The Delhi chapter of Urban Sketchers is discovering the joy of painting as a community instead of staying home alone
She takes a pinch of turquoise blue at the tip of her paintbrush and with one stroke composes the first line of the wide blue sky. She pauses to take another look at the magnificent monument in front of her and unmindfully brushes her face with her paint-smudged hands, leaving a streak of the sky on her cheek. Unmindful, Juhi continues to paint. That’s how bewitched she is.
Juhi is just one of the artists who eagerly look forward to the weekly sketch meet organised by Delhi’s Urban Sketchers group — a community of artists who practise location painting in the heart of the city.
Niraj Gupta, former MD of AT&T (South Asia), founded Urban Sketchers Delhi last year. He believes Delhi is one of the most influential cities in history — like Rome, Constantinople, Mecca, Babylon — offering great sketching and learning opportunity with numerous well-preserved monuments. On speaking about its inception, he says: “I came across Urban Sketchers (USk), which is a decade-old global community of sketchers, in New York for the first time. I was asked by USk to start a chapter in Delhi and we did it in May 2017. Since then we have had 46 sketch meets in various parts of city.”
He further adds, “Our members come from varied backgrounds: telecom, aviation, IT, diplomats, housewives, students, teachers. We are like a family with a common passion.” Gupta also draws attention to the fact that his objective is to spread awareness regarding some relevant issues like preservation and restoration of historical monuments. “Also, our aim is to be strong and organised enough, so that we are able to hold USk’s Annual Global Convention in Delhi where thousands of sketchers can join us (in 2017 and 2018 they were held in Chicago and Portugal respectively).”
Rituraj Dixit, who is an active participant as well as co-manages the group’s social media activities, was interested in painting since childhood. It was monotony at the workplace that made him look for something to rejuvenate his mind and soul. “Earlier, I used to spend my weekends lazing away. But now, every Sunday I take up my paintbrush kit, my sketch book and join the sketch meet,” says Dixit. He says the three to four hours he spends painting here, he tends to forget about worldly issues, his work and everything else. “It is like meditation. It gives me peace of mind,” he adds.
“There has not been a single day that has gone by without painting. I paint every day,” says Juhi Kumar. She has been a regular in the urban sketchers group since its inception. Her passion for painting did not let her continue her teaching profession for long. But it was her history background that evoked her love for capturing historical sites and monuments in her paintings. When asked what made her join the group, she says: “Since I was always into painting and not so much into sketching, I wanted to try the latter. Also, this gives one the opportunity to come out and paint amidst nature, from real locations, from life.”
Every Sunday, they select one location in the city where they meet up, sit together and paint. Not only that, they share their work with each other and discuss different intriguing ways of painting and sketching. They learn, they laugh and enjoy themselves while creating magnificent artworks. Till now, they have covered places like Humayun’s Tomb, Safdarjung Tomb, Lodi Gardens, Mehrauli, Saket Mall, Connaught Place, Qutub Minar. Their artwork narrates the story of each place they visit — their culture, the people and most importantly, the essence of the place. They inform the whereabouts of their sketch meets through their Facebook page.
For Monali Haldipur, a flight attendant by profession, painting is a way to capture the essence of a city. She has been a part of the group since last year. “I enjoy sketching. Even when I am travelling, I sketch,” she says. While explaining what made her wanting to be a part of the Urban Sketchers group she says, “It gives me a chance to mingle with like-minded people. Also, it gives one the chance to learn, to inspire and to be inspired.”
According to her, the best aspect of the group is that it is open to all, and there’s no restrictions whatsoever. “One need not be from an art background. All you need to do is to bring your sketchbook, sit and paint whatever is in front of you. Simple,” adds Monali.
Rituraj believes that the best thing about USk is that not only is it open to all, but there is absolutely no age bar. “Our youngest group member is a boy who’s around five. He comes with his father, and sketches with great enthusiasm,” says Dixit. He further adds that theirs is a non-profit group, and there’s no plan to go commercial because he believes “art should be free, open to all.” Moreover, there’s no restriction as to whether someone will use pencil or water colour or charcoal to paint. There’s liberty to do anything and everything.
For Sonam Jaiswal, this group is a platform which gives her the opportunity to nurture her passion for painting. She works for a publishing house, and every week makes it a point to join the sketch meet. “It was from my friend Rituraj that I came to know about this group. Since then, I have been a part of it,” she says.
Many of them feel that these sketch meets are a great opportunity for amateur and budding painters. “Mostly what we (painters) do is use our imagination to paint. But these sketch meets gives you the paint from life, at real locations — which I feel is a great practice, especially for amateur painters.”
A restless second year student of the College of Art Delhi, Subhendu Sarkar, who joined them recently, seconds the view. “I feel these sketch meets create an atmosphere conducive to beginners or budding painters like me. For instance, before this when I independently tried location painting in several parts of the city, I had to face certain problems. But now, when I go with the USk group, it’s much easier and hassle-free, I would say.”
Presently, USk Delhi is in its fledgeling stage, with only a few members. “Ours is a small group. We have people from all walks of life joining in. We have become a small family, I feel,” says Juhi. Monali, on the other hand believes ‘the more, the merrier’. She says, “I am looking forward to more people joining our group.”
Dixit believes paintings are like preserving memories — the memory of an event, a place or a person — which gets engraved or imprinted in one’s mind. “It’s like documenting reality,” he feels. As we often believe, every place has a soul and a story to tell. These group of artists, through their paintings, attempts to capture the soul in their artwork, while narrating the story of that place.