Friday, 28 October 2016

Sketching, Sketching, Sketching...

Here are a few more of the sketches I did while in Beijing. Yes, I know, you're fed up with hearing about China now, but I just wanted to show you these last few sketches before shutting up about it.

On my last day, I got up really early and visited another park. It ran alongside a river, so you got a good uninterrupted view across the water to the skyscrapers of central Beijing. It was quite misty, as it was another 'pollution day'.

There is a lot of life in Chinese parks at 7.30am. I found a man practising his calligraphy. there was a low wall which ran throughout the park. He painted on it in water. The beautiful signs snaked all along the wall, beside the many pathways, slowly drying.

I love watching people going about their business. On another day, Julia and I were hanging about, killing half an hour before being picked up to move hotels. There was a trendy-looking beauty salon along from the hotel, so we went to nosy. I ended up whipping out my Inktense pencils and drawing their hairdresser. It was another of those lovely occasions where we got to' talk' to everyone, then we had to rush off.

This drawing was done on our last day, after my early morning park visit and before going for the Hotpot meal:

While we were in England, Julia discovered that there was an English bookshop in Beijing called Bookworm and that they did storytime sessions on Sunday mornings. So she made contact and offered to read. I wimped out - I decided I wanted to spend my last day doing fun things, not working, but I ended up going along anyway, to support Julia. So, since I wasn't working, I sat in the audience and sketched her in action. It was amazing: a huge success. Julia's popularity totally took the bookseller by surprise. They couldn't cram another person into the space and they sold out of our books really quickly.

The sketch above was a lunchtime stop on our tourist day, visiting the Temple of Heaven. There didn't seem to be anywhere to eat within the park, so we nipped out and found this restaurant. It was extremely basic, but very 'real', full of ordinary Chinese people, which I love. Once we had scoffed our meal, I drew this family opposite, and the basin behind Julia's chair, where people washed their hands.

Finally, this is the library in Keystone Academy, where I had a bit of a wait between illustration workshops, so decided to draw, so that I could show it to the children later that day and prove that I really do draw every day.

Tuesday, 25 October 2016

Giddy Goat Plays at the Royal Festival Hall!

I had an exciting email last week, from the Education Director of the London Philharmonic Orchestra, telling me that they would like to perform Paul Rissman's adaptation of Giddy Goat. It would be part of their 2017 school's programme at the Royal Festival Hall and she was asking for my permission to project the illustrations on stage. How brilliant is that? I've always had an special spot in my heart for wee Giddy and I know from the messages I get from parents and librarians that Jamie Rix's story about conquering fear and finding friendship remains a favourite with lots of other people too.

As far as I know at this stage, the event next year will be more or less the same as the fabulous performance nearly three years ago by the London Symphony Orchestra.  Some people may remember me telling you about that event, when John and I got sent tickets to go and watch it at the Barbican?

It is a lovely way to read and share the book. Not only has Paul Rissman written a truly beautiful score to underpin Jamie Rix's heart-warming story, but there are now also lots of songs to go with the story, which the children learn in advance, at school. Then, at the production, the story is paused here and there for a mass singalong. They even learn lots of actions to go with the songs. I remember well the entire Barbican audience singing and waving their arms about as Giddy runs away from home in the night, strapping himself to a tea-tray and sledging down the mountain. Quite magical.

The performances will be on February 6th next year, for Key Stage 1 children. I wonder which schools will be taking part? Thank goodness this time the book is actually in print. Orchard did a reprint especially for the last performance, but it was late and missed the actual production!

Saturday, 22 October 2016

More Food Experiences

We were taken out for two other particularly memorable meals while we were in Beijing...

Below are Cookie and Lily, the delightful young women who went every day into each of the schools with us, to set up the bookstall and sell all the books. They discovered that we had not managed to eat Chinese hotpot yet.

Cookie and Lily said we had to try Hotpot before going home, so they took us out for a feast on our last afternoon. Turns out this has very little in common with the Lancashire Hotpot! We each had a little burner, over which was placed a decorative doughnut-shaped basin filled with boiling water. Then the table was laden with fresh food: various finely sliced meats, exotic mushrooms, beautiful green vegetables, more dumplings, this time in pretty colours...

Our job was to pop anything we fancied into our water bowl for a couple of minutes, then fish it out with chopsticks and dunk it into a bowl of delicious satay sauce before gobbling it down. It was a good thing it was our last meal, as we had both got remarkably proficient with the old chopsticks by this stage. Even Julia, who had gone with the fork option during the first week, was scooping and dipping like a pro!

We ate slowly but continuously for 2 hours, until we were completely stuffed (and the restaurant chucked us out). When we went to pay our way, Cookie and Lily insisted on treating us. When we protested, Cookie said 'Don't be Chinese!' Apparently the Chinese way is to fight to pay the bill, to show off how rich and influential you are.

Flora too insisted that we were guests in her country and were not allowed to pay. She took us out for Peking Duck to the very swish DaDong restaurant. It was another feast, where dishes kept arriving. The highlight was the Peking Duck though, which was carved at our table. I did a frantic sketch. Luckily it took him a good 5 minutes:

Thanks again to Flora and to everyone who was so kind and looked after us so well.

Thursday, 20 October 2016

Food and Foot Massages!

As I mentioned, Julia and I were looked after very well during our trip by the various schools. It was the librarians at each school, rather than the teachers or heads, who had organised the trip with us, and so it was them who shepherded us around during school hours. It was also the librarians who made sure we were fed in the evenings. Some nights we were left to our own devices: a rather haphazard and random business, but surprisingly successful on the whole. Mostly though, we were either invited into people's homes for dinner, or taken out for a meal.

Two memorable evenings revolved around dumplings. One, towards the end of our stay with Sally from Beijing City International School, was the dumpling restaurant of chef Kenneth Hom.

We went out with her family and with the owner of Obido, the bookseller for the trip. The food was really lovely. What made the evening even more memorable was the way the team of dumpling makers were visible from outside the restaurant, through a plate glass wall. Sally's daughter Annabel was keen on drawing, so I thought it would inspire her if I drew the dumpling makers before we went in to eat.

People started to stop and look as usual. Then someone must have mentioned it inside, because the manager came out of the restaurant. He took a photo of me posed with the drawing in front of the restaurant then gave us a free dessert after our meal!

On another occasion, Becs from Beijing International Bilingual School invited Julia and I to her parent's home for dinner. Their Chinese home help was a dumpling making expert and enjoyed showing visitors how to do it. Again, all the family were there and we sat around a big dining table with lots of flour and pre-rolled dough. It looked easy, in the way these things do when they are not in your hands! We had mini rolling-pins, which we used to turn blobs of dough the size of chestnuts into flat disks, rolling and twisting, rolling and twisting. Mine were never exactly round. Julia was more adept. Then, after a pinch of filling in the centre, there was a nifty technique for pinching it together which, if you were lucky, looked not unlike a miniature Cornish pasty.

Everybody sat together making them until we had enough for a batch, then they were whisked away for steaming and brought back for us to gobble down. Delicious!

The other thing which made that evening unforgettable happened after dinner. Karen, Becs's mum, found out that neither of us had experienced a Chinese foot massage. 'Right!' she said and came back a couple of minutes later, having booked us in for one, that very evening! It got even more strange and interesting: Karen owned her own tuctuc, so at 8 o'clock, Julia and I climbed into the back and Karen whisked us away.

It was fabulous. the three of us sat together chatting in a small room on comfy chairs, while 3 young women gave us first a shoulder massage, while our feet soaked, then a foot massage that felt like it lasted nearly an hour. And all Karen's treat. What a lovely, generous lady! 

Monday, 17 October 2016

Exploring a Hutong with my Sketchbook

The second Saturday I was in China, I met up again with Urban Sketchers Beijing. Melissa joined us and Julia came along too, to meet people and explore a Hutong with us. The Hutong are the old, traditional areas of the city which have not yet been torn down to build huge, glass skyscrapers, wide, multi-laned roads or flashy shopping centres. There are not many left.

We warmed to the Hutong immediately. The people there were clearly living in very difficult, cramped and basic conditions, in places quite shocking to our eyes, but there was a tangible feeling of community. Everyone was extremely friendly and welcoming, especially once we settled down to sketch.

The area we visited was, a very long time ago, a high-class, red light district. The house many of us painted first was once the home of a top call girl of the time, where she would entertain clients, to play music, discuss philosophy etc. Now families lived inside, in barely habitable, squatters conditions. Nevertheless, one man who lived there was still very proud of the grand entrance with it's lovely brass lion door handles and was pleased we were drawing them.

Children came to look and giggled when I drew them into my picture. It was all very sociable and drawing once again created a brief but magical bridge between us.

We moved further up the street, where I found a lady rolling out dough in her shop. It turned out she was making noodles. I got just one of her arms drawn and she finished. When she came out to meet us with her daughter on her arm, I asked if I could sketch her and drew over the top of the stray arm. Her daughter was shy though.

A man was making and selling dumplings for lunch. He was so adept, his fingers moved like lightning, but I did my best to draw each stage of the procedure.

Then Julia and I scoffed one each. They were absolutely delicious. Julia said they were the best dumplings we had the whole trip. Mine was full of spinach, egg and herbs. Julia's was chopped greens and lots of herbs.

Julia wandered around, taking photos (many of the ones here are hers), which was great as I never have time to take pictures when I'm sketching. We met up at this lady's shop. It was so colourful with all her wares out front, and with her sitting on a little stool, eating nuts, it was perfect.

It was very peaceful away from the constant traffic of the modern city. There was even bird song. Then we noticed the bird's cheeping was singing a tune, one we recognised but couldn't quite identify. Rather odd. Then it swapped to another song. We realised the bird was a plastic parrot on the woman's stall! It was such a naff item, Julia had to have it and. after very unsuccessful negotiations, ended up paying daft money for it. Worth it for a funny memory though.

Mid-afternoon, we finished by all sketching together inside the building which had once been the actual brothel.

It is now a hostel, fitted out with bunkbeds and with stray cats wandering through. Despite huge piles of used laundry on the floor here and there, it was very easy to imagine the building's other life, with beautiful ladies peering over the balconies and clients disappearing into the many doors.