Tuesday, 24 June 2014


My goodness it has been weeks since I last posted so I had better give you a whistle stop tour through the past four or five weeks.

On Saturday 10th May, to mark the end of my 7 months in Hoi An, I had an exhibition of my work at Ami Galerie in the beautiful old quarter of the town. The gallery is at 46 Nguyen Thai Hoc, in a listed building that will have, originally, been a merchant's home or a 'shop house'. It is a beautiful structure constructed of wooden pillars and beams. It floods to a depth of about a metre every year during the wet season so there are hatches in the ground floor ceiling to make it quick and easy to lift everything up to the first floor for dry storage.

I had lots of helpers on the morning of the exhibition to get everything framed, labelled and hung. Here are Pandy and Susan doing the framing. 

Here is Tuan (too-an), the artist from the space next door who is helping My (mee) with the technical complexities of our French-styled framing system.   On the right you can see My talking to Mikayla and Asia who are labelling all the pictures.

It was a veritable hive of activity and everyone joined in so enthusiastically. Unfortunately, Pandy had to fly back to England that afternoon so she missed the opening party that evening. 

The launch party was great! About 60 people came along and I sold 7 pieces of work. Considering how small Hoi An is and how few tourists there in town (because of the Chinese drilling rig dramas), I think it's not bad. The press and a TV crew turned up and I appeared on Saigon TV the next evening! 

Hoa serves her delicious drinks and cakes

Two children play in the doorway after their art class

Over the next two weeks, very few people came through the doors of the exhibition and no further work was sold but I got to know the local children and enjoyed the quiet streets of Hoi An.

This is the view from Ami Galerie through to the old courtyard that is used by Tuan to display some of his paintings. On Saturdays, he give free art classes to local children, in the space upstairs. 

Next ................

I cleared out the lovely little house we had been living in, stored my boxes and cases and flew down to Saigon to make some progress with my next book with my lovely Graphic Designer, Ani Petrova. Whenever I see her she always gives me more work to do that I ever I've her!  How does that work?!!  I left with a list of jobs to do while she is in France this summer. Ha ha!  The drawings are almost complete so now i must write the stories that will make the next book come alive.

Whilst there, I received a phone call from Heritage magazine (the inflight glossy for Vietnam Airlines) asking me to write an article about Hoi An and send some examples of the paintings I did there. Fantastic! I only have 4 days to do the writing but I sent it off on time and hoped it would be ok.  Two weeks later, I heard that they loved the story (printed in English and Vietnamese) and had chosen a detail from one of my paintings for the front cover!!! 

This is the second time they have featured my work and it brings such a lot of enquiries for me. Thank you Heritage!

Back in Hoi An, I dismantled the exhibition, was paid for the work I sold and prepared to move to Sapa for four months to be the artist in residence for Sapa Rooms boutique hotel in the land of clouds and mountains.

A few months ago I met a fascinating novelist from Scotland - one A.D.Scott. After only three meetings, Deborah (her real name), introduced the idea that it may be interesting for me to go to Sapa for an extended stay and told me about her friend Pete who owns a hotel up there.  

Pete, an Australian who studied Japanese, Buddhism and Anthropology at a Japanese university, opened his first business, a small hotel in Sapa, after discovering a derelict building with a wonderful view near Sapa market.  He invited a Vietnamese artist to be his business partner and together they make amazing art, delicious food, connections with Sapa communities, and differences in the lives of children in the mountains. 

It is an inspiring business model that is truly based on that Utopian ideal that 'if you do the things you are passionate about, a successful business will emerge'. So, I went up to Hanoi to meet Pete and to listen to his stories. 

I discovered that he has always wanted to write a cookbook based on the recipes used in his businesses, that no-one has published a good pocket guide of Sapa, that they need some sort of sustainable income to pay for every day running costs at the school the sponsors.

So, in a moment of pure clarity, and with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc in hand, I volunteered to make some of those wishes come true. Pete puts a roof over my head ( and a goose down duvet) and good food to eat (prepared by his chefs) and all I have to do is draw, paint, talk, write and wander around discovering things........... sorry, what I really meant to say is, produce the drawings to illustrate his cook book and design and illustrate the pocket guide.  

These two items will be sold to fund his education projects. I am also going to work with the ethnic minority children to produce some artwork (hopefully) that will be turned into good things for the tourists to buy. Then, I am going to design some upmarket products for the women to make that can also be sold to fund young futures. 

We are calling these projects 'Art for Communities' and 'Are for Education'. I am so honoured to be involved in this work and proud to be associated with this exhilarating business that touches so many lives in different ways

Also................ my dear friend Jennie came all the way from Leeds (with her mate Mandy) to find out what the heck is keeping me away from home all these months ( 20 now!!! ........ that's  about 632 days ..... oh my word).   

We had a blast in Saigon then they went to Siem Reap while I went up to Hoi An where we met once more. Then I flew up to Hanoi where I met then two days later. We 'did' the town and saw some amazing countryside. Mandy flew home and then I brought Jennie up to Sapa for her final week accompanied by Mr. Sapa Rooms himself, Pete Wilkes. 

With Jennie by my side and with the aid of a Red Dao (red zow) guide we discovered the beautiful valleys, stepped with rice paddies and topped with rain forest, that runs south west from Fansipan mountain (Vietnam and Indochina's highest peak at 3,143 mfrs). Cloud swirls around these peaks and changes the weather from moment to moment. Sometimes you can see the glory of the whole valley and sometimes you can hardly see across the street! Often it rains and sometimes you are praying for a cooling breeze. At the moment the temperature is about 70-80 degrees every day even when it rains.

Jennie also brought a wealth of experience and practical ideas to help with Pete's educational ambitions for the local people. Her college is interested in forming partnerships in SE Asia and maybe she has met some of the kinds of people who can help to make that happen. The potential is overwhelming! 

So, forgive my absence - I have been distracted by some exciting projects!