During the Covid-19 lockdown in Indonesia, what kept Malaysian Gladys Teo-Simpson sane was her art.
Confined to her home in Jakarta, the talented sketch artist made good use of her time to create a sketch journal that documented her life during the pandemic.
Called the Lockdown Journal, it contains various pictures that tell of her experience during the lockdown in a foreign land.
“These past four months have been extraordinary times for everyone, and we are still living it. While the lockdown was worrying, I wanted to capture the simple joy I encountered each day, ” said Teo-Simpson, 51, in an email interview recently.
The homemaker has been based in Jakarta since last year after her husband, Gavin Simpson, was transferred there for work.
By working on the sketch journal, Teo-Simpson was able to provide evidence of her inner world during the lockdown. Created within the four walls of her home, the journal features sketches of plants, her pet dog and various scenes of life.
“I sketched almost every day and that has kept me sane during the lockdown. It was something I looked forward to and something I did each day, in between cooking and cleaning. Hopefully, I can show my grandkids this visual diary in years to come, ” said the mother of two children aged 18 and 20.
One of the most eye-catching pieces is of a medical team dressed in hazardous material (Hazmat) suits who came to her home to test her husband for Covid-19.
“That was surreal, like a scene from a Hollywood movie. It was just bizarre. I never thought we’d be living in these strange times.”
Teo-Simpson started the journal on Palm Sunday (April 5) and completed it on June 19.
“The lockdown has taught me that there’s beauty even in the simplest things. It can range from the way the sun casts its shadows during different times of the day to the way my dog lazes.”
For the Lockdown Journal, she used an accordion sketch journal format, where continuous sheets of paper open up like an accordion.
“It’s a matter of getting the measurements right and having a steady hand when you’re slicing thick paper. I’ve had lots of practice as I worked in advertising for 15 years, ” said Teo-Simpson, who gave up her job as an art director in 2003 to be a full-time mum.
Teo-Simpson is also a member of Urban Sketches, a non-profit organisation comprising a global community of artists who practise on-location drawing in cities, towns and villages. She obtained several sketching ideas from the group during the pandemic.
“It’s also helpful that Urban Sketchers has held a live chat every Sunday since the pandemic started. Seasoned sketchers from all walks of life and different corners of the world would talk about their sketching style and give art challenges. It is something I look forward to every Sunday, ” explained Teo-Simpson, who takes five minutes to do a simple sketch and about two hours to complete a sketch with paint.
Ironically, the graphic design graduate hated sketching in college.
“I went to art school, but sketching was not my strong point. I never sketched until Aug 13,2014. My first urban sketch was a view from the window of the Sofitel Plaza Hotel in Hanoi. From then on, I fell in love with sketching, and I have never really stopped since.”
Over the years, she has produced hundreds of beautiful drawings ranging from places of interest, people, food to celebrations. Her work can be viewed on gladsketches.blogspot.com.
Sketching, she said, provides her with an opportunity to explore her creative streak.
“When I sketch, I don’t just draw the subject or view that I see. I try to find out how a person relates to the surroundings or about the history of the place. I liken it to visual reportage.
“If you have the passion and interest, you would do anything to perfect your skill. Eventually, you will develop a style and discover which drawing materials suit you best. Over time, lugging along watercolours, pens, brushes, foldable chairs and sketchbooks becomes a norm, ” shared Teo-Simpson, who turns to social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram to polish her skills.
Out of the many sketch subjects, she enjoys working on pets, mainly dog portraits, the most.
“I have drawn about three hundred dog portraits, from tiny bookmarks to a 20 x 30 inch (50cm x 76cm) painting. It is a real joy to immortalise these dogs, be it a toy poodle to a gigantic Irish wolfhound. These portraits bring so much comfort, joy and peace to the owners.”
Now that the Lockdown Journal is completed, Teo-Simpson is busy capturing scenes of people adapting to the new normal in Jakarta in masks and full plastic face covers.
“Many restaurants in South Jakarta have embraced the new normal with innovative ways to keep clean. One of my sketches features a washbasin sitting at the entrance for customers to clean up without touching the taps with their bare hands. You just have to step on the paddles to dispense the soap and water. As I’m sketching, it’s funny to see some people trying to figure out how to use it, ” she concluded.
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