Back on home turf, quite literally, I was moved to try and capture the springtime beauty of the apple blossom on the tree in my mum and dad’s back garden.
Next stop Kolkata, West Bengal (3 hour taxi from Khajuraho to Satna then 20 hours on the train to Howrah Station), which we approached with some trepidation.
For a huge city it was, however, a revelation: friendly, fairly relaxed, fairly clean, really beautiful and easy to negotiate on foot.
With cheap, delicious street food to boot; Kolkata is famous for kati rolls – egg dipped flat breads which are fried and rolled around the tasty filling of your choice.
We passed a few fun days wandering around the Park Street neighbourhood, exploring the city’s green spaces and crossing the Hooghly River by ferry.
Our next target destination was Darjeeling the famous tea town. I had a romantic idea of Darjeeling – quaint and charming, nestling up there in the Himalayan foothills and the opportunity to arrive there in the heritage ‘toy train’ was irresistible.
We flew to Bagdogra, spent the night in Siliguri and the next morning promptly arrived at New Jalpaiguri Station for the advertised 8:30am departure of the Darjeeling Himalayan Railway service from the narrow gauge platform.
At least an hour late, the tiny engine pulled up with three little carriages in tow. It took at least another half hour for the engineers to prepare the train for the trip up the mountain.
The journey (scheduled to take seven hours in total) was indeed picturesque; the little train pluckily chugged upwards taking several fascinating ‘z reverses’ to accommodate the incline.
Then, 15km short of Darjeeling a piece of the engine fell off, the train stopped and it became apparent that we would have to make our own arrangements to finish the journey by road.
Luckily, at dusk, after an hour or so of flagging down vehicles with little or no space for hitchers the lovely man (second right) in the photo above pulled over. He breezily packed us and our new German friends and all our luggage into his warm, comfy car and expertly drove us the hour to town.
The first first thing that struck me was the cold. A see your breath in the house cold. A wear all your clothes in layers, in bed, cold. Luckily our homestay host provided a heater and hot water bottles and the view of Kangchenjunga from the balcony (at 6am before the clouds rose) was stunning.
The food was fabulous too, inspiring me to immortalise this delicious and typical Indian breakfast of puri sabji. The puri are fried flat breads which puff up and are chewy and crispy at the same time. Sabji or sabzi is the generic word for cooked vegetables, usually in some sort of gravy.
We met up with our new German friends in a local Tibetan style restaurant to reminisce about our toy train misadventure and feast on momo and wanton (both dumplings)…a meal so delicious I was again inspired to capture it in paint.
Of course we drank some excellent tea in Darjeeling too and took the obligatory tour around the Happy Valley tea factory. But Darjeeling is not the charming hill station town of my imagination; it has a few pretty parts but is generally damp and dank, congested with traffic which makes the air foul with fumes and suffers from cascades of rubbish dumped down its sprawling labyrinth of terraces.
We spent our last Darjeeling days at another homestay, the beautiful Little Singamari and were treated to yet more fantastic home cooking.
This is a fantasy amalgamation of my favourite dishes cooked by Ramila, our hostess.
We set off for a few days in Kolbong and stayed on an idyllic organic farm. The two hour jeep ride to reach the farm was a bit of a roller coaster ride, one local lady promptly threw up as soon as she exited the jeep at her stop.
Luckily the driver made a slight detour for us so that we didn’t have to drag our luggage up the last kilometre of track to the farm.
The weather was warmer, the air cleaner, all our food was home cooked, mostly homegrown and organic. Our hosts were delightful but could only accommodate us for a few days as they were busy with another project. It was hard to leave.
We decided to head for Kalimpong, a chilled out town with a similar climate to Kolbong where we could wait for the weather to warm up before we set off to explore higher altitudes without freezing.
We both succumbed to bugs, one respiratory and one gastrointestinal, nothing major but enough to make us grind to a halt. Luckily we were in safe, comfy accommodation with a nice view…a good place for rest and recuperation.
I was inspired by the gorgeously bright colours used to paint the murals in the prayer rooms at two of Kalimpong’s Buddhist monasteries when I made this portrait of Rob. I also love the way they include the cloud and flower motifs. Kalimpong is well known for its orchid nurseries hence my choice of flower.
My lovely friend Amalia (herself a talented watercolourist) asked me to design and paint a mural for the back room in her Vejer pharmacy which she is renovating.
The room has an impressive archway and will be used as a venue for workshops on health related matters such as diabetes, pre- and post-natal care and managing stress through yoga and meditation.
Amalia’s brief for the mural was that it should include plants and impart a sense of harmony and tranquility.
I selected various plants with tranquililising properties during a web search, printed photos and set about developing drawings in my sketchbook.
I came up with two options for the mural; one using the arch as a frame for a botanical drawing of an entire valerian plant
the other embelleshing the arch itself with a more stylised arrangement of kava, valerian, passionflower and chamomile.
Amalia selected the second option which I then developed into a more detailed drawing (below).
I drew just the left half of the design in detail. I then photographed it and used Photoshop to duplicate and flip it to create a mirror image. I printed out the drawing and packed it in my suitcase in readiness for my trip to Vejer.
Being faced with the actual wall was quite daunting at first, I had to be up and down a ladder to gain proper perspective as I worked which took its toll on my neck and ankles!
I drew the left side of the mural onto the wall in pencil. When I was happy with the layout I traced it in sections, flipping each one over so that I could copy the mirror image to the right side of the arch.
I painted the white parts first; then came the colour…I made a chart as a mixing guide.
Using the grey-green wall colour as a base I added tiny amounts of acrylic paint to get all the subtle shades required to colour the mural.
The mural is certainly subtle and elegant and has been received very generously.
The pale colours do make it difficult to photograph the entire mural well however, so here are some details:
I recently finished painting one of my plane tree patterns on a wall plastered with mud in my friends’ straw bale house.
Simple lines in white emulsion paint are very effective on the beautifully coloured and textured mud, which still has straw poking through it in some places
This is the digital version of the design, you can see its evolution here in one of my previous posts
About seven years ago I painted the mural below in the same house, also on a wall plastered with mud, it was then visible in the main living space.
They’ve since built the new internal mud plastered wall to create another room for their expanded family so the first mural is hidden inside the new bedroom.
I enjoyed the whole experience of painting in white on mud so much (and I’m also a bit vain and missed seeing my art work from the living room) so it was lucky that my friends happily agreed to my proposal to paint a mural on the new wall and we settled on a theme of leaves.
This is the bare mud wall
I made this plan for the mural in Photoshop, using the cut out, inverted line work of my original pattern
I then ‘Photoshopped’ it to the photograph of the bare wall to check on the layout before transferring the design to the wall
I started by projecting the image onto the wall and drawing the outline in white pencil but ran into technical difficulties with the electrical equipment. I had to resort to plan B which meant tracing the pattern using chalk on the reverse surface of a printed template and then penciling over the chalk lines, which was far more messy and time consuming but ultimately effective.
This is a detail of the pencil drawing
Here is the partially completed mural
and a head on view of the completed mural without the added domestic decoration
This was a really enjoyable project, completed in many short sessions over a period of several months, combined with delicious lunch visits to my lovely friends.
It also fulfilled my ambition to complete a painted version of one of my digitally designed patterns on a real life wall.