Tuesday, 23 April 2013

Memories of Sri Lanka.

A friend recently sent me a page of her “diary”, written while on holiday in Japan.  It was lovely to read, I felt I was with her, enjoying it as she did.
So I thought that while the memories are fresh I would write a little about my painting trip to Sri Lanka. It was a mixture of very special, and very difficult! ( If you cannot be bothered with other people's holiday snaps/paintings, read no further! I do understand.)

I hoped I would be able to do lots of work on the spot, once I had my “eye in” – it always takes me a while.  The journey was somewhat arduous; after a long, uncomfortable 11 hour flight, we then had a long, uncomfortable 3 hr coach journey….but the scenery made up for the discomfort.  Sri Lanka is SO GREEN, tropical foliage everywhere,  rich, lush, massive.  Dotted amongst all the deep green, are Sri Lankan properties – in the most wonderful jewel colours! Bright orange houses, yellow,  purple, pink, blue, vivid viridian green – every brilliant colour you can imagine.
It was, as you can imagine, a feast for the eye – particularly the eye of a painter.  In the towns we travelled through, I marvelled at the bright colours of the clothes of the people too…..sarongs in every colour imaginable.  Brightly coloured umbrellas could be seen everywhere,   keeping the blazing sun off the heads of the dark-haired women,  beautiful women with glowing dark skins.

We eventually arrived at a hotel which looked more like someone’s grand colonial home than a hotel.  Low-lying white buildings - the rooms were set all around a tranquil green lawn with tinkling fountain.   Big rooms, aircon but also a lovely ceiling fan, huge four-poster bed, big bathroom which was a “wet room” with shower.   There was a deep blue-green infinity pool in the garden, and chattering monkeys in the trees.  Comfortable furniture with cool white covers was placed under a roofed-over open area where we were given tea every day – tea is very much a feature of the island. We ate in the hotel for every meal and the food was delicious – lots of lovely spicy Sri Lankan aromatic dishes served by the friendly, attentive staff.  We were even treated to a cookery demonstration by two of the hotel chefs.

Every day, we went out to paint.  Here is where the discomfort set in for me.  The temperatures were very, very high and the humidity – 85% -  made it very uncomfortable for me to walk around, sit and sketch, or stand and paint, for any length of time. I am NOT good with humidity or sun! Which was a great shame, because the sights were so paintable!  On our very first late afternoon outing, we visited a beach where the fishermen were pulling in the catch – a huge line of happy, laughing guys, dressed in colourful shirts and sarongs, singing as they pulled in the net, which stretched a long way out to sea.   As the sun went down, the gold, pink and orange reflections on the water and wet sand sparkled between the legs of the pulling fishermen –the camera cannot do this scene justice... it was enchanting.

We were surrounded by Sri Lankan fishing boats – yet more bright colour, and such wonderful shapes, often with a large boom out to one side, presumably to balance the boat (forgive me, I am not a sailor!)  In some cases, exotic artwork could be seen on the sides of the boats, they were a riot of colour.

On another day, we had the privilege of seeing “Stilt Fishermen” at work.  I found myself wondering how the stilts stayed erect, after all, they were driven into what must be wet sand, not concrete!  The fishermen balanced apparently effortlessly on tiny bits of wood – must have been SO uncomfortable!  But they were fabulous to draw, even tho I struggled with the perspiration running into my eyes, and the coconuts falling around me from the trees I sheltered under.  

A visit to a tea plantation…..yet more lush greenery, our bus wound through narrow roads which seemed to have been hacked out of the jungle which was threatening to take over again, the plants were VAST.   We sketched two different kinds of “pickers”.  The women in colourful clothing and turbans, baskets on their backs, suspended from ribbons which were somehow secured by their heads and turbans.   Then, there were the pickers all dressed in white.  These were the special pickers of the white tea, a rare plant, cultivated to echo the tea which was presented to the emperor of China in ancient times.  The Chinese pickers of old were all virgins who used golden scissors and dropped the leaves into golden bowls and presented those leaves to the emperor.  The Sri Lankan plantation owner wanted to emulate this, so HIS pickers wore white, with white gloves (tho he said he could not vouch for their virginity!) so that the tea would not be sullied by the aroma given off by human skin (we all smell of the food we eat, apparently – so curry flavour tea would NOT be ideal), and his tea from his special White Tea plants is sold only to one special tea distributor in Paris.

A trip into town made my temperature rise even further…the sight of the vegetable and fruit market was like a trip to Aladdin’s cave!  I had no idea that bananas could be green…yellow…and even pink and orange!   And the fish market was just as colourful too – gorgeous green/blue fishes, bright pink, red, gold…I was in a daze, it was a kind of visual heaven.

COLOUR is my overwhelming memory.  The brilliant orange robes of the young novice monks against the lime green walls of the building…delicious....

  ...the yellow monkeys running across the rooftop of the hotel……the tuk-tuks, little three wheeler “taxis” which zip around town, resplendent in brilliant colours;  the golden "king coconuts"........

....the colourful local houses which brought pigment names to mind– aquamarine green; cadmium yellow; yellow ochre; cerulean blue;  alizarin crimson, lizard green……….the rich greens of the foliage – yet more pigments – sap green, viridian, Prussian green, hookers green and more  ………..the beautiful ultramarine blue sea, and the gorgeous cadmium orange, crimson and cadmium red sunsets.  The sharp, fresh blue-white uniforms of our hotel staff, made even whiter somehow by contrast with their burnt sienna skins, dark eyes, and gleaming white smiles!  The Lapis Blue of the sari worn by a lady who floated through the hotel gardens on occasion.  The exciting street scenes and beach market scenes, people thronging , their clothes a riot of colour, no careful colour-matching here…the colours and movement formed a visual kaleidoscope.

painted on the spot in about 1 hour or less.  Far too hot for me!  I really struggled.   Which is my excuse for why there is a GIANT lady on the left...she looked ok until I put in the small guy chopping up fish with a big machete.....have to remove one or the other...oh rats....

I could go on and on…  (If you read this far….well done you.)  I will remember with a  painter’s eye, and do my best to forget the heat and the perspiration and the fact that I was disappointed not to do more, and better, paintings.  But then...it was ever thus......



  1. What a wonderful holiday Jackie.

    Beautiful sketches.


  2. Jackie, wonderful post ... Thanks and I enjoyed reading your impressions of all the colors.

  3. What a wonderful place! Alas, I am not good with heat and humidity either, so I don't think I will be painting there! Great post, thank you for sharing.

  4. Thanks Jackie! I've never been to such an exotic place and would have been too overwhelmed to attempt any painting. You have enough photos and vivid memories to inspire you now that you're home!

  5. I am not good with heat, sun and humidity either. It sounds like a wonderful trip anyhow with all the color. I live in southern California now and recently in Arizona. Everything seems to be so blah as far as color goes. Neighborhoods are tan or adobe colored houses with clay tile roofs. Sometimes there is a hint of a grayed green or blue but mostly browns and tans. It is so boring. What a sight you must have had. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we could import some of that color?

    I have to laugh at your giant lady. Now if you could make her into an American lady it might seem right. I remember my son telling me how he towered over everyone in Italy and pretty much everywhere he goes. Otherwise I liked the painting. It looks fresh and lively.


please feel free to leave me a message