Cambodia2015 Sketchbook Part 1: Temples and Markets

August 17, 2015 | 1 Comment

After the Singapore symposium I joined a group of 14 other sketchers in Siem Reap, Cambodia. They had all travelled there on Sunday so I missed the first sketching day. When I arrived on Monday evening I found a group of completely exhausted sketchers after an over-ambitious full day sketching at the temple complex of Angkor Thom. We had all to a measure gotten used to the conditions of Singapore but Cambodia was obviously tougher and we would need to pace ourselves.

Photo on right by Laurel Holmes

Please refer to my initial review post for a few thoughts on the tough conditions on sketching in Siem Reap and all the temples of Angkor Wat. I hope to share a few thoughts about the challenges and thought processes that I went through during the four days of sketching I had, but right now, all I have time for is to share them all with a brief description of what they are. I am also not going to explain too much about the history of the temples of the Khmer Empire. Sadly I didn’t have the time beforehand to do the research I would have liked, so my visit to this place was purely visual – as mentioned elsewhere I was mainly focusing on the complex architectural form of each place I visited and rather than the religious functions or the carvings everywhere.

I started using an A5 moleskine as well as my big A4 landscape book but for the sake of clarity have combined these into A4 size double page spreads so there is a consistent scale in all the work. I have labelled these “composite spread” in the following images.

I am collecting links to the various sketchers who were part of the group and will update once I have them all:
Shari Blaukopf’s watercolours here and here
Marc Holmes (will add link once they are posted)
Suhita Shirodkar’s full posts with lots of descriptions here
Stephanie Bowers posts here and here
Joel Winstead’s sketches with notes on Flickr here

and last but certainly not least ….. Laurel Holmes’s wonderful collection of photos is worth checking out too!

We never got a full group photo but here is the most complete outside Angkor Wat

Dinner on the last night with most of the group(Shiho had already left – Lapin and Simo were in town too)

Monday afternoon: Composite spread of a few sketches done in my A5 moleskine on the way to Siem Reap. A tuk tuk ride straight from the airport was a great way to get an immediate feel for the place!

Angkor Wat up first. As the group had found the dull light challenging on the first day (before I arrived) we headed straight to the ‘sunny side’ of the temple complex in order to get some light and dark differentiation. So rather than the classic view, I started with the back and then walked my way through to the front…. my whole understanding of this incredible complex was backwards!

Once inside, I was overwhelmed by the scale and complexity of the architectural forms of this place and trying to capture it in my loose approach was challenging.


Running out of time (we probably had 3 hours of sketching?) but as I walked through to the front I saw more interesting parts to sketch. So crazy quick sketches…

And then an even more crazy quick sketch… I needed to get going, the others were waiting in the bus.

After a ‘resting in the heat of the day’ break back at our hotel, a group of us returned to the temple complex. It was a wet afternoon and some of us went to Ta Prohm – one of the temples that has been taken over by the jungle. This is sketch is of one of the two famous strangler fig trees growing out of the temple, but it was hard to sketch from the best spot due to the rain and the wet muddy ground/boardwalk. It was the one occasion when I wish I had brought a stool.

I found a sheltered spot to sketch this view – really focusing on the big different coloured shapes in front of me. Amber was sitting in the doorway around the corner and was getting photographed a lot and I was left in peace – I was very pleased with this arrangement. She is a lot more stylish and had a lovely blue scarf… but the main reason for the attention was the tree next to her! Ha! neither of us realised this till I got up and noticed it there!

As I missed the main view of Angkor Wat and was the last one to get back to the bus, I thought I would head out early. Sadly the side of Ta Prohm where we were meeting was the back, so I sat on a tree root and did this meandering sketch of probably the most boring view of the whole place.

We all needed a break from temples and jungle, so we headed into town. Back to some nice colour and taking it easier (‘coffee at a cafe’ style sketching is good!)

After being inspired by Suhita’s market sketches that she had done the day before, I wanted to give it a go too. But first I walked through the area to get a feel, worked out what I would need to do and then went outside to sketch the overall market area first to warm up.

With my small sketchbook and paint kit all set up and anything I might need easy to reach, I went back inside and did these quick sketches of the ladies sitting on the ground selling vegetables and scaling fish. I felt comfortable doing these but only sketched for a short while as I wanted to preserve my energy and I wished I hadn’t used my water brush (would have been much better with water and a real brush!) Composite spread of sketches in my A5 moleskine.

Back to Angkor Wat and this time I focused on the front colonnades, sunken pools and courtyards. Incredibly complex forms to draw!

Trying new techniques all the time – to get the forms correct (enough) quickly and to create a sense of depth in the flat lighting. It was lightly raining the whole afternoon – as if the moisture from the humidity wasn’t enough!

Composite Page: A few more quick sketches of my favourite (insanely complex!) corner, a guardian lion (proving to myself that using water in a super quick sketch is always preferred to a waterbrush) and a quick sketch done on a loose sheet of page as my big sketchbook ran out!

I wanted to do the classic image of Angkor Wat from the road with the moat, the bridge, the outer wall, the gate and the silhouette of the temple, but sadly, I ran out of time. When I got back to the bus I heard the stories of how tough it was to attempt this view –  pushy locals selling things and an unbelievable monkey attack! Joel Winstead tells his story on his Flickrstream here and here! Please go and read it – it is hard to believe but true and someone saw the monkey a little while afterwards (with his black chin!) and he was still alive.

Finally, composite spread from the two meals I sketched that day in my A5 sketchbook.

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