Artwork in India (11) – Sikkim

banana, banana split, banana plant, ice-cream, watercolour, watercolor, pen and wash, watercolour portrait, portrait, painting, drawing, sketchbook, food illustration, illustration, travel blog, travel illustration

The inspiration for this watercolour portrait / food illustration actually originated in Kalimpong, West Bengal but since I completed the painting in Sikkim here it sits.

Of course our travel plans for Sikkim originated in Kalimpong too. While we were waiting for the unusually long winter to turn to spring we’d both finished reading PG Tenzing’s very entertaining account of his Royal Enfield motorcycle trip around India ‘Don’t Ask Any Old Bloke For Directions’. Rob wanted to go and see Gurudongmar Lake, the highest in the world – a sight which had moved Mr Tenzing to tears.

A bit of research into the permits required by foreigners wishing to explore Sikkim revealed that that would not be possible; the farthest north we were allowed, even with a restricted area permit, would be Zero Point – some 15km south of Gurudongmar.

Armed with warm coats, half a dozen passport photos each and the same number of passport and visa photocopies we left Kalimpong in a shared jeep (having purchased two seats apiece for the sake of comfort). We disembarked an hour or so later in Rangpo, the closest Sikkimese border town.

 It took about half an hour to swap some photos and photocopies for an inner line permit which granted us permission to stay in Sikkim for two weeks.

Sikkim was an independent kingdom until 1975 when it became part of India. It is bordered by Nepal to the west and by Tibet to the North and East. China’s invasion of Tibet has made those borders extremely sensitive so access is carefully monitored.

We continued our journey from Rangpo to Gangtok, the Sikkimese capital, in another shared jeep; the vehicles were lined up and waiting for passengers in the market square, a short walk from the foreigner’s permit office.

gangtok, sikkim, sky, clouds, mountains

No smoking, no spitting, no cows, no dogs, no littering. Such are the rules in Gangtok and the benefits are palpable. It’s the cleanest and calmest city we visited and seemed very well off too. Of course we disregarded the no smoking rule but only in secluded places.

gangtok, sikkim, travel blog, travel photography, rumtek monastery, buddhist, monastery, chorten monastery, banjhakri waterfall, west sikkim

We took the advice of the guesthouse owner and booked three tours; handing over all the remaining photos and photocopies to get the required permits. We explored the area around Gangtok on our first day, visiting the beautiful Rumtek and Chorten Buddhist monasteries, and the Banjhakri waterfall, which is touristy but lovely nevertheless.

tsomgo lake, frozen lake, west sikkim, sikkim, india, ice, yaks, prayer flags

The following day we took a six hour round trip with a driver and a guide to the frozen lake at Tsomgo. Complete with yaks, snow fall, stunning mountain views, a trip in a cable car and stops for steaming tea and momos – it was a glorious day out. 

lachung, lachung valley, himalayas, mountains, sikkim, north sikkim, india, travel photography, travel blog, wanderlust

Our third tour was only three days and two nights long but it felt like an epic adventure. Again we had a driver and a guide (above centre) who made the six hour journey up to Lachung very comfortable. We made several stops to admire waterfalls, drink chai and make use of roadside toilet facilities – 5 rupees for a pee, 10 for a poo!

We passed through a couple of military checkpoints, each beside big army camps, where our permits were inspected and our details noted. 

The Lanchung Valley is absolutely stunning; with little farm cottages nestled on plateaus between huge mountains above and cliff drop waterfalls down to the Teester River bellow…billowing clouds gave it a timeless, mystical air. Enchanting.

lachung valley, lachung, sikkim, north sikkim, india, travel illustration, pen and wash, watercolour, watercolor, painting, sketchbook, mountains, valley, springtime

We stayed in a little wooden cabin with a balcony overlooking the valley (view above) and were provided with a very efficient heater and plentiful, simple food.

It was dusk and raining when we arrived (a delightful sound on a cabin roof) so the snow capped mountain view that greeted us at dawn was hugely exciting if not totally unexpected.

We were a bit surprised that we had to be supervised if we wanted to leave the property grounds, even for a stroll around the tiny village.

The following morning we took a trip as far up north as the recent avalanche allowed. Nature trumped our Yumthang Valley permit, the road was well and truly blocked and the clearance effort would take several days to open it again. 

A friend looked up our location on Google Earth and sent it by WhatsApp…we may have been way out in the sticks but the telecommunications were 21st century!

We returned to Gangtok elated by the mountain views and took a few days rest before leaving Sikkim by jeep; handing in our permit at the Rangpo office before we re-entered West Bengal.

 

Artwork in India (10) – West Bengal

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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.

kolkata, calcutta, city, west bengal, india, travel blog, travel photography, street food, taxi, howrah station, eden gardens, hooghly river, wanderlust

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.

darjeeling himalayan railway, heritage train, indian railway, himalayan foothills, narrow gauge, break down

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.

darjeeling himalayan railway, toy train, heritage railway, indian railway, route map

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.

hitchhikers, darjeeling, west bengal, india, travel blog

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.

himalayas, mountains, kangchenjunga, darjeeling, west bengal, india, travel blog, travel photography, wanderlust

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.

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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.

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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.

darjeeling, west bengal, india, travel photography, travel blog, prayer flags, market, hill station

We spent our last Darjeeling days at another homestay, the beautiful Little Singamari and were treated to yet more fantastic home cooking.

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This is a fantasy amalgamation of my favourite dishes cooked by Ramila, our hostess.  

kolbong, west bengal, india, karmi farm, farmstay, orchids, goats, pigs, organic farm, countryside, travel photography, travel blog, prayer flags

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.

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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.

kalimpong, west bengal, india, buddhist monastery, himalayan foothills, prayer flags, river teesta, mountain view, travel blog, travel photography, wanderlust

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.

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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.

Artwork in India (2) – Udaipur Workaway

 

udaipur, rajasthan, india, guide, guided, walk, old town, market, workaway

This is Rama, I just spent a few days staying with her and her family in Udaipur, a beautiful lakeside city in Rajasthan, India.

I contacted Rama through Workaway, an organisation that puts travelers in touch with a worldwide network of hosts who offer food and accommodation in exchange for a few hours work per day.

Although I’d known about Workaway for many years (having lived in the same Spanish town as its British inventor and many of the support team) this was my first Workaway post.

I was keen to volunteer with Rama because I wanted the opportunity to go off the standard tourist trail, stay with an Indian family and meet some of the overlooked and excluded members of their community.

This is how Rama describes her project:

“I run a project with the goal to spread happiness in local communities in my wonderful city, Udaipur. Everyone wants to be happy but unfortunately not everybody is. That’s why I’m trying to find different ways to help and spread happiness across the towns and villages in India.

Everytime I talk to the poor children, the homeless and elderly and those of ill health, I feel that they have so little in the way of possessions or wealth or status or perhaps even physical strength, and yet they have so much love to give. I started to spend more time with different local communities, I began to share with them, and they too, began to share with me. 

I work with a great variety of individuals and larger communities – with orphaned and homeless children, with rag-pickers, with tribal girls, women who suffer domestic abuse, children with physical and emotional difficulties, and with the elderly.

I feel that elderly people have so much life experience and so much to give, but sadly once they become old, nobody wants to interact with them or give them attention. They are pushed aside and forgotten. But I believe these people deserve our love and compassion, and I would like to bring happiness to them, through creativity and positive engagement. 

In the early morning the rag pickers collect garbage from the streets. They work long hours and in poor conditions but they are not respected or acknowledged for their work. They live together, in communities, and I visit their homes, or community halls, and play games with the children.
We talk and listen to each other, laugh together, we share our life experiences and we help one another. 

hopscotch, ragpickers, children, udaipur, happiness project, community, workaway, volunteer

I believe this is a two way process. We have much to bring to these communities, just as they too have much to offer us in the way of learning and compassion. I think its important to create an atmosphere of positive energy, of laughter, of sharing and of happiness. Because creativity, support and love are so good for healing any sadness, pain or frustration we can experience in life. Some scientific research shows that the level of creativity in children is much lower than what it was before. There is a lot of reasons for that, but there are also solutions. 

Through this project, I want to provide some kind of simple service in the way that I want to share every kind of knowledge or skills I have. I also invite you to come and work alongside me, sharing (whatever) skills you have – whether you are an artist, a musician, a crafts person, a teacher, a film maker or even a web designer. Any creative skills, circus skills, food skills, teaching skills, story telling skills, farming skills, listening skills, or simply a good open heart! 
I am grateful and open to all types of ideas and contributions!

I really look forward to hearing from you and finding news ways in which, together, we can create and share a little bit of happiness around the world!”

Here’s the link to Rama’s Udaipur Happiness Project on Facebook.

I went twice with Rama to visit the children – they’re delightful; lively, funny, friendly, cheeky and clever. They were really into hopscotch and the hokey-cokey (which they learnt from another English volunteer).

hopscotch, ragpickers, children, udaipur, happiness project, community, workaway, volunteer

The love and respect that the children and their families have for Rama was palpable – it was a privilege to be included in that warmth.

ragpickers, children, udaipur, happiness project, community, workaway, volunteer

We also went to visit a group of women who had suffered domestic abuse; they live in secure accommodation with their children, one little boy was born on a train.

Once again we were made very welcome although a couple of them were too shy to share their names. We did some stretching exercises on the lawn after another enthusiastic hokey-cokey session.

Rama and her family gave me such a warm welcome despite their profound grief at the recent loss of their beloved father, known as Papa, by all accounts a peaceful, dignified, happy and generous man.

Papa was enormously impressed by his middle daughter’s hard work and community spirit. Despite his initial misgivings when Rama, as a teenager, insisted on being treated the same as her two younger brothers – she identified with them equally if not more than with her two older sisters – he came to regard her as his teacher with respect to women’s rights.

My domestic duties involved washing up (no hot water let alone a dishwasher) and chopping vegetables (lots of onions and green chillies) which Rama or her older sister (and occaisionally their mother and younger brother) expertly turned into delicious spiced up dishes while creating huge piles of chapattis on the side. 

I was told more than once how lucky I am to have been born a woman in the UK. 

workaway, father, papa, pencil, drawing, portrait, gift, remember

I drew this pencil portrait of Rama’s Papa from a photo and it’s now framed in Papa’s room; Rama says seeing his smile every day gives her consolation and inspiration.

One of Papa’s mottos was “always be big-hearted”. Rama, a brave, strong pioneer of equal rights in a country where most people abide by rigid patriarchal and class rules is certainly a living embodiment of that.

sugar cane juice, rama, guided walk, udaipur, market, rajasthan, india

Rama used to visit the old city market with her Papa, preferring to support the local economy by buying fresh goods directly from the producers rather than shopping in supermarkets.

repair man, rama, guided walk, udaipur, market, rajasthan, India

Rama developed the route into a guided walk which I took with her one hot afternoon.

This is the link to Rama’s guided Udaipur city walk on Facebook

vegetables, guided walk, udaipur, market, rajasthan, India

We went there and back in a packed shared auto, an adventure in itself – I counted 12 passengers in the little rickshaw van at one point.

spices, rama, guided walk, udaipur, market, rajasthan, India

The market is a beautiful labyrinth of tiny colourful shops divided into categories: sweets, snacks, kitchenware, fruit and veg, grains and spices. So much to see, smell and taste.

haveli, rama, guided walk, udaipur, market, rajasthan, india

We also stepped back in time through the doors of a delightfully disheveled 300 year old haveli.

haveli, rama, guided walk, udaipur, market, rajasthan, india

All in all a wonderful, eye-opening and unforgettable experience and a reminder never to take white privilege and western women’s relative emancipation for granted.

Thank you Rama, you are so big-hearted, keep up your good works.

Artwork in India (1) – Udaipur

new delhi, railway, station, train, overnight, journey, sketch, sketching, sketchbook, illustration, travel, figures, platform

I got to the train station in New Delhi early with the intention to draw. It was a little overwhelming but a kind man insisted that I sit on his blanket with him and his son which made drawing more comfortable. My train to Udaipur left bang on time at 7pm and I had a good 12 hour journey in a bunked sleeping compartment.

udaipur, lakeside, lake pichola, rajasthan, India, pen and watercolour, painting, sketching, sketch, sketchbook, rooftop, moustache hostel, hanuman gat

This is the view across Lake Pichola from the roof of the Moustache Hostel in Udaipur. Rajasthanis have famously luxurious facial hair, hence the name of the hostel. 

wall painting, artist at work, stencil, cockerel, rooster, mural, acrylic paint, surface decoration, illustration, decoration, birds

The hostel had lots of wallpaintings left by many guests so I offered them some cockerels…

wall painting, artist at work, stencil, cockerel, rooster, mural, acrylic paint, surface decoration, illustration, decoration, birds

They then asked me to paint something in the space above the birds so I drew a design in my sketchbook inspired by a beautiful cow I’d seen on my first morning walk through the city.

holy, cow, sacred cow, holy cow, pen, watercolour, drawing, painting, watercolor, sketchbook, travel, India, rajasthan, udaipur, marigoldsAnd then transferred it to the wall (below) 

holy cow, cow, mural, wall painting, wall art, detail, nose, acrylic paint, emulsion paint, decoration, illustration, surface decoration, decorative painting, artwork, india, rajasthan, udaipur, moustache hostel, travel

Painting in the reception area was a great way to meet people, and the cow and cockerels got a very warm welcome.

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hanuman, monkey, god, temple, udaipur, rajasthan, hindu, india, pen, watercolour, sketch, sketchbook, painting, travel, illustration, drawing

Here’s a pen and watercolour sketch I made at a little Hanuman temple in the street. The lady selling flowers next door kindly lent me a stool to sit on while I drew.

portrait, pencil, graphite, drawing, Indian, man, moustache, beard, rajasthani, moustache hostel, udaipur, India, travel, illustration

This is Yogesh, one of the Moustache Hostel team. He asked me to draw his portrait so I worked in pencil from a photo.

udaipur, rajasthan, india, pen, sketch, lady, sari, cafe, illustration, travel

And here’s a quick pen sketch I made of a lady wearing a sari while she sat in a lakeside cafĂ©. I’m sure she twigged that I was drawing her, she didn’t seem to mind but she did leave before I had a chance to add colour.

All in all a very enjoyable and creative first week here in India. I’m leaving the Moustache Hostel today to go and spend a few days with an Indian family here in Udaipur. 

udaipur, lake, rajasthan, India

Wedding Card Portraits

Two of my lovliest friends tied the knot in London earlier this summer, so I made them a wedding card featuring a joint portrait.wedding, card, portrait, gay wedding, celebration, heart, rainbow, digital, illsutration

First I trawled through their Facebook albums for a suitable photo from which I drew a simple outline of each of them in pencil (below).

I made two separate drawings so that I could experiment with the joint portrait composition.wedding, card, portrait, couple, gay, marriage, greetings card, congratulations, rainbow, joint portrait, couple, happy couple, wedding day, celebration, nuptuals, digital, illustration, pencil, drawing, outline, photoshop, layers, highlights, sunglasses wedding, card, portrait, couple, gay, marriage, greetings card, congratulations, rainbow, joint portrait, couple, happy couple, wedding day, celebration, nuptuals, digital, illustration, pencil, drawing, outline, photoshop, layers, highlights, sunglasses

Having photographed my pencil outlines and uploaded them into Photoshop there was a space where an ear should’ve been so I went back to the drawing board and invented one.

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wedding, card, portrait, couple, gay, marriage, greetings card, congratulations, rainbow, joint portrait, couple, happy couple, wedding day, celebration, nuptuals, digital, illustration, pencil, drawing, outline, photoshop, layers, highlights, sunglasses

Having settled on the composition I ‘cut out’ and tidied up the line work in Photoshop (above).

wedding, card, portrait, couple, gay, marriage, greetings card, congratulations, rainbow, joint portrait, couple, happy couple, wedding day, celebration, nuptuals, digital, illustration, pencil, drawing, outline, photoshop, layers, highlights, sunglasses

Working in layers I collaged the coloured elements, starting with the rainbow sunglasses (above). I found the generic rainbow and heart images from a google image search.

wedding, card, portrait, couple, gay, marriage, greetings card, congratulations, rainbow, joint portrait, couple, happy couple, wedding day, celebration, nuptuals, digital, illustration, pencil, drawing, outline, photoshop, layers, highlights, sunglasses

I block coloured the skin, hair and background with the paint brush / bucket tool. 

To add a little shaddow and depth I duplicated the line work layer twice, off-setting each new layer very slightly in different directions and setting the blending mode to overlay.

wedding, card, portrait, couple, gay, marriage, greetings card, congratulations, rainbow, joint portrait, couple, happy couple, wedding day, celebration, nuptuals, digital, illustration, pencil, drawing, outline, photoshop, layers, highlights, sunglasses

On separate layers I used the brush tool at 0% hardness to add the skin highlights (white, 100% opacity, blending mode soft light), hair sheen (flesh tone, 100% opacity, blending mode normal) and darker skin tone (pink, 18% opacity, blending mode normal).

I used the star pattern in the brush tool (white, size 600 approx, blending mode screen) to add the glint on the sunglasses in two layers.

wedding, card, portrait, couple, gay, marriage, greetings card, congratulations, rainbow, joint portrait, couple, happy couple, wedding day, celebration, nuptuals, digital, illustration, pencil, drawing, outline, photoshop, layers, highlights, sunglasses

The final touches were the extra heart layer to pep up the background (white, 100% opacity, soft light blending mode); the text (white, 100% opacity, blending mode normal) with an offset layer behind it (white, 70% opacity, blending mode overlay) and the white glints on the text (same as for the glasses).

wedding, card, portrait, couple, gay, marriage, greetings card, congratulations, rainbow, joint portrait, couple, happy couple, wedding day, celebration, nuptuals, digital, illustration, pencil, drawing, outline, photoshop, layers, highlights, sunglasses

I was chuffed to bits when the grooms told me that they loved the image so much that they wanted to use it as their post-wedding thank you card.
wedding, card, portrait, couple, gay, marriage, greetings card, congratulations, rainbow, joint portrait, couple, happy couple, wedding day, celebration, nuptuals, digital, illustration, pencil, drawing, outline, photoshop, layers, highlights, sunglasses

I sent them a couple of alternative colourways and their printer did the honours!

And here they are, the gorgeous couple (above) and surrounded by their friends and family on the glorious day (below).

Freddie – Portrait of a Baby

fred, freddie, birthday, baby, portrait, boy, drawing, illustration, gift, pencil, digital print, photoshop, hope, boy, child, face, instagram

My friends recently celebrated the first birthday of their delightful grandson Fred and very kindly invited me to the party. I decided to make a portrait to commemorate the event.

Freddie is already a star on Instagram so I chose my favourite photo of him from his mum’s gallery – it has something of the sage about it – and made a series of simple pencil drawings until I was happy that the outline did the handsome little chap justice.

fred, freddie, birthday, baby, portrait, boy, drawing, illustration, gift, pencil, digital print, photoshop, hope, boy, child, face, instagram

I then uploaded a photograph of the drawing into Photoshop, cleaned up the linework and started playing about with classic pop art parodies.
warhol, parody, fred, freddie, birthday, baby, portrait, boy, drawing, illustration, gift, pencil, digital print, photoshop, hope, boy, child, face, instagram

 

The first version was an Andy Warhol style set of four coloured squares, but I found it too busy….

fred, freddie, birthday, baby, portrait, boy, drawing, illustration, gift, pencil, digital print, photoshop, hope, boy, child, face, instagram

 

 

so I simplified it and made the colours more muted

 

 

Then I thought I’d have a go at a version of the Obama Hope poster by Shepard Fairey

fred, freddie, birthday, baby, portrait, boy, drawing, illustration, gift, pencil, digital print, photoshop, hope, boy, child, face, instagram

I got both versions (above and top) printed, popped them into frames and gift wrapped them; they seemed to be received rather well.

Happy birthday Freddie – you lovely boy! xx

Portrait of a Lady

charcoal, portrait, nude, woman, photographer, drawing

I was delighted to be asked to make this charcoal portrait of a photographer taking a photograph of a photographer. 

I worked from a photograph…

charcoal, portrait, nude, woman, photographer, drawing

…the stages are shown above.

charcoal, portrait, nude, woman, photographer, drawing

And here she is resplendent in a frame. 

Stickers!

moo, stickers, illustration, digital printing, cake, cockerel, rooster, angry woman, portrait

Moo.com had a sale on so I couldn’t resist ordering a set of stickers emblazoned with my ‘circle-friendliest’ designs.

moo, stickers, illustration, digital printing, cake, cockerel, rooster, angry woman, portrait

Yay! As they say in the world of Moo…stick ’em up!