Before I went to Cambodia I had looked at many Google images of Angkor Wat — the largest of the temples in the Angkor complex, and according to trusty Wikipedia, possibly the largest religious monument in the world. But there are no images that prepare you for the beauty of the place. My gasp was audible. They say you have to witness it at sunrise but the weather was rainy and overcast every morning so I missed that experience. In many ways, though, I think the heavy sky added to the atmosphere of the place. I tried to paint on my first visit but the rain was unrelenting, even in a sheltered spot, so I made my way back there on my last day in Siem Reap, hoping to get in one last sketch from across the moat. It turned out to be a great spot to draw from (I found a few of my sketcher friends there as well) but our outing was cut short by the advances of a particularly agressive monkey nearby (possibly the same one who earlier in the day had grabbed and chugged a full bottle of India Ink from another sketcher in our group). We had to pack up our supplies really quickly to keep the monkey from getting them, but my sketch was done by that time.
The Jim Thompson House is an oasis in the middle of Bangkok. It’s a spectacular mansion (and surrounding property too), constructed from several traditional Thai houses dismantled from their original locations and reassembled to form the residence of the American entrepreneur and art collector Jim Thompson. He’s an intriguing character who established a silk company and later disappeared mysteriously in the Cameron Highlands in Malaysia. The house and museum are a popular tourist destination in the city, but to see the house you must take the guided tour. While waiting for my tour to begin, I had a bit of time to draw in the shaded courtyard. Of course I am thinking about all my Thai friends today after hearing about the horrific blast at the Erawan Shrine in Bangkok. The Jim Thompson House is located quite close to the site of the explosion, just a stop or two away on the elevated train line.
I’ve probably already mentioned that arriving in Cambodia from Singapore was quite a culture shock. The first ride I had from the airport to the hotel was in a tuk tuk, and from there I was hooked, both for the slight breeze provided by the ride (the air was quite heavy when I visited) and the slow panoramic view of the town on either side. We travelled around quite a bit in these open-air vehicles — back and forth to the temples of Angkor, into the town to visit the market — and on a rainy day I even contemplated painting under the shelter of the awning but never got around to doing it. My favourite view of the tuk tuks was from a cafe in town. From there I could see the drivers in the shade of some Banyan trees by the river during their “off” time, which seemed to be mostly sleeping (and included being suspended in net hammocks).
I sketched this in a Pentalic sketchbook given to me by Stephanie Bower (I plan to write about her impressive lecture at the Urban Sketchers Symposium in a future post). If you haven’t tried this book yet, I would highly recommend it. The paper is 140 lb, 100% cotton rag paper and truly gorgeous for painting on — thick and creamy with a wonderful tooth to it. There’s only one format (5″ x 8″) as far as I can tell, but it’s perfect for travel sketching. I haven’t yet found a book that takes the paint as well as this.
When I booked my ticket to Singapore for the Urban Sketchers Symposium I planned on arriving a few days early so that I could spend some time sketching in my workshop location. I know other instructors did the same thing. I have to admit that when I first arrived in my designated spot I was a bit disappointed because the location was the campus of Singapore Management University (big plaza, modern buildings, lots of trees). I would have preferred one of the livelier locations like Waterloo Street with all its crowded temples, or Purvis Street with its colourful shophouses. But in time I grew to love my location, firstly for the shade the trees provided and secondly for the views of the Singapore Art Museum and the National Museum that are both situated on the perimeter of the campus and are visible through the trees. Below are a few of the sketches that I did in preparation for my workshop.
I recently watched a great video on YouTube of the symposium, put together by Drew Yu. There’s nothing like being there to really understand how exciting and stimulating an event it is, but this paints a great picture in case you missed it or are thinking of going to Manchester, UK, next year.
Sketching today ends with shrieks. No, not mine. But let’s backtrack a bit.
It seems like a good day to paint clouds. After all the rain we had in Montreal yesterday, the sky is fairly turbulent and I am in the mood to be near the lake. There’s a sailing lesson going on so my subject is pretty simple. The kids in the boats are making a lot of noise, I guess because the brisk wind has them moving around the lake a fair bit. As I paint, I noticed the pitch of their voices rising, until it becomes shrieks. What I can’t see — but they can — is a giant black cloud moving towards us and coming up behind me. They race into the bay for shelter and as the big drops start falling I am able to turn my painting over and get it back to the car. Five minutes later the sun is out again. From what I hear, that just about summarizes summer of 2015 in Montreal.
I really thought I’d get more painting done in Southeast Asia. Although I filled a sketchbook, the blistering heat prevented me from taking the time to do larger watercolours. I guess my winter car painting is just no training for hot weather. One afternoon at Ayutthaya, in the company of other sketchers, I found some time to paint Wat Chaiwattharanaram, a crumbling beauty of a temple, built in 1630. The light was rather flat with dark clouds on the horizon but there were not too many tourists around which made painting rather pleasant. When I was finishing up the painting in my studio today I noticed a little surprise on the surface: flecks of gold leaf had attached themselves to the paper — no doubt tidbits of the little gold sheets that worshippers place on the Buddha statues in temples all over Thailand.
Unlike many urban sketchers I know, I’m not much good at sketching during meal times. Just can’t seem to coordinate the eating and drawing at the same time thing. But the food in Thailand was so wonderful, the ingredients so varied, the markets so mysterious that I had to record some of it on my last few days. I filled part of a perfect little Laloran sketchbook with drawings done with a bent nib pen (many Asian sketchers use these) generously given to me by a Thai sketcher named Kim (who also introduced me to mangosteen). Some of the drawings were done in restaurants and some standing at market stalls. Some of the food I tried (frogs legs) and some I left for the next visit (durian).
The best memory I have of food sketching in Thailand is at the Pak Khlong Talat vegetable market in Bangkok. I was sketching the big baskets of hot red and green peppers when the woman at the next stall saw me drawing. Curious, she looked over my shoulder at the drawing, went back to her stall and returned with a stalk of lemongrass. And then a leaf of bergamot. And then a hunk of galangal. This continued for some time until she made a stirring motion with her hand and indicated to me that she had brought me all the bits I needed to make tom yum soup.
The oddest vegetables at the market were the giant green pods — tied up in bundles — that lined the street. I had to take a photo so I could identify them when I got home. Turns out they are called “stink bean” which could explain why they were always located outside the stalls instead of indoors.