Windhoek's Doodle Sessions Draw People Together


By: Rémy Ngamije
Posted: 29 September 2015
Category: Features
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Once a month drawing enthusiasts in Namibia's capital city get their sketch pads, pens, pencils, and crayons out and prepare to spend an afternoon doodling away, creating art, and arguing about the importance of lightsabers.

In Windhoek, Namibia's growing capital city, boredom is kind of a thing. If I were asked to add three commodities to the country's national stock exchange I would add, without hesitation, the long, spectacular sunsets of the high summer, which burn the evening sky in orange, red, violet, and purple hues; the oppressing heat; and the pervasive boredom that cloaks the city.

It is a pity my chosen commodities are not commercially tradable, though. If they were I would have made a killing, bought the world, and brought it to my doorstep. That would help to alleviate the boredom.

Windhoek's Doodle Sessions Draw People Together

Windhoek is small. During the week the city's streets are full and loud as the working populace grinds away at work. When the weekend arrives the streets empty. Besides grocery shopping in the city's malls, there is little else to do. The public parks are super heated by the relentless sun; the restaurants and cafés, if they are open, are either too full to go to or the customer service is so bad it is easier to make a sandwich at home and sweat away the afternoon. Unless one is drinking or braaiing with friends the television provides most of the weekend's entertainment.

Shop. Eat. Sports. Braai. Drink. Boredom. That is Windhoek in a nutshell. The next weekend, and the one after that, will be the same.

Despite the city's corporate and construction boom - the commercial sector is growing year by year, South African franchise stores dot the main streets and take up premier real estate in shopping malls, and, across the city's landscape, buildings are going up - the avenues of entertainment in the city lag behind.

Increasingly, though, being bored in the city, a common ailment suffered by millennials as well as twenty- and thirtysomethings returning to the country from long spells studying and working abroad, is being diagnosed as self-inflicted.

Windhoek's Doodle Sessions Draw People Together

A small cohort of writers, artists, poets, designers, photographers, and musicians passionately and determinedly push theatrical, musical, comedic, and artistic projects that make Windhoek more than a transit lounge for creative people and young professionals looking for a big break somewhere more vibrant. One such initiative, the Doodle Sessions, brings together established and amateur illustrators, painters, and anyone else with an interest in drawing to spend two hours doodling and creating art.

With an afternoon to kill, and in danger of drowning in boredom while people watching at a mall, I opted to drop in on the third session the team hosted.

The Doodle Sessions, as it turns out, are more than just a boredom killer. They are one of the more interesting pastimes I have experienced in the city since I moved back from Cape Town. The sessions are open to anyone regardless of artistic talent or prior drawing experience. The focus is on being around other creative people and connecting likeminded personalities who enjoy trying new things and meeting people. The loosely guided creative sessions give artistic license to everyone who attends. You draw what you want, how you want. You just do it with other people.

It is the "other people" aspect that makes it quite an interesting initiative.

The previous two sessions served as icebreakers, testing the city's response to the intermittently organised events. The first session brought 16 illustrators together, the second pulled in 24. The press coverage from the first two events resulted in the third session attracting a diverse group of drawing enthusiasts.

Mothers brought their young children; bearded, tattooed, and pierced musicians and skater boys brought their girlfriends. There was a pyro technician, an architect, an engineer, and the director of a locally based child-protection and welfare agency. Young, old, and all of the ages in between: all assembled to put pen to paper, share their creativity, and doodle the boredom away.

Windhoek's Doodle Sessions Draw People Together

The only other time such a diverse crowd of people is seen together is when they all buy cinema tickets to the same Pixar film although, usually, everyone tries to avoid the screenings that will have kids in them.

Not at the Doodle Sessions. Age does not matter. Making art together does.

Attendance is free, no specific drawing style is preferred over another, and doodlers can choose to draw on paper or in digital format using their tablets. Pens, pencils, markers, crayons, and paper are provided by the initiative's three founders: Tanya Stroh, Romeo Sinkala, and Helen Harris.

Windhoek's Doodle Sessions Draw People Together"The Doodle Sessions literally draw people together," Stroh told me. She is an award winning arts practitioner and production designer who runs her own design studio and is keen to see more and more people attending the drawing sessions.

For her, she said, doodling is a challenge because her work as a graphic designer is often controlled, focused to the attainment of a particular goal: a logo, a corporate identity, or a web site. "Free drawing is actually more challenging but doing it around people makes it more relaxing and pleasant," she said.

Sinkala, a published illustrator and storyteller, also told me that drawing with other people was a welcome challenge to his daily routine of meeting corporate deadlines in the design industry. "These sessions always remind me why I started drawing in the first place: to connect with people; just to draw whatever was in my mind," he said.

Sinkala and Stroh have found that each Doodle Session has pleasantly surprised them with the array of talents and drawing styles on offer. "I enjoy coming here to see other people draw because it allows me to see what others are capable of doing. It encourages me to keep my portfolio up to date; to think of new challenges for myself," Sinkala added.

Stroh, in agreement, noted the need for artists to share their work and experience in the city. "Artist networks are an important part of a city's life. In Windhoek we need initiatives such as the Doodle Sessions to remind ourselves that we are not alone, that somewhere, someone shares our passion for drawing and creating new things. The goal," Stroh added, "is to grow this to the point where we can exhibit or curate the work that is done at these Doodle Sessions. Potentially we are looking at having travelling Doodle Sessions where this initiative moves across the country, bringing more and more people together."

Each session has a focus. Character movement was discussed and practiced in the first session while the second challenged the illustrators to draw in large format, and in pen, forcing them to draw confidently to avoid constantly erasing or second guessing their work.

Windhoek's Doodle Sessions Draw People Together

The third session, which is the one that I attended, focused on drawing with primitive shapes and was led by Johan Johnston, a Capetonian illustrator and designer now living and working in Windhoek. Taking the attendees into his own creative process he then illustrated how basic shapes such as squares, circles, and triangles can be used to create complex characters and rich, detailed landscapes.

After a brief live-drawing session, in which he put his points into practice, the assembled doodlers commenced on the first section of the afternoon's session: sketching characters, landscapes, or worlds by themselves.

One feature prevalent in some of the city's arts events was distinctly absent during the first part of the session: there was no hesitation in participation. The more experienced illustrators quickly started drawing their characters and worlds while the younger illustrators took a bit longer to bring their ideas to fruition. However, none of them were too shy to start trying.

Everyone was there to draw - and draw they did, furiously, excitedly, and loudly. People from contrasting life spaces interacted and conversed jovially. Interestingly, the usual shoulder peaking that drives artists into insecure frenzies was also absent. People openly shared their work, showing rough sketches to friends and hesitant, shaky lines to new acquaintances.

The second part of the session involved a group drawing. The doodlers were divided into two groups, given two sheets of paper, and asked to draw one composite image using their individual interpretations of primitive shapes.

Windhoek's Doodle Sessions Draw People TogetherThe group-drawing session eroded any personal barriers or insecurities the doodlers might have had. Pens and markers were traded, one doodler coloured in another doodler's outlines, and, all the time, people talked and laughed. The sight of black, white, and Coloured people all laughing, trading jokes, and arguing about why certain government ministries should be collapsed and have their money allocated to lightsaber research was quite a refreshing sight and atmosphere in which to be.

The atmosphere was collegial, not competitive, and devoid of the Twitter-handle pushing that usually defines social get-togethers in the world today. There was no Instagramming, no WhatsApp, just pens, paper, markers, crayons, and the blank canvasses waiting for new ideas to be created.

The collaborative setup also encourages discussions about improving personal drawing techniques. Drawing tips and resources were shared between experienced and novice illustrators; ideas about character creation and development were exchanged; and, most interesting, calls for locally created comic books and illustrated stories were made and affirmed by everyone.

A universally accepted point raised in the doodling sessions was that Windhoek's creative class is desperately under funded and under utilised. This class of people - comprising musicians, writers, illustrators, thespians, and many other professions that have their genesis in the arts - are desperately needed by the city to give it a soul, an identity, and a reputation that transforms it from merely being a short stop for tourists who are en route to the country's famous Etosha National Park or Swakopmund, the coastal tourist trap that is ubiquitous on postcards and merchandise, and in Google search results for places to visit in the country.

Windhoek's Doodle Sessions Draw People Together

Important to note is that none of the doodles on offer featured sand dunes, kudu, wildebeest, lions, springboks, or any of the other images associated with Namibia. Robots and tentacle-clad cows, mechanical wastelands, and abstract landscapes all hinted at a Namibian imagination not being shared with the world.

The third of the Doodle Sessions, as with the two before, was hosted at JoJo's Music & Arts Café, a recently established eatery whose welcoming attitude towards concepts that bring together art and music lovers in the city has been a key contributor to the event's success. Located in Windhoek's Old Breweries Complex, the café's usual lounge setup was transformed to accommodate the artists with three large tables attached end to end to provide the drawing platform for attendees.

Due to JoJo's Music & Arts Café's unique concept - it providers performance and exhibition space at little or no charge to artists in Windhoek - the Doodle Sessions have a comfortable home to continue growing and nurturing a community. The café's atmosphere - all music is curated and played on vinyl LPs; the patrons comprise mostly artists, poets, musicians, and writers; there are revolving exhibitions on the walls - is what makes the Doodle Sessions. It is a much needed artistic space, a place for discussions and creative intersections, a place out of the sun and out of the boredom.

After two hours drawing the signal is given for pens to be put down. The session's conclusion, though expected, is not anticipated. The end means looking for another distraction, something else to stop me spending the afternoon watching a soccer game, scrolling through my Instagram feed fuelling my underfed wanderlust, or window shopping for the rest of the afternoon.

Windhoek's Doodle Sessions Draw People Together

As we all share and laugh at our drawings I am, however, quite pleased that at the next session I will meet the same outgoing personalities and, hopefully, meet more people who, like me, are determined not to be young and bored in the city.

The next Doodle Session will be held on 17 October 2015 at JoJo's Music & Arts Café (Old Breweries Complex, Tal Street, Windhoek).

Tanya Stroh: Email hello[at]turipamwedesign[dot]com
Helen Harris: Artwolfe, Email thefuturewasgreat[at]gmail[dot]com
Johan Johnston: Official Site, Facebook
JoJo's Music & Arts Cafe: Official Site, Facebook


Tags: #arts_and_culture





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