I have been living in Cambodia for over a month now and have been sketching happily during my time off. Unfortunately I didn’t bring my oil paints (my luggage allowance was already teetering over the limit) which is a shame since the sunsets here are remarkable, and any other medium wouldn’t do them justice.
Every time I try to find a shady spot to draw to have some peace and quiet, I only need to sit down for three minutes when a tentative but curious child on a bicycle will suddenly appear beside me. After peering at my notebook for a few minutes they will leave, and I will momentarily breathe a sigh of relief and settle down to the next section of detail, when he will be back – only with four friends and a football. They will crowd around behind me (at this point I’m very worried about headlice and am practically bent double over my notebook) fighting for space as slowly more children come to see what the fuss is about. Last week I had twelve children around me, their attention riveted to my drawing despite my growing discomfort, until the original boy finally got bored. The rest of the children followed his example and left me, with a few backward glances, to finish the background of my picture in peace.
By the reaction of the children, I don’t think that drawing is widely practised by adults here – the only paintings I have seen were in the market at Siem Riep being sold to tourists. It is probably another luxury that mainly westerners, with ample time and money, can afford. When I told my host sisters that I studied Fine Art at University they were rather bemused by the idea.
For souvenirs I am giving drawings to my fellow volunteers for the price of an ice coffee, which is 2000 riel (50 cents) and have got a small queue forming already of commissioned artwork. One of these days I’m going to get a caffiene addiction. I’m looking forward to whipping out the oil paints again when I’m in the UK and painting some glossy Cambodian sunsets, pagodas, monks, Angkor Wot, and all of those stereotypical and very-Cambodian icons.