Saturday, 25 July 2009

Watercolour techniques - 'Rejuvenation'

Indulging in all these creative activities recently has got the right brain the work out it deserves. The challenge of bending your mind into watercolour mode (from oil) is mind-bending indeed. Although the teachers say basic principles apply to both oil and watercolour, to the uninitiated it is hard to see the wood from the trees when confronted with a blank sheet of paper and puddles of paint. Even to reach out for a tube of colour is intimidating as fear and lack of confidence sets in at every move.
The Subject
These jottings are part of a mental exercise to document and recall the main steps and techniques involved in executing this painting and not aimed as a teaching tool. The painting 'Rejuvenation' by Phuan Thai Meng was selected for its colour and form of local foliage.
Sketch & Focus
To start off, a sketch is made, to proportion, in pencil focusing on the banana tree trunk, bunch of bananas, flowering shoot and frond. Using brown, Vandyke brown, black, raw umber, lemon yellow, red and crimson lake, the trunk, shoot and frond is given a light wash. Lemon yellow is used for the bananas. Later yellow green and viridian are added to the bananas leaving lemon yellow as highlights.
Background wash
The lower four fifth of the background is given a lemon yellow wash, followed by a cobalt blue wash for the sky.
Negative vs positive
Whilst it is the novices instinct to paint in the leaves, the correct approach in water colour is to paint the negative areas around the leaves or subject of interest. This creates the outline and gives depth of perception. This is illustrated in the following two diagrams.
Following the pencil sketch, the 'negative' area around the leaf is outlined using lighter (70%) or darker (100%) shades to depict depth or layering.
The effect will turn out to look like this.
This diagram explains the concept of layering as deeper layers appear darker due to the layering of colour. . .
. . . as seen below in the left lower corner - shades of green in 3 layers.
In this painting the artist has attempted to 'frame' the four corners of the picture with dark green (almost black) areas in the shape of leaves. This effect brings the picture together and increases focus to the central elements.

Use of black

This is an important technique used to draw attention to certain areas of interest like the corners, certain parts of the trunk, outline of the bananas, shoot, stem and veins of leaves.

It is a fallacy to say that black is a colour not to be used in watercolour as it will muddy up a painting. One only needs to take care to clean brushes well and change water after using black to prevent this from happening.

Finally one stands back to compare the painting to the reference picture and examine the result.

Thursday, 23 July 2009

Tea with the girls . . .

I haven't done this in a long time. Tea with the girls.

Come to think of it, I have never had the luxury of time to indulge in these tea things until now. How sad is that?

It was always an endless immersion in studies, full time work that knew no beginning or end and of course family which is a continuous cycle of events. That took a good number of years to sort out. By the fourth decade, as the nest emptied out, one finds time on ones hands, and that my friends is a new experience and a challenge.

Like all voids, it gets filled up with a variety of things, each taking its own course to sustain itself or be discontinued. Fitness activities like yoga, pilates, spinning, walking or gym work are highly sustainable if one has a penchant for what is called wellness these days. Meeting like-minded people is the next step in the process.
So while there are hen's parties and ladies teas, time spent with new found friends with similar interests can be most refreshing. Recent past has seen a couple of occasions where these tete a tete's have been both enlightening and special.

The array of topics covered from philosophy of life and living, to ancestral roots, to children, careers and relationships is a wonderful sharing experience when the mix is right. It is never too late to experience life in different forms.

Sunday, 19 July 2009

Jakarta terror and other things Indonesian

Friday 17th July 2009 - Jakarta!
Second visit to Jakarta in nine months. Who would have thought it would turn out like this. That's just it isn't it? One never knows how close one can get into the thick of things. A meter-deep crater says it all.

Jakarta reacted appropriately. I mentioned to concerned friends that this a huge city and the ripple effect is non palpable. Life goes on as usual. Breaking news is detailed and the general population seems level-headed about the whole incident. By Day 2 the news hype was back to normal.

It seemed preordained to be a bummer. It got progressively worse when an aggressive Indonesian immigration officer started to get picky about my passport not having any empty page for him to stamp. As it turned out, I had checked before travelling and there was one empty page and a half available.

By then my partner was summoned forward. The officious man was going on about infringement of International immigration laws in strained English. He refused to reciprocate when spoken to in Bahasa Indonesia and proceeded to advise taking the next flight back! Be warned frequent travellers out there.

Upon requesting to speak to his supervisor, I was ushered to a nearby interview room. You know what they say, "Never go unaccompanied to a police station. . ." Well queasiness set in big time but fears were preconceived. I was asked the duration of stay and reason for visit. Satisfied with my answers, he advised renewal of my passport on returning home. My passport was finally stamped in an overcrowded page, leaving the blank page empty. Very considerate, I should say.

In the next counter, a distinguished member of our group was asked up front by a young immigration officer "to leave some spare rupiahs for him" seeing as how he was a flush international golfer. Meanwhile the corridors are plastered with anti corruption posters of the new administration.

One can't help feeling that there is a shift these days in Indonesian hospitality. Malaysian - Indonesian relations are not at its best with recent issues facing the Indonesian domestic help industry, namely cases of maid abuse and less than optimum regulatory policies.

The other current issue of a marriage gone bad between Manohara, of Indonesian-American parentage, and a certain Malaysian State Royal has led to bipartisan reactions. The media coverage on both sides of the Straits of Malacca add fuel to fire. In the markets of Tanah Abang, a popular local shopping district in Jakarta, Manohara T-shirts are on sale for 50,000 Indonesian Rupiah or RM 20.

Our tour guide, Surya, was a refreshing change. Instead of the usual golf or gender biased jokes, this pleasant Chinese Christian Indonesian, told the true story of Indonesia in an unaffected style. No Surya is in blue jeans, watching on as MJ does his thing.

He introduced Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono as the first President Elect to be affectionately know by all Indonesians as SBY (es-bey-yeh). A first where the respectful term of Bapak is dropped for a VVIP. Man of the people? He gave an emphatic no nonsense address after the incident and was visibly moved. Impressive leadership role that has been missing in these parts for a while.

Our guide then went on to inform the group that Indonesia was not an Islamic state but secular, and respected all religions. When asked if the Kartu Tanda Penduduk Republik Indonesia (KTP) or identity card stated race, the answer was an emphatic no. Only religion is recorded. As for halal food - this is not stated categorically nor is it required by law, however it is ingrained in the Indonesian culture to slaughter following Muslim practices. This take caused a certain amount of anxiety amongst the group as the belief system was being challenged.

Not withstanding that this picture was taken in a Jakarta hotel lobby, and this image brings about an uneasy deja vu feeling, it shouldn't. These are just a couple of satisfied golfers who had successfully organised a 36-strong three day friendly golf tournament in Jakarta, and were about to check out of the hotel.

Wednesday, 15 July 2009

Oil painting techniques - work in progress

Back to the drawing board - session 3 on the kechak painting.

The background done . . . darkened with Payne's grey and burnt umber to give definition to arms and body form to make them pop.

Depth perception is achieved by glazing (linseed oil and burnt umber applied smoothly) over selected areas. This makes foreground subjects jump out if that is the aim. Selection of areas to glaze has to be logical and depends on perspective.
The check pattern of sarongs are highlighted to add form and movement.

Whilst drawing ability is important to create a nice painting, rendering with paints to bring out lines, shape and form can be a major saving grace.

Passive momentum implies all forms flowing in one direction. Hence the two figures at the far right were added as mirror images for effect.

Adding white to colour enables coverage as opposed to translucency.

When mixing, more oil preserves the life span of the painting as there will be less cracking. Turpentine causes drying.

It turned out that this was a good choice for exploring the right brain . . . but it is still work in progress.

Sunday, 12 July 2009

The Anatomy of Yoga

A weekend of intense body engagement and awareness topped with heavy duty applied anatomy and physiology is the way to go sometimes. Refreshing and certainly interactive. Set in the woody environs of KLPAC, it was as organic as it gets in the heart of KL and well suited for the three-day Functional Anatomy & Yoga Physiology Workshop organised jointly by Yoga in Asia (Singapore) & Yogasana (Hong Kong).Whilst yoga practice and theory were being conducted in Studio 5 over the weekend, this performing arts center transformed to a hive of activity as young people rehearsed musicals, drama, song and dance with the familiar figures of Joe Hasham and Faridah Merican spending long hours providing mentorship to their young proteges. What is yogic practice? Who am I? These are the questions Yogi Michel Besnard asks at the beginning of the workshop. A Frenchman, originating from Normandy, but has since travelled far afield learning and teaching Astanga Vinyasa Yoga, now resides in Hong Kong and is the founder of Yogasana.

The practice is more about the what and the how rather than the why. The need for goal-setting is essential, as in all things important in life, from asanas to pranayama or yoga breathing.
Physiotherapist, Michelle Lam of Hong Kong, gave a thorough review of human skeletal anatomy and its physiology with the aid of 'John', and participants became active models in the learning of how poses affect the body and vice versa. For example, trikonasana or triangle pose , is abduction and internal and external rotation at the each of the hip joints, lateral flexion of trunk, abduction of arms at shoulder joints and rotation of neck. This translates to precise positioning, identification of joints and muscles involved, identification of limitations and recommendations for improvement.

Comparative skeletal markings highlight the body's asymmetry in common conditions like scoliosis and joint dysfunction. Note the imbalance in hips and buttocks and spine of scapula in the adho mukha svanasana or downward facing dog pose above. The use of blocks and backward traction of the hips further engages the muscles of the legs which corrects the misalignment.

Hanumanasana or split), is demonstrated here without (above) the use of props namely blocks, blankets, straps, bolsters etc which are used to improve alignment of varying body structures and help to prevent injury.

Victor Ch'ng, the founder of Yoga in Asia (Singapore), finds improved alignment with the use of blocks.

Sacro-Iliac Joint dysfucntion is a painful, chronic condition that limits movement. Michelle demonstrates how over-working a pose or poorly informed intructors can cause or worsen this condition.

More technical jargon like the Q angle, that ranges from 10 to 20 degrees, indicates hip flexibility. The downside of this is, the more flexible the hips the more proned to injuries.

Urdhva dhanurasana or upward bow pose is an important part of back bends. Although the three can get into the pose, they exhibit 3 different postures due to indivudual problems of compression, tension, proportion or strength.

A sound yoga teacher is one who understand the students' limitations and can facilitate better attainment of the pose. In this case, eka padaparivitta upavisthasanan or seated twist can aggrevate a SI joint dysfunction. Rather than twist at the shoulders which will damage the SI joint, a lifting action of the side of the chest and opening of the sternum will better achieve the goal.

The hips are a major joint with potential problems. Michel demonstrates the range of hip flexion which can improve with time and correct practice.

Inversions are an important part of yoga practice,yielding many benefits to the body and organs. Sarvangasana or shoulder stand, stimulates and rejuvenates the entire body, massages the thyroid, strengthens the shoulder, back and leg muscles. This pose can be done with the support of a wall if strength is an issue. Keeping knees bent is another option. A strap can be used to keep elbows drawn inwards and improves stability and strength.

If balance is an issue, wall support can be used to an advantage.

An energised and better informed group of new found friends at the end of the workshop with their teachers.