Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Seven months in.

These days, when it comes to blogging, I seem to spend a lot of time planning what to write and even, sometimes, starting a blog but I just don't seem to to be able to finish one at the moment.

So, I have been asking myself 'what's wrong?' What has happened to my motivation? Am I becoming complacent? Is Saigon beginning to seem so familiar that I am not as before to write about it? Am I running out of things to say? (Not possible I here you say). So what's wrong?

Well, maybe there isn't anything wrong at all. The difficulty I am having is trying to squeeze my writing into the cracks between everything else I am trying to do. The truth is that those cracks are getting narrower and narrower.

Then, it occurred to me that I haven't actually blogged about all the projects I am involved with. I write about boats, river life, history, food, flowers, culture, festivals and all sorts of other things but I haven't  written about my projects. So, here goes .....................

When I first came here seven months ago, I ran around furiously trying to draw anything that would sit still and through this the city revealed itself to me street by street, inch by inch, smile by smile and one building at a time. I got an electric bicycle to help me get around and now I whizz around these chaotic streets with, almost, the confidence of the natives. And........ I completely love it!  Why didn't I get a scooter years ago?

After three months, I thought it was time to earn some money so planned some drawing classes to start straight after Christmas. I persuaded my favourite restaurant to let me use a quiet corner to run classes during their quiet periods in the mornings and afternoons and in January my first 8 students turned up lesson Number 1.  The first course went very well indeed and the students have all graduated (!!!) and are now moving onto an intermediate course where I will teach them to understand colour and use it in their drawings.

This week I started a new group of 5 students at lesson Number 1 and I have also been approached by the family next door to teach their eldest daughter (16) over the summer holidays. Her school year ends in mid April.

Talking of the family next door................ they came knocking on our door asking for me about five weeks ago. It seems that the lady of the house had seen some of my paintings already. Apparently, our previous housekeeper was in the habit of showing off my artwork to all the neighbours when I wasn't at home!  My neighbour was in a panic because her beautiful Lotus plant had just come in to flower and she wanted to capture it for all time. She asked me to do a BIG painting! 

This was an entirely new challenge for me on a number of levels. I hadn't ever done a portrait of a flower before and I haven't painted a large canvas before either. Undaunted, I asked the people at our local artspace to stretch a 100x100 cm canvas for me and I just got stuck in. This BIG canvas on a custom frame cost me just £7 plus a courier to rush it to my easel (£3)

Three weeks later the completed canvas was fitted with a smart brown frame and delivered and hung on the living room wall next door. The family's delight was almost tangible. They paid me and also gave me a gift of sweet, sticky green rice cake stuffed with tapioca paste. Hmmmm.

In December, I went to the little town of Hoi An to do some sketching.  I took one of my trusty Moleskine, Japanese folding albums and spend my days cycling, swimming, drawing eating, walking, sketching, cooking, talking, drinking, painting, researching, discovering, learning, photographing and making visual notes.

Half way through my stay, my Japanese album was filling up and people were asking to see what I was doing. Towards the end of my ten day sojourn, I met a young Korean woman who was working as a graphic designer for an airline magazine. She was not the first one to say that I should publish my sketch book but she encouraged my by saying that her magazine might be interested in writing an article about it because it would interest her readers. 

In the spirit of 'always say yes' I have decided to publish my sketch book and am now working with a delightful Bulgarian graphic designer called Ani to prepare the artwork for the printer. It looks like it will be a 52 page book and we are aiming to print in May. So far, I have produced around 60 paintings and drawings for the book and there may be more before I have finished.

Researching some of the facts for the book took me to the People's Party head office in Hoi An to find someone with 'the knowledge'.  I confess I was a little nervous entering the compound of the Hoi An headquarters. A chained dog was barking furiously as I walked from the gate step of the former colonial house of gentlemanly proportions. I crossed the threshold into a grey interior where a fan was lazily turning and an administrator sat behind a sliding glass hatch pouring over lists of figures in a antique-looking ledger.  

It was here I met Binh, a young civil servant who took great interest in my book and was very enthusiastic about helping me with local information that I was seemingly impossible to find on the internet.  I am gradually realising that the Vietnamese do not use the internet as we do. They do not use it as a repository for information intended for open global access but I guess that may change with time. 

Back home, the next door neighbour has now commissioned a second canvas - larger than the first!  This painting which she has already entitled 'Childhood' will depict her three lovely daughters aged 7-16 years cycling along under the 'Milk Flower' tree. This tree was panted outside the house only 6 years ago but it is already over 30 feet high! 

It seems the neighbours are determined to keep me busy. They have now asked me to give drawing lessons to the 16 year-old girl over the summer holidays. In total, I will be giving around 6-8 hours of lessons a week which is probably as much as I can manage for the foreseeable future.

My latest project involves working with the local art space 'Vinspace' which is run by a dynamic young Vietnamese artist who studied her MA at St. Martins in London. Under her wing there are artists from South America, Spain, the UK  and other young Vietnamese painters. She created a new gallery for their work about 10 months ago but nobody comes to visit. I am suggesting that they run a monthly art market to get the public and more artists and makers involved in the space. They love the idea and it now looks like I will be running it !!!  I have offered to do that for the next three months to see how it goes and to establish some good practices learned from similar projects in the UK.

Of course, I will take a table at this market so I now need to make some inexpensive items for sale each month. I will make some mini watercolours and frame them in little silk frames I found in a workshop for the disabled up in Hoi An.  Hopefully, this will lead to a new relationship with the workshop. A friend at home does work with people injured in the armed forces and we would like to make links between the two groups somehow.

Last month I was interviewed by a new magazine called 'OI Vietnam'. They printed a four age article about my work and also invited me to write a monthly column for them. In the spirit of always saying 'yes' I agreed to the challenge. The column will be based on my blog and especially my 'Postcards from Vietnam'  The first column will be printed in the May issue.  I am very excited about this; I never thought I would be a columnist!! 

This magazine is competing with two other well established, free, English language magazines. I may be biased but I do think the quality of editorial, the articles, layout and the photographic documentaries are of higher quality than the others. The editor is very experienced and I wish them luck. I look forward to a long association with them

So that's about it. Each week is filled with a series of drawing lessons,  producing little paintings for my book and composing the hand-written copy. As soon as that book is finished, I will start the next ( but I will need some help withe funding from a publisher this time). 

Recently I have had two commissioned paintings to produce and there is another in the pipeline. It looks like I will be running an art market and producing goods for sale as well. Each month I will create a new piece of artwork and a 700 word column for OI Vietnam. 

Vietnam is being very good to me so far.  I said I would give it a year, but I think I might be here a bit longer than that. I have also had three lovely visits from two dear friends for which I am very, very grateful - they make everything seem more real somehow. Thank you.