Illustrators here used to know one another only by the domain names of their personal websites. Full-time illustrator Michael Ng, also known as Mindflyer, decided to change things in 2006 with two other friends.
They set up a meeting with 18 other illustrators and the Organisation of Illustrators Council was born. Their first big event was a mass portrait drawing session in June 2007 for the monthly Market of Artists and Designers (better known as Maad) organised by the Red Dot Design Museum.
It involved a group of artists drawing a portrait of the same subject, or sitter in industry lingo, in varying styles. The group is now a regular fixture at Maad and has appeared at events such as last year's Singapore Night Festival.
"It was a bit scary because it was so new. People were not used to having their portraits drawn," recalls Mr Ng, 50, adding that they had difficulty finding sitters sometimes.
The illustration scene here has since grown and the Organisation of Illustrators Council is now one of at least three large drawing groups that are regularly spotted at various events and festivals.
For example, Urban Sketchers was part of Archifest 2013 and Band of Doodlers has appeared at various events organised by the National Library Board, among others.
Mr Zaihan Kariyani, a self-employed designer and art director who is a core member of Urban Sketchers, attributes the growing community to the increasing popularity of illustration as an art form.
"You see it more in advertisements, for example," says the 33-year-old.
These groups are visual spectacles in themselves due to their sheer size.
Organisation of Illustrators Council is the undisputed big brother in the scene with about 200 members, while Urban Sketchers and Band of Doodlers have about 80 and 100 members respectively.
On average, 20 to 50 artists take part in their events, making their mass drawing sessions a performance of sorts.
Ms Mavis Leong, 33, a manager in the hospitality industry, first saw Band of Doodlers at the Jurong Regional Library earlier this year.
She says: "It was interesting to see such a big group drawing and interacting with the public. People could pick up a marker and draw with them."
This process of co-creation, both with fellow artists and members of the public, is key to Band of Doodlers. All the artists work with black markers on a single canvas, usually a bare white wall.
"We get to do the thing our parents didn't let us do when we were young - draw on walls," says founder Mas Shafreen, 42, who is a senior assistant director at the Public Utilities Board by day.
Set up last year, the group is very active and members try to meet at least once a week to draw at *Scape in Orchard Road.
Another regular in the scene is Urban Sketchers, set up in 2009 by artist and educator Madam Tia Boon Sim, who is in her late 50s. It is the local chapter of an international organisation based in the United States.
The group goes on monthly "sketch walks", drawing scenes at different places such as Circular Road and Haw Par Villa. While members are free to roam, there is a stipulated time to meet for a sharing session.
"We don't try to make it into a competition," says Mr Zaihan.
Anyone can join Urban Sketchers and Band of Doodlers. Organisation of Illustrators Council picks members who can draw, as well as build up the community, such as by helping to organise events.
There is no rivalry among the groups, which are self-funded. Members can join more than one group.
For Mr Ng, it is about adding vibrancy to the scene and making illustrators more visible. His group also serves as a support system for artists, with its Facebook page doubling as a forum where they can discuss problems and share information.
Members such as Kenneth Chin, 18, have benefited from joining such groups. The hearingimpaired student from Temasek Polytechnic joined Urban Sketchers in 2011. "Art is an avenue for me to relax and I've met many professional artists who have inspired me," says Chin, who wears a hearing aid.
Ultimately, the artists hope to encourage more people to pick up their drawing pens. "Art can be a part of everyday life. It's a way for you to express yourself and the beauty in life," says Mr Zaihan.
PORTRAITS AFTER DARK
What: Get your portraits drawn or watch the artists from Organisation of Illustrators Council in action
Where: Maad Market at Red Dot Design Museum, 28 Maxwell Road
When: Tonight, 7.30 to 10.30pm
Admission: Free, $25 if you want your portraits drawn (includes two portrait drawings, additional drawings available at $10 each)
Info: For portraits to be drawn, register at www.oicsingapore.com/events
STARBUCKS DESIGN-YOUR-OWN TUMBLER-CARD
What: Artists from Band of Doodlers and Organisation of Illustrators Council will personalise Starbucks tumblercards, which let users scan the tumbler to pay for drinks.
Where: Starbucks at The Fullerton Waterboat House, 02-01/2/3
When: Tomorrow, 2 to 5pm
Admission: Limited to the first 100 customers who buy a drink (prices start from $3.70 for a tall brewed coffee)
What: Join the Urban Sketchers as they draw on location, followed by a sharing session afterwards.
Where: Venue to be announced
When: Oct 25 (every last Saturday of the month)
This article was first published on Oct 10, 2014.
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