Upper Burma – Photography

April 21, 2014 § 4 Comments

This week I’d like to share more images from our travels through upper Burma. I’m adding the finishing touches to the third print design for the Thailand Burma Flora Fauna series which I am excited to share with you all next week!

Walking through a gauntlet of golden stalls selling crafts at a large temple in Mandalay.

Walking through a gauntlet of golden stalls selling crafts at a large temple in Mandalay.

On Inle lake, a fisherman deftly uses his leg to paddle his wooden boat, freeing up his hands to cast and pull in his fishing nets.

On Inle lake, a fisherman deftly uses his leg to paddle his wooden boat, freeing up his hands to cast and pull in his fishing nets.

A weaver uses lotus thread, cotton, and silk, all made by hand in their shop, to operate a foot pedal powered wooden loom to make beautiful, intricate longyis (traditional Burmese attire).

A weaver uses lotus thread, cotton, and silk (thread all handmade in their shop) to operate a foot pedaled wooden loom to make beautiful, intricate longyis (traditional Burmese attire).

A horse cart in dusty Bagan, Burma. (There are no filters on any of my photos, just beautiful colors in Burma!)

A horse cart in dusty Bagan, Burma. (There are no filters on any of my photos– just great lighting and beautiful colors there!)

Sun protection! After seeing hordes of bleary eyed, sun burned and lobster-like tourist staggering about Nyuang Shwe, we wrapped ourselves up while out on Inle Lake.

Sun protection! After seeing hordes of bleary eyed, sun burned and lobster-like tourist staggering about Nyuang Shwe, we wrapped ourselves up while out on Inle Lake.

Down endless green canals, we passed the “floating gardens” of Inle Lake.

Down endless green canals, we passed the “floating gardens” of Inle Lake.

The floating gardens of Inle lake are quite literally that- floating garden beds which are staked into the bottom of the lake with tall bamboo poles. (The lake itself is only about 3-4 meters deep in these parts.) This way local farmers are able to grow assorted vegetables (like tomatoes and eggplants) directly on the surface of the water– talk about hydroponics…

At one point, at the insistence of our driver, I climbed out of our longboat and walked on a patch of spongy, plant entangled earth. Beneath each foot I immediately (but slowly) began sink into the lake- what an odd sensation! 

In the photo above you can see one of the thatched bamboo houses, up on stilts, in which the local farmers live and work.

Monks hang their laundry in the morning sun to dry at an old temple in Mandalay.

At an old temple in Mandalay, monks hang up their laundry to dry in the morning sun.

A tall mountain top pagoda covered in woven mats while it is re-gold leafed and restored.

A tall mountain top pagoda is covered in woven mats while it is gold leafed and restored.

One of my favorite moments from Upper Burma was an unexpected visit to a mountaintop pagoda along the road to Bagan. This pagoda is currently being restored and re-gold leafed, so it is covered in a bamboo scaffolding, which was then sheathed in woven mats from top to bottom.

We arrived there in the dark of night after all of the stalls had shut down except for two women selling garlands of white flowers. In our bare feet we padded up a long, worn, stone staircase to the summit– up past families noiselessly eating dinner around circular tables. Sleepy cats lazing on wooden window sills. A monk who sat in his abode and stared blankly at us with even keeled indifference.

Atop the hill was an immense silence under a black starry sky. We could see the vast rolling plain from which we came, and Mt. Popa on the horizon– small plumes of smoke rising about the valley. The crescent moon behind foggy distant clouds.

The quiet was punctuated only by the occasional flapping of prayer flags atop the pagoda, and the nearly inaudible murmuring of a woman who was intensely praying and gently rocking back and forth in front of a small statue of the Buddha. It is only a projection, but I got the feeling like she was working her way through a personal crisis, up here alone at night and completely unaware of our presence. It was nice moment, and a good memory– something I’ll never forget. Below is an illustration from my travel sketchbook of the woman praying.

Travel sketchbook - In the quiet of night a woman prays at a mountaintop pagoda.

Travel sketchbook – In the quiet of night a woman prays at a mountaintop pagoda.

Men hammering gold leaf in Mandalay.  Back breaking work. Very heavy hammers while somehow not hammering their feet.

Men hammering gold leaf in Mandalay.

Making authentic gold leaf by hand takes a tremendous amount of time and human energy! The hammers alone are very heavy, so the men brace themselves against wooden rests behind them and spend their days hunched over flattening out small packets into leaf (while somehow not hammering their feet which barely straddle the wrapped gold).

I did purchase gold leaf from this shop with the possibility of using it to sign the first edition of prints in this series.  Maybe– we’ll see how it looks at that stage. 

Mt. Popa boasts a jutting spire of rock with larger monastery atop the mountain. You can also see some of the burning fields / forests that add to SE Asia’s air pollution crisis.

Mt. Popa boasts a jutting spire of rock with large monastery atop the mountain. You can also see some of the burning fields / forests that are adding to SE Asia’s current air pollution crisis.

A cat with Beth’s feet at Jumping Cat Monastery, in Inle Lake.

A cat with Beth’s feet at Jumping Cat Monastery, Inle Lake.

In the recent past, Jumping Cat Monastery on Inle Lake was a place where Buddhist monks trained cats to do an assortment of tricks, like jumping through hoops. Unfortunately, tourists began showing up and asking / demanding that the monks make the cats perform for them.

As you might expect, performing for tourists isn’t very monk-like, so they have since discontinued the practice. Nowadays, monk and cat simply live together at the monastery. Clearly you can see in this cat’s eyes that she is not interested in performing for us, but she could if she wanted to.

One of two enormous white lions standing guard at the entrance to the long stairway up Mandalay Hill.

One of two enormous white lions standing guard at the entrance to the stairway up Mandalay Hill.

Swallows and sunset over Mandalay from Mandalay Hill.

Swallows and sunset over Mandalay from Mandalay Hill.

Thank you for reading and for your continued support with my project!

Burma Banteng – Cattle and Aloe in Bagan

April 14, 2014 § 7 Comments

The second contender for the Thailand Burma Flora Fauna print series is complete! Today, I’d like to share some thoughts about that image, and also say thank you to everyone who has been reaching out to me after I post these updates. I appreciate all of your support and kind feedback with this project!

Burma Banteng, Cattle and Aloe in Bagan, 2014

Burma Banteng, Cattle and Aloe in Bagan, 2014

This image is a night scene illustrating the Burma Banteng, a species of wild cattle found across Southeast Asia. One of my goals for this project was to allow first hand experience to inform this body of work, which I feel it already has, tenfold.

Included in this image are a number of specific plants and trees, human-made structures, and other visuals I witnessed during my travels. Talk about “refilling the wellspring”, so to speak…

Travel sketchbook page from Bagan, Burma.

Travel sketchbook page from Bagan, Burma.

Bagan sketchbook detail with banteng calf.

Bagan sketchbook detail of a banteng calf and an ancient pagoda.

Thumbnail drawings worked out slight variations of the composition.

Working out variations of the composition using thumbnail drawings.

Why choose something as mundane as cattle? 

One – As part of my rubric for the series, I determined that it would be too predictable to only represent animals that were exotic or endangered species. I wanted some animals that were thriving, and at least one type that lived among human beings. Like the elephant, cattle have had a complex role in the development of civilization over several millennia, and I wanted to honor that role.

A thin Bali cow, Bagan.

A thin banteng, Bagan.

Two – Banteng, or tembadau, are one of the animals that really stood out to me while I was in Burma. We saw so many different breeds being herded among the ruins in Bagan. Some were wilder looking varieties– buff colored oxen with wavy viking-like horns. But I found that the Bali cattle (domesticated banteng) were the most visually striking with their humps, floppy ears, and large, peaceful doe eyes. 

Here's looking at you, cow.

Here’s looking at you, cow.

Bagan was easily one of the most incredible places I have ever been, and I was surprised at how arid upper Burma is. Think: dusty red earth, dry stream beds, and a thriving variety of plants and trees acclimated to a desert climate. In the image, I included toddy palms, eucalyptus, and acacia trees, as well as cactus and aloe vera plants among the ruins of the temples.

Also, while we were in Bagan the Orion constellation was prominent in the night time sky, and the crescent moon would lay flat on its back in a way that appeared unusual to me. I wanted to remember these details so I included them in the print design.

A temple in Bagan, early sunset hours.

A temple in Bagan, early sunset hours.

Bagan – Bagan was the ancient capital city of what would later become Burma. Between the 11th and 13th century thousands of temples, monasteries and stupas were constructed there, of which there are still over 2,200 pagodas left today.

Sunset, Bagan - The Bagan plain spans an area approximately 40 square miles!

Sunset over Bagan. The Bagan plain spans an area of approximately 40 square miles!

A couple of weeks ago I participated in local Mae Sot NGO Kick-Start Art’s annual auction. It raises funds for the organization by asking local artists to make pieces inspired by an artwork made by one of the school children attending its art programs.

I chose two kids’ pieces that humored me– one depicting a joyful banana and another of a sad mosquito. For which to accompany them (and to keep within the logic of the original artwork) I made images of a morose banana and a happy mosquito. It was a lot of fun, and both sold for a good cause.

One of my works for a charity auction depicting a morose banana.  We have fun...

One of my works for a charity auction depicting a morose banana. We have fun…

Currently, I’m busy at work on the fourth and fifth Flora Fauna images. The third image design is complete, but I am giving it a few days for touching up before I share it.

Thank you for reading and for your support!

Burma – Part 1

March 31, 2014 § 10 Comments

Old diesel trucks, tractors, motorbikes, trishaws, bicycles, and horse and ox driven carts are all modes of transport in Burma. Pictured here is Nyaung Shwe, Inle Lake, one of my favorite places we visited.

Old diesel trucks, tractors, motorbikes, trishaws, bicycles, and horse and ox driven carts are all modes of transport in Burma. Pictured here is Nyaung Shwe, on Inle Lake, one of my favorite places we visited.

Burma was incredible. For me, being there was a truly profound experience. Each day potentially ranged from easy to difficult traveling. At times it was amazing, mundane, frustrating, beautiful, astonishing, annoying, troubling, and absolutely wonderful. That said, I am unsure of how to even begin to sum up my time there.

What I do know is that this experience has led to a deeper understanding of my students, where they come from, and where Burma is at during this time of transition.

We saw multitudes of fantastic plants, animals, and landscapes– all of which have already greatly enriched the direction of my Flora Fauna print series. Think: groves of tall eucalyptus trees and gigantic aloe vera plants in the arid plains of upper Burma. Cows like skeletons being herded down the highways by barefoot child shepherds. Enormous, striking moths and butterflies (I’m 99% sure we witnessed a Mystical Bhutan Glory on Mt. Popa, but it was there and gone before we could blink an eye.) I had my sketchbook with me and made drawings and notes of everything that I could whenever we had down time. I’ll share some of those drawings soon.

We thought a lot about the question of why we travel– as more often than not traveling can be quite difficult. (An example: (An example: On a ten hour bus ride with no toilet on board and a single “bathroom” stop, the driver and his minions had picked up so many people along the way that even the rows between the seats were sold out and filled with men, women, and children standing or sitting on the bus floor on little plastic stools. Over winding, narrow mountain roads people were vomiting onto the floor which then ran under our feet and smelled awful. But we couldn’t open the windows because when you did the bus filled with choking exhaust fumes, and so on and so forth). After a while you end up asking yourself, why do I do this at all?

Well, my conclusion is (as it always seems to be) that there is an importance of seeing something with your own eyes that can truly broaden your understanding of a place.  Or if nothing else, traveling can help a person to have a new perspective on life– and so it did!

This week, I’d like to share a small selection of what we saw on our trip through Burma.

In Inle Lake (pronounced in-lay), we hired a boatman for a few days to take us to interesting and hidden locations around the lake. This is the blue long boat with which we traveled.

In Inle Lake (pronounced in-lay), we hired a boatman for a few days to take us to interesting and hidden locations around the lake. This is the blue long boat with which we traveled.

Novice Buddhist nuns in a golden monastery, Mandalay.

With shaved heads and wearing pink are novice Buddhist nuns in a golden monastery, Mandalay.

A very cool looking tourist on the famous U Bein bridge in Mandalay. U Bein is the longest teakwood bridge in the world and is ubiquitous with images of Burma.

A very cool looking tourist on the famous U Bein bridge in Mandalay. U Bein is the longest teakwood bridge in the world and is ubiquitous with images of Burma.

The setting sun over ancient ruins and temples in Bagan, Burma.

The setting sun over ancient ruins and temples in Bagan, Burma.

Hilltribe women selling vegetables in a market on Inle Lake. Many women here wear striking, bright hand woven scarves on their heads.

Hilltribe women selling vegetables in a market on Inle Lake. Many women here wear brightly colored hand woven scarves on their heads.

A typical scene in Burma: a 1940’s-60’s diesel truck with an exposed engine being stacked high with goods to be transported (sometimes stacked 2-3 times the height of the actual vehicle). Once it is packed to capacity, the truck then becomes a transport for people who sit on the top or stand hanging off of the back. We saw people traveling great distances this way despite the heat of the day or the dark of night.

A typical scene in Burma: a 1940′s-1960’s diesel truck with an exposed engine being stacked high with goods to be transported (sometimes stacked 2-3 times the height of the actual vehicle). Once it is packed to capacity, the truck then becomes a transport for people who sit on the top or stand hanging off of the back. We saw people traveling great distances this way despite the heat of the day or the dark of night.

At a bronze casting studio, a wax carver takes a moment to light his cheroot cigar. We visited many artisan shops and happily witnessed some incredible art production techniques. After the initial wooden frame is covered with a completed wax statue of the Buddha, it goes through a casting process that ends with a clay mold being made around the wax, and the wax melted out.  That mold is then is buried in the ground with one small entrance hole poking out of the earth which they then pour molten bronze into. Once cooled, the bronze pieces are taken out, assembled, cleaned with a grinder, and polished up for sale. Quite a process!

At a bronze casting studio, a wax carver takes a moment to light his cheroot cigar. We visited many artisan shops and witnessed some fantastic craft production techniques. After the initial lightweight earthen frame is covered with a completed wax statue of the Buddha, a clay mold is made around the wax. The entire mold is heated by fire and the melted wax is drained out. That clay mold is then is completely buried in the ground with one small entrance hole poking out of the earth. They then pour molten bronze into this hole. Once cooled, the bronze pieces are taken out, assembled, cleaned with a grinder, and polished up for sale. Quite a process!

Mandalay was so vibrant and alive that it made Bangkok seem a little slow paced. People everywhere doing their thing!

Mandalay was so vibrant and alive that it made Bangkok seem a little slow paced. People everywhere doing their thing!

This is a long exposure photograph (much brighter than with the naked eye) of Mandalay at night. The streets of Mandalay are largely dark and unlit except by the headlights of motorbikes and cars. Blackouts in Burma are still a frequent occurrence.

This is a long exposure photograph (much brighter than with the naked eye) of Mandalay at night. The streets of Mandalay are largely dark and unlit except by the headlights of motorbikes and cars, as shown here. Blackouts in Burma are still a frequent occurrence.

A shadow on a bicycle in Mandalay, Burma.

A shadow on a bicycle in Mandalay, Burma.

Beth peeks out a doorway at the oldest carved teakwood monastery in Mandalay.

Beth peeks out a doorway at the oldest carved teakwood monastery in Mandalay.

A weaver in Inle Lake make thread from crushed lotus reeds using a hand crank and a bicycle wheel. Pretty ingenious!

A weaver in Inle Lake makes thread from crushed lotus reeds using a hand crank and a bicycle wheel. Pretty ingenious!

Relic restoration in Burma is more like, “Let’s just fix it up with some fresh paint!”

Relic restoration in Burma is more like, “Let’s just fix it up with some fresh paint!”

Hand carved teakwood Monastery, Mandalay.

Hand carved teakwood Monastery, Mandalay.

A young boy on a bike.

A young boy on a bike.

A fisherman with his longboat and net on Inle Lake, Burma.

A fisherman with his longboat and net on Inle Lake, Burma.

 

Burma Bound and the Mystical Bhutan Glory – Process!

February 26, 2014 § 5 Comments

The first contender for the Thailand Burma Flora Fauna print series is complete! Today, I’d like to share some of my process with you, give a brief update on student workshops, and let you know about my upcoming travel plans into inner Burma and Laos at the end of this week. Wifi in Burma is rare, so the next update will be in late March upon my return to Mae Sot.

The Mystical Bhutan Glory and Poppy

The Mystical Bhutan Glory and Poppy Flower, Digital, 2014

The Mystical Bhutan Glory (what a name!) was a fascinating creature to research. This swallowtail butterfly was recorded in the 1920′s at 9000 ft in the Himalayas. It is rare due to over-collecting and the destruction of its habitat and is now considered to be endangered (though the numbers are unclear). Large for a butterfly, it can measure up to 11cm (4.3in).

As a defense the Bhutan Glory feeds upon the poisonous Indian birthwort plant. It absorbs the poison, which predators can sense and then know to avoid. I thought it was appropriate to pair it with the poppy flower, which has its own complicated history with Thailand and Burma.

I am experimenting with different chops (traditional signature stamps) and am considering including gold leaf from Burma as an addition to the signature (as seen in the image, above).

Composition sketches for of the Bhutan glory butterfly with flowers.

Composition sketches of the Bhutan glory butterfly with flowers.

Process - My process is about expansion and contraction. That is, first being completely wide open and allowing myself the space to summon and sift ideas. This is followed by a deliberate process of honing in on the strongest ones. Once I have settled on an image I work it (and rework it) until it feel right to my eyes.

Drawing sketches of the Bhutan glory.

Drawing sketches of the Bhutan glory.

 Wide open: In the beginning of a project I fill sketchbooks with loose sketches called thumbnails drawings, named so for their small size. I am a firm believer in thumbnail drawings-- if a composition does not work well at an inch by an inch, why would it work on a large scale?

Wide open: thumbnail drawings.

In the beginning of a project I fill sketchbooks with loose sketches called thumbnails drawings, named so for their small size. I am a firm believer in drawing thumbnails– if a composition does not work well at an inch by an inch, why would it look good on a large scale?

Thumbnail drawings for the Thailand Burma Flora Fauna print series.

Thumbnail drawings for the Thailand Burma Flora Fauna print series.

The expansive first stage of my process is non-judgmental and loose. Later, I hone in on the better ideas.

The expansive first stage of my process is non-judgmental and loose.

Once I have chosen the composition I draw the image digitally directly into photoshop using a tablet and pen tool for my computer. For me this is a great way to work as I am able to then quickly alter the image in innumerable ways and try out any idea without wasting time.

Redrawing the image digitally.

Once I have chosen the composition I draw the image digitally (directly into photoshop) using a tablet and pen tool for my computer. For me, this is a great way to work as I am able to experiment while using the most of my time and energy. Once I am satisfied with the image, I can redraw and refine it on paper.

The Saturday class with younger students went great!

The Kick-Start Art Saturday class with younger students from a local migrant school.

Student Workshops - The workshops have been going really well. They’re enjoyable to teach and sometimes challenging when true language barriers surface, but overall, they feel like a productive sharing of knowledge. For me, the teacher training has felt the most fruitful so far, as all of these young artists have the desire to teach and pass on what they learn to their younger peers.

It is so hard to choose images to share as there are so many good ones. Here are a few for now.

Working with younger students can be a lot of fun as they have less inhibitions.

Working with younger students at Kick-Start Art is important as most do not have regular access to any art education or drawing classes. Exposure to new modes of thought can be really valuable to the right student.

Student making a batik painting at the Puzzlbox using a copper tool which slowly drips out hot wax onto the stretched cotton canvas.

Student making a batik painting at the Puzzlbox using a copper tool which slowly drips out hot wax onto the stretched cotton canvas.

A younger student and his bird drawing.

A younger student and his drawing of flora and fauna.

Student looking at a book of prints by renowned Japanese printmaker Hokusai.

Student looking at a book of prints by renowned Japanese printmaker Hokusai.

Doing the teacher / staff training was the best! Pictured: KK, Jess, PD, JK, and Felix.

The teacher/staff training with Kick-Start Art was the best! Pictured from left: KK, Jess, PD, JK, and Felix.

John Kai and his ink drawing during the red panda design session.

Student John Kai and his ink drawing during the red panda design session.

Travel - My lovely traveling companion and I are about to head into inner Burma, and then onto Laos. I can’t wait to see it with my own eyes. In anticipation, I’ve been reading Emma Larkin’s Finding George Orwell in Burma, a book I highly recommend to anyone who is interested in the history of the country.

Reading Emma Larkin’s beautiful and insightful book just days before my trip into inner Burma feels a bit like reading ghost stories before going to a haunted house.

Reading Emma Larkin’s beautiful and insightful book just days before my trip into inner Burma feels a bit like reading ghost stories before going to a haunted house.

Wait, where are you again? Good question! Here's a map of where I am and a few upcoming travel destinations.

“Wait, where are you again?” Good question! Here’s a map with a few upcoming travel destinations. Map source: BBC’s Wild Burma.

Among other locations in Burma, we’ll be headed to Mandalay, Bagan, and Inle Lake. Then off to Vientiane and Luang Prabang in Laos. It is my hope and goal to absorb as much as I can visually and to collect images that can be used in this print series as well as in my other work.

My next update will be posted after my return to Mae Sot in late March. Thank you all for your continued support!

*Special thanks to my old friend David who sent me a mellow, uplifting music compilation that carried me through the end of this first drawing. It was much needed and much appreciated!*

View of a Buddhist Monastery, an old Thai house, a burned out and abandoned movie theater, and ever present telephone wires.

Mae Sot: view of a Buddhist Monastery, an old Thai house, a burned out and abandoned movie theater, and ever present telephone wires.

IMG_4887

Flora / Fauna – Concepting and Workshops

February 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

This past week in Mae Sot has been productive. I’ve given individual artist training, conducted Flora / Fauna drawing workshops, and am currently engaged in the initial concepting stage for the print project!

Student K.K. drawing a wild buffalo (banteng) during a Flora / Fauna workshop.

Student K.K. drawing a wild buffalo (banteng) during a Flora / Fauna workshop.

So far, the most difficult task is in choosing which plants and animals to represent. I’ve designed a rubric to help me whittle down the candidates. My hope is to create a dynamic group of images with a well rounded cast of creatures, and it definitely helps to have some self-imposed guidelines. I’ll keep you posted on the progress and will share some of my initial process drawings once I feel that the concepts are strong enough.

Drawing from a cast concrete sculpture helps students understand how light falls onto the different planes of the human head-- in the drawing room at the Puzzlebox Art Studio.

Drawing from a cast concrete sculpture helps students understand how light falls onto the different planes of the human head– in the drawing room at the Puzzlebox Art Studio.

This week I’ll be conducting three Flora / Fauna drawing workshops. Today, I gave one such workshop to a group of young adults who are all themselves art teachers for a local Mae Sot based project called Kick-Start Art. It was the best workshop so far! They were enthusiastic and fun, and all of their work is really strong. I’ll share more of those images next week.

Here are some more day to day shots from my life in Mae Sot. Thank you all for your support!

Student John Khai and his drawing of the Great Indian Hornbill for a Flora / Fauna workshop. This animal is particularly important to John as he is from Chin State in Burma, where the Hornbill is used as a symbol on their flag.

Student John Khai and his drawing of the Great Indian Hornbill for a Flora / Fauna workshop. This animal is particularly important to John as he is from Chin State in Burma, where the Hornbill is used as a symbol on their flag.

Sunset in Mae Sot, Thailand.

Sunset in Mae Sot, Thailand.

Some small, delicate local flowers.

Some small, delicate local flowers.

Midnight self portrait.

Midnight self portrait.

Full moon over Mae Sot.

Full moon over Mae Sot.

Flora Fauna Design Workshop!  

February 10, 2014 § 5 Comments

An apprentice with her finished piece featuring a small swallow and an Gangaw flower (Ironwood), native to Burma.

Apprentice with her piece featuring a swallow and a flower native to Burma, the Gangaw.

The first drawing / design workshop related to the Thailand Burma Flora Fauna series went really well! Today, I’d like to share some photos and stories from that workshop, as well as some more visuals from my life here in Mae Sot.

As a reminder, the artwork shown in this post is all student work– the images for the final print series will be designed and drawn by my hand alone.

Student drawing with a brush and sumi ink.

Student drawing with a brush and sumi ink.

Students working on preparatory thumbnail sketches.

Working on thumbnail sketches (small scale, preparatory drawings).

Sharing sumi ink.

Sharing sumi ink.

Workshop - With the translation help of my talented artist friend Sein Sein Lin, I was able to conduct my first workshop with the apprentices at the Puzzlebox Art Studio. Sein Sein Lin is a teacher who has an incredible gift for language, a sunny disposition, and a great sense of humor.

Burmese artist Sein Sein Lin gives guidance with a design composition.

Burmese artist Sein Sein Lin gives guidance with a design composition.

As a starting point, I asked the students to base their compositions off of the prints of the Japanese artist Hokusai. As they worked, SSL and I gave them individual guidance as each student is at a different skill level.

A photo of myself giving constructive feedback.

Who’s ready for some constructive feedback?

Overall the workshop was positive and fun! It was a challenging exercise for the students– and for myself it was a good re-introduction to teaching. Later in the week we worked on individual training, and enjoyed a day of epic deep cleaning and organizing at the Puzzlebox.

A student with his finished ink drawing from the workshop.

A student with his finished ink drawing from the workshop.

Lost in Translation - Below is a short excerpt from a group discussion from the workshop. This passage illustrates how meaning can get lost in translation (with a bit of cultural comedy).

Me: What are Burma’s most iconic animals?

Student 1: Cat. 

Me: Hmmm, yes, but what I mean is- what are the the most iconic, meaning: famous, popular, or cherished animals? 

Student 1: …

Sein Sein Lin (SSL): She likes cats. 

Me: Ok. What other animals are cherished in Burma? 

Student 2: Water Buffalo.

Me: Yes! Good one. What else?

Student 3: 

SSL: Lions.

Me: There are lions in Burma?

SSL: Yes, lions are very famous animals in Burma– we have them in the zoo.

Me: Oh, haha, yes. I mean: famous animals native to Burma, like the tiger. What about turtles? Turtles are cool. Do you like turtles?

SSL: Oh, yes, we love turtles! 

Me: Nice.

SSL: We love to eat them.

Me: Oh… right.

So, people everywhere like cats, and turtles make for good soup. It’s good to be reminded that different cultures value different things.

Also, interesting, Sein Sein Lin said that Burma had nothing like a National Geographic magazine. So, it wasn’t until foreigners starting visiting Burma and then later publishing their photographs from the mountains and jungles that people really knew what kind of wildlife was inside its borders.

These plants boast leaves as long as my torso.

These plants boast leaves as long as my torso.

Thailand - This past week I had a mysterious fever that came and went, and found a dead, venomous snake in our yard.

I’ve begun my drawing and concepting process for the Flora Fauna print series and am truly excited about where it’s headed. I’ll have some images from that process to share with you soon! Thank you all for your continued support!

A beautiful little moth with a false eye marking on its wing to fool predators.

A beautiful little moth with a false eye marking on its wing to fool predators.

I’ve been steadily collecting beautiful objects and artifacts to paint as still lives in my on-going oil series, Objects and Oddities from the thai-Burma Border.

I’ve been steadily collecting beautiful objects and artifacts to paint as still lives in my on-going oil series, Objects and Oddities from the Thai-Burma Border.

A friendly mechanic helped me with some tire trouble.

A friendly mechanic helped me with some bicycle trouble.

The tops of many walls here are adorned with D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) spikes made of broken glass bottles, cemented pointed side up.  Ouch- no climbing!

The tops of many walls here are adorned with D.I.Y. (Do It Yourself) spikes made of broken glass bottles, cemented into the wall sharp side up. Ouch! No climbing!

The sun sinks behind the mountains in Burma across the border.

The sun sinks behind the mountains in Burma across the border.

Back in the Land of Smiles

February 3, 2014 § 4 Comments

Here! – It’s wonderful to be back in sunny Thailand! This past week has been a whirlwind of getting my feet on the ground here in Mae Sot, while my mind and body readjust to the Thai culture, language, time change, and the climate of Southeast Asia.

Spices for sale in the Sunday walking street market, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Spices for sale in the Sunday walking street market, Chiang Mai, Thailand.

View my neighborhood in the early morning, Mae Sot, Thailand.

Early morning view over my neighborhood in Mae Sot, Thailand.

Project – Last week I began working with the apprentices at the Puzzlebox Art Studio, and have conducted the first drawing / design workshop related to the Thailand Burma Flora Fauna series. The workshop was productive and challenging, and a great beginning to the project.

Sneak Peak! Apprentice Saw Sahn Ley inks in his design.

Sneak Peak! Apprentice Saw Sahn Ley inks in his design.

An apprentice painting in her design using sumi ink and brush.

An apprentice painting in her design using sumi ink and brush.

For the first workshop, I had the apprentices use the work of renowned Japanese artist Hokusai as a reference for their design compositions.

For the first workshop, I had the apprentices use the woodblock prints of renowned Japanese artist Hokusai as a reference for their design compositions.

More Soon! – The next update will include a detailed description and photos of the finished work from that first workshop, but today I wanted to set the scene of what the world looks like where I am currently located.

A view from my guesthouse of Mae Sot at night. 30 second exposure photograph.

Mae Sot at night from my guesthouse – 30 second exposure photograph.

A typical view of the main road in Mae Sot, decorated with a ceiling of yellow flags celebrating the Chinese New Year.

A typical view of a street in Mae Sot, decorated with a ceiling of yellow flags celebrating the Chinese New Year.

The evening light illuminates the smog over Chiang Mai. This photo was taken from a small propellor plane. No filter was used making this photo as the condition of the air quality can be quite poor at times.

The evening light illuminates the smog over Chiang Mai. This photo was taken from a small propeller plane. The air quality here can be poor at times. No filter on this photo!

Thai Culture – The very briefest note on Thai culture: Thailand is known as The Land of Smiles. It is a devout and predominantly Buddhist nation (about 95% Buddhist). Depending on your location and the season the climate can be very hot, and either very wet or dry.  The mosquitos here are a plenty, and the food is amazing and spicy.

Double dragon spirits guard the entrance to Wat Phra Singh (a Buddhist temple) in Chinag Mai.

Double dragons guard the entrance to Wat Phra Singh (Buddhist temple) in Chiang Mai.

Thailand boasts some of the tastiest food on earth. This spicy noodle soup is the stuff!

Thailand boasts some of the tastiest food on earth. Spicy noodle soup and soda water!

Street scene, Mae Sot, Thailand.

Interesting times: Street scene showing Thai protesters waving flags during a parade before the February 2nd election, and migrant Burmese workers in trucks.

Challenges So Far

1) Language – Burmese batik artist Sein Sein Lin and I have begun work on The Rosetta Stone of Art Vocabulary. We made a list of 250 important art related vocabulary words including techniques, tools, styles, media and art movements. (Think of terms like: drawing, charcoal, palette knife, monochromatic, kiln, etc.)

The objective is to have a complete vocabulary list of terms translated into English, Burmese, and Thai. This will enable artists from each culture to more easily communicate whenever there is a language barrier.

2) Assessment – The Puzzlebox Art Studio is in a place of transition. For varying personal reasons many of the Burmese apprentices have had to leave their positions there. I have made an initial assessment of the studio production line as one way I can be of use to the Puzzlebox is to organize the space and to give suggestions on how to streamline the workflow.

3) Personal Studio – Currently, I’m searching for the right workspace in which to set up my art studio here. I am flush with ideas for the Thailand Burma Flora Fauna project and now just need a space so I can get to work!

Detail of a mural I designed that was executed after I last left Mae Sot by my apprentice Jaw Saye. It was so enjoyable seeing this for the first time.

Detail of a mural I designed in 2011 that was executed after I last left Mae Sot. It was painted by my former Puzzlebox apprentice Jaw Saye. So enjoyable seeing this for the first time!

Thank you – Thank you all for your continued support! Please feel free to comment and dialog. I will do my best to answer any questions you might have about the Thailand Burma Flora Fauna project as it unfolds.

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