Painting Canada

My painting from a photo taken during the Rocky Mountaineer journey, Vancouver-Kamloops leg. PanPastels on treated board. ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

My painting from a photo taken during the Rocky Mountaineer journey, Vancouver-Kamloops leg. PanPastels on treated board. ©Caron Eastgate Dann 2013

How does one do justice to the majestic beauty of Canada? My skills with a camera do not approach a level where my photographs could be called art, and my camera itself (just my iPhone) is adequate but limited, compared with the old Canon Eos film camera I used to lug round on vacations.
On my recent two-day journey on the Rocky Mountaineer train, from Vancouver to Banff, I took photos with a view to using them as the inspirations for paintings. Here is the second of them, a scene not far out of Vancouver on the way to Kamloops. Coincidentally, it just happens to fit this week’s A Word A Week Challenge: Bisect, as the line between where the mountains end and their reflection starts neatly bisects the scene.


This post is part of A Word A Week Challenge: Face, run by A Word In Your Ear.

Akha hilltribe woman, Doi Suthep, Thailand, 1991, by © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2011. Acrylics on canvas board.

Akha hilltribe woman, Doi Suthep, Thailand, 1991, by © Caron Eastgate Dann, 2011. Acrylics on canvas board.

I met and photographed this Akha hilltribe woman at a village on Doi Suthep, near Chiang Mai in Northern Thailand, in April 1991. Twenty years later, when I first took up art as a hobby, I decided to paint her portrait.

She always stuck in my mind, because she was the only Akha living in a Lisu village. Through the guide, she told me she was aged 39 and had three children.

I had been living in Nonthaburi, central Thailand, since December 1990 and we had taken advantage of the songkran (Thai new year) holiday to travel up north for a few days.

The Lisu village we visited was a set-up for tourists really. I still have my journal from that time, in which I’ve written that the Lisus usually live in isolated villages high in the mountains, but this village had been persuaded by an elephant training centre to relocate within a half-hour trek of them so they could bring in tourists to buy their arts and crafts.

In those days, the village had no electricity, no running water, no TVs or even radio. In the past, the hilltribes relied on opium as their cash crop, but the Thai government had banned its sale, so they had to find other ways to make a living.

Lisu hilltribe woman, Doi Suthep, 1991. Photo ©Caron Eastgate Dann 1991.

Lisu hilltribe woman, Doi Suthep. Photo ©Caron Eastgate Dann 1991.

This woman was also at the Lisu village, sitting in the same hut as the Akha woman. They were both doing some sort of needlework.

Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann, 1991.

Merchants at a Hmong village, Doi Suthep, Thailand. Picture © Caron Eastgate Dann, 1991.

The next day, we went to a Hmong village that was not so far up the mountain and that we could drive into. This husband and wife were among the stall-holders there. All the adults then wore traditional dress and—even though there was an element of showmanship for tourists—I found the images unforgettable. Children at the more isolated village we had visited also wore traditional dress—at least for the cameras—but at the Hmong village, many were wearing T-shirts and track pants.

In my journal from that time, I’ve written about the Hmong village: “There was no road to the village until 12 or 13 years ago, and villagers once went to Chiang Mai only around once a year. Now they go more often, but still they resist development, although we did notice a pick-up truck in one garage.”

They resist “development” no longer, it seems. In November 2012, more than 21 years later, I returned to the Hmong village. These days, there are no traditional costumes to be seen, just jeans, T-shirts with marketing logos and other ordinary Western clothes. There are pick-up trucks everywhere. Most people speak English as well as Thai.

The village market today is full of the same “hand-made” crafts you can buy in Bangkok, Phuket, or anywhere else. There are still people assembling these goods, but they seem to come ready-made in large batches, to be quickly pieced together on site. Someone is making  a fortune, and it’s surely not the hilltribe people.

The sound of music

This post is in response to A Word in Your Ear’s Word A Week Challenge—Music

"The Musician", pastel painting of Vorn Doolette, by Caron Eastgate Dann

“The Musician”, pastel painting of Vorn Doolette, by Caron Eastgate Dann

I once interviewed one of Australia’s most successful performers, who had started as a folk singer but moved on to stand-up comedy. He was equally good at both, and I asked him why he chose the latter over the former.

“Well, if you’re good at stand-up, you can always get a gig and it’s possible to make a living,” he said. “But with music, you can be the most talented musician in the world, better than everyone you hear on the radio, and still not be able to pay your bills.”

Although choosing music as a career is about answering a calling, of course it has to be treated as a business if it is to be a source of income. I like the way musicians and other performers, and their supporters, are inventive when it comes to forging a career.

Late last year, my friend Sally organised a music concert in her apartment, featuring her friend Vorn Dolette, a wonderfully quirky folk-with-a-twist singer-songwriter from South Australia. Twenty of us attended the event, paying $20 each for the concert and substantial nibbles, and everyone bringing whatever they wanted to drink.

The result was an intimate performance, highly professional yet much more personal than going to a commercial venue. All the money collected goes to the performer, instead of most going to middlemen.

Afterwards, I did a pastel painting of Vorn during his concert, using a photo I took on the day as a reference. I gave the original to Sally to thank her for hosting such a special event.