The wrought iron gate opens to a vast, rutted and dusty ground. The dark sky is pregnant with rain. A leap across a small wooden bridge takes one to the entrance. The view is different entirely.

Enclosed with a chain-linked fence, there are many colorful flowers. There is fragrance in the air. The path from the bridge leads one to a lone rectangular gazebo, partially hidden by an embossed huge prayer wheel past an elevated ground.

Inside, a group of enthusiastic artists is trying the art of sketching.

Trashichhodzong stands behind sparse evergreens, accentuating the yellow of the roof. The creeping flow on edges of the composition on the sketchbooks shows the watery nature of the painting.

“Check for the consistency, drag off the extra pigment and go for the second colour. Now, put it on the pallet,” This is Erwin Lian, a Singaporean artist.

Nine aspiring sketchers with four members of Voluntary Artists’ Studio, Thimphu (VAST) Bhuan are on a sketch walk led by Erwin Lian at the Royal Ludrong Memorial Garden, Langjophakha, painting the Tashichhodzong in the view.

Erwin Lian is on his fourth visit to Bhutan. The tour was inspired by a conversation with a student when he had volunteered to teach painting in Bhutan.

He said: “I taught the little kids and they got very interested. Then they asked if they could make a living out of it. It made me kind of depressed after that, because after I teach someone to paint and he or she gets motivated yet cannot see real future. Real life of a painter is hard.”

The pilot tour is aimed at creating a market in the future, which would bring artists from around the world to Bhutan.

Erwin Lian said the project would provide a means to sustain the local artists through similar activities.

Jampel Cheda, popularly known as Rajesh, is a teacher at VAST Bhtuan. He assists Erwin Lian during the tour.

The Sketch Bhutan tour will also visit Paro and Wangdue sketching the landscapes along the way and any thing that amuses the artists.

For VAST Bhutan members this is an ideal opportunity to meet and learn from other artists from other countries.

Today, there are 123 students learning art at VAST Bhutan. The institute works to promote contemporary art and also helps communities through voluntary art and art-related projects.

VAST Bhutan’s Executive Director, Chimi Zangmo, said that the appreciation for art has improved.

She added: “Our achievements are more about how one young creative mind evolves to be an open-minded and a conscious citizen.”

On June 17, the tour group was joined by 10 members of VAST for a live portrait drawing session.

As the sun rose and its radiance filled the room occupied with art lovers, Rajesh lifted his pencil indicating the completion of  his piece.

On the canvas the size of laptop that Rajesh held in his left hand is a teenager, her dark hair resting on her shoulders. Her baby face gives a slight jut to her cheekbones. Under the fine arched brows, her eyes glisten in the artificial light on the stand. Her lips are pursed, reflecting her nervousness. The artist has heisted her in the sketch.

The students and tourists looking on applaud.

Phurpa lhamo