Myanmar – the Local Talent

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Maung Thiha painting near the Sulamani temple.

While in Bagan I was fortunate enough to meet a group of Burmese landscape painters centered around a teacher, Maung Thiha. They work mostly in watercolor en plein air, and paint in acrylics from photos in their studios. Apparently, a century ago, a Burmese painter (whose name I forget) studied in London and then returned to Myanmar to teach at the art school in Mandalay. Today there are a number of working painters and teachers artistically descended from this one individual.

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Lin perched on a pagoda, near the Sulamani temple.

Having local painters to show me the best spots (and drive me around on their scooters) helped immensely. In exchange, I left them painting equipment and took some of Maung Thiha’s watercolors to try to sell for him in the off-season. Here are a couple of his watercolors, contact me if you are interested in purchasing one of these gems.

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Burma Road by Maung Thiha. 30 x 40 cm, watercolor. (SOLD)

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Dhammayangyi at Dawn by Maung Thiha. 35 x 25 cm, watercolor, 2009.

On the last day, the maestro asked me if I would paint his portrait. I only had time for a short sketch, but one of his students filmed the whole thing and I tried my best to explain sight-size portraiture while working.

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Sight-size portraiture in New Bagan.

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The portrait sketch after an hour or so.

We also had a small exhibition towards the end of the trip and invited the local artists. It was quite interesting to get their feedback on what subjects they liked from our oeuvre. One problem I had when they were trying to show me their favorite spots was that they wanted to paint the ruins which looked like European ruins, whereas I was interested in the more exotic (to me) subjects. I got the feeling they were a bit bored of painting temples and pagodas (there are almost 3000 in the 20 mile radius around them).

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Our end-of-the-trip exhibition.

The interaction with this group of painters was probably a high point of the trip. If anyone else is planning a plein air excursion to Myanmar and will be passing through Bagan, I would highly recommend you stop by the Heritage gallery in New Bagan and ask them to show you the good spots.

Sunday morning time-lapse fun

Here is a short video from a quick portrait sketch yesterday morning. After a one-shot session like this I usually end up with a ton of paint on the canvas from pushing shapes around quickly. This is where scraping down with a palette knife is so useful. In fact, I would say scraping down between sessions at the beginning of a portrait is probably the second most useful thing I learned while studying portraiture (the first being the sight-size technique).

I have a short video of the scraping down process which I’ll add soon.

Time-lapse portrait

An old film of a portrait sketch, finished in about 2 hours and a photo was taken every brushstroke. The ‘model’ was actually a professional photographer who had an appointment pushed back an hour and came over to kill time in my studio. I had to paint the portrait (fast), remember to take a photo after every brushstroke (using my point and shoot), and keep him entertained.

This winter we’ll have artificial light in the studio and I want to try a long project time-lapse film. With natural light the colors change a lot over the course of a day and the changing hue is too distracting when sped up.