It was only a year ago that retired used car businessman Kelvin Lee discovered his calling as an artist. The 61-year-old discovered his knack for sketching when he joined Inktober, a worldwide event held every October, where artists participate in the challenge to create an ink-based drawing a day for the entire month.

“Because of that ink-only rule, all 31 of my pieces were done in pen and ink. I fell in love with the medium. It was a real challenge, but this event was when I practised much of my line-work skills.

“Of late, my interest has turned to urban sketching where I recreate iconic buildings or simple backstreet alleys with intricate fine lines,” shares Lee.

A detailed floral doodle sketch in progress by Kelvin Lee.

A self-taught artist, Lee’s penchant for ink defines his pieces. Unlike most sketchers, he doesn’t use a pencil to trace an outline first; he dives straight into ink.

“My pen is my only instrument. We always make mistakes. If I make a mistake, the trick is in knowing how to cover it up.

“I am very confident with what I draw. For me, the beauty of ink over pencil describes this confidence. In most of my works, I draw directly with a pen.

“I play with tones, textures and shadows to make the painting pop up. When people see my work, they are most amazed with these tones and textures,” he says.

Kelvin Lee’s sketching of the Kuala Lumpur City Gallery at Dataran Merdeka, a popular attraction in the city centre.

What makes Lee’s artwork unique is his attention to detail especially in his urban sketches.

“I like to sketch the tone and shadows on building structures, some with contemporary colours,” he says, emphasising that pen-and-ink is his forte and line-work his passion.

Some of his works are currently on display at Carcosa Seri Negara, itself a subject of one of his pieces.

It takes him about two to six hours to make a sketch, depending on his tone and line-work, the size of the paper, and how much detail he wants to put in. The Sultan Abdul Samad Building sketch, for example, took him four hours.

Kelvin Lee’s sketching of the iconic Sultan Abdul Samad Building.

“I always choose and sketch what I think is appropriate. If I want to do a doodle, I do it well. I have done several doodles on ocean life such as guppies, an octopus, a lobster and a lionfish, together with contemporary icons and floral designs.

“And for some of my doodles, I add a unique twist by using a sharpened twig as my pen.”

Lee uses pigment ink for his sketches so that they don’t smear when he applies watercolours on them. Each pen he uses lasts for just two pieces of art.

In the past few years, Lee has created over a hundred art pieces of varying sizes and complexity. He meticulously keeps them in files, with the older ones in boxes. He has also framed some of his latest sketches, and converted his small home gym into an art studio.

In recent years, most of Lee’s art has consisted of doodles, acrylics painting and urban sketches.

“I have had this keen interest in art since primary school. I dabbled in several art mediums, mainly line-works with ink pens, watercolours, acrylics and oil painting, during my younger days,” Lee reminisces.

However, after college, Lee stopped pursuing art completely.

“I was much too busy with work to have time for art,” he confides.

On a sketching outing to Bentong, Lee recorded his impressions.

When Lee retired three years ago, he was restless till he found his way back to his art.

“I decided , at long last, to pursue my passion for drawing. But after that very long lapse, I found it really tough to pick up my pen to draw again. But I persevered.”

Lee reveals he seemed to be heading nowhere until he stumbled across an article in The Star on doodling.

“I realised this was what I used to do back at school, without knowing it was called a ‘doodle’. This piqued my interest once again, as doodling is simpler to do than most art types and because I was more attracted to pencil- and pen-work.”

Lee has been drawing and sketching seriously for the past year now.

“I became interested in urban sketches late last year when I was invited to attend an urban sketch session, which involved going out to a specific location, spotting a scene, sitting there, and sketching. I found it interesting. It was the stuff I drew – the changes in view, the movement of people – which got me hooked!” he says.

Lee posts all his works on Facebook and Instagram, intending to create his own website soon.

So far, Lee has not sold any original artwork. He has, however, sold 50 prints of an art piece in the United States.

He intends to sell his originals and prints in the future but he’s not certain just when.

“I reckon it’s perfectly natural that I should earn some income when there are people interested in my art,” he says with cheeky confidence.