Johor Sketchers

Renee Mohd showing off her sketches of
the Pontian coastline
Inspired by the spirit of the US-based Urban Sketchers, a group of people in Johor who are passionate about sketching, have adopted their principles and started to sketch scenes from observation in various locations in Johor. These individuals were already involved with sketching and painting in various mediums but the birth of Johor Sketchers brought them together to share their passion for sketching.  Since its inception in June 2013 this group has been meeting regularly to capture on paper, some of the most iconic scenes that are unique to Johor.

It all started when American, Buzwalker Teach, an art lecturer with Raffles University Iskandar in Nusajaya, met with local sketch artist, Taib Aur, at his kiosk along Jalan Wong Ah Fook.  Teach, better known as Buz, was thrilled to see Taib’s sketches of local scenery and to meet a fellow sketching enthusiast.  When Buz presented Taib with a book of sketches by Urban Sketchers, they were inspired to start a similar group in Johor and hoped to someday compile such a book on Johor life and landscapes.

Taib Aur captures a scene of Orang Seletar
fisher-folk shucking mussels at their village
With this in mind, Taib connected Buz with local drawing enthusiasts like Mohd Hafizal Nordin, Eric Ng Han Meng and Khairi Maulana, who goes by the moniker, Tok Rimau, and they in turn invited their own network of like-minded friends to join Johor Sketchers.  While each one has their own style and choice of drawing or painting mediums, they share the same passion for going on site to sketch scenes from real life.  As this reflects the core principles of the Urban Sketchers to sketch from observation or to draw from life, it sparked off a creative connection that bonded the artists together distinctively as the Johor Sketchers. 

Members of Johor Sketchers started to hang out together and meet as often as twice a month for on-location events. Armed with his or her sketch book or sheets of paper, each sketch artist chooses a spot to sketch a scene or subject that appeal to him and soon after outlines appear on the paper in rapid freehand drawing, the images emerge.  Very often, the artists keep visual diaries to record a series of scenes viewed from a variety of angles before the sketch is fully developed with water-colours or other types of paints.

Buzwalker Teach with his sketch of a wooden shack with
amazing detail at Kg Bakar Batu Tampoi, Johor
Johor Sketchers have captured interesting scenes from trips to places like the marketplace in Batu Pahat, nearby Senibong, Stulang Laut and Johor Baru’s old mansions and iconic buildings. 

Trips such as these allow the members to enjoy the outdoors and get to know a place by talking to the local people who come to observe them while they sketch.  This not only gives them a sense of the place and its history but also an understanding of the sentimental value of a building or traditional lifestyle in a rapidly developing Johor.

Tok Rimau interacting with the
locals of Kg Bakar Batu Tampoi
Recently the Johor Sketchers went on location to Kampung Bakar Batu Tampoi, a fishing village on the edge of the Danga River populated by Orang Seletar.  The village presented rustic morning scenes of fisher-folk selling fishing bait from stalls, groups of women busy shucking mussels and boiling them in a cauldron heated by firewood while children and dogs play and loiter around.  

With an exclusive residential area being constructed on the opposite banks of the river and the new highway to Nusajaya in the horizon, members of the Johor Sketchers made it their mission to visually preserve such scenes as they are aware that sites like this may soon disappear. 

The portrait being painted by Eric Ng attracted
the interest of these Orang Seletar children
“Johor has big aspirations to develop into a modern metropolis but where will all this go?” asked Buz pragmatically as he added a few more details to his sketch of a wooden shack with one wall made of sheets of zinc roofing that the local fishermen use as a store for their equipment.  He is seated on a low stool and surrounded by curious children as he sketched in the morning sun while Mohd Hafizal Nordin picked his spot on the wooden jetty to sketch the image of a roughly constructed wooden pontoon.  With the tide out, this structure rested at an awkward angle on the dry shore but it certainly appears to be an interesting subject to him.

Taib Aur's sketch of the old Customs checkpoint at
Tanjung Puteri, fondly called the "duckhead," as it was
being demolished
“I take longer to draw a scene because I often stop to talk to people,” Buz added because he usually has curious observers asking him questions as in his experience while sketching a street scene at Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk.  He encourages and inspires his students with field trips to interesting places like Tan Hiok Nee Heritage Walk where they can draw on location and mingle with the local people. 

Buz, who has been living in Asia for the last 18 years, with a year and a half in Johor Baru, is excited that Johor Sketchers has brought so many sketch artists together including a visit by the Urban Sketchers of Singapore to JB.

A sketch of a crumbling old mansion in the grounds of the
Johor Baru Prison at Jalan Gertak Merah by Buz Teach
“When you sketch, you absorb the soul of a place,” said Tok Rimau and he went on to explain that the artist usually analyses the scene or the structure of a building before they start to sketch it.  Like most naturally gifted sketch artists, Tok Rimau, had his earliest drawing lessons from his father and has now learnt a great deal more through his interaction with fellow members.  He said all of us learnt to draw while we were in kindergarten and somehow lost the skills along the way but Johor Sketchers is encouraging everyone to rediscover the joys of sketching again.

Some members of the Johor Sketchers with Orang Seletar children at Kampung Bakar Batu Tampoi, Johor
“Our ultimate dream for Johor Sketchers is to compile our sketches of Johor into a book and preserve them for posterity,” said Taib who is clearly thrilled with how the creative passion of the members of Johor Sketchers is being ignited and honed by each other’s energy and creativity.  For more info about Johor Sketchers and their future events, email to: or

A version of this article was published in The New Straits Times, Streets Johor on 29 January 2014

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