Friday, December 8, 2017

Alvin Mark Sketchbook

This is my first shot at designing sketchbooks for fellow artists to use. Being a full time urban sketcher myself, I know at first hand what sketching conditions are like on location. This is my creation together with AlsoDominie, to produce a B6 landscape (17.6cm x 25.0cm) format size sketchbook. Here's the rational behind the choice of materials used.

There are plenty of A4 and A6 (hardback) sketchbooks out there, but only a handful of A5 and B6 hardbacks. It makes a difference when you are out there sketching on location for about 30-45 mins, standing up and holding your sketchbook. What may seem like a 400gm A4 can miraculously turn into a 10kg dumbbell after 15-20 mins of sketching. 

An A6 (10cm x 15cm) sketchbook doesn't really do justice for me.  I use a Moleskine Large (21cm x 13cm) every once in a while in my travels when I know that my schedule is very tight, and I do feel the difference. The 21cm x 13cm doesn't allow me enough space to express what I want to say, in this instance, sketch.  The A4 landscape for me is always my personal choice of preference if I had all the time in the world to sketch. :) 

I am a lover of landscape format sketchbooks. They allow for those long panoramas! 
Enough said here. :)

The B5 is a format that allows me to sketch what may seem like an A4,
but in a much shorter span of time. 

AlsoDominie and I had to come to a compromise. I was looking at heavy weight 300gsm Fabriano, but given the budget for the project, we settled for 180gsm Maple Leaf. 

I've finished using 2 books so far, and my take is that it's great for inks, pencil sketching,
and a light wash. 

It never hurts to have an extra pocket especially when you are travelling. It's a good place to store maps and tickets for quick references. 

Elastic band:
Never underestimate a gust of wind! A small elastic band does wonders when you are frantically finishing a sketch before the looming storm. :) 

I use the hardback as a table during those moments when space is tight or if I am standing up for a sketch. It can also balance my watercolour kit and water container at the same time! 

Size comparison:
A4 - 21cm x 30cm
B5 - 17.6cm x 25.0cm
A5 - 15cm x 21cm
Moleskine Large - 13cm x 21cm
A6 - 10cm x 15cm

The Sketchbook at the Taipei Art Book Fair 2017

To purchase copies, write to:

AlsoDominie (in Asia and the Americas):

Spectrum Art and Framing (in Europe):

The Alvin Mark sketchbook is a collaboration with AlsoDominie Print and made its public appearance at Inkling: Vol 2 on 4 August 2017.

Here a run through of my Sketchbook Volume 1 using a time-lapse format.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Sketching the last Shangri-la

Imagine a whole entire country measured by the collective happiness (Gross National Happiness) of its people, and not by its GNP (Gross National Product). Meaning its GNH is more important than its GNP.  Not only is this a real place, the better news is that many other countries are looking into developing this philosophy too. The term was coined by the country's 4th king, Jigme Singye Wangchuck, in the 1970s. I was blessed to be able to spend sometime there, learning and observing the people and culture of Bhutan.

Thank you, Druk Asia, for the opportunity to experience this.

My sketching expedition began on board Druk Air, 
where the friendly stewardesses' Kira, the national
dress for women in Bhutan, became the point of interest for me.

I heard so much about the open tarmac concept at Paro International Airport,
that when the plane landed, I immediately threw in one for my sketchbook. 

Welcomed by my guide and driver upon arrival, our first stop for lunch was at Thimpu, the capital.
After which, the string of sight-seeing (and sketching) began. This is inside the weaving room 
at the Royal Textile Academy.

My hotel in Thimpu is right within walking distance of the Norzin Lam, its main street. I headed there immediately after dinner for a sketching spree. The tiny commercial shops that line this street is worth visiting. Still puzzled as to how they can squeeze so many things into that one little space? 

Finally got into a Gho, the traditional dress for men in Bhutan. 
It's actually pretty comfortable. You should try one when you are there.

I found some time in the morning to paint Buddha Point from the hotel. Having the cool, 
crisp morning air with the mountain ranges as a backdrop was definitely a plus for me. 

The chief abbot is in town and chanting mantras for a 3-month long event being held at Buddha Point. 

Meeting and interacting with locals is the main highlight of my travels around the world. Here in Bhutan, it is no different. A good portion of my time is spent talking and sharing my art with the locals. And in return, I learn heaps about their way of life.  

Staff at Simply Bhutan run through my work in progress 
while I catch a moment to enjoy a cup of local butter tea.

Interacting with students from the Punakha Higher Secondary School 
right after a picnic and sketch.  2km away at the Jimba Gyeltshen General Shop and Bar
(where the suspension bridge is), I meet more students on their way home from school.
the walk each way from home to school takes about 80 minutes. 

Waiting for the oldest monastery Changangkha Lhakhang, to dry.

So delicious and exotic are the food dishes, especially the vegetable dishes, 

more locals here are becoming vegetarians. 

 We spent some time at a paper making factory. Here is a 
little clip I made to show how paper is made in Bhutan.

Here at the Natural History Museum. One of my greatest joys – animal sketching, 
and especially in spaces that do not permit photography. :) 

At the halfway mark while scaling up Tiger's Nest.
Climbing Tiger's Nest Video clip:

Here are highlights of my sketching adventure on You Tube.

Thank you to my super informative guide Kuenzang, my cool driver, Jamyang.
Thank you Druk Asia for creating this memorable experience for me.  
And thank you all of you for tuning in with me on this fantastic journey back to the past. 


About the Artist:
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. 

Monday, August 21, 2017

Art in the Open 2017

I spent a fruitful 2 weeks in lovely Ireland in a festival called Art in the Open which takes place in Ireland every summer. In its 10th year running, the 8 day programme took us to several spectacular sights and locations in south east of Ireland, specifically in the county of Wexford. I made many, many new friends, and also met friends I haven't seen in over a year! What a joy it was to be there, reminding me that I am not alone in my painting quest.
In the words of fellow painter Louise Treacy: "Aren’t we really lucky to be out here in nature looking at this? Painting and representing it in our little happy place?"
I was invited to give a workshop on Urban Sketching at the local library, attended by 70 over people. It was the first of its kind and many were grateful that the whole sketching thing finally took off. My hopes that the sketching spirit keeps going for the next 11 months - until the next Art in the Open.
Being the only South East Asian in the festival has its perks. I can be spotted a mile away. After being interviewed live on South East Radio's Morning Mix with Alan Corcoran, the locals who saw me painting on the streets, would walk up to me and say, "Aren't you the guy from Singapore?" or "I heard you over the radio, welcome to Ireland!" This is just scratching the surface of how hospitable the locals can be. Thank you, Wexford!
 Sketching Premier's Fish and Chips from Burgler Doyles Bar

Sketching inside my favourite art store in Wexford

Paint out at the Woodville House in New Ross

I sold this piece from Kilmore Quay

 Met Aussie painter Leon Holmes and 
learnt a thing or two about self-made easel boxes

Dylan with his personalised Rosemary brushes

 Us having ice cream with Brendan Howlin

Carlos, Antti and Mish

 Sold to Kelly's Deli

With Bill Kelly and his daughter. Thank you for stopping by!

Truly humbled that this piece was bought by the County Council of Wexford

 Won the O'Brien Award for this Quick Draw piece

This is Sadhbh ('Sive') - the artist who won the sketching contest.
Watch out for her, Wexford!

With Roger Dellar

I met Van Gogh! John Moriarty taught me how 
to fly a drone within minutes.

We all studied in Florence! :)

I spent a lot of time documenting and putting together the sights and sounds of the entire event.
Here are the videos links for Art in the Open 2017. Enjoy and share!

Day 1 - Wexford Town
Day 2 - Woodville House
Day 3 - Kilmore Quay
Day 4 - Enniscorthy
Day 6 - Hook Head
Day 7 - Quick Draw
Day 8 - Exhibition
Day 8 - Gala Dinner

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: