Sketch Bhutan: Sketch trip to the world's last Shangri-La

(This article is written by Erwin Lian.)

Thank you to Parka Blogs for this wonderful opportunity to share about Sketch Bhutan.

Last June, I collaborated with Drukasia & VAST Bhutan in a compelling business venture. Nine participants flew in from Peru, Singapore, America and Taiwan to embrace the nature of Bhutan combined with a sketching program. All levels welcome! I invited Bhutan models and fellow art teacher (Rajesh) to join us for a truly memorable and holistic travel experience.

Rajesh, our co-teacher from Bhutan demonstrate portrait drawing. Photo by Yina Goh.

Sketching in Punakha, overrlooking Sopsokha village.

How was Sketch Bhutan conceived?

For the longest time, I had aspired to synthesize my love for sketching, traveling and art education into a business. The urge to make something out of passion led me to design The Perfect Sketchbook.

In turn, the project sparked a series of sketching workshops and intensified my search for something that would be sustainable. When the opportunity to travel, sketch and teach presented itself, the idea for Sketch Bhutan solidified. It's a travel sketch experience that's fuss-free, convenient and appealing to anyone with an interest in travel sketching.

The fact that I had traveled in and out of Bhutan three times and engaged with several esteemed locals, prompted me to initiate this venture. The tranquility and pristine quality of Bhutan's landscape also makes it the perfect location for sketching and traveling. It’s no mystery to why the Kingdom of Bhutan is often called the last "Shangri-La".

Iron Chain Bridge to Tacho Lkhakhang Dzong, Paro

Sketching demonstration in Punakha, Bhutan . Photo by Yina

Are there any challenges to starting Sketch Bhutan?

Absolutely! To begin with, Bhutan is an impressive destination that desires ‘high value and low impact tourists’.
To preserve its rich culture and identity, the Bhutanese government mandates that foreign tourists use a licensed Bhutanese tour operator alongside the daily Tariff & Visa requirements that ranges from USD$200-$250 per person. At the moment, only Indian nationalities can enjoy a visa-free entry to Bhutan. The higher-than-expected cost to Bhutan put off a number of interested participants inquiring about Sketch Bhutan. Regardless, our party grew sufficient enough to make the trip.

With only a few flights to Bhutan weekly, it was also a challenge to secure our seats before flights were fully booked. Last, but not least, to ensure this fuss-free sketch trip for all my participants, I combed through shop after shop for all the required high quality art materials, prepped them into travel-friendly totes and lugged all of it to Bhutan.

All sketching materials are provided for Sketch Bhutan. Photo by Yina

What makes Sketch Bhutan special?

About three years ago, I spent a month in Bhutan volunteering as an Art coach to various primary schools and organization. As part of my effort, I rallied a few Bhutanese friends to initiate Thimphu’s Urban Sketchers chapter.

Coached art at Shabar Primary School, 3 years ago.

While I enjoyed coaching art to students in Bhutan, one of things that troubled me extensively was the guilt of influencing others to pick up art where a livelihood may never be realized. When Bhutanese children asked me about the future of being an artist? I cringed and advised them to enjoy sketching merely as a hobby. This episode bugged me for years as I persisted with my hunt for a more sustainable lifestyle in the arts. Sketch Bhutan is one of these initiatives where I bring tourists to Bhutan to not only sketch and tour but also for creating meaningful interactions and exchanges with Bhutanese artists. Members of VAST Bhutan (Voluntary Artists' Studio Thimphu) for instance, are welcome to attend our sketch lessons and a hired Bhutanese Art Instructor, Rajesh, co-teaches with me throughout our sketch and travel experience.

Full-house at VAST with our sketching experience. Both local and tourists were mesmerized by our beautiful model, Mindu.

Unlike other sketching experiences that I'd attended, our focus isn’t on the technical competencies in sketching. Rather, I wanted to provide the perfect travel sketch experience where participants can very comfortably sketch and be fully immersed with their environment. Accompanied by a professional tour guide and driver, Sketch Bhutan offers the harmonious ease of an on-location group sketching experience. There's no worry for wrong equipment, instruction, or direction. It's worth mentioning that many of our participants have continued to join urban sketch outings after Sketch Bhutan

Ana crossing the longest suspension bridge in Bhutan.

It’s not just about sketching. Sketch Bhutan is a balanced tour. We hiked Tiger’s nest with our guide, Kuenzang.

Our female participants trying out Bhutan traditional costumes, Kira

What are my plans for Sketch Bhutan?

I just finished a promotional video clip about the trip. We have scheduled another trip for September! We have begun placing dates for next year for the many that have inquired. In April, flowers are coming to a full bloom. It's a great month to visit Bhutan. Eventually, I would like to preserve Sketch Bhutan by training Bhutanese artists to take over this business. This way, I'm safely assured that people I train in Bhutan can have a much more sustainable livelihood in the arts.

Everyone was happy ☺ at VAST Bhutan

Guess how we decide on whom to buy peaches from in Bhutan? Photo by Audrey


More info

Sketch Bhutan is currently open for sign up for the months of September 2017 and April 2018.

For more information about Sketch Bhutan, you can visit Drukasia’s website at or contact me.

Photos courtesy of our participants, Yina and Audrey.


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