The flowering inferno

the flowering inferno

Abandoned an onion on the chopping board, halfway through cooking lunch yesterday, to spend an hour sketching because I haven’t been doing much drawing lately, and I have missed it so much that, suddenly, it was the only thing I wanted to do.

For a subject, I picked this pair of Dragon Lady high heels (because I always knew I would draw them.) These shoes hang from the corner of a bookshelf at home…I didn’t buy them to wear (they’re so high that they’re ridiculous) but as decoration. I treat them the way you’d treat a painted pair of wooden clogs, or a bark skirt from Papua New Guinea, or an antique kimono…a kind of textiles and costumes branch of anthropology.

I love that these cheap, mass-produced contemporary shoes—made in China, ironically—are now merely playing to the sort of Hollywood stereotypes of Oriental exoticism and sensuality that the image of a cheongsam (or qipao) from Shanghai in the 1920s also evokes…and that they are being marketed on shopping sites for Western women who want to dress the part. It’s a funny “retail culture meets cultural appropriation” where Chinese manufacturers are peddling Chinese stereotypes to non-Chinese.

They’re fun and quick to draw, though…the cheap brocade, all that silky, glossy red, the 5 inch slope from toe to heel…

aguardiente “La Quezalteca”

Aguardiente La Quezalteca
Kris needed a bottle of cheap alcohol for his homemade Elegguá (the Orisha who, as you might recall from my previous posts, is fond of cigars, strong spirits, and sweet things)…more about that later! He bought this pocket-sized flask at the local supermarket. The label was so pretty that I just had to draw the bottle, to go into my growing collection of local beers and hot sauce bottles.

No, I didn’t try it…it smells like paint thinner! And I found bottles of cabernet sauvignon, from Spain, at the same supermarket, for under $4. I have a weak spot for red wine. 😉

A compound word from agua (water) and ardiente (burning or glowing), aguardiente is what English speakers would call “firewater”…a strong alcohol, technically distilled from sugar cane, though other sweet musts and grains are also used.

Just erotic. Nothing kinky.

the bird book

It started with a book that I bought to read on the flight from Johannesburg to Capetown: The Search for The Rarest Bird In The World by Vernon R.L. Head, a South African bird-lover. It was a strange book, surprisingly dreamy with a lot of beautiful language, images shimmering like a tree shot with sunlight and a thousand cherry-sized birds. An emotional book, with just touches of natural science. I read that book 8, maybe 9 times…it was not very mentally taxing, just a pleasant ramble through forests and savannahs, chasing birds with one’s thoughts. I wanted to keep it, but didn’t want to read it a 10th time…felt strangely compelled to interact with it, somehow.

I started doodling and painting in its pages…beginning with the catalog of eggs used for the endpaper design, the large white spaces around chapter titles, then moving into the text…
the bird book
the bird book
the bird book
the bird book
the bird bookAt some point this feather thing took over, and I set aside the altered book project to explore feathers in my sketchbooks. Colours, brush marks, how to make a feather using a single stroke of the brush…
the bird book
the bird book

Moved from sketchbooks to watercolour paper, with a mapping pen to draw fine lines, and a lick of gouache to sometimes give a highlight.
the bird book
the bird book

The final version is at the top of this post…a series of feathers using yellow and sepia paint, on rough watercolor paper. A present for my Colombian friend Liz.

“Just erotic. Nothing kinky. It’s the difference between using a feather and using a chicken.”     ― Terry Pratchett, Eric

10 April: calle Don Sancho

Calle Don SanchoI drew this looking down calle Don Sancho from a tiny spot of shade along the murallas (the stone walls that surround the fortified city) in the midday heat. You can tell I was deeply  impressed by the cathedral’s dome, as I seem to have drawn it twice as large as it should be…it’s all dome, and no church underneath!

One of the most entertaining ways to explore Cartagena de Indias is through books. Besides  reading two novels, simultaneously, by Gabriel Garcia Marquez that are set in the Cartagena of old, I spend my evenings reading a marvellous book called “Plazas y Calles de Cartagena”, written in the 1940s by Raul Porto…one of the city’s respectable, scholarly and most avid citizens. In it are gathered the histories, nomenclature, legends, rumours and quotidian information of every single street in the historical centre and Getsemani

Of calle Don Sancho the book says: “no young person of the neighborhood could possibly survive in house No. 36-51 (currently occupied by the offices of ‘El Mercurio’) because of the headless ghost of a priest named Marin, dead for more than three centuries, that was sure to appear. One thing is certain, the house has a reputation for being haunted, and by 9 in the evening there is no young man that will come near it…”

Walking these old streets with all these marvellous stories rattling around in my head adds yet another layer of fascination to the experience, and where other visitors may be standing in a nondescript cobbled plaza between park and church, I thrill with my ‘special insider’s knowledge’ that I am standing on the spot where the conquistador Pedro Heredia’s house (he is the founder of the city, and his was the first house of stone ever built) used to be. Eavesdropping on city tours I can confidently say that not one of the local guides herding tourists around has ever given such a detailed and interesting narrative of the town as reading a couple of books does.

The heat was so withering up on the bare battlements that I caved in and bought a hat–my first!–from one of the many vendors who prowl the walls, pestering tourists–the only people crazy enough to walk around the fortifications at high noon.

5 April: picante


Mexican hot sauce. The bottle was very pretty—with a wooden cap and everything; but the sauce was insipid…