May 27, 2014 § 2 Comments
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
Thank you for your support!
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
Thank you! – Thank you for reading and for your continued support with this project!
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…)
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.
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.
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.
Thank you again for all of your support with my project!
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!
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!*