Wat Kalayanamit, Bangkok

December 27, 2012

Wat Kalayanamit 2

The building on the right doesn’t appear in the single YouTube film clip devoted to Wat Kalayanamit (named after its benefactor) but it was useful to try and draw what looks like a bot head-on. The bright red, green, yellow and gold make me think it’s been restored recently, also the pure unadulterated white of the plaster or whitewashed columns.

This particular wat which is located in Thonburi and will doubtless feature in the upcoming SketchWalk in February but appears not to be in the tourist’s Top 30 of Bangkok Buddhist temples. It’s a bit rough around the edges and is either in part undergoing restoration or in part in need of some tender loving care. The forecourts of wat are more or less public places, public squares of a sort and have the air of deserted school playgrounds. I recognise the run-down grey plaster from temples in Java.

In the chedi (stupa) on the left (I was happy with yesterdays in shades of blue), I resolved to finally rid myself not only of wet media completely (given the 118gm thickness of the paper) but also pen and fountain pen. There is an uncomfortable scratchiness associated with the 30% recycled paper in this Strathmore Toned Gray 5×8″ sketchbook and the marks come across as unbelievably cold. Far better to stick to the hazy vague effects of white charcoal and ochre adding some depth to another classic Three Pencil combination of sanguine, black (here Caran d’Ache 9B pencil) and white (Derwent white charcoal). The rough-textured paper and its darkness seem to resist fine line associated with architectural detail. Which is just as well, because Buddhist wat buildings suggest mass rather than line. Ochre and a dark blood red seem to indicate any unrestored building: by contrast, bright orange, bright red, bright green are all characteristic of seemingly recently restored wat buildings.

Two videoclips on YouTube of a 2010 Bangkok Sketchers’ event provide a lot of clues about how local urban sketchers go about their work. They almost invariably stick to minimal portable gear of a pencil, a fountain pen, a set of watercolours and a water-brush pen. A small 5×8″ sketchbook looks universal, mainly because of its portability. I’ve noticed that temporary exhibitions of work often involved plastic sleeves of half-A4. Unlike urban sketchers in Singapore, they seem to stick to this small size, with larger loose-leaf watercolour studies not being the norm. The toned grey I’m using here is not at odds with the air and feel of Bangkok – the sunshine is not a bright white  as in, say, Brisbane; I’m just unsure about how suitable toned ground paper is for urban sketching in Bangkok. There is an overwhelming sense of horizontality in terms of anything to do with Old Bangkok (asin Bali or Java or Kyoto), such as wats or residential districts, so a small portrait 5×8″ seems inappropriate. I have managed to determine though that a sketching stool is pretty much out of the question accept for long poses inside the premises of wats (and churches), particularly in the ‘public square’-like forecourts associated with them. Though if pressed, there is some public seating – at least in the forecourt of the Church of Santa Cruz, for example. Some sort of cap to keep the sun off seems obligatory as well in Bangkok.

Apart from up-close portrait sketching, I’m yet to be convinced that Bangkok Sketchers do an awful amount of people sketching. To offset this trend myself, I note that Attic Studio in Bangkok runs not only life drawing one night a week, but also a day class every Thursday morning devoted to what they call “Bangkok Life”: clothed local working people brought in as models.

Other than that, I’m noticing more and more similarities between Bangkok and Sydney: above all, superficial and surface-oriented, both “good time” places with a focus on hedonism; culturally shallow with ill-fitting architecture; the daily grind of survival overtaking any interest or focus on beauty; young cities without any depth, looking backward and nervous about their futures; ragged layers of multiculturalism (Indian laid over a Chinese core) resulting in a bland sense of identity.

These sketches are all being done to a soundtrack of Peck Palitchoke (especially “I Was Then”), the only Thai pop group that I can find that sings optimistic, bouncy pop music, sung well and without reference to girlfriends dying or otherwise coming to grief. The plots of Thai pop music are quite melodramatic!


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