Chennai Weekend Artists is a group that meets at different locations to capture many facets of the city on canvas

It’s a cool cloudy morning. At the Semmozhi Poonga, the noise of the traffic at the nearby Gemini circle seems a world away. With butterflies busily flitting about and birds a-chirping and trees all around, it is the kind of idyllic setting artists crave. No wonder then that it is the favourite spot in the city for Chennai Weekend Artists (CWA). “All over the world there are artists who do what is called ‘on location’ sketching,” says Muralidharan Alagar of the group.

CWA is a group of artists who sketch on location in and around Chennai during weekends. It has close to 100 members of which eight form the core, and they are present every week at these outings. “For all of us in the group, art is a way to beat stress and a break from our regular jobs,” adds Muralidharan, a software professional. “Nobody is a professional artist here.” For 41-year-old Ganapathy Subramaniam the group is a chance to be part of a global urban art movement. “In countries such as Japan this sort of group sketching in public has gained momentum. What I get out of this outing is similar to what artists say they get at art school. I have learnt a lot about other people’s styles too,” he adds.

For Balaji Venugopal, his wife Nithya and daughter Kalpana the group has been a great bonding experience. “While I have been sketching for 10 years, I have been doing so ‘on location’ only recently; for about a year,” says the 66-year-old architect. Balaji brings with him a curious implement, a walking stick/chair that he sits on while sketching “It is most rewarding to sketch on location because when you are sketching at home you are probably looking at a two-dimensional image of something for inspiration. Here we get to choose what goes into our frame,” he says and adds, “I feel energised at the end of every session! It is akin to meditation.”

For his wife Nithya, who is on the board of the NGO Nalamdana, sketching on location is all about energy. “I love sketching on the go and spend anywhere between five to 20 minutes on my drawings,” she says and adds, “Busy market places and temples are my favourite spots!” The family also loves to sketch while away on holidays together. Kalpana, also an architect and a designer for a theatre group, chips in, “In India if you are out on the streets you tend to draw attention. Some good; some not so good. If you are in a group you can draw strength from it and sketch unperturbed. It also brings discipline in the sense that while I love sketching, I might not be doing so regularly if I weren’t a part of the group.”

Prabha Subramanian, a 54-year-old homemaker heard about the group from her daughter-in-law who also sketches. “I do pencil sketches and also a bit of Chinese painting which I learnt while I was in Hong Kong. My family has been very supportive and I manage to slot time for these sessions every week,” she says.

“Many a time, especially when we sketch faces, people are curious. Some parents think we do this for a living and form a queue, asking us to sketch their kids next,” Ganapathy laughs.

“This group helps me to break away from routine,” says Francis M. Ravindran, also an architect who sketches buildings, landscape and people. Software engineer Alok Kumar, who hails from Bihar, took to sketching almost after six years when he joined this group in March this year. “I was very hesitant initially. But now I can pull out my sketch book anywhere and just start!” he says as he shows us his dark and almost Hitchcock-like pencil impressions of the city’s heritage monuments.

Muralidharan, who moved to Chennai from Bangalore because he missed the city, says, “When I was in class VI my art teacher drew a few lines and asked me what it was. I was puzzled. He added a few more lines and it turned out to be a sketch. I was amazed. I hope my fascination for sketching which began then continues for a long time.”

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