This morning I sat and did this painting just outside the camp at Mvuu. (Mvuu is the Chichewa word for a “Hippo”. It sounds like the blowing sound the hippo makes when it surfaces). In spite of the hippos grunting as they wandered around the camp and a visit from the hyenas I had a deep sleep. So when I sat down to paint I was rested and calm. I climbed a termite mound and sat in the shade of a tree. What a pleasant experience. The Shire River is just behind the bush to the right of the picture. I climbed to the top of the mound and took some photos, but there was no space to sit and paint.
Earlier that morning, Samuel our guide on a walk in the reserve had told us that the termites build the nest to house grass cuttings for a fungus garden to produce food for the queen, who lives for up to 18 years. That is a long time. And she is really just an egg factory. As termites hurry around they touch every other termite they contact and swop body fluids. And they do the same when they take the queen her dinner. The body fluids keep a running ratio of workers to soldiers and other roles and the queen automatically produces the kind of eggs to keep the ratios balanced. So if the wall is breached and a whole bunch of soldiers lay down their lives defending the repair party, the body fluid mix will show it and the queen will lay “soldier eggs” and refill the ranks of the royal guard. And all of this was going on as I sat and painted and looked out for wild and dangerous animals. Such is life in the African bush.
Last night I left Lilongwe in a hire car and drove down to Cape Maclear – I stopped on the way to take pictures and heard the beautiful bird songs so I was really looking forward to getting there. When I arrived, I found the campsite in the middle of a village. The camp was pleasant and Peter the owner and Cheezy the manager were very friendly. There were the usual assortment of tourists, travellers and aid-workers-on-break which I enjoy. I had about half an hour to paint so did the painting below while being hustled by a drunken local to buy some curios.
This is not a masterpiece but as I always tell myself, the important thing is to be there painting. The quality of the result is incidental. I slept like a log in spite of the Friday night party in next door compound. This has been a very tiring week. The village was very noisy and busy. And there were no birds. Just people talking about the fish eagles. So I wanted to leave as soon as I could.
This morning I drove to Liwonde and caught the boat to Mvuu lodge where I am camping for tonight. It is quite tiring driving on the roads here. There always people walking or cycling in the road and every now and then there is a huge donga in the road that would rip out your diff if you hit it at speed. I have had a great afteroon in the camp painting and listeing to the emerald spotted wood doves. They have such a plaintive call. It resonates with my sleepy melancholia.
This is a painting I did of the view across the Shire River as I waited for the boat to arrive:
The two weeks in Lilongwe drained my last “interaction-reserves” and all I want to do is sit by myself. As people arrived for the boat I just sat and painted. And people left me alone. This afternoon everyone left for a game-drive and the camp was almost deserted, which was just great.
This is a view looking upstream from the education centre the camp. There is a small launch area to the right of the picture and the camp workers were chatting and clonking around in boats (what did ratty say “messing around in boats” – the wind in the willows). It was all so peaceful and mellow.
The tree in the middle distance is a fever tree. It turned out a bit messy because I fell asleep as I was painting – it was so relaxing. When I get back to my studio in Cape Town I want to paint more of these scenes.
I took a recording of the doves using my voice recorder and will figure out how to put it on the page if it comes out OK.
I am currently working with an organisation in Lilongwe – Malawi. I have spent most of the time working but yesterday I took a walk around. Just over 20 years ago my wife and I came here with bicycles and rode around the country. We had so much to learn about travelling like that. But we had a real adventure. We spent the first weekend camping at the Lilongwe Country Club. Yesterday I went back to the country club. It is o beautiful, I just wanted to sit and do a painting. I have a little Windsor Newton kit with two horse hair ink brushes, which I have cut off to fit into the bag. It was great just to sit in the afternoon sun listening to the crickets and the birds. When I got out my kit I saw that I had not brought any watercolour paper. But I had a photocopy of a consulting text which had one open page behind the title page. So I used that. It was a bit fragile when wet, but felt a bit like Arches hot pressed. This is what I did:
This is the cricket pavilion at the club (not to be confused with the insects I mentioned earlier). And as I sat I reflected on our cycle trip and our journey since then. I like to be alone like this. In my work I am prone to interaction fatigue. But I would also like to have had Aura with me, and my children. So this picture is for Aura.
Here are two paintings I did of the rocks on the coast looking across to Koeel Bay.
I did this first one a few years ago. The actual picture is only slightly larger than this. (Every other painting in this post is about 570x780mm). I spent ages on the rocks. Lots and lots of glazing. The other day I was walking on the same stretch of coast and I saw my rock with a little pool in it. It was like meeting an old friend.
I did the next one a couple of years ago, for our local watercolour society exhibition where I recieved an award for the most creative watercolour.
There is a moment, maybe a minute when the sun first appears over the mountains to the right of the picture when these rocks really do take on these colours. Otherwise they are full of pink greys. Before this picture I did about five or six pictures that looked something like this:
Till it felt like I had these rocks coming out of my ears… Hey, I can see the same rocks in the three different pictures. I am not sure why that should surprise me but it seems quite fun somehow.
After doing all of these lovely rounded (quartzite and granite) boulders against the sharp shales on the shore I thought my pictures need people. These boulders really want to be filled out. So I did some people then I painted this picture:
This was rejected by for the next exhibition with the following comments.
“Some wonderful elements -rocks, water. Picture somewhat segmented. Figure too strong. Picture needs “bringing together”. ” This all seems fair comment. I really like the rocks. They were pretty much done ‘alla prima’ with some touching in a second wash. And OK maybe a bit of a third. But not much more. I was doing this the morning before hand-in (as usual). The model came from a photo.
Here is a painting from the same area I did last year.
Here is something: I like the dark background and customisable header for this blog but I think it constrains the lateral dimension of my paintings. Perhaps I should try another.