SingaporeCambodia 2015: Initial review of my big trip

August 8, 2015 | Leave your thoughts

Well, I have been back home for three days now and the big scanning job as begun. As usual I want to record a few initial thoughts about my big trip. Last year I had two clear themes on my arrival home, but this year I have many ideas and despite kicking them around in my head for the last few days, I am no clearer to trying to find a structure or a few threads. So here goes…

Warning: This is a long post but rather than splitting into two parts thought it is best to be read as a whole. So I suggest that you go and make yourself a cuppa before starting!

Overall this was the most intense trip that I have ever been on. It was great but non-stop and jam-packed! From the first day till the last, I was with people all the time with only a few pockets of solo sketching.

The heat and humidity ( especially in Cambodia) also made it intensely draining – it made sketching and particularly teaching more demanding than usual.

Not to mention the largest symposium ever – with 400 people attending – so many people I knew to catch up with and new people to meet. I was amazed at how many of the SE Asian sketchers I ‘knew’ either from meeting in person or from Facebook or Flickr. It really was the most social trip I have ever been on, and I love that but I certainly needed my ‘extra strength symposium energy pills’ this year. (Just for the record these pills are mythical, I just survive on creative energy!)

My Sundays were really special, worshiping in the one church for three weeks gave a lovely stability to the constant flux and excitement during the weeks… but also has meant that I have more good friends in Singapore – more people to catch up with on my next return visit.

Aussie Gang
It was especially wonderful to have a large group of Australians there (maybe 25 in total?)  – I didn’t get much time with them, but it was very special to run into Aussies everywhere! What is really nice now that I am home, is that I have heaps of people to catch up with and share symposium experiences with.

Sketching Singapore with the usual crowd
I love Singapore and was so glad to be visiting it again and seeing it through the sketches of many of my USK friends – all with their own unique style. The sketching days before the symposium seem to get more popular each year and these, once again, were some of my favourite times – sketching alongside my great friends. We continued the 7am sketching sessions we started last year in Paraty though they were not quite the quiet time this year as sketchers surrounded us everywhere we went.

Sadly I didn’t have as much time to sketch with the local SG USKers like I have had in previous visits…. many of them were working so very hard putting together the incredible event (huge thanks again for all your hard work!)

My 6th Symposium
I am one of only 4 people to have been to all 6 USK Symposiums. Each year I see it develop and become bigger, but each year it is a very special event in a unique way. I was honoured to be teaching this year – sharing my Pointless Perspective approach. I always learn so much when I teach and find the work done in each session inspiring. As an instructor, you work hard teaching 3 x 3.5 hour workshops (plus a 2 hour session of the Big Crit) and only get to attend one other workshop. But I love all the snippets of ideas I pick up from others descriptions of what workshops they did. There is no way to describe the buzz from a USK symposium,

Cambodian challenges
My 4 sketching days in Cambodia were amazing – it is an incredible place. It was a lot of fun to be with a group of 15 and to compare notes of how we approached sketching the same subjects. Most of us found the conditions challenging. This list might sound extreme, but to some extent, we battled with each at some point.
– The humidity and heat some days was oppressive, sketching in the rain on other days
– Dehydration(and headaches) was a threat all the time
– Everything was dusty – but hey, riding a tuk-tuk was a lot of fun!
– At the temples there were plenty of insects (ants and mosquitoes but also delightful butterflies and dragonflies),  many locals trying to get money out of us constantly “one dollar, one dollar, one dollar” (sometimes sketchers get special treatment and are not treated like tourists but this didn’t happen at all) the monkeys attacked sketchers on two occasions and the large groups of tourists (from China were the worst) invaded our personal space in a way I hadn’t experienced before (I actually started telling them to get back rather than being friendly like I normally am!)

We all had to conserve energy, and I didn’t do any of my usual ‘fill-in’ sketches but took every opportunity to rest. The town of Siem Reap was fantastic – wished I had sketched in town more and more of the local people, but we often retreated to our hotel for midday breaks and early dinners.

As much as I loved the place, it was a sobering visit – the poverty and hardship of its current people and the complete disappearance of the vast vast Khmer Empire and all that remains are these massive crumbling mountains of stone. I am so thankful that I worship a God who doesn’t need temples made by hand and that speaks directly through His word. This trip was as purely as a painting tourist, but it has made me much more interested in doing more meaningful trips to countries like Cambodia in the future.

We all returned home with some beautiful sketches but please don’t think that they were easy!


As for my work and new ideas…

Sketchbook size
This trip has really made it clear to me how important the sketchbook size is to what you sketch. The larger the sketchbook, the more serious the work becomes and the harder it is be loose and take risks doing smaller work or whipping out your book to do a quick sketch. It was a break-through moment to start using the A5 size moleskine as well – this freed me up to make a few’ bad sketches’ and try something new. For my last two trips I have used Stillman and Birn Alpha 9×6 landscape, book which is a perfect size for all kinds of sketches and I had been doing many ink only sketches. Going back to the A4 watercolour moleskine made me go back to watercolour! Hanging out with painters like Marc Holmes was another reason for the return of watercolour and that felt good.

Travel sketchbook style
I was hoping for a looser, more note taking, map making approach to my sketchbook, but that didn’t happen (this is in response to Richard Alomar’s activity last year). I am pleased though that I haven’t had a lot of homework to do to finish my sketchbook on my return – maybe 4-5 hours maximum to add some notes and a few maps. I realised that the A4 watercolour moleskine is not the book for this, neither is an intensive social trip. You need time alone, or some downtime, to be able to put together a book like that.

My Kit
I took too much stuff! Although I did use them a few times, I could have easily done without my watercolour markers. I used all my fountain pens but didn’t need all the ink supply I took. My ‘sign board’ setup (inspired my Marc Holmes) was great and I have already made some improvements on my return home.

I have been enjoying the ease of just working with pen, or water soluble media with a waterbrush for the last 6 months and thinking that watercolour required too much effort to get out. This trip was good for getting me back to being dedicated to attempting watercolour in every situation. Also  I am even more determined that I should ALWAYS try to get out a real brush and water container. The extra effort and inconvenience of them over a waterbrush is SO worth it.

Sketching Food!
Food is big in Singapore and I enjoyed many great meals… and three serves of Durian. Sketching the food at dinner was hit and miss this year. Large tables with shared food disappeared fast! I am very thankful for my right hand friends who accepted the task of helping put food on my plate each night – otherwise I might not have eaten anything. I sketch food often, but I felt I had only a 50% success rate this trip and watercolour pencils were definitely the best medium to use – colour, line and texture in one.

Sketching People
I thought that I was ready to sketch the sketchers this year due to all the prep I had been doing sketching on the train. Sketching USKers at a lively dinner with people looking over your shoulder is a completely different thing to sketching iphone people in a comfortable, controlled and annoymous situation. I did try this year (yay!) and it has confirmed to me that there is still a lot  of work to do! Also I have realised I was being over ambitious to try to sketch the food and the people after a BIG day of sketching. (Just for the record last year at Paraty, I normally just relaxed and ate my dinner without sketching, so I was pushing myself a little too much this year).

Whilst I didn’t really complete them, the sketches I did in the craziest market I have ever been to in Siem Reap, were a break-through. Completely inspired by the work of Suhita and some planning beforehand, I was encouraged by how comfortable I felt sketching the ladies sitting on the ground selling vegies or scaling fish.

Both workshop/activities I took involved drawing people in a new way…which leads me to the next point

Control vs Looseness and Expressiveness.
Doing Melanie’s wonderful workshop Found in Translation gave me a new appreciation for how a brush pen is designed to be use and the wonderful marks that can be use with a right knowledge of a tool. Ignatius Yeo’s Guan Doa folded pen is an amazing unpredictable tool but also one in which a knowledge of its design increases the range of marks you can make. I needed to loosen the movements of my hand to get the most of this tool.
Whilst these ideas sprung from black ink drawings they relate directly to a constant theme of mine to regulate my looseness with ink and wash.

Working on my watercolour
Since last years symposium in Brazil I have not be doing a lot of watercolour. With the all consuming work of my online classes, I haven’t had as much time for my own work, so it was great to have three weeks to get serious about watercolour again. I am still processing what I did, but there have been some changes and I am pretty excited about the direction I am heading. More colourful, more loose, tackling more complex subjects, more subtle, more experimental, mixing it up all the time. More later on this.

Really stretched
In Cambodia we all found ourselves stretched. The humidity affected our paint and paper and the overcast light made the complex temples of dark patchy stone very difficult to sketch. Most of us were not familiar with the style of the Angkor temples – it took time to understand what we were looking at and to develop our own shorthand for it. Some of the architectural forms were very complex and hard to draw in my loose style – I loved the challenge of working out how to achieve that!

I have so many ideas and techniques to explore. I wrote copious notes from Melanie Reim’s workshop of thoughts to think through.  I have had SO many amazing discussions with different people over the period – while sketching or over dinner – even a detailed discussion about perspective after midnight! New ideas and concepts that tie in so well with what I have been thinking about recently. A symposium trip really does give me enough to go on for a year! (in fact I am still working through ideas from last year in Paraty… and even some ideas from Barcelona the year before that)

Well, this has turned out to be a MUCH longer post than I expected… but I suppose it is not surprising considering the sustained intensity of my trip. I honestly can’t believe all that happened in less than three weeks!

Ok… back to the mega scan job!

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