Tag Archives: urban sketch

Stone but not cold

Sometimes there is so much to write about a place that it seems better to say less than ignorantly talk beyond what you understand. This is my experience with Cambodia. In three and a half days I only caught a glimpse of something, and although I will recite their most basic history, I’m not by any means educated on the subject and don’t pretend to understand what happened or why. Cambodia is a place with a deep and turbulent past ranging from an empire and culture that surpassed European contemporary societies cities during it’s height, to a genocidal restructuring of the entire population during the 1970’s by a Marxist madman. I came to the city of Siem Reap to visit the temples of Angkor built during the height of the Khmer empire between the years of 802 and 1431. These have been repeatedly called the 8th wonder of the world, and I think it would be hard to argue against that after spending time here.

I almost immediately realized however that the contrast between my quick stop off tourism and the lives and history of the people was not something I could glance over. I was very affected by the glimpse I saw of people’s lives, and the conversations I had. The affects of the highs and lows are in full view here. The people exhibit a reserved pride. They are a young population with few elder mentors as the previous generation was greatly decimated along with many direct links to their cultural past, and clear pathways to an economic future. 30 years on and the country is recovering, but poverty is common, as are the effects of the wars and their devices (I saw many people with limbs missing presumably from landmines). Commerce and industry are returning to Cambodia, but far behind it’s neighbors Thailand, Vietnam, and China. What I observed were a lot of people who worked very hard to educate themselves and often were not able to afford the education they needed. Learning English seemed to be the primary first step in this process for many people. They are well aware of the progress of the world around them and want the same for themselves.

As for the temples, they were all they promised to be. Rather than attempt to see dozens (of the over 200) temples, I only visited 4 and spent many hours at each one, often sitting in one spot for an extended period and studying details. This was a great way to meet people as well. Tour groups would come through and then there would be periods of solitude. A lot of people said “hello” to see what I was doing stopping as groups or as individuals. I was continually reminded of how great of a tool that drawing can be to open doors to communication. I’m also learning how useful it is to be able to say “hello” and “thank you” in as many languages as possible. They are simple and appreciated gestures. I hope very much I can return here and spend more time in the country beyond the temples, but I was in awe of what I did see and humbled by the resolve of the Cambodian people.

Aw Kuhn.



20110506-111012.jpg After a couple of days out on Halong Bay, my brother and I made it down to Hoi An. Hoi An is a town with a couple hundred tailors and a bit of a destination for getting clothes made. Apart from this it’s on the coast and one of the most beautiful environments yet in this trip. 20110506-111108.jpg
We did see some of the beauty this morning on a 5a.m. Tour of My Son, an ancient temple complex used by the Cham people many hundreds of years ago. During the war My Son was a hiding place for the Viet Cong and was subsequently damaged significantly during American bombing. After the war quite a bit was rebuilt though the newer structures are faring far worse than their ancient counterparts. I’ll be heading to Angkor Wat in Cambodia next week and even though this is a much smaller set of structures it was beautiful nonetheless.
However as I mentioned there were clothes to be made in this town. An admission, I can’t stand shopping for clothes, it brings me little joy and much stress. Getting clothes custom made is even more anxiety, so many choices and so many fabrics. The result in the end however is worth it, standing in a sharply fitted suit and shirt while three comely women hem and haw at the seams. The deal is you can get whatever you want and the price is reasonable to say the least. As Vietnam develops more and more the costs will increase also. We went to Phuoc An Silk (reccomended by lonely planet). I think the prices were in the mid range of what you could pat.Time will tell if the quality is there in the clothes we had made, but I can tell you they look great and fit great even an the staff helped us through 3 or 4 refittings to get it right. They worked very hard and were very quick. If I did have to miss some more sites to get it done. A more than fair trade.
One final thing, we stayed at the hotel Nhi Nhi, also recommended by LP. The staff has been the best in the country. I’ve spent a lot of time with them learning Vietnamese words and every time I go downstairs they have a new list of phrases for me to learn. With every place we’ve been, all the food we’ve eaten, all the time spent sketching on the streets and in boats and buses, I can without hesitation say that my time spent talking with people here and learning bits of the language have been the highlight of the trip. Language opens doors that sometimes lead to friendship, sometimes learning, and sometimes lead to a piece of shared mango with a few great people. The fit is great.

Pictures from the neighborhoods

I’ve spent a lot of time walking through the neighborhoods and not only drawing but spending time with people. There are so many different ways people go about work here than in the states. What I mean by that is not that the tasks are different (though in some cases they are), but the intermixing of work, community, the physical proximity to the street, and family life is totally combined. There is also a complete mixing of generations. People of all ages are socially connected. Just like in the states, people of different generations will congregate together such as the 1000,s of teens-20 something’s that hang out at night eating ice cream and cruising on motorbikes, but in that group you’ll see families with young children and older people comfortably sharing space and conversations. I also want to keep noting how kind people are and how genuine there smiles are. I’ll be away from any Internet for three days so wanted to share a few images, but I have more with specific stories I will post later.




Visual Commerce

Much of the day has been spent in the Old Quarter which is…it’s a lot of stuff for sale and a lot of motorbikes. More motorbikes than I could imagine, literally hundreds ride by every minute. It’s a tremendous place to draw and to dodge traffic. I’ll spend a few days in the city and get outside of this district later on, but as far as an ideal urban Southeast Asian City experience, you know the kind you see in anime movies, endless vendors, and power lines, and street carts, and people, this is it. I am really enjoying it, even as I dodge the very heavy rain. I’m finding that my drawing allows me to interact with people that I would never meet otherwise. Just drawing will draw onlookers, usually one or two that stick around for the whole image, and a few others that come and go. Once I pull out watercolor, a lot more will show up. Without speaking the language I’m not sure what other opportunity I would get to run into locals that didn’t involve the shopping experience or a tour experience. I’m not implying that people aren’t friendly, they are really wonderful, but at least on the street they have money to make and I’m a prime target. In some cases my drawing leads to more people coming up and trying to sell, or if somebody has spent some time talking I might get a bit of a hard sell that I should now purchase from them, but the flip side is true as well. I will get helpful advice and locals that speak english well who are very willing to give me information about how much things should cost or how to get to someplace. Hmmm, my post makes it sound like commerce is the order of the day and I guess that so far it has been the dominating experience. I’m essentially drawing commercial moments, shops, vendors, and restaurants. Last night I came across a stage where something was going on. A cultural even partly and somethign else I couldn’t make out, but I did get a sketch and enjoyed watching something not aimed at me, but welcoming nonetheless. I think I’ll end this post by saying that I really enjoy the Vietnamese. They are engaging, friendly, and energetic. Three too simple words, but I as I continue on I will think and write more about my experiences in this culture.





On the spot machines

I’ve been out and about looking for good machines to draw and paint. It turns out that although construction machines are just about everywhere, finding one suitable to draw can be quite tricky. I will drive for miles and miles (excessive distances really) just to get the right machine at the correct vantage point. Right now with the weather as it is, the correct vantage point means some where I don’t have to get out of my car to create the image. That means I need to find a place I can park with a relatively unobstructed view out my front windshield, and somewhere where I am not in the way of actual construction (Like the other day, where I killed my battery, right in the middle of a construction site between two berms of earth with machines driving around. Good times.). What that really means is that I will find a machine that might meet my criteria and if the view is right I’ll drive around in circles, until I find a good spot, then I’ll pull a 20 point turn nudging my car into a picture perfect position. It’s like a dog bedding down for the night. Countless circles walking on their beds until it’s just right (and what is it that they are actually doing to make it just right?). That I think is the question I ask myself. What am I looking for, a good 3/4 view of the machine, with just a hint of the far side tires showing underneath? A particularly interesting mechanism? Maybe the correct lighting? Who knows. Once I’ve started however, I try and stick with it. With all of the time invested looking for the drawing, the actual creation is relatively straight forward, except for the part with every image I do where I am sorely tempted to crumple it up and throw it away. That’s for another post.

Vectored Thrust

About a month ago I was at the Seattle Museum of Flight and drew this Harrier. Years ago my uncle Alan worked on some of the electronic components the aircraft. I remember the day that my family was invited to the Oregon Air National Guard base in Portland and along with a few other families viewed a demonstration of a hovering Harrier. I don’t remember if this was a demonstration for us or if there was a Harrier that was taking off at a specific time, but it was a lot of fun and made a lasting impact. My uncle worked on or around aircraft for much of his career and as a kid, I used to ask him a lot of questions about planes. I think as much as anyone his influence on my artistic and mechanical artistic interests was very significant. If I had built a Lego airplane and placed the engines in a structurally unsound, or inefficient location, he would let me know. Although I don’t consider myself by any means an engineer, I do strive in my work to visualize mechanically sound machinery, even if it is for a fanciful project. One year for my birthday Uncle Alan game me a large-scale Harrier model kit as a gift. I’m sure it was his intention that I build it, paint it, and then display it. The fact is I never did built “it” as it was intended. Instead I used the pieces to create my own flights of fancy. I still have the kit actually and scavenge it for plastic parts when I get the itch to build something. The best part of this kit is the engine. A better way to say this is that the coolest part of the Harrier is the Rolls Royce Pegasus engine which is designed to output thrust to nozzles on the side of the aircraft that allow it to hover like a helicopter. I’ve drawn a sketch of one of the nozzles in the upper left of the image. In the kit, the actual engine body was shaped something like a cylinder with two smaller cylinders on each side. I would often stare at this piece and use it to match different shapes and forms as I decided on what I would make. I don’t think I ever actually built this piece into any model because I could never find the right place for it. The nozzles however have found their way onto some of my models. One of those is here.
You can see the front cowling that holds the wheel in place on this vehicle is actually this same nozzle repurposed for my futurist monowheeled F-1 car.
I’ve always hoped my Uncle was not disappointed that I never built the kit from its original instructions. He passed away a number of years ago, and I’m sure the last thing on his mind was why I never finished it, but to me it was kind of the central point of our relationship. I deeply appreciate those odds and ends of plastic parts as a distinct memory of a man who inspired me early on, and this drawing is dedicated to that memory.