Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Vietnam - January 2014 - #4

The night is alluring.
I don't mean I'm attracted to the dark 'Nosferatu-style' or that I have the full collection of KISS greatest hits. Instead, I find that sketching night scenes is quite a challenge, given the little tools a sketcher can carry. Pencil, a couple pens, watercolors and limited time....
When I began sketching I did not know how to get it, since using watercolor everything tends to look as a sunny midday flowery scene in the park. But some time ago, Robert Muts told me his secret: Before applying watercolor, he paints the shadows with an ink wash, leaving only what will be in the highlights untouched. After that, all hues done in watercolor will be subdued. It has to be waterproof (Noodlers in my case) ink, otherwise it muddles when wet again.
Also, in real life colors in the dark desaturate to the point of total dark. And coloring a highly desaturated scene is a real challenge. So I try once and again.
This sketch was left unfinished half a year ago. I never found the time to finish it, but yesterday I sat and gave it the works.

Three fish sellers  
Three women selling fish in the incredibly busy Hoi An market. Moleskine, Noodler's ink, watercolor and Prismacolor
Bonsai Tree in the Temple of Literature, Hanoi
These trees always amazed me.  Some key principles in bonsai aesthetics include:
-Miniaturization: Trees are kept small enough to be container-grown while fostered to have a mature appearance.
-Proportion among elements: The most prized proportions mimic those of a full-grown tree as closely as possible.
-Asymmetry: Bonsai aesthetics discourage strict radial or bilateral symmetry in branch and root placement.
-No trace of the artist: The designer's touch must not be apparent to the viewer.
-Poignancy: Many of the formal rules of bonsai help the grower create a tree that expresses 'Wabi-sabi', a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.
The Bonsai tradition dates back over a thousand years, a period that not only gives one something to reflect upon, but also equals the age of the Temple of Literature, Hanoi, where this tree lives.
It was built in 1070 then reconstructed several times. In 1076, Vietnam's first university was established within the temple to educate Vietnam's bureaucrats, nobles, royalty and other members of the elite. Over the centuries it lost relevance until in 1800 the Nguyen monarchs founded the Hue capital where they established a new imperial academy. (Moleskine 13x21)

Scooter girl
After going through rice paddies, street vendors, floating houses and women in cone hats, I wanted to draw something modern. Vietnam is not hovering on a sleepy -or bloody- past but facing the future. Not pretty, as today's Vietnamese cities are a beehive of cellphones and activity. But good for them for sure.
I found lately about 'frontier markets': Smaller and less accessible -but still "investable"- markets in countries of the developing world. Wikipedia lists 25: first in the list is Argentina, and last is Vietnam. It seems that after watching so many Vietnam War movies from the comfort of our upholstered cinema chairs, we are now on the same boat.
This makes me wonder -both- why we fell so fast or what these guys did to climb out of the hole. But, anyway, Kudos to that. These people deserve it, they are hard, earnest workers that instead of debating ideology from half a century ago are growing at breakneck speed.
So my choice was this: the modern vietnamese girl you see everywhere, having dropped the cone hat, they proudly ride their (own) scooters, dress western style, a cellphone their lifeline. Usually hidden behind those Surgical masks: funnily, I assumed they wore them to avoid sunburn (in the east clear skin is preferred) but they use at night time too, so who knows.  Of course, I took a picture and drew from it.
Floating houses
So I had no watercolors or the chance to use them, and I painted this with some Derwent I had with me. I'm not sure about the results...
Floating homes. In Vietnam there are many of these. You see them everytime you ride a boat. Big, massive clusters of floating mass. 
Oil barrels, wood planks, metal sheet, barking dogs, hanging wash, crazy faded colors and broken furniture splashing happily.
For who may have some romantic notion about living in something like this, a short train of thought including lack of electricity, water, sewers or gas for cooking/heating is a nice smack of reality. Poor guys, winter there must be hell...
Sketch Blooper # 1
I sketched this one in Saigon. There was the typical pileup of stuff I like so much. Happily I begun drawing, and when finally it was half drawn, I found the the shirts hanging in the middle floor are twice the size as the men top and bottom!.
I finished it anyway and had a great day, so finally I have a love-hate relation with this one.


  1. Great style.
    I appreciate and love your comments and story.
    Regards Werner Kasel from Bulgaria

  2. This comment has been removed by the author.

  3. Awesome article. I enjoyed reading your articles. this can be really a good scan for me....Sketch

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