What’s a Few Earthquakes and a Coup d’etat?

May 27, 2014 § 2 Comments

Mike.Schultz.Family.travel.1

A tuk tuk near the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

Thank you to everyone who reached out to me this past week after the Thai military ousted the government in a surprise coup d’etat. For now, all television and radio stations are down (excepting military run channels), there is a nighttime curfew from 10pm-5am, and small street scuffles continue in Bangkok. We shall see what unfolds, but whatever happens next, I hope it is what is best for Thailand.

The lush gardens at the Jim Thompson House. He was Thailand’s silk baron who mysteriously disappeared into the Malaysian jungle in1967.

The lush gardens at the Jim Thompson House. He was Thailand’s silk baron who mysteriously disappeared into the Malaysian jungle in 1967.

Family Visit + Chiang Mai

Prints – It’s been a busy few weeks! Recently, I moved to Chiang Mai, the second largest city in Thailand, to hunker down and focus on the final print designs for the Flora Fauna project. The work is going really well, and I am currently figuring my way through a particularly tricky drawing depicting the Asian Elephant. Once it is resolved, I’ll be sure to share that image with you!

Family - My parents came for a visit and we had a great time touring the country together. It was an important trip so that they will have an understanding of where I have been. Someday we’ll laugh about when they forgot their passports in Mae Sot, and we only realized it on a bus stopped at a military checkpoint leaving town. It is possible they did this just for a little excitement.

Flora – During our travels, we got to see an array of fascinating plants and animals. As usual, I took a lot of photographs- some of which have already proven to be important visual aides for the remaining print designs. 

My parents in Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown.

My parents in Yaowarat, Bangkok’s Chinatown.

The countryside outside of Chiang Mai.

The countryside outside of Chiang Mai.

What Comes Next 

In one week I’m headed to Bangkok to fly out to Portland, OR. I cannot believe how fast my time here has gone! So far, this has been a fulfilling and fruitful experience, and I am excited about the next stage of the project.

Back in Portland, I’ll be finishing up the final designs, and preparing the images for the next step. I’ve already been in talks with some dynamic, professional printmakers about the best way to see this project to completion.

THANK YOU again for your continued support with my project! Here are a few photographs from recent travels with my family.

Early flora fauna painting in the extensive murals at Wat Phra Kaew, the temple located at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

Early flora fauna painting in the extensive murals at Wat Phra Kaew, the temple located at the Grand Palace in Bangkok.

Bananas and flowers in Mae Sa National park, outside of Chiang Mai.

Bananas and flowers in Mae Sa National park, outside of Chiang Mai.

Expansive greenhouses at the Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden, outside of Chiang Mai.

Expansive greenhouses at the Queen Sirikit Botanical Garden, outside of Chiang Mai.

Palms and wires at near Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai.

Palms and wires at near Wat Phra Singh in Chiang Mai.

Farmland outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

Farmland outside of Chiang Mai, Thailand.

The massive Golden Buddha at Wat Traimit.

The massive Golden Buddha at Wat Traimit.

The Golden Buddha at Wat Traimit (aka The Temple of the Golden Buddha) in Bangkok, is said to be the largest solid gold statue in the world (3.9 meters tall, and weighs 5.5 tons). It boasts a fascinating history, and was believed to have been made during the 13-14 century in Sukhothai, the ancient capital of Siam.

At some point before the Burmese armies invaded and destroyed the Kingdom of Ayutthaya in 1767*, the golden Buddha was covered in a thick layer of plaster and mosaic glass and therefore hidden in plain sight from the invading army. Thought to be a large statue of little value, it was left untouched in the ruins of Ayutthaya and remained lost for nearly 200 years until it was being moved to a new temple in Bangkok in 1954. While it was being moved the deceptively heavy statue broke the ropes that were being used to hoist it, revealing its true nature underneath the plaster.  

*An interesting side note that I learned is that much of northern Thailand, including the city of Chiang Mai, once belonged to Burma. Also, during the invading Burmese army’s retreat in 1767 they marched through the previous incarnation Mae Sot, now located on the Thai-Burma border. The question remains: did they stop at Canadian Dave’s restaurant?

Also, I was told by a Thai friend that ancient Thailand used to boast an abundance of gold, much of which was looted by the invading Burmese Army. The gold cache was then taken back to Burma only to be liberated by the Colonial British while Burma was part of the British Raj or British India.

This photo of the backside of The Golden Buddha illustrates the amazing seams where the nine interlocking pieces that make the Buddha perfectly join together.

This photo of the backside of the Golden Buddha illustrates the seams where the nine perfectly interlocking pieces that make the statue fit together.

Flowers in Mae Sa National park, outside of Chiang Mai.

Flowers in Mae Sa National park, outside of Chiang Mai.

During a brief, final workshop student SKP drew a cute “lady lion”. The assignment was to focus on mammals in movement, and I loved this drawing in particular.

During a brief, final workshop student SKP drew a cute “lady lion”. The assignment was to focus on mammals in movement, and I loved this drawing in particular.

Thailand is known for many things, but not necessarily for the removal of outdated wires. They’re like the vines of the urban jungle, right?

Thailand is known for many things, but not for the removal of defunct wires.

My eyes prefer flowering trees in Mae Sa National Forest to the wires in the city.

Flowering trees in Mae Sa National Forest.

Student PD working on his piece during a teacher training workshop at Mae Sot's Kick-Start ART program.

Student PD working on his piece during a flora fauna workshop at Kick-Start ART.

One of the groups I taught drawing workshops with in Mae Sot is Kick-Start ART. I was  happy to see they are closing in on their recent fundraising endeavors. The people who run Kick-Start ART are incredible, enthusiastic, and motivated group. They did everything they could to make my involvement as a volunteer teacher a positive experience.

Check out their fantastic video to get a glimpse of what they provide and the situation that many of the migrant Burmese students are coming from. The teachers in the video were some of my favorite students, and were such a joy to work with!

A rare glimpse of parents in the wild.

A rare glimpse of parents in the wild.

Thank you for your support!

Design No. 4 – The Great Eastern Egret Over Inle Lake

May 12, 2014 § 9 Comments

The fourth design for the Thailand Burma Flora Fauna series is complete! Today, I’d like to talk about the process behind the making-of this image, as well as share some photographs from Inle Lake, where the scene is set.

The Great Eastern Egret Over Inle Lake, 2014

The Great Eastern Egret Over Inle Lake, 2014

The Print - This print design features the Great Eastern Egret flying over Inle Lake (pronounced in-lay), located in Upper Burma. It is the last print to focus on a flying creature as a main character, and I’m already busy at work on the final four designs that star some pretty stellar and unique mammals.

The Characters - Inspired directly by my own experience, this design was cobbled together from my sketches, photographs, and memories of Inle Lake. The elements include a fisherman on his wooden boat, smoke rising from a burning fire high upon the mountain (upper left), fog and mist rolling between the mountains, a flock of egrets in the sky, fisherman and farmers’ houses on stilts among the floating gardens of Inle Lake, and a mountaintop monastery.

Working on a preparatory drawing for an earlier version of the design featuring light, cascading hills.

Working on a preparatory drawing for an earlier version featuring light, cascading hills.

Why an egret? – While varieties of egrets can be a common sight in the US (often seen along the coastlines of Oregon and California) I was struck by the elegance and majesty of these birds against the idyllic backdrop of Inle Lake. It’s no wonder herons have been a staple character in the canon of Japanese printmaking… The sight made an impression on me, and I felt that it was something that I wanted to remember and honor.

Great Eastern Egret, sunset. Inle Lake, Burma

Great Eastern Egret, sunset. Inle Lake, Burma

An fisherman pulls in his net from Inle Lake.

A fisherman pulls in his net from Inle Lake.

Everywhere we went in Burma was the ever present burning of fields, forests, grasslands, and brush debris. The air quality all around SE Asia is very poor because of this, and the unregulated pollution from vehicles and cities.

Everywhere we went in Burma was the ever present burning of fields, forests, grasslands, and brush debris. Because of this and the unregulated pollution from vehicles and cities, the air quality across SE Asia is very poor.

Asleep in a boat? No- just a bright sun shining off the water! The two men behind me have a boat filled to the brim with a load of mud they had dredged up from a canal off the lake. The canals between the floating gardens must be manually cleared out to keep up the depth and water flow.

Asleep? No, just a bright sun. The two men behind me have a boat filled with mud dredged up from the canal- an essential chore to keep the waterways around the lake flowing.

Egrets and Herons, Storks and Cranes – What’s the difference? - From what I have read, egrets are essentially a type of heron, but are in a different family from cranes and storks. They are smaller, more svelte, and fly with their heads in a “S” shape, rather than straight outwards like a crane. Egrets were once nearly hunted to extinction for their beautiful plumes, but the species has made a comeback.

Egret, Inle Lake.

An egret flying with its long neck and head tucked into an “S” shape.

The famous floating gardens of Inle lake are literally pieces of floating earth and vegetation staked into the shallow lake bed with tall bamboo poles.

The famous floating gardens of Inle lake are literally pieces of floating earth and vegetation staked into the shallow lake bed with tall bamboo poles.

Entire villages and towns exist here directly about the water. You can get much more “on the lake” than this.

Entire villages directly above the water. You can’t get much more “on the lake” than this.

Fisherman at dusk on Inle Lake.

Fisherman at dusk on Inle Lake.

What looks like my own personal nightmare is another man’s pleasure ride. Local Burmese folks are feeding a frenzied flock of seagulls to pass the time on a journey up the lake. If you look closely you can see the piece of food he is tossing up to the gull.

Seagull attack or pleasure ride? Local Burmese folks feeding a frenzied flock of seagulls to pass the time. Look closely and you can see the food being tossed up to the gull.

Beth as we pass a small village on the lake.

A photo of Beth as we pass a small village.

An egret cruising for food at dusk.

An egret looking for dinner at dusk.

Our longboat driver and guide on the day he and I were stuck out on the lake with engine trouble. Sorry, Mother Earth! This is what zero emissions-regulations looks like.

Our longboat driver on the day he and I were stuck out on the lake with engine trouble. Sorry, Mother Earth! This is what zero regulations on engine emissions looks like.

Buddhist pagodas on the lake.

Buddhist pagodas on the lake.

Passing local commuters on the lake.

Passing local commuters on the lake. (Nice photo, Beth!)

At In Dein monastery, there are many pagodas with thousands of wind chimes. The sound is quite lovely. I hiked up here alone and found the temple empty except a few dogs, a couple of men restoring crumbling bricks.

At In Dein monastery, there are many pagodas topped with thousands of wind chimes- the sound of which is quite lovely. I hiked up there alone and found the temple empty except for a few stray dogs and two men restoring crumbling bricks.

Hiroshige - This design was surprisingly challenging. I had hoped for a simple image of an egret set against light, cascading hills. However, it just wasn’t quite striking enough from across the room. So, I made upwards of forty (yes, forty) variations of this design to get it to feel just right, and finally settled on a dusk / dawn image with the hills in silhouette. 

While I was working out the kinks I looked to Hiroshige, an Edo period Japanese printmaker, to help point the way. I have always loved his prints, but after intensely studying his landscapes I have a newfound respect for his work.

During a workshop in Mae Sot, students JK and PD pour over books over the Japanese master printmakers Hiroshige and Hokusai before drawing thumbnail sketches for their own designs.

During a workshop in Mae Sot, students JK and PD pore over books of master printmakers Hiroshige and Hokusai before drawing sketches for their own designs.

Thank you! – Thank you for reading and for your continued support with this project!

Design No. 3 – Hokusai + Richard Scarry + 1980’s Aquatic Wildlife Poster

April 28, 2014 § 5 Comments

The third design for the Thailand Burma Flora Fauna series is complete! My hope was that it could be a combination of Edo Period printmaker Hokusai, the busy children’s books of Richard Scarry, and a 1980’s Aquatic Wildlife Poster. (You remember the kind– filled to the brim with whales, coral and every kind of tropical fish imaginable…)

The third print in the series features the Green Tailed Sunbird, the Blue Winged Leafbird, and the Sapphire Flycatcher.

Thailand Burma Flora Fauna print design No. 3.

The Cast

Birds – The three main characters of this print design are the birds (from left to right): the Green Tailed Sunbird, the Blue Winged Leafbird, and the Sapphire Flycatcher.

Insects – Other creatures include five varieties of moths and butterflies, including the Hummingbird Hawk Moth (located at the top, middle) and the angular-shaped Geometer Moth (located on the far right). Also shown are the Asiatic Honeybee (Apis Cerena), an Asian Ladybird Beetle (SE Asia’s variety of ladybug), a Rhinoceros Beetle (children here like to catch these and keep as pets), plus a small tropical gecko.

Trees – The Bodhi (pictured on the right with its heart shaped leaves and long narrative history) and on the left a variety of flowering Plumeria which I found and photographed in Bagan, Burma.

This is a sketchbook drawing of a similar Plumeria tree (Frangipani) that I saw in Luang Prabang, Laos.

This is a sketchbook drawing of Plumeria (Frangipani) that I saw in Luang Prabang, Laos.

Plumeria

The variety of flowering tree that I found in Bagan had the same leaf and trunk structure as Plumeria, but the flowers were softer, resembling Hibiscus.

Plumeria is actually native to Central and South America, but it has long since been naturalized to SE Asia. Across Asian folklore Plumeria is often associated with ghosts, vampires, and cemeteries, but in India garlands of its flowers are exchanged during wedding vows, and in Thailand and Burma it is often found at Temples. Also, the Hummingbird Hawk Moth (aka Sphinx Moth) is attracted to the Plumeria’s nighttime fragrance and helps to pollinate it.

Studies for the Design

Once this image started to get visually busy I decided the only way it could work would be to make it as bustling as possible, and by doing so find a balance. Pictured below are some sketchbook drawings working out the composition.

Sketch of the Sapphire Flycatcher, upper left.

Sketch of the Sapphire Flycatcher, upper left.

Sketchbook page showing the original drawing for the design.

Sketchbook page showing the original drawing for the design.

A sketchbook page with thumbnail drawings trying out different compositions for the design.

A sketchbook page with thumbnail drawings trying out different compositions for the design.

Incredible specimens at the Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders in Chiang Mai.

Incredible specimens at the Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders in Chiang Mai.

The Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders

Today I visited the Museum of World Insects and Natural Wonders in Chiang Mai, Thailand. It was incredible, and I was fortunate enough to meet one of the founders of the museum, Mrs. Rampa Rattanarithikul.

She is Thailand’s leading expert on insects. Since the 1950′s she and her husband have dedicated their lives to insects, and specifically, the mosquito, in an effort to understand and eradicate malaria. They have researched insects all around the world, and spent years working for the Smithsonian in Washington DC. We had a very pleasant conversation about her life and work and, of course, insects.

Dr. Rampa asked about my work- so I shared about my print project and showed her some of the designs. She then offered that I could come back to do some drawing from life in the museum, which I will happily be doing that later this week. All of the insect photos shown here are from today’s visit.

Beautiful butterfly specimens at the museum in Chiang Mai.

Beautiful butterfly specimens at the museum in Chiang Mai.

A blue iridescent butterfly at the

A blue iridescent butterfly at the Museum of World Insects.

Geometer moth (bottom left corner) and two moths with skull patterns on the back of the heads.

Geometer moth (bottom left corner) and two moths with skull patterns on their backs.

Thank you again for all of your support with my project!

Upper Burma – Photography

April 21, 2014 § 6 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.

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