By: Danielle Gabriel

Imagine being transported back in time, when class discussions were done outside in broad daylight. Imagine the period of Classicism when the old masters of the arts would take to the streets and record society’s ways and living in canvass. Fast-forward to almost a millennium and one would think the tradition is slowly being lost. However, a group of artists in the Philippines have resolved to keep the art of drawing on location alive and kicking.
Urban Sketchers Philippines is one of the Asian chapters of an international community of artists that started in the United States by a journalist named Gab Campanario. With a background in media, Campanario founded the organization in 2007 with a goal of promoting drawing that depicts real life.
Now on its sixth year, with more or less 2,000 members on Facebook and monthly sketch walks, Urban Sketchers Philippines is becoming a more dynamic group that is slowly gaining stance on social issues and on the development of art in the country.

Now on its sixth year, with more or less 2,000 members on Facebook and monthly sketch walks, Urban Sketchers Philippines is becoming a more dynamic group that is slowly gaining stance on social issues and on the development of art in the country.
Band musician Au Castro, afterwards, shares his experience of doing live sketching for three years, riding in his trusty bicycle all around the metro. According to Castro, traveling on two wheels in his series of “sketch rides,” lets him spot locations which are not normally given attention and challenges him to excel on his art.

The artists line up by the pillars to get a view of one area in the park
“Practice is the key to all skills. Even when I wasn’t an Urban Sketcher, live sketching is part of the practice because that’s the best practice you can get when it comes to eye-to-hand. I choose subjects that are historical, and a bit of reportage like slum areas. It’s a mix,” Castro says as he sketches a portion of the gazebo. It’s the archs that had appealed to him the most.
Eileen Escueta, an entrepreneur, looked equally as dainty as her artwork. Propped in a stool, she did not seem to mind the heat as the hours approached noon, but instead is busy creating a watercolor art of a sculpture and the Zen Garden. Along with other “part-time” artists, she has a project called Sketcheater, wherein they sketch restaurant goodies, coffee and tea favorites.
“It keeps my mind working instead of just playing on my phone. Joining Urban Sketchers and the regular sketch walks, I am able to practice, and slowly you really see the difference in your work. It becomes more natural to you,” Escueta shares.


In between the three-hour sketch session, Arlegui would reiterate their organization’s manifesto and the importance of developing arts education in the country not just for artists but also for the laymen.

Backtracking a little, Arlegui shares some insights from their sketch walk in 2014 featuring the 100-year-old El Hogar Filipino Building in Binondo, saying that there should be more tolerance and appreciation for heritage structures in the Philippines. However, with the lack of training and education in the country, it is possible that more and more buildings will be replaced by commercial institutions with modern design.

Arlegui flips through his sketchbook,      showing the many places and events he’s drawn
“It wasn’t anything planned but in a way it became an awareness to protest, that we have the power to actually have a voice. We’re lacking in heritage appreciating, culture. It’s integrated into the school system but I don’t see any evidence,” Arlegui says.
Randy Valiente, a comic book artist and illustrator and one of the earliest members of the group, affirmed the sentiment saying there is some power to sketching in location as it provides

“We can preserve the spots through drawing and painting. We have had a lot of sketch walks before of old buildings that are going to get demolished. It’s for people to become aware that these structures exists and that they shouldn’t be removed,” Valiente says.

The demolition of the El Hogar, one of the few early American period structures in Manila, is put on hold thanks to efforts of heritage advocates and the intervention of the National Historical Commission of the Philippines. However, nothing is set on stone yet similar to the Rizal Memorial Sports Complex in Taft Avenue, Manila, which can still be subject to the same fate as structures in Santa Cruz and Escolta that have bid farewell.

The situation is not only alarming for fine arts and architecture students. The lack of education and understanding on the arts and culture in the Philippines is a prerequisite to more individuals disregarding and paying less respect not only historical and heritage landmarks but also in the surrounding in general, Arlegui says.

“Arts education here is lagging. There is a study I did and I found out that roughly 80 percent of incoming architecture students have no artistic training. For that, we have a difficult time teaching them. It goes to show that drawing is the least priority in schools whereas in developed countries, humanities and the arts is fully integrated in the school system,” Arlegui says. “Yes, it’s a cultural thing. But because these countries focus on education and in exposing the students to artistry, everything follows. If we have a high level of visual literacy and appreciating culture, everything is about perceiving and seeing artistically. Our environments become better.”

One of the artists brought a stool with her to allow her comfort as she paints
Getting their fair share of raised eyebrows and reprimanding security guards every now and then during their sketch walks proves the quality of art appreciation in the country, but it is part of the process that has to be undergone before the Philippines is fully awakened.
Taking down the elitist impression that clouds artist groups, Urban Sketchers Philippines holds monthly sketch walks where individuals are free to join and discuss with others who are also into art. The group also holds some workshops and talks in partnership with the likes of the National Museum and Ayala Museum. They are also bound to release a publication soon.
“Our advocacy is to be an organization that promotes sketching, seeing, thinking, and feeling. We don’t want it to be so political. It goes back to appreciation, culture, artistry,” Arlegui says.
As if on cue, the group decides to pack up as the clock approaches noon. They lay out their works for everybody to see–a collage of different sized sketchbooks containing a variety of styles and brush strokes, some in more vivid colors, and the other in muted tones. The urban sketchers then posed for a pic, exchanged discussion on art techniques and material, and then set off to their individual errands.
Then the process of artistic rebirth continues the next month, only in a different location.
Urban Sketches is a group with branches all over the world

Look at what Urban Sketchers are doing to help preserve these national treasures through artistry

What can you do?

  • Keeping our enviornment beautiful is a team effort. Help clean our cities.
  • Be informed and aware of your country’s cultural heritage sites and fight for their preservation

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