Paint-A-Truck

This was drawn at Touch-a-Truck, an event where about 15 machines were on display for the public to interact with at Magnussen Park. The event was big draw for families; (an estimated 2500 people showed up throughout the day). And why wouldn’t you go. If you are kid you could climb on a fire truck, a bulldozer, or get into an excavator, and honk the horn (over and over) while pretending to dig up pavement. For me it was perfect opportunity to capture another truck for my collection, the Concrete Pumper, which in the wild is unlikely to stay in this position for an hour and a half. This one is owned and operated by Ralph’s Concrete, and I must say thank you to Josh who very patiently waited for me to draw and paint this machine even long after most of the other vehicles had been loaded up and hauled out.

Corridor in context

There are two things I want to say about this painting, no..three things. The first is that this isn’t the first time I’ve tried painting this scene. I drive by this site constantly and the scale of the project and the revisions to traffic and occasional long wait times to get onto the freeway can’t be ignored. Normally I might find myself getting impatient, but since I get a view of this site with it’s armada of construction equipment I always look forward to it (this is the second thing I wanted to say). Back in April when I last had been here, I recall it was a very nice and sunny day. I decided to actually stop into the site during lunch hours when it appeared to be less busy than usual. A few workers and machines were moving around, but it was fairly tame. I asked one of the workers if it would be alright if I stopped there for an hour. He was ok with it, so I parked my Honda Element on some gravel and did my best to make sure my car wouldn’t be in the way of any movement. I started to draw and everything was going fine, my drawing was coming together and I was about ready to put down some paint. At this point some of the construction work started to increase, there were dump trucks moving around and a few of the loaders were shuttling back and forth. I’m always sort of hyper aware of my presence in a place and the last thing I ever want to be is “in the way”, especially if people are working. I felt like it was time for me to move my car, even though I hadn’t finished the painting. I put the key in the ignition, turned it, and….nothing, just a gasping cough of my engine as it attempted to turn over. A sick feeling came over me. I moved my hand towards the headlight switch and realized it was in the “On” position. Again I tried the ignition, “No no no no!, Not now, PLEASE turn over!” I begged my car as the construction traffic began to increase. This went on for about a minute, and then as anybody who has ever killed their battery can tell you, I realized I had to get outside help. Let me put this in a little more context. I have the greatest respect for people that do physical labor for a living. In truth I look up to them. For work I draw, and I use a computer, and sometimes I talk. This can be very draining, challenging, difficult, and of course rewarding. It’s work and a working day is a working day, but sometimes, I question this. Lifting heavy objects, working out in the sun, (or rain), toiling, this is work. I’ve always viewed it as somehow purely valid as labor and demanding of respect. So here I am in my Honda Element stuck in the middle of a major construction site with a dead battery, a pile of paint brushes, and a drawing of a Bulldozer in my lap as worker dudes are driving massive machines around me lifting loads of gravel from pile to pile.
My options
1.) Call AAA and ask for assistance. Could be an hour at least.
2.) Flag down a worker on the site, “Hey uh..sorry to bother you man, but uh…does that bulldozer by any chance have any jumper cables?”
3.) Call my friend Alex who works down the street.

I call Alex. He’s as reliable as they come, and of course he has cables in his car. In 5 minutes he’s there…driving a Honda Element. So even as I cringe at the embarrassment of killing my battery – while painting – in a Honda Element – on a site where the vehicle of choice is a muddy white Ford F-150 or a dirt embedded yellow 25 Ton Caterpillar D7, he drives up into the lot with his “Galapagos Green Metallic” Honda Element, and faces my “Eternal Blue Pearl” Honda Element. We go through the magical ritual of automotive resuscitation, the engine breathes again, and after talking for a few minutes in our “Rigs” he heads back to his office and I decide half heartedly to finish my painting. It was one of those things where I had lost energy and just wanted to get out of there. It’s certainly not worth showing here, but I knew I had to go back to the same spot.
So here’s the third thing I wanted to say. On Sunday, I finally made it out to a Seattle Urban Sketching Sketchcrawl. The group meets once a month, and this month everyone got together at Vivace across from REI. After pre-sketching niceties, everyone disperses to go draw for 2 hours and then makes plans to meet back up and share the work. I had no doubt what I would draw. I beelined (sort of) to the construction site on Mercer, but this time just had my backpack, and a folding stool. On a Sunday morning the site was active, so again I asked permission and was given the go ahead to draw. I spent about an hour and a half there and probably talked to 5 guys from the site that came up to see what I was doing. Everyone was supremely cool and friendly, even as I was again painting while they were in the middle of pouring cement and shoveling gravel. I got the lowdown on the project (much needed road widening and traffic revision from Dexter up to the freeway on ramp, and construction along 9th as it flows into Mercer). I sincerely hope this does help solve part of the traffic congestion in the area.
Now with all this said, I will continue to draw and paint construction machines, continue to meet-up with the fine folks I met at the Sketchcrawl, and no doubt continue to drive my blue Honda Element into and around industrial sites, and since this wasn’t the first time I’ve killed my battery in an inopportune location (yah), it will probably happen again. Maybe I should go draw some tow trucks.

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.

Cambodia Prequel

I’m putting together a post with a lot of drawings and paintings from Cambodia. Here’s a teaser..

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.