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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
Thank you for reading and for your continued support with my project!
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!
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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
March 31, 2014 § 10 Comments
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.
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 (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).
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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!*
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!
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.
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!
February 10, 2014 § 5 Comments
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.
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.
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.
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.
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: …
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!
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.