Sketch Bhutan June 2018 / by erwin lian

Last week, in collaboration with Drukasia, I conducted Sketch Bhutan 2018. Similar to last year, participants from Australia and Singapore joined me on an all-inclusive sketching tour to Bhutan. Within 7 days, they learned about sketching and painting on-site while touring Bhutan.

Here are some of my paintings and sketches completed during the workshops:

 Flight to Bhutan via Drukair

Flight to Bhutan via Drukair

 Tiger nest sketch 

Tiger nest sketch 

 Tashichho Dzong, Thimphu

Tashichho Dzong, Thimphu

 Chimi Lhakhang , Punakha

Chimi Lhakhang , Punakha

 Thimphu from Namgay Heritage

Thimphu from Namgay Heritage

 Live drawing of Sangay

Live drawing of Sangay

 Chimi Lhakhang, Punakha (36.5 cm x 24 cm)

Chimi Lhakhang, Punakha (36.5 cm x 24 cm)

 Punakha Dzong, 37.5cm x 21 cm)

Punakha Dzong, 37.5cm x 21 cm)

 Shop houses opposite the post office. (26 cm x 18 cm)

Shop houses opposite the post office. (26 cm x 18 cm)

 Tashichho Dzong 27 cm x 12.5 cm

Tashichho Dzong 27 cm x 12.5 cm

The backstory to Sketch Bhutan:
About three years ago, I spent a month in Bhutan volunteering as an Art coach to various primary schools and organization.

 Taught drawing to Shaba Primary and donated some art supplies to their art club.

Taught drawing to Shaba Primary and donated some art supplies to their art club.

As part of my effort, I rallied a few Bhutanese friends to initiate Thimphu’s Urban Sketchers chapter. Just like that, Urban Sketchers, Thimphu chapter was born =)

 The founding members of Urban Sketchers, Thimphu 

The founding members of Urban Sketchers, Thimphu 

While I enjoyed coaching art to students in Bhutan, one of the things that troubled me extensively was the guilt of influencing others to pick up art where a livelihood may never be realized. When Bhutanese children asked me about the future of being an artist?

 At Shaba Primary, I brought them art supplies and sketchbooks sponsored by Bynd Artisan and a few friends.

At Shaba Primary, I brought them art supplies and sketchbooks sponsored by Bynd Artisan and a few friends.

I cringed and advised them to enjoy sketching merely as a hobby. This episode bugged me for years as I persisted with my hunt for a more sustainable lifestyle in the arts. Sketch Bhutan is one of these initiatives where I bring tourists to Bhutan to not only sketch and tour but also for creating meaningful interactions and exchanges with Bhutanese artists. Members of VAST Bhutan (Voluntary Artists' Studio Thimphu) for instance, are welcome to attend our sketch lessons and a hired Bhutanese Art Instructor, Rajesh, co-teaches with me throughout our sketch and travel experience.

Unlike other sketching experiences that I'd attended, our focus isn’t on the technical competencies in sketching. Rather, I wanted to provide the perfect travel sketch experience where participants can very comfortably sketch and be fully immersed with their environment. Accompanied by a professional tour guide and driver, Sketch Bhutan offers the harmonious ease of an on-location group sketching experience.

Sketch Bhutan 2017

 Sketch Bhutan 2017

Sketch Bhutan 2017

Unlike other sketching experiences that I'd attended, our focus isn’t on the technical competencies in sketching. Rather, I wanted to provide the perfect travel sketch experience where participants can very comfortably sketch and be fully immersed with their environment. Accompanied by a professional tour guide and driver, Sketch Bhutan offers the harmonious ease of an on-location group sketching experience.

Highlights of Sketch Bhutan 2018:
This year, we managed to find a new and wonderful spot to sketch and paint Tashichho Dzong.

 Painting Tashichho Dzong 

Painting Tashichho Dzong 

 Another successful run of portrait drawing at VAST Bhutan

Another successful run of portrait drawing at VAST Bhutan

 Sangay and her friend Tshsten were our beautiful models

Sangay and her friend Tshsten were our beautiful models

Once again, we were very fortunate to have VAST Bhutan host us and invited Sangay and Tschten, to be our models. VAST students were amazingly attentive and time went by so quickly at VAST. 

 The friendly children in Thimphu.

The friendly children in Thimphu.

While sketching the old buildings around Thimphu, a group of children came to us and offered us candies.

 Punakha Dzong. The most beautiful Dzong in Bhutan

Punakha Dzong. The most beautiful Dzong in Bhutan

In Punakha, We switched gears and I taught color theory and the handling of pigment for plein-air watercolor studies. We also visited Bhutan’s most beautiful Dzong, Punakha Dzong and spent our evening painting this iconic fortress.

Of course, we didn’t forget to end our trip without a sketch Bhutan’s most sublime attraction, The Tiger Nest at Paro.

 Phyllis sketching up at Tiger's Nest

Phyllis sketching up at Tiger's Nest

When is the next Sketch Bhutan

As long as there are 4 participants interested? They can register via Drukasia tour agency.
Bhutan’s finest artist, Rajesh will be leading Sketching Bhutan. Rajesh is a co-founder of VAST Bhutan and has extensive experience teaching, sketching and painting on-location.

Contact Drukasia today to request for a sketching tour.

 Rajesh, one of the finest artists in Bhutan will be leading Sketch Bhutan tours. Contact Drukasia to book your next sketching tour. 

Rajesh, one of the finest artists in Bhutan will be leading Sketch Bhutan tours. Contact Drukasia to book your next sketching tour. 

What have I learned or gained from starting Sketching Bhutan?

1st time:

  • Blown away by Bhutan’s pristine landscape and wished I have more time to paint the place.This wish came true when Drukasia bartered the usage of my sketches on their corporate calendar in exchange for a 2 weeks trip to Bhutan
 Paintings featured in Drukasia's calendar

Paintings featured in Drukasia's calendar


2nd time:
Solo painting trip.

  • I gotten to know quite a number people and was given this special cockpit landing experience.Was commissioned by Drukair to do a painting.
  • Participated in a group show with the finest Bhutan Artists in Singapore. 
 Group show with Asha Karma and other VAST artists.

Group show with Asha Karma and other VAST artists.

3rd time:

  • Spent close to 3 weeks teaching and sketching Bhutan.
  • Volunteered to do sketching and painting workshops at Shaba primary, VAST Bhutan and also Thimphu Primary school.
  • Experienced the real local life with local accommodations.
 Teaching basic of drawing at VAST Bhutan

Teaching basic of drawing at VAST Bhutan

  • Help founded Urban Sketchers, Thimphu chapter. The following year, founding members of Urban Sketchers, Thimphu were invited to attend the Urban Sketchers Symposium in Singapore.
 Look for the Bhutanese in the group !

Look for the Bhutanese in the group !

4th time:

  • Collaborated with Drukasia and initiated Sketch Bhutan. Brought 8 special participants to The Kingdom of Bhutan. The whole experience forced me to recognize and come to term with various aspects of running a successful traveling workshop. From cost and preparation of art materials, marketing, to the considerations of logistical arrangements and teaching materials, it was challenging to make these work. The operation needed to be profitable so that it can be sustainable. 
 Sketch Bhutan 2017

Sketch Bhutan 2017

5th time:
Second Sketch Bhutan.

  • Successfully handed Sketch Bhutan to Bhutan artists, Rajesh.
  • Operations will continue with more frequencies!
  • I had plenty of epiphanies throughout these trips but what hit me hard on the 5th trip were our interactions with romance. Often driven by insecurities, many of us like to park our ideals in romance and unconsciously subscribed to delusions.
  • It’s also interesting to note that by doing something for the locals, I am granted this ‘role-reversal’, where I get to experience how it is like to be ‘in control’ and to objectively assess my own predicaments and solutions. The tussle for power, status and pecking order diminishes in the grand scheme of things.  Life is just a dream.