched in charcoal. No participation fee, no tricky requirements. All the better if you’re not an artist by profession, but someone willing to see the world differently anyway.

Back in 2011, artists Janeil Arlegui, Buz Walker, and Ryan Sumo teamed up to form our local USk chapter. “Buz Walker, an American art teacher stationed at the Raffles design school, wrote to me when he read my article in BluPrint magazine about sketching the water fountains of Manila,” says Janeil. “He mentioned that he was a part of USk Singapore, and suggested that we start an affiliate organization in the Philippines. Ryan Sumo was invited because of his blog about sketching on location, and eventually, we were granted permission to use the USk name.”

USk Manila’s first sketchwalk had about a dozen people visit San Sebastian Church. That number has grown to 30 active members, while many others come just to try things out. (A sketchwalk to Paco Park had over 60 attendees, for instance.) Some of the appeal lies in the historical significance of the chosen locations, like Intramuros and Binondo Church. “A very memorable one was the sketchwalk to the doomed El Hogar building in Escolta. Since we had heard guards were shooing away people with cameras [who were] taking pictures of the building, we instructed attendees just to sketch,” Janeil recalls.

“The guards didn’t know what to do while we just sketched away,” he adds. “Sketching is a less intrusive way of recording, while people take more offense with the camera.”

With USk, sketching is used to bear witness — so it would be a shame for that cause to stay within Manila. USk also has branches in Ilocos and Capiz, thanks to sketchwalkers who wanted to take the idea to their own provinces. And even if you’re on the fence about joining a sketchwalk, you can keep an eye out for USk’s other projects: from talks to sketching workshops to exhibits.

But what can a drawing do that a camera can’t? “Sketching is often associated with observation. While cameras capture exact images, sketches capture not only what you see, but also what you feel and think,” Janeil says. Well, we think that’s a fun way to go about discovery.


USk Manila announces monthly sketchwalks (usually on the third Saturday of the month) and other activities on their Facebook page. Sketchwalks are documented on the USk Manila blog.


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