The Wreck of the Mazaruni

Wreck of the Mazaruni sketchKris was going crazy with the rainy weather, too, and didn’t even have me to talk to, once I got into my painting. At last we decided to go exploring the Essequibo River a bit…rain or no, at least the sailing part would give him something physical to do, and we’d have a different foggy grey jungle view to look at…

We headed back down the river, the way we came when we first arrived. We’d seen a wrecked ship along the banks, halfway down, that had fascinated us…the jungle was taking it over, growing over its bridge and filling the cracks in its hull with vines and ferns. So we headed for the same spot, and anchored for two days near the wreck of the ship “Mazaruni”.

Of course, the first thing I did was sketch the ship…once, in pen on brown bag paper, and then a (less successful) watercolour, in a brand new sketchbook that I had bought at the Darwin airport to use up my Aussie dollars, and decided to finally use.

DSC_0200(My first experience with Moleskine watercolour sketchbooks, I have to say I was very disappointed, the paper is crappy, only 20% cotton and with a tendency to bleed a bit. What gets me is that, for the exorbitant price I paid for the thing, I could have bought nearly 2 pads of Arches 100% cotton watercolour paper. Shoot.)

Kris, on the other hand, went exploring in the dinghy…around the ship, and discovered a creek that ran behind it. Up the creek he saw Morpho butterflies (common in Guyana, but magical nonetheless…Vladimir Nabokov collected these iridescent blue butterflies. These days they are being farmed for jewelry and collectors, so the wild population has managed to recover from the past centuries’ mania for naturalist collections) and a large boa constrictor.

We started calling the creek Gabriel’s Creek, after a scene from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’ One Hundred Years of Solitude, where Jose Arcadio Buendia and his band of men come upon a galleon smothered in jungle, miles away from any sea.

Jungle paintings are on Society6


My two recent jungle paintings are available on my Society6 page as art prints, or prints on canvas.

Cheers! Nat

Back in the arms of colour

back to colour

Thank you, Dave & Sharynne, for the concerned e-mail! As I mentioned in my last post, whatever mood my posts may depict, chances are that the moment has long since passed, by the time I manage to write about it. I can’t paint and stay glum for very long…so whatever mood my paintings are in, I am probably feeling better simply for having painted them.

Just to reassure you that I have not fallen into a swampy morass of riverine jungle moodiness, this is something I painted more recently…as you can see, I have “climbed back up” into the saving arms of colour…

It’s nice to know that there are beautiful people looking out for me, though! Thanks, again.

N.

Into the jungle

green world 1As the gloomy days stretched on, I moved from my journal and making postcards on recycled oatmeal boxes, to a small canvas…expanding on the plants and elements of the previous two, I painted these two fantasy jungle scenes, using plants and details both real and imagined.

DSC_0198They match up to form a bigger picture.

Craving sun

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It rained for three weeks, straight. Without sun, the solar panel wasn’t feeding the battery. Couldn’t use the lights on the boat, nor the laptop; certainly there was no internet. No chance to do the laundry. Everything in the boat was damp, musty, smelly, or starting to sprout mold. There was nowhere we could go for a walk on these boggy islands that are technically below sea level and therefore flooded during the wet season. We sat, or lay around for hours at a time, in the dark. There were several days at the beginning of all this when I thought I would have a little melt down. All my energy was starting to funnel into something like suicidal madness. There were times when I wanted to rush screaming out of the boat and jump into the strong current of the river, kicking my legs, churning the water with my arms, risk drowning just to feel alive again.

I caught desperately at the few threads of sanity remaining, and forced them into painting things, instead. Imagined scenes loosely based on the jungle all around us. Mechanically, at first, but as the ideas started to spread, I was pushing paint around with more and more enthusiasm.

It all started with the journal page, above. I went on to make this postcard (gave it to Kris…)

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Not the first time creating something has saved my sanity…I’m sure it won’t be the last.

Embroidery on marbled fabric

Kehaar on marbling2A week of rain…it just pours and pours. Nowhere we can really go on days like these, and not much we can do on a dark, gloomy boat. I sat in the crepuscular shadows and stitched a tiny sailboat against a roiling sea of marbled green and blue canvas. It captures the feeling of being alone on a wild sea, perfectly…

Kehaar on marbling1We marble our own fabric; this is a piece we made for an exhibition in early 2014. It was then that I figured out one good way of combining marbled fabric with hand embroidery…rather than try and tackle the intricacies of the marbling patterns, themselves, I try to see the print as an environment for some small motif…a hut on an island, a cat hunting a rabbit in tall grass, gold fish in a lily pond… It works well, and I love doing these small designs, as the embroidery is finished in a few hours, very satisfying to start and complete a project on a single day!

Kris requested this piece; he wants to frame it and hang it next to his chart table. The sailboat is just under 5 cm. (2 in.) high. Worked in split stitch, couching,satin, and french knots.

Monument of Hope

Hope Monument ParkI came to sit in the park and playground of the Monument to Hope in Bartica, a couple of times. There was never anyone there, it was a good place to be alone and sketch. The monument itself was not very sketchable…a grey granit obelisk, erected in memory of the men and women who died when a boat full of escaped convicts arrived in the town at dark and robbed several of the gold-buying businesses.

The swing set was more interesting, though probably not very exotic. I’ve been having some trouble with this whole “travel sketching” idea, to be honest. Because we have been to some exotic places, I guess I felt that I owe it to my sketchbook to document the unusual, the novel, the never-seen-before. Naturally. When else will I get a chance to see these things? But, sorting through the files on my external drives, I came across this little PDF booklet, Start To Draw Your Life, again, by Michael Nobbs, and felt a twinge of longing for the days when I would draw my running shoes, a coffee cup, a tea strainer…nothing fancy, just getting lost in the drawing…

Because something in me loves the overlooked, ordinary, everyday things about life, and let’s face it, even up a river in a jungle, most days are just ordinary days…when you do the laundry, or sit on deck with a paperback novel, or cook oatmeal for breakfast. And if you did a tally of time spent “having adventures” and time spent doing everyday chores, you’d find that we spend probably 70% of our time just plodding along, doing the countless little things that make up a life. And why not paint that? It is as authentic and legitimate a subject as jungle vines and vernacular architecture.

It’s easier, too, to find a subject and paint it, if it’s around the home. Thing is, I love to do the drawing, I love adding colour. I don’t care what the subject is, in the end, I just love the doing. If I have to wait until I am somewhere unusual, or doing something exciting, before I can pull out my sketchbook, I won’t get to draw and paint as often. And that’s frustrating.

So, I know I’m in Guyana, living in a boat on the river, surrounded by howler monkeys and a dawn chorus of hornbills and parrots, but folks, sometimes my sketchbook posts will feature things from my kitchen, or stuff on my desk. And that’s fine, too.

Jungle Boogie

Reality can be so much stranger than fiction.

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Take this unidentified jungle fruit that Kris picked up on one of his exploratory walks around the island next to which we are moored. The thing is unbelievable.

The size of a grapefruit, it smells faintly of crushed flowers. The bright orange pulp in the center is wet and sticky, and carries numerous little oval seeds. The fruit, a smooth white ball when unripe, splits open into 15 clean segments, each one tipped with a black unguis. It’s like a glowing jewel protected by fierce talons. Something out of a sci-fi movie.

jungle boogie postcard

These watercolour postcards of the fruit are very different from my collection of safe little floral sprigs and predictable foliage, no? Simultaneously more authentic, and yet improbably fantastic. Surreal.

jungle book postcardWe went for a row around Baganara Island and took some pictures. Baganara Island flowers6

Baganara Island jungle08Baganara Island flowers8The variety of trees, all growing together on one small island, was wonderful to behold…so many different kinds of leaves, seed pods, flowers, all growing willy-nilly. We didn’t see any animals (we were probably making too much noise, or it was the wrong time of day) but have been told by the people on Baganara Island that there are howler monkeys, sloths, toucans, yellow-headed vultures, and labba on the island. We’ll definitely go exploring the island on foot over the coming weeks, hoping to catch sight of some of these creatures!between islands1

Baganara Island jungle05table roots3

I was calling it ‘jungle’, but we have since realised that all this dense wilderness—the towering trees, these massive buttress tree roots—around us is already secondary-growth forest.table roots2

When Kris went hitchhiking for three days into the interior of the country (he was trying to reach Kaieteur, and got to within 10 miles of the famous waterfall, but had to turn back because the boatmen at the last outpost wanted US$200 to take him that small distance. One way. Well, it’s $250 to take a small plane out there and back, so he’s decided to book a flight, instead.) the roads took him past jungle where the trees were three times the height of the ones we see growing around Bartica. Aerial roots as thick as a man’s leg hung down in dense curtains from the tops of these giants, and dozens of other trees had taken root in these aerial tangles, so that swaying groves of trees were thriving in mid-air. If you stepped a few metres to either side of the potholed logging and mining roads, the light among the trees faded, and the snarl of jungle stretched away in perpetual gloom. That there are still places like this in the world!

Along one stretch of road, their Bedford truck passed a couple of Amerindian men, walking along. Wearing jeans and wristwatches, but bare-chested, each one carried a hunting bow and small bundle of arrows.

The mind does somersaults in excitement.