Filipino artists

Art is meant to be shared: Urban sketching through the eyes of Jojo Leonar

Maria Leonor Euna Regaspi
Art is meant to be shared: Urban sketching through the eyes of Jojo Leonar

"Along Morente Street", created on January 25, 2022

Jojo Leonar

'I want to promote the sharing of ideas between artists, because that's what's hard these days — beginners tend to be intimidated by skilled artists,' says urban sketcher and architect Jojo Leonar

MANILA, Philippines – Urban sketching typically features streets, buildings, people — a collection of moments that will never happen twice. Anyone anywhere can do sketches (or paintings) of what they think best represents life at a particular time.

In celebration of National Arts Month, Mindoro-based Filipino artist and architect Jojo Leonar shared on Facebook on February 1 sketches of the streets of his beloved hometown, Pinamalayan.

The album contained 12 panoramic watercolor sketches of schools, commercial buildings, houses, and public spaces that best represented the place. 

Kaya ko sya naisipan na 12 [kasi] parang one painting a month yung nirerepresent nya. Pero ginawa ko sya within days from January 19 to January 30. One sketch a day. Sa morning, pagkagising ko magsstart na agad ako magpaint. Usually umaabot sya ng four to five hours, minsan six hours depende doon sa hirap ng subject,” he told Rappler in an interview.

(I decided to do 12 sketches because they could represent one painting a month, although I made them within days, from January 19 to January 30. One sketch a day. I start painting upon waking up in the morning, and this usually lasts around four to five hours, sometimes six depending on the subject’s complexity.)

He had hoped for his sketches to serve as a conversation starter and help promote the local tourism and arts industry in their part of Oriental Mindoro. True to his goal, he started sketching ancestral houses in 2020 and posted them on social media with their stories, to retell the subjects’ narratives and history.

Ang ginawa ko as an artist, binigyan ko sya ng bagong perspective kung paano ko sya maippromote sa bayan namin. So ang ginawa ko, siguro every week nagpi-paint ako ng isang ancestral house dati then inaalam ko yung story behind doon sa ancestral house. So nang makumpleto ko na lahat ng ancestral house, nai-paint ko na, doon ko sya ipinost ng isang album lang, isang bagsakan. So para makita ng tao na hindi lang through photography yung nakikita nila, mayroong kakaibang flavor. Kumbaga maca-caught yung attention ng mga tao na basahin ang history ng bawat ancestral house,” he narrated.

(What I did as an artist was to give a new perspective to promoting our hometown. I painted one ancestral house every week and learned the stories behind each place. When I completed the series, I posted it in an album in one go. I did that so others could see something aside from the usual photography, something with a different flavor, so that people could get interested in their history.)

Jojo has high regard for the craft, calling it more than just a hobby and a part of his daily life.

“Along Quezon Street,” created on January 30, 2022

Bago mag start ang pandemic kasi nagrereview na kami for board exam, then March nagkaroon ng lockdown, so ako, nagpaiwan ako sa Manila. ‘Di ko naman alam na sobrang magtatagal pala yung lockdown, so naiwan akong mag-isa sa Manila parang three months. Doon sa three months na yun, nakita ko yung art as a parang, pantanggal anxiety din kasi mag board exam nga so maraming ginagawa, maraming review. Nakita ko yung art as a symbol of hope sa akin na kahit na maraming anxiety, kahit na maraming problema, at least yung art nakakatulong sa akin kaya doon ko mas na appreciate yung art,” he said.

(Before the pandemic started, I was already reviewing for my board exam. When the lockdown was imposed in March, I decided to stay in Manila. I had no idea it would last long, so I was alone there for around three months. During those three months, art helped me to cope with my anxiety, because, as I said, I was reviewing and had a lot to do. I saw it as a symbol of hope despite my anxiety and problems. This helped me to appreciate art more.)

He can recall painting as early as five years old, after which he honed his talent and developed the necessary skills to keep it sharp. He makes it a point to share his knowledge about watercolor to interested artists — a full circle moment for Jojo, after failing his plates back in college because he didn’t know how to use the medium.

Taking it a little further, he decided to share his passion with others by establishing Urban Sketchers Pinamalayan.

Urban Sketchers

Urban Sketchers is a global community founded in 2007 by Seattle-based journalist and illustrator Gabriel Campanario “for all sketchers out there who love to draw the cities where they live and visit, from the window of their homes, from a cafe, at a park, standing by a street corner…always on location, not from photos or memory.”

Gabriel created a forum on Flickr to encourage artists to share their art and stories. In 2019, two years later, it officially became a non-profit organization. They passed the milestone of having 300 chapters worldwide in the same year. Today, there are 60 member countries and 336 cities, with over 120,000 members.

There are five official local chapters in the country — Urban Sketchers Ilocos, Manila, Capiz, Cebu, and the recently accredited Urban Sketchers Quezon City. 

Anyone worldwide can join and create their own chapter, but must pass requirements to be acknowledged and made official within the global sketchers community.

What started as a vision in 2020 came to life when the Pinamalayan chapter was established in December 2021. Jojo is currently working on the accreditation of their chapter. 

“Along Juan Luna Street”, created on January 19, 2022

Para sa akin, ano sya, non-profit. Kumbaga para syang advocacy na bilang lahat tayo ay dumaan sa pagkabata, naniniwala naman ako na lahat tayo marunong mag drawing. Hindi lang sya nabigyan ng opportunity or parang, na-intimidate tayo sa iba kaya siguro tumigil na yung iba sa pag drawing,” he said.

(It’s a non-profit for me. It’s like an advocacy because I believe that all of us have the skill to draw from childhood. Either you were just not given the opportunity or were intimidated, so you stopped drawing.)

The group started with about nine participants during the first sketch walk, and they doubled during the second. But he felt something was lacking, and realized that he was not teaching as much as he should. So when his sketches caught the attention of the local tourism authorities, he arranged sponsorships and conducted a workshop and competition on urban sketching. 

Yun, naging problema namin noong first and second sketch walk yung lack of knowledge about perspective. Kasi sa urban sketching, most likely ang nagiging subject ay mga streets, or ‘di kaya mga interiors ng cafe. So, sa workshop nagbigay kami ng basic sketching workshop, which is ang main focus ay perspective. Kasi since medyo ano, puro outdoors yung mga subject, kailangan yung mga sasaling members may background about perspective,” he said.

(The lack of knowledge about perspective was the problem during our first and second sketch walk. In urban sketching, most likely, the subjects are the streets or interiors of cafes. So we gave a basic sketching workshop mainly focused on perspective. Since the subjects are usually outdoors, the members need to have a background in perspective.)

Nagbigay ako ng proposal competitions, yun. Naging ready naman sila for food, for venue, for lahat ng pwedeng magastos, sila na nag provide. Kaya sabi ko, ‘Why not magcreate ako ng bago naman?’ Kasi parang naisasantabi minsan yung National Arts Month eh. At least, dapat talaga nacecelebrate.”

(I gave proposal competitions. They provided for the food, venue, and other expenses. So I thought, ‘Why not create something new?’ because National Arts Month tends to be put aside when it should be celebrated.)

The group’s plans
“Along Del Pilar Street,” created on January 22, 2022

Jojo is here for the long run. When asked about their plans, he said he was planning to conduct similar workshops regularly covering topics such as color mixing, acrylic painting, and other techniques.

Merong magaling sa watercolor, merong magaling sa acrylic, so siguro I’m planning to have a workshop na iba-iba yung magiging speaker. Tapos pwede nilang i-introduce yung kanilang medium sa ibang artists. Kumbaga, nagkakaroon ng sharing ng techniques kung paano mabibigyan ng idea yung young generation ng artists,” he said.

(I plan to conduct a workshop with different speakers since some of the members are skilled in watercolor, some in acrylic. They can introduce their medium to other artists so there can be a sharing of techniques to the young generation of artists.)

What he hopes to accomplish with his craft

He wants to promote sharing more than anything. To him, it’s more fulfilling than keeping his skills to himself.

Gusto ko lang i-promote yung sharing of ideas ng bawat artist. Kasi yun yung mahirap ngayon eh, ang dami nang artists na magaling, ang nangyayari talaga sa ibang artist mai-intimidate. Meron kasing mga artist na nagsastart pa lang, so ang gusto ko may sharing of ideas. Kasi for me, hindi ko sya masyadong nakikita as pagkakakitaan, more of advocacy, of sharing. Maganda na, sa akin, mas fulfilling yung magshare ng aking techniques kaysa ipagdamot. Kumbaga, mas masarap sa pakiramdam,” Jojo said.

(I want to promote the sharing of ideas between artists, because that’s what’s hard these days —  beginners tend to be intimidated by skilled artists. I want to share ideas with beginning artists. I don’t see art as a means to make money but more of an advocacy, of sharing. It’s more fulfilling to share techniques than keep them to myself. It’s more rewarding.)

He also mentioned the importance of art in society.

So what happens kung wala talagang art dito sa lugar, parang walang buhay. Kasi bago pa macreate yung magagandang building, nagmula yan lahat sa sketches, nagmula yan lahat sa artist. Paano kung hindi natin bibigyan ng support system yung mga artist, ang mangyayari, wala. Plain lang tayo, hindi nakakainspire ang isang lugar kapag walang art.”

(If there is no art, a place is lifeless. Before the beautiful buildings were created, they were sketches first, which artists made. Nothing will happen if we don’t provide a support system for artists. We’d all be plain, a place wouldn’t be inspiring without art.)

“Along Aguinaldo Street,” created on January 28, 2022

He closed with a message to artists, urban sketchers, and aspiring artists: “Sinasabi ko nga sa mga artists na sobrang daming magaling out there, pero lagi nyong tatandaan na lahat ng artists, may iba-ibang style. Kasi nakaranas ako minsan, ‘Ay bakit ang galing nya sa acrylic?,’ pero darating yung time na makikita mo yung medium na para sa’yo.”

(I always tell artists there are so many talented and skilled individuals out there, but always remember that everyone has their style. I’ve also experienced asking myself, “Why is he great at acrylic?” but the time will come when you’ll find what medium is meant for you.)

“‘Wag kayong mag alala, darating din yung time na gagaling kayo, basta tuloy-tuloy lang (Don’t worry, the time will come when you’ll get good at what you do, so just continue with what you’re doing).”

In the spirit of sharing, Jojo hopes to celebrate art and change the world one sketch at a time. –

Urban Sketchers is open to all worldwide. They have an official website that contains all the necessary information about the cause. 

Euna Regaspi is a Rappler intern under the Lifestyle & Entertainment section.