Wednesday, April 9, 2014

In the Sketchbook: Rural Vietnam

"Rice Harvest in the Mekong Delta Region"
"Cao Dai Temple"
We traveled by buses, boats, and planes.  As we traveled out of Ho Chi Minh City, we saw this amazing scene of rural produce being delivered to the city. This was, of course, a common sight.
Rural produce heads to market
The bus trips gave us opportunities to view the more rural areas of the countries. On our travels to the Mekong Delta, we saw the great rice fields where the country people tended their harvest. This is extremely hard work, as the person is standing or squatting in water. Mostly this is considered women's work, but I saw quite a few men working as well. The scene is colorful, because the Vietnamese wear their conical hats, a wonderful invention to protect from sun while allowing air circulation. The hats were not prevalent in the other countries we visited.
The spiritual life is ever present. We stopped at a Cao Dai temple, which later I realized was a very different temple after seeing many traditional Buddhist and Hindu places of worship. The religion is unique and colorful, founded in the 1920s. It combines secular and religious philosophies, and is  based on séance messages revealed to its founder, Ngo Minh Chien. Because the Vietnamese people revere their ancestors, the religion makes sense to me. What struck me was the lavish use of neon in this temple, something you did not see at the many other temples we visited. I chose to paint a part of the façade.

Another sight, especially prevalent in Southern Vietnam, is the burial of family members in the back yard or the rice paddies in raised graves. This photo was taken from the bus, hence the poor quality. This is very interesting to a Westerner used to formal cemeteries. Their veneration of the dead is based on the belief that the dead have a continued existence and can influence the fortune of the living. It is important to respect and look after ancestors in their afterlives, and they often seek their guidance.  The family prefers to remain on the land to care for their dead. I reminded myself that we also honor our dead, though in different way.

Family ancestors buried in the Mekong rice fields.
There was so much gorgeous scenery to see. We traveled by bus from Hoi An to Hue. When the air conditioning quit in almost 100 degree heat and high humidity, we got to relax on a restaurant patio at China Beach while repairs were made.


 Heading out of Danang, we climbed the mountains and were treated to this view.



Sunday, April 6, 2014

In the Sketchbook: Hoi An, the Lantern Town

"The Lantern Town"
Leaving Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) from Tan Son Nhat airport, familiar as a major base during the Vietnamese/American War, we flew to Danang, another major base for Americans. Some of you will remember China Beach which served as an R&R location for American troops. We drove past the beach and about an hour to Hoi An, a beautiful small UNESCO town, free of pollution and city bustle, which has been revived by tourist visits. The Thu Bon River silted in years ago killing the port trade. With the return of tourists, Hoi An blossomed. There is a wonderful Old Town with a mixture of Japanese and Chinese architecture. There is the Japanese Bridge, built in 1593.
Japanese Bridge

We visited the Chua Thanh Pagoda, established by Chinese in the 1500s. I begin to understand the Chinese and Japanese influence in Vietnam.
Chua Thanh Pagoda
 We walked the town with our guide and learned of the history. The streets are lined by shops. The town is known for custom shoes and clothing. Bob and I both had shoes made overnight for a very reasonable price. We were very restrained in purchasing goods, and felt these were worthwhile.
The old streets are filled with shops.
Our busy tour day that started in Ho Chi Minh City ended with a cyclo tour of Hoi An, and somehow I felt pretty silly being pedaled around in a long line of cyclos when I love to ride bikes.

Our cyclo tour awaits.
The resort on the river was very charming. I took yoga one morning and was amazed at how well I felt after my body cracked its way into place.

The second full day saw us walking through the market and taking a cooking class. We enjoyed our lunch on the goodies we made -- spring rolls, Hoi An pancakes, and a chicken dish. What fun. We went home with a souvenir tool to quickly peel and dice mangos and other fruits, very clever and simple. Who needs a Cuisinart. We bought a second tool for $1.00 that replaces a mandolin.

We had some leisure time and I finally caught up on some sleep with a long nap and pleasant evening with tour friends. The following morning Bob and I borrowed free bikes from the resort and rode across a lovely bridge into a neighborhood. The people in that section of town are very prosperous. The ride along the river is pleasant. We maneuvered through scooter traffic for a just a few blocks and it was rather exhilarating to find I knew enough about their full-on approach to driving that I did not get hit.



Thursday, April 3, 2014

In the Sketchbook: Life on the Mekong Delta

"Life on the Mekong Delta"

Up and at 'em early for a trip to the Mekong Delta. This river dominates multiple countries, running from Tibet to the China Sea (the Vietnamese call it the East Sea). We would stay on the river in Laos, and travel near it in Cambodia.

Life on the delta is so different from what I know. The river is the highway of the community. Boarding a boat after a lengthy bus ride, we feasted on the sights. Floating markets pass us: large boats carrying produce, the wash hung out, small vegetable gardens on the prow, usually with a husband and wife on board. There are always eyes painted on the front of the boat, to ensure a safe journey. Learning the beliefs of the culture is a daily task for us. Many Vietnamese who identify as Buddhists or demurely say they have no religion have beliefs that mingle Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism with ancient animism.

Houses cling to the shore on stilts and hug each other. Some are ramshackle, others more solid, a few downright prosperous. One feels the ancient life that continues today. We stopped at a local village and walked the roads. I am amazed by the versatility of the commerce. Little mom and pop businesses sell food, make furniture, carve statues, fire bricks, and cut lumber. We visit a few businesses that are very profitable and obviously making money with tours as well. We visit one where women are making and packaging crispy rice papers for sales to city markets. Everything is done on the floor or small stools. We Americans should be so limber. People squat or sit on their haunches. One woman making the rice papers said she makes 3000 a day. A half dozen people did the packaging. The woman who started the business is doing well, judging from her substantial home across the narrow path, squeezed in with more modest dwellings.

In the next shop a women had a more comfortable setup (from my Western perspective). She stood at a slab while making traditional rice papers, steam rising in the 98 degree heat. Everything is open to allow air to flow. Life is lived en plein air.
"Making Rice Papers"

The next small business made delicious candies by hand. We tasted the luscious coconut gems that were like caramels. On to another factory with some cooking done over rice husks. Here we were treated to tea and nibbles. All of this industry was going on within the equivalent a couple city blocks.

Next we take one of the tributaries to visit a gorgeous old traditional home and have lunch served in a lush tropical garden. Fish were swimming in tiny waterways on the property and one made it onto our table, fully intact, and served in a rack in his natural position with a heavily salted outer skin. He was delicious. Leaving, our guide wished to continue through to the main river rather than backtracking. The boat crew seemed concerned and not far down the way, we all had to shift to the front, with Bob pushing up against the underside of a bridge for us to pass. Along the way we saw furniture and brick making businesses lining the water. This day tour was one of my favorites.
Some of our group enjoying lunch

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

In the Sketchbook: Indochina - Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam

"Flowers for Women's Day"
Saigon, March 8

Our long journey to Asia ended after 11 pm on March 7th, 15 hours ahead of San Jose, with arrival in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon). We were met by our tour director and a local guide who whisked us into the city to the New World Hotel, headquarters for previous US Presidential visits. The late Friday night street scene delights the senses, with families dining on the streets and the street market sellers packing their wares. April tells us that the locals are very social and family oriented. This is a city with over 7 million inhabitants and they love to spend time together.

My Lonely Planet guidebook describes it as "Vietnam at its most dizzying, a high octane city of commerce and culture that has driven the whole country forward with its limitless energy and booming economy." There are teeming markets; people on the street selling vegetables, fish, and meat, families seated on tiny stools at makeshift cafes in front of ramshackle wooden shops that sell all kinds of wares, skyscrapers; large modern malls; wide boulevards and French architecture harking back to colonial occupation; ancient temples, churches, a gorgeous opera house, and government buildings. I was exhausted and on sensory overload.

Our day began early at the hotel breakfast buffet. We were never disappointed with our accommodations and the gorgeous breakfasts. Not only could we have Vietnamese pho, but also American and English versions of eggs and omelets and all the usual trimmings, or select from Japanese and Chinese offerings.  These countries thrive on tourists from other parts of Asia. The fruits and yogurt were delicious, especially Dragonfruit, unfamiliar to us, with a lovely pink outer skin and white fruit dotted with tiny black seeds.

The scene outside the restaurant is Saigon at its finest. A beautiful park across the street encouraged good health with exercise equipment and a Tai Chi class in session. Scooters filled the boulevard, ridden by many people wearing masks for sun and pollution protection, and often whole families or marketers with their wares amazed us with their ability to exploit the scooters to the max. Our first day was International women's day, so the flower sellers were doing a brisk business. From the bus window I captured the scooter with a couple and a basket of flowers buzzing through an insane intersection.
 Off to work
When first observing the scene, it's hard to imagine crossing the street as a pedestrian. There is no such thing as a protected crosswalk, though there are a few crosswalks. I had read how to approach the task and the guide confirmed for us. Walk slowly, do not make eye contact, and be very predictable. The drivers will fly around you. They will try to miss you, but they will not slow down. Actually, by the time we reached Bangkok, we realized that Vietnam has traffic figured out. In Bangkok there are many cars and few scooters or bicycles. It would take us 20 or 30 minutes to travel a few blocks.

After orientation we headed out to tour the Reunification Palace, War Remnants Museum,  lunch, and the beautiful French influenced former Post Office. That afternoon I  swam in the pool while Bob napped, a reasonable break to allow acclimation. The Museum was an education in the "American War." Travel gives us the world perspective. Vietnam has had many wars, including the French War and the American War.  Our name for the war is not descriptive. There was a powerful photo display featuring works by war photographers from all over the world who gave their lives covering the news.  I could appreciate their view of the war, different than ours.

Reunification Palace - home and offices of the President of South Vietnam during the war
French-influenced Former Post Office

That evening, we went to the garden restaurant at the top of the Rex Hotel where some of our fellow travelers found that they would be challenged eating the local dishes. Bob and I love Vietnamese food which is plentiful in our area. There are differences, though, when you eat it in the native country. I found most of the food delicious.

Saturday night in Saigon

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

In the Sketchbook: Indochina

March 6-27, 2014
We returned last Thursday from Southeast Asia. As I raised my babies amidst the horrors of the Vietnam War, the thought of traveling there never entered my mind. The war is long over, many of our community are resettled here from Vietnam, and the IBM Retirees Club was offering a tour of Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia, with an optional extension to Bangkok, Thailand. We decided that this would be our big 2014 trip. Bob had never been on a formal tour (we are do-it-yourselfers) but was game for our first visit to Asia.
A 15 hour flight to Hong Kong, a 3 hour layover, a 2 hour flight to Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon to anyone over 50) and a group of 21 seasoned travelers assembled at the New World Hotel with guide April Smith from the Collette Foundation. To follow was a complex journey into cultures that I knew only in passing and history told by those who own it. We would be kept very busy everyday without any real time to capture drawings in the moment. I decided to take pens, my tiny Koi watercolor set, and a 5" x 7" sketchbook. With ink, my drawing errors are honestly recorded, and there is a freshness in paintings displaying all the artists marks. I would draw and paint by looking at the viewer of my point and shoot camera in those rare moments when we had an hour free.

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

A flyer for an upcoming show

"City Girl" available at SVOS

A flyer for my upcoming show. I can never resist a new experience. Proved it recently -- I am in Indochina most of March, but took the opportunity. Sorry -- the flyer does not format properly on the blog. You get the idea.

Silicon Valley Open Studios Preview Exhibit at Ark Art Gallery

My work was selected for the SVOS preview exhibit during First Friday Art Walk. I will be showing both watermedia and torn magazine collage on canvas artworks.

“November Morning at Byington Winery”                       “City by the Bay”
Santa Crux Mountains                                             20” x 18” torn magazine collage on canvas
20” x 16” framed watercolor

April 4th - First Friday Art Reception from 6-9 pm
Join me at the art reception featuring food, live music, and a no-host bar.

April 5-6th - Gallery manned by artists open 11-4

If you can’t make the reception, drop by during the weekend.

Ark Art Gallery

1035 S. 6th Street

San Jose, CA 95112


The main event, Silicon Valley Open Studio, takes place the following month. I will be participating in Open Studios on May 10 and 11 in Mountain View.





Sunday, February 23, 2014

A San Francisco Charmer

"At Home on Potrero Hill "
14" x 11" Ink and Watercolor
Bob and I stayed at this home on Potrero Hill in San Francisco which we arranged through The owner asked me to paint a sketch of the house. This was great fun. I worked from about 6 photos, none quite positioned like this. I used a dip pen with permanent ink and watercolor. It was a challenge to maintain a sketch approach. I settled on doing a vignette.  I sent three small sketches to the client, and did both a small and larger trial run before completing this piece. I also suggested mounting this 300 lb. paper on a backing, rather than matting, so I was careful to maintain a deckled edge, which you can't see in this photo.
Today I return to the city with a friend for an afternoon of ballet. This one is a day trip with lunch at Absinthe's, a grand old institution. 

Friday, February 21, 2014

The Friends Meeting House -- California's Oldest

"Friends Meeting House"
11" x 14" Ink and Watercolor on Paper
The SCVWS paintsites group met at this sweet little spot, tucked away on a quiet residential street in San Jose.  This small building is the oldest Friend's house in California, dating back into the 1800s. It was moved a couple hundred feet when 880 was built.  The day was sunny and warm, and we had a small, but productive group painting. I was delighted to see my host for the Croatian Art Retreat, Marion Podolski.
Because I am working on a commissioned ink and watercolor sketch, I wanted to experiment with the medium.  I would like my commission to be a bit more sketchy than this, which I am finding a challenge. Knowing I am doing it for a client makes me immediately more careful.

Friday, February 14, 2014

Magazine Collage of San Francisco

"City by the Bay"
14" x 18" magazine collage on canvas
Begun in November, the piece languished in my art room partially complete. Attic cleaning, travel, dancing, bike riding, and life, all took precedence. Finally a couple days ago, I propped it up on the easel, tossed the drop cloth on the floor, and made a mess.
From the late 80s until 2000, I had an old, but sturdy, boat at Pier 40. After Gary died, I realized I did not want to learn marine mechanicals, and turned it over to my partner. It did not have red sails to fly in the sunset, but "Elation" was our home away from home for a number of years. I love the city -- the chaos, the noise, the music, the fashions, the busy people, the bike riders, Market Street, the Transamerica Building, the Golden Gate Bridge, the museums, even touristy Fisherman's Wharf. I hope I captured some of that here.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

Room with a View: View from Potrero Hill

"Room with a View: View from Potrero Hill"
San Francisco, CA
5" x 9" Ink and watercolor sketch

Bob needed some flute repair by an expert and he wanted to take a couple Argentine Tango lessons at Metronome Dance Collective, in San Francisco. After searching for reasonable hotels in SF, of which there was none (I don't consider $300 to $400 a night reasonable, even for 4-star places), I decided to try that we used in Venice Beach to rent a room or cottage from a private homeowner. We found a lovely spot on Potrero Hill, just a half mile walk from the studio. Take this link to the listing. We enjoyed the locale, the wonderful restaurants, Fran's hot tub, our private deck, and  many walks around the neighborhood. No gym needed here. Just walk those hills. We got their via Caltrain and hoofing it up the hills. We used public transit to get to Pacific Heights for the flute repair.

Intrepid cyclist descends 24% grade.

Oh, yes, it's steep.

Fabulous art in front of a home.

Views in all directions and the city center is a roll down the hill.

Breakfast is a treat at Plow Restaurant.

The Wednesday morning clientele enjoy breakfast at Plow.

There are many good restaurants on 18th Avenue, including Plow, described as Midwest farm boy meets Asian city girl. The owners both began chef careers at a top notch East Bay restaurant. A couple of kids later, they live on the Hill and opened this place where you can wait in line, especially on weekends. We lucked out and got two seats at the counter where we enjoyed watching the chef activity.

We also ate at Goat Hill Pizza, really full Italian, which my late husband and I frequented in the 90s while staying on our boat next to the Giants stadium that did not exist then. Chez Maman was a treat, and small Thinker Café on 20th street offered a lovely local experience for breakfast. We got a kick out of the kids ready for school and the city dogs patiently and quietly awaiting their owners. Coffee at Farley's on Monday evening had us tagged as locals -- maybe it was Bob's debonair hat and sport coat, or could it have been my leather jacket and scarf? The sweet little Christopher's Books is still there. This is city life at its best.

A visit to Christopher's Books is always a treat.

Welcome Home

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Room With a View: Sutter Creek

"Room with a View: Ye Old Church in Sutter Creek"
Ink and Watercolor
We took our first mini trip in the new year to Sutter Creek, in the foothills of the Sierras. It was gold country. Today all the mining is done of tourists. We were there for a performance by one of the premier Ragtime artists, Mimi Blais, from Montreal. She performed at a private home, Skunk Hollow Victorian Gardens, joined by Tamas Ittzes from Budapest, Hungary, a young violinist and pianist. They played a combination of Ragtime and classical music. Tamas runs the International Ragtime and Jazz Festival in Hungary, now in its 23rd year. Bob's sister Marilyn is a Ragtime pianist and student of Mimi's, and told us about last night's performance. The evening was outstanding. Today the performers headed to San Francisco to continue their tour.
We stayed in a simple Day's Inn, but Bob treated me to a delicious dinner at Hotel Sutter Restaurant and spent more for it than for the room! I have to admit that to paint my view from the room would have required a great deal of artistic license, so I chose to expand  my view to the tiny preserved church down the street. Bob took a few photos and I just referenced the camera shot. We had taken a nice walk around town yesterday afternoon.
This morning I walked about town for a bit of exercise on my own. I was fascinated by the old cemetery surrounding the small Catholic church. The gravestones tell such stories of the area. Many were from the second half of the 19th century. Some people lived long lives, but many died young. I was especially touched by a plot with a mother and two young children, one who lived one year and one day. The mother outlived both by decades. There were numerous stones for young children. Many of the families were Irish and proudly named their home country.

This morning we returned to the home where Chip gave us a tour of his collections of Lionel trains,  railroad lanterns, and old fashioned home radios in the large basement. The home itself is a real treasure, a huge Victorian set amidst beautiful gardens. Chip is assembling a reproduction of the Tehachupi Loop where a long train passes over itself to lessen the grade. He has done everything to scale. Bob and his sister are both train buffs, having come from a long line of railroad people in Chicago. I found the hour and a half we spent talking equally fascinating. One intriguing set was a Girl's Train made by Lionel in flashy pink. It didn't sell. I supposed if a girl really liked trains, as Marilyn does, she would want the same train that boys had. The failed set is quite the collector's item.

Our return trip included a stop off route in Ione, another cute town where Dave Brubeck's mother gave piano lessons. Note the music theme here? Life with Bob is filled with music. I love it!

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Monday Morning Pastel Drawing and a Great Party

"Pitcher with Fruit"
12" x 14" Pastel
I was quite pleased as I worked on this that Bob  just gave me one little suggestion and moved on. He often will sit down and work a bit on a trouble spot to point us in the right direction. I think I learned a little more about rendering with last week's work with black on white on a single apple. Bob often takes us back to the basics. The tricky part is the transition areas between the core shadows and the areas receiving more direct light. Get it right and the subject will look three dimensional.
Green-yellow apple
Black conte
Red apple
Black conte
I attended the Santa Clara Valley Watercolor Society holiday party, which is always mid-January. This is an all volunteer effort and I can't say enough about how well they organized the event. Everyone is expected to help, so I joined the setup crew. 
SCVWS setup crew
The theme was "Breathing Plein Air." Hence the wonderful suns and clouds and the very creative center pieces. You see the beginning of the plein air display in the background. That includes paintings done plein air and many travel/plein air journals. I displayed two works from Croatia and one done with our paintsites group.
Centerpieces: Sit down and paint the beautiful California landscape!

We rent space, so bulletin boards needed some work. Friend and fellow critique group member Linda  did these wonderful paintings featuring artists  outdoors. The left one is a David Hockney-esque approach using an I-Pad. (Many of us have seen the terrific Hockney exhibit at the DeYoung in San Francisco.) The right one honored our 49ers. The area is used for a painting exchange, a voluntary activity.

Artists at work on the community painting.
Friend Brad organized the community painting and was most creative. One featured many fish to paint. The other was circular forms. These are auctioned off along with donated paintings and other items. Friend Valerie did an amazing job of raising $1100 on the raffle to benefit a local school for disadvantaged children.
I chatted with friend Myrna Wacknov who just received her signature membership in AWS!