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Drawing cafes give visitors the chance to shine: Amateur artists looking to create their own works have a variety of options

Sept 06,2019
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When a customer orders a drink at Dohwa Seoga, their drink comes served along with a complete set of watercolor paints and tools. [DOHWA SEOGA]
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A peek at various drawing cafes: At top, Cafe Hwasil, where customers can try out different styles of art. In the middle, a young customer at Seongsu Museum drawing with a helping hand. At bottom, cafe Palette offers a variety of drawing tools that may even impress veteran artists. [CAFE HWASIL, SEONGSU MUSEUM, PALETTE]
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A collection of artworks from drawing cafe customers. At left, an illustration of the cafe menu at Peach Gray. Right, a series of paintings drawn by customers at Cafe Hwasil. [PEACH GRAY, CAFE HWASIL]
It’s been a long time since webtoons, or web comics, on platforms like Naver and Daum became more popular than physical comic books. But recently, another platform has appeared, managing to quickly win the hearts of the readers.

“Instatoons” has become one of the hottest hashtags on Instagram, receiving thousands of follows. Simply put, these are comic strips posted on Instagram. However, what’s different from the comics that appear on Naver and Daum is that the cartoonists behind the Instatoon accounts are not professionals making a living from drawing, but ordinary people who happened to start doodling and have accrued their own fans.

Some Instatoons have become so popular that they have even been published into comic books. “Myeoneuragi,” which loosely translates to “daughter-in-law,” is one of them. This comic series centers around the female character Min Sa-rin, who suffers from her new in-laws as she is expected to visit them and fulfill certain duties such as preparing food and cleaning up during traditional holidays. The stories especially resonated with female readers who found them to be relatable.

Instatoons vary in topic: job-seeking (@yoonee3326), work-related anecdotes (@harusal_22), pets (@animal_n_human) and divorce (@insup_cho). The quotidian comics seem to speak right to the hearts of readers and have developed devoted followings. Some artists even interact with their followers and ask them what they want to see in upcoming works.v
The appeal of these cartoonists is that they are not professionals, and their doodle-like approach to storytelling seem to connect just as much as the work of top webtoon artists on larger platforms.

The Instatoon artists have managed to succeed because of their ability to connect with their audiences, who eagerly follow them and keep up with their work. The everyday nature of the stories, whether about work, family or pets, usually result in comments from readers like “This is basically me!” and “[This] is what I go through every day.”

Seeing the success of the amateur cartoonists as an opportunity for themselves to be able to tell their own stories through art, many are trying their own hand at drawing. Although they may not be ambitious enough to open up their own Instatoon account, there are drawing cafes for people interested in expressing themselves through art to go to and try out many different styles. The cafes, which have recently been popping up throughout Seoul, provide all the necessary tools, such as brushes, a canvas and paints to use, allowing people to simply drop by and try to give life to the images in their heads.


A quiet place to draw

Amidst the hustle and bustle of the neighborhood around Gangnam Station in southern Seoul, there’s a quiet drawing space called Cafe Hwasil. The space’s calmness is the main charm that attracts people here. Visitors can work on sketches, watercolors and even create their own pop arts pieces.

Those who have a specific photograph they want to try drawing can send the photo to the cafe’s email address and have it printed out on a canvas-sized paper. Prices differ based on the canvas size - 25,000 won ($20.84) for one and 35,000 won for the other. Beginners who have never lifted a paint brush in their life can also rest easy and have a go as professionals are stationed throughout the space to offer a helping hand. Cafe Hwasil is located near exit No. 9 of Gangnam Station, subway line No. 2. Drinks are not included in the price. There are no restrictions in the duration of stay, allowing visitors to stay as long as they want to finish their piece.



Need room to draw?

If a spacious workspace is the priority, Dohwa Seoga is the place to go. Thanks to the large area, visitors at this cafe won’t feel cramped while they work. A drawing package comes with a watercolor palette, a drawing pencil, an eraser, a brush, a towel and a piece of paper. Since it promotes itself as a “Drawing & Book Cafe,” the place is also full of books to reference if one gets stuck while drawing or for casual reading while cooling down after working. The cafe explained that groups of two or threes tend to enjoy visiting the cafe because they can read while waiting for their friends to finish their drawings.

There are two branches of Dohwa Seoga, one in Hongdae in western Seoul near exit No. 9 of the Hongik University Station line No. 2, and the other in Songridangil near Songpanaru Station, line No. 9, exit 1. There’s an entrance fee of 3,500 won for those who want to draw in addition to ordering drinks. On weekdays there’s no restriction to the number of hours visitors can stay, but on weekend afternoons, the cafe implements a two-hour restriction.



Drawing together

If people don’t mind a bit of noise and a crowd of people to mingle with, they can try out a pretty little place called Peach Gray. The cafe, located in southern Seoul, specializes in watercolor drawings. The cafe is always teeming with people, and during weekends, a long line of people waiting for their turn usually forms outside the cafe. Part of the reason is due to its relatively small space compared to other cafes, but the place is also appealing to couples looking to spend some time together. The cafe is also popular because it’s Instagram-friendly, offering various photo zones.

There’s no separate fee for drawing, as the cost is included in the beverages. Visitors may stay as long as they wish, except for when the place is packed and there’s a line outside. The cafe is a five-minute walking distance from Seokchon Station, line No. 8 and 9, exit 4.



Up for some serious drawing

Those who want to feel professional while working on their artwork may want to head to the Seongsu Museum. Upon entering this underground cafe, Botticelli’s “The Birth of Venus” welcomes visitors, leaving an impression that the place is more of an art space than a cafe.

With its shiny floors and copies of famous paintings hung all over the walls, the place actually looks like a gallery. The people who come here means business - they’re not here to do anything else than paint.

The cost is a bit pricey - 22,000 won per person on weekends - but those who are frequent visitors say the place is totally worth the price. The cafe offers everything you need to look like a professional - brushes, an apron, acrylic paints, palette, canvas, and even painting sleeves. It also offers the perfect atmosphere for people to focus in their paintings by providing easels for each visitor.

Next to the easel, supplementary drawing tools such as crayons, colored pencils, felt pens and more are provided.

Ambitious artists who want to create their own painting from scratch can start drawing on a canvas, but for artists who feel intimidated at the task can choose from 15 different pre-sketched designs to paint. The designs vary accordingly, from animation, landscapes and cityscapes, to famous classics such as Vincent van Gogh’s “Sunflowers.”

Seongsu Museum has two branches, one right outside exit No.1 of Seongsu Station, line No. 2, and a Yeonnam branch near Hongik University Station, line No. 2. The price on weekdays is little cheaper, costing 20,900 won per person. Beverages are not included in the price, but they are not mandatory.



Want to get colorful?

Drawing cafe “Palette” might be a place where even expert illustrators would be impressed due to the high-quality drawing tools the cafe provides.

The famous brands of paints that are must-haves for artists are here for visitors to try out. For instance, if one wants to try their hand at watercolors, there are paints from Holbein, MontmarArt, Mijello, and Shinhan. For colored pencils, the cafe offers famous brands like Prismacolor, Faber-Castell, Carand’ache Luminance and more. People also compliment the cafe for how well-maintained the tools are despite being used by many people.

Along with artworks drawn by the visitors, art-related props are arranged at the corners of the cafe, such as miniature plaster casts, books about paintings, as well as wooden furniture to get people inspired to start drawing. Of course, like other cafes, you can just order your drink and work on something else, but it seems to be a shame to be surrounded by all of these appropriate tools and not draw anything.

Palette is within walking distance from exit No. 1 of Sungshin Women’s University Station, line No. 4. The drawing fee and one drink on the menu costs 10,000 won.

BY LEE JAE-LIM [lee.jaelim@joongang.co.kr]