Drawing with charcoal in the digital age
Singapore artist Tang Ling Nah’s charcoal drawings often depict architectural and transitional spaces in Singapore. (Photo: Tang Ling Nah)

Drawing with charcoal in the digital age

For many, charcoal is just burnt wood and cooking fuel, but in the eyes of Singapore artist and art educator Tang Ling Nah, it is a versatile and expressive artistic tool.

Tang, who uses charcoal to create extreme contrast between light and shadows, is known for her drawings, book art, installations, performances and videos that explore buildings, places and architectural spaces.

Her early works, which depict transitory spaces such as corridors and void decks, are on display at the Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre, as well as online via the Centre’s website until 12 Jun. The exhibition, Charcoal Sketches of Urban Transitional Spaces, includes photo documentation of her creative and art-making process.

Read on as Tang, 49, shares her love for drawing, charcoal as an art medium, and what inspires her to draw architectural spaces.

What does drawing mean to you?

Drawing is about making marks and movement through space and time. It does not need to leave a visible or permanent mark on a surface. It could be a line mark, drawn by tearing a piece of paper. It could be an invisible shape drawn by a dancer moving through space and time; it can be a fast or slow line.

Drawing is also a versatile human-nature activity that allows me to express my reflections and comment on the city, as well as tell stories about people and the environment.

There are many materials one can use to draw, why choose charcoal?

To me, charcoal is the most responsive and least inhibiting mark-making tool, even though it is viewed by some as traditional. The tactility of using charcoal to draw attracts me; I like how my hands are always in contact with the material. And it can be manipulated in different ways to achieve different effects and interesting textures.

Charcoal is also most suitable for creating a film noir atmosphere and mood in the urban scenes I draw. The charcoal traces can express human presence within the architectural spaces I draw. And the material’s impermanence resonates with the ever-changing nature of the city and life.

What inspires you and your drawings?

I am very much inspired by the environment, human relationships, and the relationship between people and spaces. So, I like transitional spaces – corridors, tunnels, train stations and void decks, spaces that connect people and places, and where people pass through but do not stay for long.

I find inspiration for my drawings by walking in these spaces and taking photographs of them so that I can come back to them and draw them someday. I also find inspiration by reading about architecture and design, and watching film and theatrical productions.

 Replies were edited and condensed for clarity.

Learn more about Charcoal Sketches of Urban Transitional Spaces here.

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