Plein takeoff: After Thrissur and Kochi, Urban Sketchers - Thiruvananthapuram gets global recognition 

Taking note of its unique mission to artistically document the cityscape, the passionate group got acknowledged as an official regional chapter of the global USk community
Members of Urban Sketchers, Thiruvananthapuram
Members of Urban Sketchers, Thiruvananthapuram

Every Sunday, a diverse group of individuals, armed with their artistic tools, converge to capture the aesthetics and vibe of the capital city’s urban spaces and landscapes on paper and canvas. Just for the sheer joy of good-old plein air art.

This artistic congregation, known as Urban Sketchers (USk) - Thiruvananthapuram, initiated this visual exploration nearly a year ago. Taking note of its unique mission to artistically document the cityscape, the passionate group got acknowledged as an official regional chapter of the global USk community. 

“Besides documenting the structures, we  have been trying to capture the city’s moods at different
times and occasions,” explains Jayakrishnan K B, architect and founder of USk - Thiruvananthapuram.
“This process is interesting because the same place appears different in the eyes of varied people. The art changes with the artist’s perspective.”

So far, the group has covered about 60 spots in Thiruvananthapuram. “At some point, these spaces and structures we capture will become a memory, either fading away or undergoing changes,” adds Jayakrishnan.

“Over time, both time and space will evolve. Hence, such works become an integral part of a city’s memory. In a way, it’s a big responsibility, which extends to all Usk community members worldwide.”
A brainchild of journalist Gabriel Campanario, USk was founded in Seattle in 2007. It followed a simple funda: draw surroundings, and make a record of time and space.

The global community now has a presence in 420 cities across 70 countries. Global members meet up every year to celebrate places, art and culture. There are no rigid rules; whoever loves the process of sketching can join this community.

The roots of USk in India trace back to Pune in 2016. Today, it has expanded to 18 cities across the country. In Kerala, the community has its regional chapters in Thrissur, Kochi, and Thiruvananthapuram. In January, USk - Thrissur became the first unit in Kerala to officially get recognised by the global community. The Kochi unit got the thumbs-up in July.

Jayakrishnan is delighted that USk - Thiruvananthapuram has also finally got the global recognition. This means the group will get more exposure, and opportunities to be part of international symposiums and meetups.  

“There are no dos and don’ts ; everyone contributes using their preferred tools and medium. The only criterion is that the work should be authentic — a depiction of something witnessed, not an imaginary creation,” he says, elaborating on the group’s Sunday sojourns.  

“The core team selects a location and shares it on social media. People gather at the chosen spot, find their comfortable space, and pick individual spots to sketch. There’s also been an effort to document city activities, such as Keraleeyam.”

Sriram A, a member of USk - Thiruvananthapuram says he came across the community through Instagram. “It’s a lovely concept. Usually, we sketch urban landscapes, often focusing on monuments and the surrounding ecosystem. As a collective, we engage in discussions about techniques, paper choices, and tools,” he adds.

“For me, it’s a chance to explore the city. Every weekend, we choose a location and spend two hours sketching, and it becomes a moment captured in time. Some aim to understand the history of the place, making it a space for gaining knowledge. During Keraleeyam, we created a canvas that was 6-7ft long, incorporating 20–25 sketches. It was an incredible experience, and it is a medium for broader outreach,” says Sriram who also works as a disaster management associate with Kerala Institute of Local Administration.  

Sriram adds that, with global recognition, the group can organise events using the official logo. “The cultural richness in Thiruvananthapuram offers tremendous scope. We hope to organise camps, extending invitations to people from outside the community,” he says.

Another member, Sandeep S P, a graphic designer, echoes Sriram’s views on the USk experience. “When I participate in these Sunday meetups, I get to observe a more detailed view of the place and its environment than what one typically notices in everyday life,” he says.

N Nandhakumar, 67, brings an inspiring perspective to the USk community. He is a third-stage cancer survivor who is battling Parkinson’s disease. He finds relief in sketching, and the Sunday sessions have become a therapeutic escape, allowing him to set aside thoughts of his illness.

“I was looking for a meaningful way to spend my time. I saw a small piece in a newspaper and decided to join this community,” he smiles.“You can create whatever you want. Sketch, paint, use watercolours…  it’s your choice. Being a part of this group makes me feel younger, and I am genuinely excited about my Sundays.”

Riya Zacharia, one of the group admins and business analyst in Technopark says, USk is a “very friendly and non-judgmental community”. “We look forward to setting aside some time for the activity. Now it feels exhilarating to be recognised as part of the global community,” she smiles.

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