When you travel with local people you see hidden gems you might not find on your own. I know for certain I would never have found the Nakornchaisri River, nor the cafe on its banks. At first glance I thought it was a floating restaurant until I realized that we were not moving. In front of us was a continuous parade of water hyacinth on the water, big tangles of it moving quickly by, which created the illusion of movement under my feet. Occasionally a heron could be seen going along for the ride and once a huge, and likely dead, monitor lizard was caught in the mess of leaves and roots. The effect was a bit dizzying and a sight that will stay with me for a long time.
With every sketching spot in Thailand there is an accompanying meal, chosen with care by our host to maximize the number of different ingredients we try. I have been trying to record some of the delights that arrive on the table but these sketches are in a tiny sketchbook and will be posted when I get home.
Over the past few weeks in Southeast Asia, I’ve made the same mistake many times. I arrive at an iconic sketching spot (which has often been a temple) and I begin to sketch it immediately without even looking around the site. And because I usually sketch until the last minute, there’s never enough time to do a proper visit. Today I managed to do both. I drew from a floating restaurant below the bridge, and then, like many others, I crossed it on foot. Luckily I’m not afraid of heights because there’s a train that goes from Bangkok to Kanchanaburi on the Death Railway and I was on the bridge when it passed. There are small platforms you can step on to get out of the way, but they hang out over the river so don’t look down if you are the least bit acrophobia. I know this sounds like a guidebook, but it’s well worth the trip to see the views over the river and the hills of Burma in the distance.
It’s a good thing I filled my palette with some fresh New Gamboge to paint the saffron wrapped Buddhas and chedi of Wat Yai Chai Mongkhon temple in Ayuthaya, Thailand. Ayuthaya was the capital of Siam between 1350 and 1767 so there are plenty of temples to sketch, both active and in ruins. I’m here with a Thai urban sketcher friend as my host and guide, and I think drawing at this temple, on a Buddhist holiday, was a huge challenge. I have never been in a place that was more difficult to draw. The constant flow of people circulating around the temple made it impossible to see what I was drawing. People also gathered around to see what we were doing, which doesn’t usually bother me, unless they are blocking the view. When my sketch was done, it occurred to me this might have been the Thai sketching test. If you can sketch here, you can sketch anywhere! My wifi connection has been difficult in some places during this trip, so if it has taken some time to respond to comments, please understand.
Mornings are always my preferrred time to sketch markets — before the crowds arrive and the heat sets in. In Siem Reap the Old Market occupies a full city block. The edges are ringed with vendors selling dry goods and souvenirs, but I was intrigued by a group of women squatting in the shade of this one stall, wearing big straw hats and selling vegetables from baskets. Trying to convey the sense of inside/outside was what interested me, so one of the first things I did was paint a Cobalt Blue wash over all the shaded areas. From there I built up the details both in and out of the shade. When the sketch was done I headed over to have a look at what the women were selling. To my surprise, the storefront I thought I had been looking at was actually the entrance to the fresh food section of the market and the small group of squatting women selling vegetables was only a fraction of the scene that continued inside. In fact, vendors (mostly women) were crouched over fruit, vegetables, bowls of raw fish, eels, hunks of meat, chicken with black claws still on and many more things that I can’t even name. The space inside is dark, narrow and very crowded so I was glad I sketched from across the way, but my friend Suhita did an amazing job of drawing in the middle of the chaos. Watch for her drawings on her blog Sketch Away: Travels with my sketchbook.
Arriving in Cambodia from Singapore is a bit of a culture shock, at least for someone like me who is travelling in Asia for the first time. The ride from the airport by tuk tuk was an eye opener. Bus, motorbikes, cars, bicycles and the ubiquitous tuk tuks, crossing every which way with no apparent order. Dogs and cows on the road. Chaos in every direction. And have I mentioned that there are about a dozen other sketchers in Siem Reap as well? Needless to say, there’s plenty to sketch here. We spent the day around the temples of Angkor, first at Ta Prohm which is the one with the big trees growing out of it (think Indiana Jones and Tomb Raider) and then at Angkor Thom where I sketched The Bayon and the stone faces of Lokesvara (they say there are nearly 200 of them although I probably only included about four or five). At the end of the day the tuk tuk driver looked as beat as I did after sketching in the heat, so I sketched him too.
I’ve just arrived in Cambodia after an exhilarating and exhausting week in Singapore. I plan to write about my experience at the Urban Sketchers symposium when I get back to Montreal because it’s impossible to do while tapping away on my phone. In between teaching my own workshops, I had time to attend one other one and watch some amazing demos. In the meantime I’m posting this quick sketch that I did by the pool when I arrived in Siem Reap. Tomorrow, the temples of Angkor!
Boat Quay is best sketched in the morning when some of the oldest shophouses along the Singapore River have the sun on them. When I arrived later in the day they were backlit, so I sat at one of the restaurants along the quay and overpaid for a lemonade to get this view. I’m sure it’s not the first time an artist has done that.
There hasn’t been time to post anything that I’ve done during the symposium but if you are on Facebook and want to see the diverse and wonderful drawings done during the past few days use the hashtag #usksingapore2015.