10 things about: Urban sketcher Ch’ng Kiah Kiean BY OPALYN MOK

GEORGE TOWN, May 22 — Known for his graphite and watercolour sketches of buildings and streetscapes of Penang, Ch’ng Kiah Kiean’s rise to fame in the art world is one that is almost meteoric.

The 42-year-old has been sketching and drawing buildings since his school days so naturally, he went into architecture and graduated as an architect.

He worked as an architect for a short period before venturing into graphic design for 10 years. Though he only became a full-time artist two years ago, Ch’ng held his very first solo art exhibition back in 2000, the same year he graduated from USM with a Bachelor of Architecture degree.

He held another exhibition in 2002 and by 2009, held another solo at Seni Mutiara Gallery and also published his first art book, Sketches of Pulo Pinang. The book was an instant hit. He is also one of the founder members of Urban Sketchers of Penang and is a blog correspondent of Urban Sketchers.

In 2011, he published his second compilation, Line-line Journey, which was also snapped up almost immediately after its release. By then, Ch’ng already had a large following of fans and started getting invitations to give talks and lectures on urban sketching.

He published two more books, Sketches Diary of Penang published by National Taipei University and Sketches of Asia-Pacific published by Yuan Ze University, Taipei, last year.

This year, Ch’ng showed new works after he started experimenting with twigs and ink paintings back in 2011. He recently held the Ink-Between solo exhibition at Hin Bus Depot Art Centre, his first series of ink and twig paintings of his interpretation of Nature.

Here, Ch’ng shares his story on his love for sketching and painting.

Read more.

My Bali sketches featured on DestinAsian Feb/Mar 2012

BALI, INDONESIA “Traveling is definitely more fun when I have my sketchbook with me,” says Penang-born artist Ch’ng Kiah Kiean, best known for his graphite drawings of George Town’s old
streetscapes. “Sketching brings me closer to the places that I visit, and leaves me with indelible memories that are far more personal than images recorded through a camera. As with these three
scenes from Bali, which I sketched during a trip to the island last July, I look for scenic locations where I can also interact with locals and listen to their stories. People teach me more about a place than any amount of observation can, and the Balinese are among the most genuine and hospitable people that I have met on my journeys, with a vibrant spiritual culture to match. Bali also happens to be incredibly picturesque, whether amid the shimmering rice terraces of the highlands or down on a temple-studded beach. I can’t wait to return—and when I do, I’ll be sure to have my sketching tools
along. They are as important to me as my passport.”

From top: The venerable sea temple of Tanah Lot is one of Bali’s most popular sights; Mount Batur, an active volcano in the Balinese highlands that rises above the largest crater lake on the island; the picturesque rice terraces of Ceking village, near Ubud.

Sketching George Town

Text: Sharon Cheah @ Art in the City

ONE can see him sketching away, a pencil or a twig in his left hand, on Sunday afternoons, usually in a shaded five foot walkway in the city named after Britain’s King George III. In the last few years, 37-year-old Ch’ng Kiah Kiean has made a name for himself as an urban sketcher and an artist of shapely lines as he immortalises George Town’s 18th and 19th century buildings – the core collection which is now bounded within an area listed under the World Heritage Site – on acid-free paper.

Ch’ng captures the elaborate outlines of Chinese clanhouses and Indian temples, the simpler silhouettes of the Straits Chinese shophouse, and eclectic details in facades in graphite and black Chinese ink – drawing them not as photo-perfect representations but with lively lines and exaggerated angles, infusing the buildings with personality and a joie de vivre.

In his second solo show, Line-line Journey, he spreads out from George Town to Bangkok and Macau, having been inspired by a global online sketching group called Urban Sketchers. He has also started sketching with twigs sharpened to variously-sized points, dipped into Chinese ink.

My favourite sketch, I think, is the one of Cheah Kongsi which he uses as the cover sketch of his catalogue/book for this exhibition. The quintessentially Chinese outline of the row of buildings in Armenian Street, seen from within the clanhouse’s administrative building, is like a glittering necklace worn against George Town’s skies.

Line-line Journey, 10-24 July, 12noon – 6pm, at Galeri Seni Mutiara, Lot No. 2 & 4, First Floor, The Whiteaways Arcade, Church Street, 10200 Penang

Find out more at: Art in the City

路過留筆‧線牽3城 莊嘉強展出40幅素描




莊嘉強在2009年加入全球性的城市素描家(URBAN SKETCHERS)網上聯盟后,作品量大增。他積極畫了多幅以喬治市老建築為對象的作品,並張貼在布落格中與全球的素描愛好者分享。




Find out more at: 文藝北馬 檳城7月的藝術饗宴 漫遊50名家畫境

精髓所在 Essence







Ambiga Devy • 檳城

Ch’ng Kiah Kiean has travelled a long way from the young person who honed his artistic skills under the tutelage of Tan Lye Hoe. Today he combines his architectural training and his keen, intuitive eye to produce works that can only be described as haunting in their depiction of a city in the transitions of change.

Taking a journey, very much with his father in mind, he has captured George Town with a stylish freedom in his lines and spaces, remembering the footsteps taken by his father – from the Swatow Lodge in Armenian Street where many of his Teochew clansmen frequented to the shop house where he stayed when he first arrived in the then Malaya – picturing a soul on its quiet journey, remembering and memorizing every tone and shade of that life.

Sentimental sweeping lines, sometimes colour washed, sometimes in shades of grey accentuated with black ink and different thicknesses of graphite, are used to create his expressions of streets, lanes, buildings and cityscapes with elegant style.

Here is an artist who also has a quirky sense of humour – look for his juxtapositional use of shop signage in his street scenes, be it in calligraphy or typography, often telling a story of its own. His depth of skill emerges with his use of improvised equipment like sharpened bamboo and chopsticks to get finer details when using Chinese ink.

Kiah Kiean’s love for the city and its heritage is conspicuous in this book. By representing the nooks and corners often ignored by the passer-by, he accentuates and thus elicits thought-provoking questions from the viewer of his works.

These sketches are also wonderful reminders of what George Town was and sometimes still can be today. A diary in graphite, they have captured the essence of childhood experiences in the streetscapes of his present life.

Ambiga Devy • Penang

讓老房子說話的魔術師 The Magician Who Makes Buildings Come Alive

1995年我剛從新加坡回檳工作。五月份的一個早晨 ,上班的第一天即見到了嘉強。當時,他是在一間建築師事務所當實習生,而我上班的事務所和他所服務的事務所則同在一個屋簷下,所以每天上班都有碰面的機會。他很文靜,我也不多話,工作上沒有甚麼交流,因此彼此也沒有甚麼互動,大家見了面只是禮貌地打個招呼。


自那時起我們生命中美術的部分就不斷的交集,從95年在Syed Alatas Mansion的聯展開始,到後來共同參與南洋民間文化及檳城水彩畫會的活動,以及和一班朋友辦了個清荷人文空間,從一起外出寫生,到後來一起玩數碼相機,這位當年羞澀的少年如今已是一間設計公司的老闆。




邱昌仁 • 檳城

In 1995 I returned from Singapore to work in Penang. I met Kiah Kiean on my first day at work sometime in May. He was then an attachment student at an architectural firm. Both the firms we worked with were in the same building. He was modest and reticent. I saw him almost on a daily basis but we did not interact much. A polite greeting was all we exchanged when our paths crossed.

I only found out about his love for art when he showed me his portfolio one day. Once acquainted, I realised we both share a passion for art and we were at different times active in the art society of our alma mater Chung Ling High School. Both of us were president of the art society. These common backgrounds brought us close together.

Since then, we interacted much in art. From the joint exhibition at the Syed Alatas Mansion in Armenian Street in 1995, to being involved in the activities of Nanyang Folk Culture and the Penang Water Colour Society. With some friends we set up the Ching Lotus Humanist Space at China Street. From sketching outdoor together to discovering the fun with digital photography together, the shy reticent young man is now the owner of a graphic design firm.

Kiah Kiean’s accomplishments in art are expansive. Among the many are his streetscape sketches. He has a sensitive perception for buildings. With his exaggerated yet balanced form and his seemingly chaotic yet emotive lines, he brings the streetscape, especially old buildings, he sketches to life. Each modest or even dilapidated old building seems to come alive with vigour, proudly showing off.

You would realise Kiah Kiean’s tidiness if you visit his office or his home, everything is spick and span, very much the image he projects of himself. The wild lines produced by his hand seem incongruous with his character. Perhaps that’s the real Kiah Kiean.

I wish him the very best for his third solo exhibition and the publication of this marvelous collection of his works.

Khoo Cheang Jin • Penang

撒一團粗粗細細的線索 A Burst of Powerful Lines

單看那歪歪斜斜、充滿噴灑張力又入「紙」三分的畫,我們很難將沉默寡言又身材清瘦的莊嘉強聯繫在一起。 莊嘉強可是一個悶騷型的畫家。


嘉強的繪畫創造性在中學就已遠遠超出同齡學生,甚至比許多畫家更具職業水準。除了繪畫,才氣橫溢的他也善書法、攝影和平面設計。 老檳城素描是嘉強眾多黑白速寫體裁之一。從小住在喬治市坡底的他,對老檳城有份難以割捨的記憶和關懷。近年市區發展變化頗大,他更加緊速度在街頭巷尾速寫。




陳耀威 • 檳城

Those lines in graphite may look askew and awry, yet they are so bold, powerful and penetrating making you wonder if they are really by the hand of the quiet, shy and skinny Ch’ng Kiah Kiean.

When you come to know Kiah Kiean better, you will discover a volcano of artistic passion and creativity right beneath his gentle demeanour.
I first met Kiah Kiean in 1996 in a public slide show organised by Nanyang Folk Culture, a local cultural group of which I was a key player. It was quite a pleasure to see an architecture student coming out of the campus walls to take part in arts and cultural activities. Soon after that, he became a stalwart of the group and together we organised many arts and cultural activities in which his multi-faceted talent and ability were brought into play.

Since high school days, Kiah Kiean’s creativity in painting had already surpassed that of his peers and even many artists who boasted to be professional. Besides painting, he is also adept at calligraphy, photography and graphic design.

The old Penang is one of the major themes of Kiah Kiean’s sketches. Born and bred in George Town, he has fond memories of and a strong love and concern for the heritage of the city. In the recent years, as development has caused much damage to the old cityscape, he walked the streets even more frequently in order to preserve the disappearing street scenes and buildings in his sketch book.

But Kiah Kiean’s sketches are not direct, realist representations of the old buildings and street scenes of George Town. They are always imbued with his passion and affection toward his home city. By representing the buildings and street scenes with a twist, he is in effect expressing his affectionate impressions of his subjects.

In the sketches, Kiah Kiean embraces his subjects, be they buildings or street scenes, with strokes of thick and thin lines in so powerful a manner that the subjects are somehow twisted. Such an affectionate embrace of his subjects is always interesting and very often touching.
Not only being a burst of powerful lines, Kiah Kiean’s sketches are also a lively dialogue in black and white. The abstract and the concrete, the dynamic and the static, and the tense and the lax can always find their dialectic spaces in the visual dialogue, in which the spaces left blank always have a weight.

Now, having captured so many images of George Town with his graphite pencil, it is time for Kiah Kiean to share with the world his love for the heritage city. With all my heart, I wish his solo exhibition and the publication of his sketches collection a great success.

Tan Yeow Wooi • Penang

夢想的力量 The Power of Ch’ng Kiah Kiean’s Dreams







陳來和 • 檳城

What makes Ch’ng Kiah Kiean he is today is his aspiration and passion for art. This double-degree holder – one in Housing, Building & Planning; the other in Architecture – departs from his professional training to become a successful artist and graphic designer, all because he believes in the power of dreams.

No teacher could be more proud than to have an illustrious student who wants to go where he wants to and be what he wants to be. He wants to be an artist so much so that at one stage when Kiah Kiean was under my tutelage in art did he declare that his first love was art.

As his tutor and mentor, I have never in any way doubted his intention as he has shown his talent, potential and love for this creative subject. Quiet and shy though he may be, he has on the contrary, displayed a sense of individuality and persistence to express his ideas in his own personal style although when he was in my class, he was always prepared to go though the mills, meticulously doing academic exercises, not leaving out any details in his studies of still-life.

Today, he has freed himself from all the academic inhibitions to take his own route to produce thought-provoking sketches with his sensitive line expressions. Though he might be modest in certain ways, I would say that he is definitely bold when it comes to art as is evidenced in his works in this book of his entitled Sketches of Pulo Pinang.

Kiah Kiean experiments with and explores all possibilities of expressing lines with graphite, giving his viewers much thought-provoking experience. As a direct approach to communicating with lines and tones he opts for just black and white sans colours so that his audience may enjoy his works without other distractions.

Through this approach he has displayed his strength and versatility in expressing a wide range of subjects from street scenes to buildings and from boats to houses on the sea-front, employing different treatment in styles where he has shown to be much at ease with constructive realism which is much reminiscent of his training in architectural drawing. However, that does not deter him from going impressionistic, even approaching the semi-abstract with expressive vigour and freedom, thus asserting his competence in this medium.

This fine collection of drawings put together by Ch’ng Kiah Kiean in one book Sketches of Pulo Pinang, is indeed a great accomplishment for a young lad and is so commendable for the high quality of the labour of love.

Tan Lye Hoe • Penang