One day at the weekend, you may catch a group of people sitting on the sidewalk in Hanoi, in front of an ancient house, or a small street corner, focusing on easels. They are members of the Urban Sketchers Hanoi (USK Hanoi) who tell the story of the city in their own language of sketching paintings.

A member of Urban Sketchers Hanoi is capturing the beauty of Hanoi’s street. Photo: Le Ngoc Quang

In 2016, the USK Hanoi was founded by a group of architects including Tran Thi Thanh Thuy, Dinh Hai, Chu Quoc Binh, and Nguyen Hoang Lam. They aim to preserve Hanoi’s beauty and spread their love for it to the community through sketches to raise the awareness of protecting and promoting Hanoi’s heritage and cultural values.

The group’s founders depict the culture, history, art, and architecture of the city in their paintings, especially the valuable ancient works in the process of urbanization. 

Sketching is a form of drawing that is the first step of painting helping record images on all materials in a short time with the artist’s emotions, according to architect Thuy. “Nowadays many sketches have become artworks and have been appreciated by the public.”

Since the early days after the group was established, Thuy said that the sketching on the street has attracted many people to come and join. The group has about 5,000 members all over the country and abroad. They come from different ages and occupations like architects, painters, officers, students, retired people as well as children. 

“Sketching is suitable for both people experienced in painting and new beginners,” Thuy said, “everyone in the group can freely feel and draw on various materials to express their different perspectives. Therefore, the sketches of our group are very diverse and have their own identity.”

Memories and shares

Young Hanoian sketchers. Photo: Hoang Quach

Through the sketches, members of USK Hanoi can recall and share memories of Hanoi with friends and future generations.

They have organized events like exhibitions, the most outstanding of those was the Asia – Hanoi Sketch Journey 2019, which attracted many international artists to participate.

In addition, USK Hanoi has launched books of their works like “Hanoi’s old apartment building”, “Hanoi Old Quarter – Sketches and Memories”, and “Hanoi’s impression from sketches of French buildings”. The books also tell readers stories that inspired them to overcome the difficulties of life.

“Those sketches are only a few among tens of thousands of pictures of USK members. Many of them “save” the last image of a place that has been gone later,” Thuy said.

Different from other kinds of paintings, sketching has its own distinctive features and uniqueness, which help spread the painter’s love for Hanoi, making them more attractive like journey diary pages.

Under the circumstances of the Covid-19 pandemic, USK Hanoi has changed its activities. In the time of social distancing, it launched a sketching challenge for everyone.

“In the serious situation of the pandemic when movement was limited, painting is the spiritual remedy for people to overcome the tough time more easily because it is an interesting activity, helping people relax and refresh,” another founder, architect Binh said.

The challenge attracted many people of all ages to participate, contributing hundreds of interesting pictures with diverse perspectives. Particularly, besides the fine art, these sketches also showed the atmosphere of Hanoi in the battle against the pandemic, such as family spending time together, physical exercises, and measures to prevent and control the Covid-19, among others.

Through their activities, the USK Hanoi shows not only their deep love for Hanoi but also their attitude to the city’s culture and life. It opens a new way to approach cultural heritage through sketching which is a different language from pictures taken by cameras, bringing a new aesthetic experience to the contemporary public. “Let’s live slowly and observe a little more to fall in love with Hanoi more,” said Thuy.

Hang Be Street. Sketcher: Vuong Long
Hang Bun Street. Sketcher: Vuong Long
Hang Chieu Street. Sketcher: Dong Thinh
                                                   Lien Tri Street. Sketcher: Dang Viet Loc
Ta Hien Street. Sketcher: Binh Chu
Bang Lang (Lagerstroemia) Flowers in Hanoi Street. Sketcher: Pham Thanh Son 
Muong Hoang Yen (Osaka) Flowers on the bank of the West Lake. Sketcher: Pham Thanh Son
Flamboyant Flower. Sketcher: Pham Thanh Son
The season of Pomelo Flowers. Sketcher: Xuan Hien