The Sandbox

Penciljam

Penciljam is a Community of Practice involving citizen groups gathering to document their cities through visual art. Artistic interpretations of urban spaces and the people who inhabit them are an important source of information on the evolution of cities. People who participate in Penciljam are not academically trained artists, but people from all walks of life with an interest in art.


Table of Contents

  1. Our Invisible Cities
  2. Mindfulness of Shared Spaces
  3. Seeing the city with new eyes
  4. Meeting the demands of community growth
  5. Building an Online Community 
  6. Helping build Careers
  7. Physical learning spaces
  8. Jamming during the Pandemic
  9. Next Steps
  10. Participant Feedback

Our Invisible Cities

This is the enigma of the cities that we live in. We love our cities but we also cannot wait to get away from them. We are our cities, and somehow, our cities become invisible to us. We become jaded with long traversed routes and these familiar sights are no longer novel or interesting and eventually, blindness born of sensory fatigue descends upon us. We no longer see the cities we live in, moving from point to point, the in-between a blur of transit.

Becoming mindful of our shared spaces

It is important to care that the beautiful old statue that always lined the market square is now buried in waste. That our museums have fungus ridden walls and paan juiced stained stairwells. We are our cities and we need to be mindful of what happens to them. How can we make our communities more mindful of the spaces we live in?

We started Penciljam in 2009 as a way for communities to become aware of the spaces we populate. By using sketching as a medium for lived experience, we brought together a Community of Practitioners to document the cities we live in.

Seeing the city with new eyes

Penciljam is a community of art enthusiasts, who meet on weekends to sketch their cities, in groups. Penciljammers, explore their cities and document interesting spaces through drawings and paintings. The people from this community are from all walks of life, and from across an age range. What unities them is a desire to draw what they observe, in the company of other practitioners.

Drawing at a secluded spot within Nrityagramam, a dance village situated in Hessarghatta, just outside Bangalore.

Jams are conducted on Sundays and at a new venue each time. The community has jammed at bazaars, heritage sites, on moving Metros and at community parks. Sometimes people reach out to Penciljam community admins to conduct jams for a cause.

A sliver of history. A typical cantonment era, Bangalore home from the 1930s, buried among the thousands of small apartments that have taken over Bangalore
The owners of this colonial era bungalow in the heart of Bangalore hosted a jam a few days before the structure was torn down. 

Jams are completely organic and self-directed in nature. Community leaders plan venue locations and announce dates. Jammers choose their own art medium and choose to interpret the location in any way they choose. This has created a rich and diverse ecosystem of artistic, cross-pollinating talent.

Penciljammers who moved back to their own cities after a stint in Bangalore took the idea back home with them, forming their own local art groups. Communities were formed in Chennai, Mumbai, Hyderabad and Delhi. 

Meeting the demands of community growth

Once newspapers began to report the phenomenon of people gathering in groups to draw, the community began to explode beyond the containment of the Facebook page that was used to co-ordinate jams. We also began to receive requests from people in other cities who wished to start Penciljam in their own communities.

Jammers sketch this colonial-era bungalow before it is demolished.

Building an Online Community 

We invested in white-labelled social media software and created an online space for community members to discuss their work. This allowed people from across states to maintain their own portfolio of drawings and discuss concepts and share techniques.

Jammers in Bangalore celebrate a decade of Pencil Jams

Helping build Careers

A number of posts requesting jobs led to us starting a Facebook group that shared job posts from the Art & Design fields. That group has over 30,000 members today. For many, who choose to freelance, this group has become a lifeline.

Classroom and Workshop space

Investing in a small classroom space allowed our community members extend their drawing interests to other subjects such as still-life and portraiture.

We also noticed a need for a physical space for serious drawing. The community was filled with artists who were itching to go beyond the confines of their sketchbooks. The classroom was used to conduct workshops. A revenue sharing system allowed the studio to pay for its overheads, while upcoming artists found an audience for their techniques.

The classroom was eventually closed down. However, this too has led to offshoots, and other community members have begun to experiment with their own classroom spaces.

Penciljam during the pandemic

When the Covid-19 Pandemic struck, Penciljammers could no longer travel or meet in groups due to social distancing necessities. The format was moved to an online format, with a change in structure that better-suited video meet-ups.

Jammers still actively participate once a week, using video to share ideas and techniques.

Jammers share work with each other from a figure drawing session

Penciljam – Next Steps

Penciljam was originally created for on-location sketching in groups. The pandemic has inadvertently widened the original scope for various reasons. Future experiments in social-learning may focus on other types of drawing traditions such as Art for wellness or Art in Learning, that tie in to building resilient communities and social groups.


Participant Feedback

“I owe a lot to the fine artists in the group who have helped me directly and indirectly, knowingly and often unknowingly, to improve my abilities.”

I have been a part of Pencil Jammers for more than a decade now. I feel as enthusiastic about it and enthused by the group as I was a decade ago. It is the finest set of enthusiasts with the widest age range of members and the fun group I have ever been a part of. I owe a lot to the fine artists in the group who have helped me directly and indirectly, knowingly and often unknowingly, to improve my abilities.

Anil Jagalur


“I find the format of these jams to be very useful for the not-traditionally-trained artist. Personally, I have found the discussions during jams serve as a guide to fill up gaps in my artistic education and helped me map out what I should be learning next.”

Pooja Mugeraya


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