Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Happy Halloween 2017!

Last Saturday Andrea Matthews and I went in search of costumed people to sketch. We got a little more than we asked for when we happened upon the Crystal Ballroom Halloween Erotic Ball. I guess it has been happening in Portland for over 15 years. Who knew, although the line of people waiting to get their inner freak on outside of the Crystal ballroom is an iconic Portland’s sight. We ended up sketching for three hours mostly from the Ringlers pub quickly capturing a colorful character or a group swimming up to he window like some bizarre tropical fish. We also did some sketching from the sidewalk looking at people in line to enter.

"I am transgender, trans-species, trans-everything and I will pose with you for a drink...."
A line of costumed people waiting to get in

The glorious hostess of the Ball–Sasha Scarlett 
A cop, a fallen angel, and a unicorn were some of the most common costumes. The bar tender Craig has seen it all over the years 

People coming out for a smoke and a breath of fresh air

Some people have had enough erotica by midnight

"This is the best kept secret in Portland!" This group was very enthusiastic. They told us they have been coming and sitting at this table for many years taking photos and meeting the attendees of the ball. 

Tuesday, October 3, 2017

8th Urban Sketcher's Symposium in Chicago

The end of July brought one of the events that I usually look forward to all year long. As usual, after all of the anticipation it is over way too soon. Yet, sketching along some of my favorite artists, being surrounded by all of this creative energy, exploring a new urban place is something that I am so grateful for in my life.

Love this mural and many others in the city of Chicago 
This time the location of this symposium was in Chicago . I have never been to the Windy city, and was very impressed with its architecture, rich culture, and diversity. I brought my folding bike which allowed me to travel longer distances and explore some of the precious spots along the Lake Michigan which has surprisingly turquoise water.

Chicago skyline from Lake Michigan. Drew this for the Silent Auction to benefit the Urban Sketchers but at the end decided it wasn't good enough. Simo C. also wasn't happy with her sketch, so we just swapped instead.
I also managed to miss some of the most obvious landmarks. For example, seems like every sketcher was determined to draw their version of the famous Bean. There are literally hundreds of those sketches floating in the cybersphere–in all different styles. I somehow managed to miss it completely.
Sunrise from my rented apartment in the Presidential Towers 

Looking at my sketches from Chicago I realize that the density and the height of most of the buildings I saw sort of dictated the vertical layout, something I almost never use. Here are a couple of sketches from the 36th floor of the Presidential tower where I was staying. It was fun waking up with sunrise, even if it wasn't intentional–I was still fighting jet lag after coming here from Europe–and then watch the streets gradually fill with pedestrians and cars, peaking around lunch hour. Everyone rushing along carrying their Starbucks cups.

Madison ave. from the 36th floor 
The main reason for me to be in Chicago was to present a lecture on Documenting Resistance Movement in Sketches–the work I have been doing for the last 9 months since the election that shows various protests, rallies, and demonstrations taking place in Portland. The lecture was really well received even as it was scheduled for 6pm on Friday evening.
Presenting for the sketchers you have the luxury to be immortalized in sketches. Here is one of my favorites by Lapin

Certainly the most pleasant aspect of Urban Sketching symposium is being in the company of fantastic people from all over the world and all of the socializing that goes along with it.

Beautiful Nathalia and her boy-friend Rafael from Brazil at dinner in a Thai restaurant with Hose Louro to my left

Late dinner with Lapin, Wiltfried and Tapas Mitra on Thursday night

Live music at the closing night of the Symposium

Such a treat to see my friend Manuel. We were studying together in Barcelona and now he lives in Chicago

Ran into Peter Armstrong who took sketching classes from me in Portland in the airport, and we chatted over a glass of wine since our flight was delayed

Thursday, June 15, 2017

June 4th Portland's Pro-Trump Free Speech Rally and Counter-protests

Antifa and Anarchists filled the Chapman square. Portland Labor in construction helmets in the foreground

As I stood sketching the Chapman square an old man walked to the corner of Madison and 4th Ave in downtown Portland, looked at several thousand people gathered there with signs, banners, and face masks and asked no one in particular: “So, which ones here are the Nazis?” Indeed, for the uninitiated, the question seemed appropriate – for all of the angry faces, chants, and raised fists it was not always to tell who was on whose side.

A lot of tension filled the air leading up to the June 4th rally in Downtown Portland where pro-Trump Free Speech Rally was organized by a group called Patriot Prayer. Its organizer Joey Gibson who lives in Vancouver, WA has put together similar rallies in other places in his effort to take West Coast back by conservatives.

This event was scheduled to take place only a week after the fatal stabbing tragedy on a Max train in NE Portland. The rally drew some of the right-wing out-of-town celebrities but came at a time when Portland was still grieving and coming to terms with the tragic incident. Portland's mayor Ted Wheeler tried to cancel the rally, unsuccessfully–the permit for the pro-Trump rally was issued by the federal government.

Sketching the June 4th rallies

Not one but three simultaneous counter-protests were scheduled to take place at the same time. Emotions spiked by online comments and threats were running so rampant that hundreds of police on anti-riot gear were called in to form a thick physical barrier between the opposing sides.

So much was happening all at once –I tried to take it all in. First things first, a bike cop in full anti-riot gear. I asked him all he was carrying with him. "50 pounds of grenade launchers, FN303, a giant pack of disposable handcuffs, tear gas, pepper spray… "
When I arrived in the late morning the Chapman square was already filled with antifa and anarchists in their signature black hoodies, with faces covered by black handkerchiefs. They were holding anti-nazi signs, drumming and chanting anti-fascist, anti-police slogans.

Pro-Trump rally was scheduled to take place at the Terry Schrunk plaza starting at 2pm–almost directly across from the Multnomah county jail where Jeremy Christian–the alleged Trimet stabber is held on murder charges. He was known to hang out at the events organized by Joey Gibson before. For that reason the Free Speech rally organizers tried hard to emphasize that he was not part of their cause.

Portland Stands United Against Hate is facing off with the Trump crowd in the background. Police is in the middle separating the two sides. One of the signs reads: "Whose Useful Idiot are You?"

Immediately to the West of Terry Schrunk and next to the City Hall a rally called “Portland Stands United Against Hate” took place. It featured speeches and banners dedicated to Black Lives Matter, LGBT and Latino communities, among others.

One of the counter-protestor groups–Portland Stands United Against Hate–in front of the City Hall

Finally, to the East of the square Portland Labor movement organized its own rally. Their people dressed in construction workers' helmets and vests read the names of black men killed by the police and  projected anti-nazi, pro-immigrant slogans into the megaphones.

Police in heavy anti-riot gear encircled the site of the free speech rally, which was also taped off with yellow hazard tape. Over the loud speakers the protestors heard the following message over and over again: “This is Portland Police Bureau. If there is any violence on either side it will be treated as a criminal act.”

In the center of it all, in the sunlit Terry Schunck plaza gathered the supporters of the current president. Some of them were wearing super-hero or gladiator style costumes and helmets, holding "Made America Great Again" campaign style signs and signature red MAGA baseball hats, and flying many kinds of flags–the traditional stars and stripes, a purple Trump flag, a yellow "Don't Tread on me" Gadsden flag, and at least one green Pepe flag.

Police standing as a barrier between the pro-Trump rally (pictured on top right) and the counter protestors

Heavily armed police in special vehicles created a war zone impression, whereas people dressed in super-hero costumes and helmets contributed to an impression of some crazy comicon convention gone wrong.

There was a heavy dose of Portlandia in all of it as well. Some of the anti-riot police carrying FN33 and flash grenade launchers were on bikes. Some protestors distributed ice-cream and fresh strawberries out of giant tupperware containers. At one point I saw a man dressed in red spandex with butterfly antennas fluttering among angry protestors with his magic wand singing: “de-escalation is the key.” On the corner of 4th and Madison, a fixture at many of Portland's protests, the band "Unpresidented" was cheering the crowd with their fantastic music. 

As time went on the intensity of chants from all sides grew in volume. A screaming match here and there would get out of hand. Police periodically confiscated a stick and detain, typically someone from the Antifa side. The counter-protestors started to voice concerns that the police was siding with the pro-Trump rally, unfairly targeting the counter-protestors. 

Around 3:30 we heard the first flash grenades shake the ground and fill the Champman square where Antifa was protesting with gas and smoke. People started running–some closer to the site of the explosions. The Chapman square was cleared and counter-protestors were pushed further south. Some of them were temporarily detained, while the police searched their bags for weapons. I later learned that 14 arrests were made. Fortunately, no one suffered any injuries. 

The man who seemed most approachable was this guy standing in the crowd and holding a bright flower. He introduced himself as Ibrahim Mubarak. He represented the homeless and was there to talk about decriminalization of homeless in Portland

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Hollywoord Transit Center Memorial

On May 26th 2017 a man known to hang out with white supremacists and scream racial slurs on public transport in Portland boarded a Max train. When he started verbally assaulting two teenage girls on the train three other passengers interfered trying to protect the girls and deescalate the situation. The attacker brutally stabbed the men, killing two and wounding the third.

In the days that followed Portlanders were trying to come to terms with the horrible tragedy. A makeshift memorial was created honoring the victims. Thousands of people and here to lay flowers, light candles and leave messages of love and gratitude. According to one witness the last words of one of the victims, the young Taliesin Myrddin Namkai Meche were: "Tell everyone on this train I love them".

Friday, April 28, 2017

A Weekend in San Francisco

Quick trip to the Bay area to see some friends, do some sketching, dance some tangos, and play some music. 

Quick panoramic sketch from a hotel room in Japan Town. 

Telegraph hill, bay bridge and some typical old houses in the foreground sketched on location.

While staying with a friend in Pacifica we got to ride in the car of the future, or, rather, the long overdue present, the present we can't seem to reach because of the government's indebtedness to the oil industry. It is not just that this muscle can accelerate faster than any conventional sports car, leaving your stomach somewhere way behind the rest of your body. Not even that it can drive and park itself. Not even that it allows you to drive coast to coast for free making carefully calculated stops at super charge stations placed in strategically interesting spots along the way. It is that this car makes any other car feel so last century. You no longer have to deal with gas stations or car dealers or exhaust pipes. The best part is that you don't have to feel like you are bringing human kind one step closer to extinction every time you turn on the engine. 

Old San Francisco houses in Pacific Heights neighborhood.
Russian hill neighborhood with its iconic trolly. 

Sunday, April 23, 2017

March for Science in the intermittent rain

To mark a new chapter in the Resistance movement I made a new accordion book to take to the March for Science on Earth day, April 22, 2017. 

Every time I would find a good vantage point to sketch rain would start and I would have to scurry for cover. I did spot my favorite Unpresidented Brass Band right away who were tuning and prepping ahead of the march.

Sketching from the top of the of Morrison bridge allowed me to capture the crowd listening to the rally speakers ahead of the march. Congressman Earl Blumenauer addressed the enthusiastic crowd about the dangers of the government who does not believe in facts or science. 

Always a crowd pleaser–a group of Raging Grannies. 

As the rain intensified I found cover in a parking lot on Columbia Ave. that allowed me to see the crowd as they were turning off Naito parkway. I used the same trick during the Women's March in January.  

Most of color had to be finished at home, as I wasted too much time running away from the rain. 

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Spring Break in Puerto Rico

San Juan, Puerto Rico welcomed us with a few days of rain–last thing you are looking for when escaping a cold rainy winter followed by even a rainier spring in Portland. Yet we had lovely time exploring the Old San Juan, eating fresh mangos brought over by our host and sketching from this amazing roof top terrace. 

Some beautiful colonial buildings in Old San Juan, including the majestic US Post Office on the right. 

Quick sketch at the corner of Plaza de Armas in Old San Juan. A bike cop in front of me and lots of lovely Spanish balconies all around. 

Off to the small island of Vieques–a beautiful chill island populated by wild horses and lizards and home to some of the most spectacular beaches. 

My favorite inhabitant of Vieques island—the 375 year old Ceiba tree. 

Vieques farmers market on Tuesdays and Fridays always brings out a line of people hungry for fresh fruit and veggies. 

The glorious playa Caracas with all of its usual suspects. 

I think I have catalogued almost every beach in Vieques now. This is Playa Grande—vast, empty, rocky and grand.

Every week a ferry boat brings fresh produce to the island of Vieques from the main island of Puerto Rico. Here is the view of the port Isabel II with the ferry boat arriving at sunset.

After days of avocado sandwiches and rice and beans we treat ourselves to a fancy meal at El Blok. 

Watching men play dominoes outside with some beers and cocktails on a Saturday evening. 

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Fantastic Vietnam


Overcast, filled with the perpetual noise of scooters and horns, green parks, and many dreamy lakes Hanoi is a charmer of a city.

Here is the very first drawing of Hanoi sketched from a park bench in one of the city's lovely green parks. Vietnamese parks are very actively used by people exercising, reading, practicing their dance routines. The building on the left is the Department of Foreign Affairs. 

Structures in Vietnam tend to be tall and thin with the first floor almost always opening up into a dark ally with its many vendors and sidewalk restaurants–typically just makeshift ovens with giant simmering pots of pho and omnipresent plastic stools. The architecture definitely bears a mixture of Chinese and French influences–the main two of the many cultures that occupied Vietnam.

The walk in the Old Quarter is a fight for survival of sorts–trying to dodge flying scooters, and low hanging electrical wires that hang and twist in giant heaps right overhead. Sidewalks are used for parking cars and scooters, and sometimes for riding scooters as well. Whatever space is left is usually occupied by vendors and outdoor terraces. Pedestrians have to share the road with the rest of the traffic, forced out from the sidewalks.

This is sketched from a little waffle house situated on the third floor in one of the buildings on the northern end of Hoàn Kiếm Lake. We watch the procession of Santa Clauses on scooters. the city is submerged in perpetual traffic, dotted with many outdoor cafes and markets.

A long walk to another famous Hanoi lake–Truc Bach Lake rewards us with a really picturesque neighborhood. We later learn that this is where Senator John McCain's plane went down during the Vietnam war. He was dragged out and taken as a prisoner of war by the Vietnamese. The lake is seriously polluted, yet the locals continue to fish its poisonous waters. 

Sketching the lake from the peaceful Trấn Quốc Pagoda garden with the sounds of the city. in the background.

At last found some vegetarian food in Hanoi at the Minhchay Vegan restaurant. Traditional pho for breakfast, rice paper salad rolls, and steamed rolled rice pancakes–all washed down with thick Vietnamese coffee. Vegetarianism in this country is tightly associated with Buddhism. There are two days a month–at the beginning and the middle that typically require from a buddhist to adhere to vegetarian diet, and those are the days when vegan restaurants see a great increase in their customers.

More of Hanoi's whimsical architecture lining up a busy highway-like street right outside of the Vietnamese History Museum. The woman in the signature triangular hat in front of me sells lottery tickets to anyone who wants to try their luck. 

Struggling to stay awake I make this sketch in a dark, stuffy room witnessing the bizarre world of the Vietnamese Water Puppet theater–strange harmonies and singing bordering on screeching.

Next morning jetlag forces us early out of bed and we get to witness Hanoi waking up to the drizzling rain and the loud speakers typically playing some propaganda-type news casts. There are many groups of mostly women doing Jazzercise workouts with the leader at the front of the pack and a boombox broadcasting western pop music.  

Halong Bay

We buy one of those famous boat tours of Halong Bay which proves to be absolutely amazing. The wooden boat slowly glides the emerald waters of the bay situated three hours east of Hanoi. 

Sketching Halong Bay from the moving boat is an unparalleled experience . Consisting of thousands of karst islands the bay is the UNESCO world heritage site. A little Dutch girl Valerie took a hold of my brush mid-sketch and had made some important artistic contributions in the bottom right corner. 

On the boat the crew meticulously takes care of our every wish and need. One of the elaborate 8 course dinners accompanied by food sculptures and a talent show by the crew on board Legend of the Dragon boat. It was hard to work out the vast amount of food we were offered even with kayaking and swimming activities.

Vung Vieng floating village
The most unique aspect of life on Halong Bay is that there are communities living here right on the water, a phenomenon known as "floating villages". People make their living by fishing, growing pearls and now, tourism.

The villages used to be built by floating simple structures on mattresses of styrofoam. Due to the ecological concerns styrofoam has been replaced with plastic barrels. Yet, the proper trash disposal and sewer remain ongoing concerns.

Besides fishing and fish farming pearl making is another way floating village inhabitants make their living. Here I sketched the so called "Japanese method" of making pearls where a small round peace of a shell is inserted inside an oyster with the precision of dental work being done. The oyster is then submerged under water for 5 years to let the pearl mature. They are being monitored and cleaned periodically until they are opened and, the hopefully, a perfect pearl is extracted. 

On Christmas Eve I learned to make vegetarian spring rolls on board our boat "Legend of the Dragon". Only 10 minutes to sketch this, the rest of the time is for rolling the delicious filling inside the crunchy rice paper. 

One of the days on the boat the crew prepared lunch right on a beach surrounded by the majestic karst mountains for the passengers. I stayed behind and sketched the scene from the big triangular tub in our cabin. I felt like that was the most indulgent sketching set-up in my entire lifetime.

Hue, the old imperial capital of Vietnam

The indulgent life on the boat was over too quickly and we were catching a rocky overnight train to the former Vietnamese capitol of Hue.

Hue is most famous for the giant Imperial palace that took more than 200 years to complete building and takes a day to see. The complex consists of many impressive monuments surrounded by motes and thick walls. The palace was pretty badly damaged during the Vietnamese American war and is still being rebuilt today. 

Sitting by the pond and sketching the Imperial Library was very meditative. 

Hoi An

Next on our itinerary is the atmospheric town of Hoi An, and old Chinese port built on the banks of the Hoai river. Once a bustling port, the town turned into a beautiful museum once the river silted too much for the ships to be able to make it to the port. 

The town is complete with many great examples of Chinese architecture, buddhist temples, and many colorful lanterns that light it up in the cozy warm glow every night. 

We arrived just as another wave of rainy weather was setting in. Last one caused major flooding in this low sitting town. Really wet cool weather causes me to come down with a cold. I spend a few days blowing my nose, sketching and gulping down tons of pho and ginger tea.

Anyone who still prefers to doubt climate change needs to visit central Vietnam where once idyllic beaches are now mostly lost to erosion as a result of rising sea levels. Once the pride and joy of Hoi An the beaches around the area are currently landfills of discarded beach furniture, lined for miles with giant sand bags that serve as futile defense against the angry oceans threatening to swallow up nearby homes. Fading billboards inviting visitors to partake in the paradise are in stark contrast with the reality.

Hoi An is full of amazing examples of Chinese architecture. This sculpture found in the Cantonese Assembly Hall is another take on the popular theme—coiling dragon that represents power and koi fish representing knowledge. 

Here is a sketch of the last day of 2016 from the terrace of one of Hoi An's splendid cafes. One of the main tourist attractions–the Japanese bridge is visible on the left.  

We didn't get to hear the guitarist Hoang Dang play his guitar but got a sketch of him eating lunch in his kitchen while watching a Vietnamese soap opera on TV.

This is a sketch of Phac Hat Pagoda. I had to periodically go inside to dry off as the rain would pick up and my colors would start to run down the page.

Studying the anatomy of a perfect Buddhist shrine with this sketch. Symmetry appears to be important, so is the color red. There is always incense sticks smoldering away, piles of fresh fruit, fake money, candles, flowers, cookies, rice wine and tea. Then things get weird—cans of soda and cigarettes? Someone actually lights up 5 cigarettes all at once at this shrine. It turns out that the lower level represents offerings to the deceased relatives. They are offered things that they really enjoyed and indulged with during their life time.

Celebrating New Year's Day with the vegetarian versions of some of Hoi An's classic dishes. Vietnamese pancake wrapped in rice paper with fresh herbs... White rose is a gentle layer of rice dough wrapping with a small morsel inside and crunchy onions on top... Morning glory- sautéed water spinach with plenty of garlic.

Very charismatic driver who took us from Hoi An to Danang and told us about running behind American soldiers when he was a little boy in Hoi An.

The Island of Con Dao

This idyllic island in the South China sea hides pretty sinister past. It has housed a large political prison until the mid 1970ies using the system of torture that came to be know as Tiger cages. People would be confined to small cells, starved, and repeatedly tortured by the guards who would poke them with sharp sticks through the openings in the ceiling. 

The prisons are now open to visitors, bearing state of eerie authenticity due to the fact that little attempt has been made to make it look like a museum. Some cells contain life like sculptures intended to show what was going on inside. 

Con Dao still has a very alive fishing industry. This sketch is done on Cảng Bến Đầm pier where colorful boats bring in the fresh catch, dry squid on clothes lines.

We befriend a fantastic Vietnamese entrepreneur and avid hiker Sao. He offers to take us to the undeveloped parts of the island on long hikes through the dense forests to various secret beaches. At the end of So Ray Plantation hike Sao takes a nap in the hammock on the chill Ong Dung Beach. The tide is too low to go swimming. As he naps Sao is holding on tightly to his backpack, the necessary measure of precaution in this area where wild monkeys would open it and steal your stuff. We are all clutching our bags nervously as we are surrounded by numerous wild monkeys who are stealing bananas right out of our bags and causing further monkey mischief.

We stop for some food at a simple road side café that specializes in all things snails. There is a display of at least 10 different kinds of snails that could be prepared in the infinite number of ways. Some of the more famous methods include coconut milk broth or chile and lime juice. With the help of Google translator and gestures we order our meal. 

While we are dining the owner's wife is tenderly working her little garden of many different herbs and one big bright flower in the middle.

Here is Sao and the view of Trang Bay only reachable to boat or foot through the dense forest. 

Ho Chi Minh City

Last stop of the journey  is Ho Chi Ming City, formerly Saigon–very energetic large city where the amazing Vietnamese history weaves in with the forward, future oriented society, always capable of snapping back and moving forward.

Here is a sketch of the iconic central post office in Saigon in the style of French colonial architecture. Outside lots of opportunities for people watching from the newly weds posing for a photo shoot to an entrepreneurial doughnut seller balancing a pile of his goods on top of his head. 

Good morning Saigon! Started this sketch right after the sunset and finished it with the sunrise from the little balcony of our hotel. Depending on the time of the day the glass Bitexco tower always reflects or displays some psychedelic array of colors.

Going to Vegetarian restaurants in Vietnam is almost a religious experience. This is especially true with Vegetarian Hum—the Taj Mahal of veggie restaurants. Pictured here is the main bar area that is constructed entirely of fresh fruit, vegetables and the live green wall all coordinated by various hues of green.

Tourists waiting for the stream of mopeds to stop, nervously looking left and right before they cross the street. The scooter stream never stops, when the light changes they just start coming from the other direction. Unlike tourists natives just blindly and confidently step into the steam of traffic as if they own a lifetime punch card—use 10 lifetimes, get 1 additional life for free. 

Uncle Ho statue and tourists in front of the City Hall in Ho Chi Minh city right after a rain storm. Ho Chi Minh is well loved in Vietnam. His mausoleum is in Hanoi, and even though uncle Ho wanted to have his ashes scattered in the Northern mountains, his body was embalmed upon death by the same Russian Jewish family who embalmed Lenin, Stalin, and Mao. Every year Ho Chi Minh's body has to take a trip to Moscow for maintenance.

Vertical storefronts. Some are restaurants, some are tea houses, many proudly displaying the bright red Vietnamese flag.

A friend gave us a couple of swimming pool passes to a rooftop pool. Not a bad way to spend the last hour in this crazy, fun, and energetic megapolis. 

Something tells me that this specimen has been curing by the pool with his beer for a few decades.

After at least 20 vegetarian pho soups, 50 near collisions with the omnipresent scooters, a book full of sketches, and a lifetime worth of memories we were ready to say good bye to Vietnam. As it turned out, Vietnam was not ready to let us go. The loose page entry visa got lost out of my passport in one of many transits and the authorities decided to put us through the worst soul grinder of the Vietnamese bureaucracy to get another visa. Now it is a lot of waiting while I am sketching this pagoda next to the immigration department and hoping to make my case before the benevolent Buddha of whoever is overseeing the Vietnamese bureaucracy.