Putting Pen To Paper: Dennis Cheok
The Chronicle Notebook Series is an ode to special places that hold special memories, places that keep our stories, those told and those untold. A place is bound to change with time, as we do, but every story it witnesses remains — each memory becoming a part of its history, a part of its evolution, a part of its future.
With the launch of this unique collection, whose cover designs are inspired by four of Singapore’s iconic historical sites — Clifford Pier, Fort Canning, Emerald Hill and Kent Ridge — we invited four individuals — an entrepreneur, a writer, a creative director and an artist to join our "Chronicle: Places and Traces" campaign to share cherished memories held in these spaces. They also talk about their love of paper, and how putting pen to paper has become an important part of their day and work, a ritual by which they process thoughts, feelings, creative ideas, make dreams happen and as a means of self-care.
@dennis.cheok — Founder and Creative Director of UPSTRS_
A place of residence for colonial governors; Historic hill, a witness of colonial rule and military defence
Please introduce yourself. What’s your occupation? Can you walk us through your daily work routine?
I’m Dennis Cheok, founder and creative director of UPSTRS_, a spatial design practice based in Singapore. We tell stories through the medium of space, object, brands and print.
Each day for me is full of surprises — leading the team, meeting with new people, and sharing ideas for creation.
What grounds me in my work is in the design process, where ideas are polished and made tangible through grit, together with a team of talented individuals that I am so immensely grateful for.
What significance does paper play in your daily life? How much do you put pen/pencil to paper, and for what purpose usually?
Design, for me, is part pragmatic thinking, part fearless intuition.
Putting thought to paper is the first step of the process — I love the process of “thinking aloud” through sketching. The messier the sketch, the better, so that it’s not precious or sacred.
Oftentimes, words come to mind as I sketch, and I put those words to paper as well to guide the thoughts, visually.
How has it helped with your creativity, organisation, or thoughts?
I used to fear placing my thoughts and ideas on paper, and tried to avoid it for as long as I possibly could. The first step has always been the hardest.
For designers, there’s a certain vulnerability in trying to articulate ideas and thought into reality. It’s laying bare what we’re most passionate about; and when it doesn’t seem to translate or click, there’s a certain sense of defeat which can be crippling.
I realise now that sketching is an incredibly rewarding and freeing design process, and the more I sketch, the more I grow in clarity and confidence. The process feels real and grounded, and I find it hard to replace with digital medium.
The same goes for my thought process. Putting things in words help me organise my thoughts, in work and in personal life.
Much of my life now is an open book, and I invite anyone who’s open and interested to join in the process of refining and polishing my thoughts. It’s an incredibly rewarding journey when the right minds meet at the right time.
Share with us your thoughts and feelings on the Chronicle Notebook Series.
Bynd Artisan is not only firmly rooted in its heritage, but also one which consistently innovates and surprises.
Under the effervescent helm of James and Winnie, the brand has been a vanguard of Singaporean collaborations and creative talents, and also one with so much passion and heart for what our city has to offer.
I love that with the Chronicle Notebook Series, the brand now pays homage to the city that we all call home. I especially love how each location's zeitgeist is distilled through graphics, craft and the written word, in the form of a notebook, something Bynd Artisan does best.
It’s a coming-of-age progression, for a brand (or an individual) to look inwards, and it’s beautiful on so many levels. I see so much potential for where this can lead to.
I'm excited to see more places and traces appear for the series, and even more so, I certainly can't wait to see how it all unfolds for Bynd Artisan.
My first imprint of Fort Canning was in 1997, as a young, impressionable theatre student.
It was a site-specific production of Hamlet, by the Singapore Repertory Theatre, starring Adrian Pang as the charismatic protagonist of the Shakespearean tragedy.
The production was epic and magical — with the measured latitude of Noh theatre and cinematic swash of a Zhang Yimou film. I remember till this day, the scene when Ophelia drowned in a bathtub under the glow of an ancient tree. The text set within the hill came to life, and it blew my mind.
Fort Canning became the space for the tribe of music and excess in the later years.
Drunken nights spent roaming the open field with good company and all sorts of soundscapes. Watching Icelandic band Sigur Rós was an unforgettable experience. The sky split open with pouring rain as the hill throbbed with their ethereal sounds.
It was only as I grew older that my eyes turned from the central spotlight, and begin to truly appreciate the significance of cultural remnants embedded within the park’s periphery.
It is a sacred space, dutifully serving as a time capsule of so much of our collective culture. The historic headstones lining the cloister walls; the vestiges of local bricks and lichen lining the pathways; the hidden heroes and underground forts, and the soaring height of heritage trees. The once-Forbidden Hill continues to stir our collective soul, and it stands quietly watching us grow.
I will leave this thought for now with these words:
“A city built on a hill cannot be hid.”
We would like to thank Dennis, Joan, Kah Mun and Karman for joining us in this Chronicle: Places And Traces campaign to share the significance of putting pen to paper, and their memories of Singapore’s historical landmarks. #byndartisan #PlacesAndTraces