Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Ni Hao Part 3 Tian'anmen Square and Forbidden City

Tian'anmen Square  watercolor and ink by Meera Rao 

Tian'anmen is in the center of Beijing and it's name means "Gate of Heavenly Peace." It was designed and built in 1415 during Ming Dynasty. The area around it, Tian'anmen Square, was designed and built in 1651 and enlarged four times its original size in 1950s. At 109 acres, Tian'anmen Square  now is considered one of the biggest city squares in the world and is lined on four sides by the Monument to the People's Heros, The Great wall of the People, National Museum of China, and the Mausoleum of Mao Zedong - all of which we checked out from outside only. 

The square was packed with thousands and thousands of people -our guide informed us that there is a cap of about 80,000 visitors a day! Our guide expertly ushered us past the crowds and whisked us past security and ID checks. There was very heavy security and I was impressed with crowd control ! I felt really eerie to stand around the square as a tourist with the memory of the most recent massive show of military force and the resulting massacre there.  

Tian'anmen Gate Entrance to Forbidden City by Meera Rao 

The Forbidden city is a HUGE Palace complex of the Ming and Qing dynasty 1420-1912 and is now the Palace Museum. Even though it was crowded with long lines of tourists to get in, once inside the crowds got dispersed in that massive, sprawling place! The Palace Museum complex highlights the unique architecture of the palaces, beautiful gardens(only at the edges of the complex - no plants, trees inside!), colorful and decorated Temples, Royal Court Halls, art and artifacts, and Chinese history.  There are also 10 meter high walls and a moat around the complex :)  This is also an UNESCO designated World Heritage site.  

It was awesome to get a glimpse into a world of wealth and power of Emperors that was off-limits to all but a few for  over  500 years. We walked around the complex for 3-4 hours, put in over 3 miles and barely scratched the surface of things to see - especially since there are close to 9000 rooms covering  an area of 74 hectares.  I had read about Forbidden city in novels and history books, seen the complex in movies but it is absolutely impressive in person with regard to scale and imagination! 

Rows of water sprout and One Spout in detail by Meera Rao

Fantastic creatures on walls, doors, and Grills by Meera Rao 

There was no time to sketch inside the complex but  I hope to someday paint more images from this iconic place.  

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Ni Hao Part 2 Peking Opera

Peking Opera Putting on Makeup On stage ink and watercolor by Meera Rao

Peking Opera - All Made Up ink and watercolor by Meera Rao

Peking Opera 

Peking  Opera 

Table with Tea Service at Peking Opera 

Before the Peking Opera show started, an actor was on stage putting on his makeup as audience started filling up the seats.  We were served tea, Chinese cookies, sweet sesame seed bars and cherry tomatoes as we waited for the show to begin.  We watched two stories - one was a simple folk tale about a poor girl finding a jade bangle and the other told  of a young lady warrior who fought off a invaders to her village.  There was a live orchestra on the side and the actors sang their parts.  The costumes of the warriors were very elaborate and there were some acrobatics in battle scenes while the folk tale was simple story with minimal props.  There was a screen on the side with 'chinglish' translations that brought chuckles and giggles :)   We never saw the actor who got dressed on stage earlier show up on stage during the show!  Even though the Peking Opera did not live up to the write up it was a novelty and we had a fun evening. 

Friday, May 4, 2018

Ni Hao part 1

Cover page-China sketchbook by Meera Rao April 2018 

I just returned from a wonderful two weeks trip to China.  Sometimes while on location but mostly at night in the hotel room if I was not too exhausted after a long day of sight seeing, or in airports, planes,  I sketched my impressions in a small 5.5x3.5" Stillman & Birn Beta series softcover mixed media sketch book finishing many of them after my return. I shot hundreds of photos with my iPhone to capture the trip and bolster my memories.  Neither the photos nor sketches do justice but I am very pleased that I have  my own 52 page travelogue :)

Sketch of Map showing places visited  By Meera Rao 

After a much delayed but non-stop flight from DC we reached Beijing late in the evening. We were met at the airport by John, our tour guide for Beijing and drove to the hotel. The gridlocked traffic, the models of the vehicles, and the highway from airport to hotel rivaled any from major US or European city - only the signs in Chinese reminded us where we were! Our guide 'John' gave us a running commentary on the history, geography and notable buildings along the way. 

Our first priority once we checked in, met our travelmates -my Brother-law and his wife,  was getting dinner at a nearby very modern U-Town Shopping Mall food court where most of the places were already closed or closing down for the day. The US franchise 'Subway' had not yet closed and was the best option for hungry and tired vegetarians and vegans not quite ready for  deciphering Chinese menus of the couple of noodle shops that were still open :) Our feat for the day was trying out the ATM for exchanging dollars - 6.2 Yuans for a dollar at the Bank of China machine. The official name for the currency is Renminbi, which literally translates to People's Currency and is abbreviated to RMB. The widespread international usage is Yuan, which is abbreviated to CNY.

Cup of Tea 

Breakfast buffet bars at the hotel restaurants were a feast for the eyes and stomach with table after table of dishes from both Chinese and western cuisines.  I loved the traditional Chinese plain rice  congee (similar to Indian ganjee that I grew up on) on which I heaped on vegetables, beans, nuts and dried fruits and a teaspoon of red chili paste :) There were breakfast noodles and dumplings that I learned to check for meat by asking 'Bu Chi Rou? Bu chi yu ? ' (no meat? no fish?) The waiters and Chefs were amused but helpful. Of course, there was plenty of tea - green, jasmine, oolong, Pu er. and black. And so many fruits - dragon fruits, mangoes, lychee and some Chinese native berries whose names I could not find out along with different melons, oranges, kumquats and apples.  Everything and everyone in China has a Chinese name and an English name. Every hotel gave us a card that said 'Please take me to _" with the Chinese name and address of the hotel written in Chinese and English to aid us in getting back when we went exploring on our own - to show taxi drivers or helpful locals! 

Great Wall of China at Badaling  ink and watercolor 11x3.5" by Meera Rao 

With just the four of us, the driver and our guide John piled into a Buick mini van, we drove over an hour or two to Badaling - to see, climb and walk on a small part of the Great wall of China.  The drive through the city of Beijing with its modern highrises and sky scrappers and then the Chinese country side was captivating.  Spring was in the air with the hillsides all dotted with white and pink blooming trees and fresh green leaves just showing up on bare trees. The streets and neighborhoods spic and span - free of any garbage with cleaners constantly cleaning. Throughout we peppered John with questions as he gave us more history and factoids. 

We caught sight of The Wall here and there snaking along our route.  The gate to the entrance to the wall at Badaling was beautifully ornate with brightly colored designs.  The place was teeming  with thousands and thousands of visitors- mostly Chinese.  It was indeed awesome to climb up the steep stairs and walk on a portion of the wall - quite steep as well! It was not easy to hang on and keep our balance climbing up or walking down. When we came to an especially steep part, mindful of my recently healed sprained ankles, I opted to stay back to sketch the wall while three of them went on to climb the higher section. It was exciting to draw on location at the wall and I think I overworked the sketch!  I had many people stop,  check and give me thumbs up :) "You draw -you see"said an elderly man with approval as he stopped to check. I did not attempt to draw any people on my wall though!

Motifs on the entrance Gate to Great wall by Meera Rao

Motifs on the entrance Gate to Great wall by Meera Rao

 Below are sketches I did while killing time during the 3+hours delay at Dulles International at the start of the trip.

Sketches At theAirport April 2018

Sunday, April 22, 2018

In A Fog

In a Fog casein  7x9.5" by Meera Rao 

"One of the things I like about music is, it is an abstract art,
 totally abstract, where you can convey an emotion 
which I find amazing" 
~Bernard  Sumner~

I loved working in casein, teasing out emotions from its unique texture. Trying out new mediums and styles is simultaneously very exciting and unsettling for me. But then, it is also the same mixing bowl of emotions I find myself in as I paint, draw, and sketch everyday- the joy, the uncertainty, the fear, the expectation. And always wondering, worrying if I stopped too early or went on on too long ! Amazingly though I find my self fully immersed and lost in the process of creating. That is totally satisfying :)  

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Explorations and Expressions

Abstract watercolor  4x6" by Meera Rao

In 'Art and Fear' the authors David Bayles and Ted Orland write : "The dilemma every artist confronts, again and again, is when to stick with familiar tools and materials, and when to reach out and embrace those that offer new possibilities"   They then conclude:  " In time exploration gives way to expression"  And I find that I thrive on explorations.  I love the journey that the different paths - the various materials, methods and styles take me on.  When I am working without being trapped by a desire for perfection, I discover a different expression of my art. As I proceed on this long journey I strive to find the right balance :) 

This art work is available at the fundraiser auction  Maury at the Market  for Maury Elementary School in Washington DC.  Mobile bidding: April 13-19; Live and Silent Auction on April 21 at Eastern Market, North Hall. 

"Life is short, art long, opportunity fleeting,
experience treacherous, judgement difficult"

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Haiku In Red

Haiku in Red  watercolor by Meera Rao 

colors burst swirl spill 
flow in harmony 
splash a visual poetry

~Meera Rao~

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

To Color Or Not To Color

Trying background colors for sketches by MeeraRao 

'Sketching is a continuous source of learning 
rather than a string of performances'
~Paul Laseau~

I wanted to jazz-up the sketches I did a few days ago and decided to just color-in the background with a single color to give it a more finished look.  Below are 'before' sketches.  I still am not sure what to think of this experiment ! 

'Before'  sketches 

'Drawing is putting a line around an idea.'
~Henri Matisse~

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Sketching on the Go

Unisphere, Queens NY watercolor and pen sketch 5x7" by Meera Rao 

It was a beautiful sunny day after the snowfall from the first day of spring Nor'easter.  But it was too cold  for me to sketch outside so I resorted to taking photos with my phone and did this much later.  I plan to paint another larger one that has big vast  sky and smaller Unisphere because thats what I was attracted to in the first place. 

I recently bought Escoda Versatil #8  and a set of unknown brand #4,8,12 synthetic sable (this is a set that also came with a bamboo brush holder that was a surprise! ) watercolor travel brushes that I am very happy with.  I have ruined a couple of brushes that were in my travel kit when I lost the plastic brush protectors very early on and wanted these brushes whose caps act as long handles when screwed on :)  I still like my waterbrushes best for sketching away from home - no water containers to juggle!

Coffee Shop  Queens NY watercolor sketch 4x6"by Meera Rao 

I think this is my first sketch in a coffee shop with pen and ink and watercolor --the whole deal with no pencil sketches at all!! I realized too late the gel pen is not waterproof. It took me about 30 minutes or so to finish the sketch. I also sketched the barista on my Sketchclub app - will have to pull it out of the app one of these days :) 

Subway Commute  NY,  Gelpen 4x6" sketch by Meera Rao 

On our way to the Unisphere and the Queen's museum I sketched these two fellow passengers. This was a breakthrough for me to sketch in pen, in public and complete it before my stop came - about 15 mins or so.  I always hesitate to sketch people openly in public as I am not sure how I would feel about being sketched by someone ! But I think I am seeing the benefits of those #oneweek100people challenge - I am a bit more faster and confident in committing to mark making.  Working on more polished look of the pages is my next goal.

I have been doing more sketching these days because all the traveling means not been much studio painting time.  Hoping all this practice will show up when I take up my regular brushes again! 

Friday, March 16, 2018

More #0neweek100people

Day 5 #oneweek100people by Meera Rao

Day 5 #oneweek100people by Meera Rao

So, I did it :) Sketched 100 people in one week - rather 7days!  On day 5 I had time to pull out my watercolors and paint the people freehand without pencil sketching them. I had done 50 by day 5 but had to put it aside and wait a couple of days before I could finish the rest. The ones below were done mostly in airports during a trip this past weekend.  I am especially tickled with them as they were all done in pen in my little (5x3") sketchbook - except the last batch of ten. No safety net of going for the eraser and I could not toss the ones that did not cut the mustard.  I learned to sketch fast, remember features or poses as my subjects were not always sitting or still :) Now I want to experiment with more color, brushes  and not just fine line pens. 

Day 6 #oneweek100people by Meera Rao

Day 6 #oneweek100people by Meera Rao

Day6 #oneweek100people by Meera Rao

Day6 #oneweek100people by Meera Rao

Day 7 #oneweek100people by Meera Rao

Day 6 #oneweek100people by Meera Rao

Day 7 #oneweek100people by Meera Rao
Day 7 #oneweek100people by Meera Rao 

Thursday, March 8, 2018


Lady Water Bugs  #oneweek100people Day 3  3-7-2018

I am trying to squeeze in time to sketch people this week.  Yesterday was day 3.  I returned from helping out with the water testing and did a quick sketch of my fellow volunteers :) 

International Women's Day #oneweek100people Day 4  3-8-2018

As today is International Women's day I decided to do a quick sketch of some notable women for day 4.  Hoping I will get some time later today to do more. 

At a Book Talk #oneweek100people Day 2  3-6-2018

At a Book Talk #oneweek100people Day 2  3-6-2018

On Day 2, I was at a Book Talk and sketched a few people from the audience.  The room was quite dark and it was challenge to see what I was sketching! 

At the Dentist Office  #oneweek100people Day 2  3-6-2018

At the Dentist's I tried to memorize the scene as I my teeth were being cleaned :) I surreptitiously took a photo in the waiting room and did the sketches at home from blurry pic -- and took my liberties with the colors ! 
At the Gym  #oneweek100people Day 1  3-6-2018
At the Gym  #oneweek100people Day 1  3-6-2018

As I worked out at the gym on day 1, I watched intensly and tried to commit to memory the scene before me. Again, I had a blurry photo to help out with some details as I sketched later at home. 

Watching Oscars -warm up for #oneweek100people   3-6-2018

So far I only have 29 sketches plus five I did as warm up watching the Oscars for an hour or so.  So this year it has been slow and I might have to take a few extra days to sketch 100 people! Anyway, I am sketching something every day :) 
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