“The World is So Big”. A very valid phrase, right? And with it’s huge size comes multiple perspectives from which to see it. I love James Tan’s sketches of his travels which he’s compiled in a new book dedicated to showing the world through his eyes (with the help of a trusty paintbrush!). From Turkey to Croatia to Japan, James has well and truly sketched his way around the world! There’s more info about the book itself at the bottom of the post.
Can you tell us a bit about your trip?
Being a Singaporean, it’s always quite convenient for us to travel to nearby places like Bali or Bangkok over a long weekend.
But my wife and I decided to do something different when we turned 40. And what better way than to travel for a period of 6 months from Asia to Eastern Europe. We bought a one way ticket out of Singapore and had a broad idea of the route and just planned for 2 countries in advance as we
travelled along the way, as well as setting a budget for each day. In total, we managed to cover 14 countries and over 30 cities in the 6 months.
We started from Asia and from there, travelled to Turkey and head into Eastern Europe, before moving on to Western Europe before coming back home.
Where did the idea for the book come from? Are there certain themes you wanted to cover?
I did not have a plan to do the book when we first started the trip, although I knew that I was going to draw a lot. The idea for the book grew organically as I was nearing the end of the trip, I realised that I have a lot of sketchbooks filled with my experiences from the trip.
I thought that having a book ,with all those sketches will be interesting to people who are interested to travel and record their memories/experiences through the art of sketching/drawing.
Your sketches have a lovely style to them – how did this develop?
I am a freelance illustrator and the nature of my work exposed me to various illustration style and those probably influenced me , together with European comics, which I loved. I also tried to be experimental with my art tools and be open to new approaches. I also have some friends in Singapore who draws. They are much better than me and draw more when they travel too . One of them is Don Low who draws really well and inspired me to draw better too. Another is Andrew Tan.
Let’s talk about process. What steps did you take when creating each piece?
Most of the works were done on-site and I usually try to find a spot or some cafe which offered a vantage point to draw.
Other times, I just find a quiet corner and record what I see. I carried an assortment of art tools and 2 sketchbooks of different formats so I can have a choice in deciding my subject matter. My process is pretty straightforward. I just tried to find a point of interest, whether it is people or a place and just sketched, without worrying too much. I will just switch the art tools around , sometimes using a pen, sometimes brush or watercolors.
What do you hope your sketches tell viewers about the places they depict?
Everyone sees the places they’ve been to differently, although there are similarities. But the experiences will be different and I hope that my sketches allow people to see the places a little different from what the typical travel book does.
Where/what was your favourite thing/place to sketch on your travels and why?
I think Dubrovnik is one of my favourite place to sketch as I could just sit in one of the many cafes in the old town and watch people.
There are also islands nearby to explore, together with the old town and alleys. The cruise ships will have large groups of tourists that bring them to the old town too and yet at night, it’s a quiet magical place to just walk and draw.
If you could travel anywhere in the world to sketch, where would it be and why?
I don’t really have a specific place I want to travel to and draw as each place has a different culture and vibes to it. I am comfortable drawing a concrete jungle like Hongkong or be in a real jungle to draw. All places can have a point of interest to draw, if one just be receptive to it.
Finally, do you have any tips for readers who might be interested in sketching whilst they travel?
I think having a sketchbook to draw what you see and record your thoughts is a good way to “preserve” those memories. There’s something more visceral than taking a photo.
You need to “pause” more and see more to be able to record your sketches. I would suggest that for beginners, just have a small sketchbook and a pencil/pen and just draw away and have fun- just like how a kid will instinctively pick up a crayon to doodle! Adults just have too much expectations when it comes to drawing.
The book is called “The World is So Big”. It’s currently retailing at SGD$35 and the hardcover book is 298 pages.
If anyone is interested- the publisher email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. You can email them for more details on how to get the book.
You can see more of James’ artwork on his blog.