Author Archives: rocketsandrabbits

Tailormade

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.
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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

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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.

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Water and Beer


Two more things from Hanoi area, a great local beer and a gorgeous river tour/sales extravaganza. Let me start with the beer, or maybe I should finish with the beer. Last night I walked by a corner restaurant with about 50 people hanging out the garage doors and opened windows drinking beer. The beer which is a local brew is called Bia Hoi. It sells for next to nothing and most certainly will be imported to the States with a Stella Artois inspired marketing blitz raising the price up 20 fold. For now it’s good and cheap, and it goes well with grilled buffalo and garlic. This was a great night for me as I was able to hang out with most of the restaurant staff as they roamed in and out of the painting. The guy with the red shirt on the middle left of the picture wanted to make sure he was in it, and then his girlfriend/coworker felt left out, so I added her yellow shirt towards the middle. The couple on the left hand side were from the UK, Simon and Gail on a year long trip round the world. There are moments I wish I was traveling for that long and then their are moments like today as we traveled up to Ninh Binh to take a tour of the Tam Coc portion of the Ngo Dong river. Few sites I have seen are as epic as this river, which is surrounded by rice paddies, small villages and massive rock outcroppings. But alas the world beating views are tempered by placards, billboards, a severely devastated environment and roadway leading up to the site and an endless selling of wares up and down the river. The people who row the boats work very hard, I don’t know how many times they do this trip a day, but I was told 10. The rowers (two per boat) each take 2-4 people per trip. The river is packed with boats, like a water ride at Disneyland. Half of the boats are support sales that come up along side and offer to photograph you, or offer items. At the turn around point, a truly beautiful village that opens up out of a cave (again the reference to Disneyland is hard to ignore), sit another 20 or so boats ready to make a one on one plea for money and or tips. The plea does include a fair degree of guilt as each of us is asked to look at the rowers who have worked hard (and without a doubt they do!) and then we are presented with a photobook of their families to drive home the point. What I found most compelling was this. As we were being rowed there was a long setup for the sales pitch. Initial basic conversation lead to small comments about the difficulty of the task. These were interspersed with moments of very upbeat dialogue between the two local rowers, and then generally congenial silence. Which left room for the following flotilla to make their moves. Each cycle brought an increasingly desperate plea. At the start I engaged with the conversation, but felt myself brushing off interaction as the sell became harder. By the end I was being offered brightly colored textiles depicting my journey even as I painted an identical scene to what would have been a lovely table cloth or scarf. I’m not sure what to make of this. On one hand yes I would like to support the local economy, but on the other I have to assume that (based on the logic and the familiar interactions of our guide and the rowing community) that some of the money I paid for the trip was transferred back to the rowers and their town. I finished the tour without purchasing a single item so I won’t be bringing back the brightly colored napkin set (or strangely from an earlier sales stop/bathroom break from the bus ride, I won’t be bringing back the 3 foot long wooden replicas of the Pinta, Nina, or Santa Maria whose contributions to Vietnamese culture I wasn’t previously aware of). If you come to Vietnam, I would recommend the river tour; although I would not recommend staying overnight in the town of Ninh Binh if you are considering that option. Beautiful and exhausting and a good primer for another beer. That is a good way to end this post, but possibly trite. Again a better summary would be that there are sites and people here that open my mind up like few things have, and every moment is shared with a very visible pollution , environmental constriction, and need for everyday survival. As a tourist I support both the economy and the the mindset that this is the profitable way to go about things. If there is a deep question here for me it’s this. Can I as an outsider come in to appreciate a culture and admittedly benefit from a favorably exchange and simultaneously wish for a pre-tourist economy. I don’t think I like the answer to this. But I will keep pondering.

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.

Airporter

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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.

Comfort Food

Here is a sketch from this afternoon, a different view of one of the Ness Cranes that I drew a few weeks ago. Some days you just need to draw the thing that makes you happy. This sketch is from a lot down on E. Marginal way just south of the Museum of Flight. I was driving around this morning looking for something/anything to draw and saw the gravel lot full of these cranes. It’s kind of like eating mashed potatoes and pot roast. Nothing fancy, just protein and starch. Steel and yellow paint.

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.

Watercolors this week

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Here are few more watercolors this week. The first one is from a photo of Morocco out of the book Tan Tan, the second is a sketch copy of a painting by John Newberry that I did in class. I enjoy this medium a lot

Sugarwater

Wales, painted from a photo from my friend Sue Gosellin who will be moving to this house!

I was just watching an old documentary about Apple computers. In it John Sculley who was CEO from 1983-1993 talked about being hired by Steve Jobs. Sculley had previously been CEO of Pepsico and Jobs felt that he would be a good fit for Apple. Sculley was skeptical about the position. Why would he want to move from being CEO of the biggest brand in the world (this was 1980’s Pepsi remember) to head up a fledgling company making…computers? Jobs said to Sculley. “(Would you rather) sell sugar water for the rest of your life or come with me and change the world?” The answer was obvious, Sculley took the position, shortly thereafter ousted Steve Jobs from the company and with his carbonated pop culture vision effectively spent the next 10 steering Apple in the wrong direction before he was forced out to make way for Job’s return. I’m sure I have some of my facts wrong, BUT the truth is, had Sculley had been painting with watercolor rather than making money off of sugarwater he would have never left for Apple, because watercolor is so satisfyingly undigital. One almost forgets what the world of computation feels like. I’m taking a class from Tom Hoffman (website http://www.hoffmannwatercolors.com/) at the Gage Academy. He’s a great instructor and has a definite philosophy of looking at the world that I am not only appreciating, but absorbing. He teaches a way of reducing information, of honing observation to the essentials, and a decidedly strategic approach to fluid imprecision. There is a lot I could say, but I’m still learning and will just paint instead. Here are some images from the last few weeks.

Looking west towards the Cruise Ship Terminal on Elliot Bay


Tuscany, Painted from the book Earth From Above 365 Days