The Ramblings of Joy Laking

Nova Scotia Artist, Joy Laking, posts ramblings while she's travelling and painting in South America.

Saturday, March 30, 2019

March 30, 2019


March 30, 2019

Today, in the warm Indian Ocean,
 Our small boat smashed over waves for hours
In search of the elusive dolphins.
It was much like our safari ride, 
Where I tensed muscles or relaxed muscles
Trying to lessen the jarring on my back.
Neither worked.
All I could think of was
“When will this be over? “

And then we found them.
All of the discomfort was forgotten.
The dolphins were interested in us.
They crested in the sea.
They rolled over the surface
In ones, twos, threes.........
They gathered in the distance
On the left of the boat.
And when I glanced to the right,
They were literally beside me.
Every so often, I would gasp,
As a dolphin rose up vertically on its’ tail,
Or leapt into the air doing rolls and spins.
It was amazing.
Jim told me, I hadn’t  watched  enough tv.

The number of dolphins grew and grew,
I was still snapping out of focus photos 
And munching on my breakfast sandwich,
When we motored back to the reef for snorkelling.
The reef is huge,
Over three hundred square miles.
However most of the reef is dead.
Mankind is not kind.
We rolled into the water with our masks and snorkels.
Colourful fish in all sizes and shapes
Glided below and around us.
Tiny green fish, with yellow tails,
And neon blue side fins, striped with red,
Were my favourites.
I didn’t see the octopus, or eels or turtles,
But Pria, our guide, assured me 
He tried to point them out.
That the reef was dead was depressing,
And I was still dreading trying to get back into the boat.
Jim eased my discomfort by also feigning problems
Getting back into the boat.
 He was hauled and pushed
Until he eventually fell into the boat.
I did likewise.
It wasn’t pretty.

On the way back,
The boat stopped for tea and Palm sugar
 At a lovely beach.
Our boat driver, Tamila,
Kept patting the sand
And telling me to sit down.
Eventually, I obliged but
I knew I was in for problems.
Jim had a lovely swim
But I couldn’t join him,
Because I couldn’t get back up.
Thankfully, when Jim came in 
He hauled me to my feet,
So that I could get back to the boat!

Oh muscular dystrophy,
You have added an unwanted challenge 
To my life.
I hope, I can keep my joyousness
Despite this disability.



Friday, March 29, 2019

March 29, 2019

This morning, I gave a two hour art class to this gang of grade nines at a school in Kalpitya, Sri Lanka. They have a wonderful art teacher. What a difference it makes when kids have a an art teacher, who loves art and is trained in art!  Such should be the case everywhere. The man on the right is the school English teacher as well as the computer teacher. He was a terrific translator. Jim, as always, was my moral support and gofer. It would have been great to have known the age of the group as well as the length of the class before I arrived at the school, however when you are a volunteer you just have to wing it. I loved my time with them and I think the kids did too.  I invited everyone to Canada!


Monday, March 25, 2019

March 25, 2019

I have just finished reading the wonderful book called Mad Enchantment by Ross King ( available on line from the Halifax library). It is an amazing biography of Monet, and perhaps even more of interest to me because being a fellow artist, I suffer from the same anxieties.( hopefully I am not quite such a beast). Also two years ago, Jim and I finally got to Giverny, Monet,s home and garden in France. When I stood and sketched in Monet’s dining room, the guard was agreeable, but when I pulled out my purse paints to add a little colour, it was forbidden. Since then I have completed a studio watercolour of Monet’s dining room and I have the underpainting done on a large oil.  While working on this oil I have suffered a similar problem to Monet’s after he had his cataracts removed. Before the operations, I could always trust my eyes, now I have a distortion that I have to work around.  Monet got very very special glasses that took eight months to make.  A passage in  the Monet book also discussed Monet insisting that he worked only on location, but in fact he built three increasingly bigger studios at Giverny.

I was encouraged to write this because of Annie Bennett’s comment about plein air or on location painting. She is a former painting student, a wonderful artist and a friend. She said that she was encouraged because of my Facebook posts to try on location painting.  First of all, usually when travelling all of my work is done on location. This year, because of my chest condition early on and now because of the extreme heat, ( and also some fear about getting up) I started doing some little sketches isolated on white paper of people from photos on my iPad that I had taken that day. So some of what I have been posting has been studio work.

That being said, I want to encourage every artist out there to paint on location. It hones the talents, develops ideas and sometimes has an immediacy or freshness that a studio painting can’t achieve.  The biggest barrier to on location painting, are the painters own fears and emotions. Be brave. Try it. Stick with it!
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Sunday, March 24, 2019

March 24: 2019

The first three of these have been finished up or the tones have been adjusted. That is the best part about watercolour. People think that you can’t go backwards and to a small extent that is true.

For example in the little painting of the man collecting toddy, I had inadvertently made a splotch on the white background. I gave the blotch a good scrub and it lifted out but the mark still showed.  So I thought about it and added some palm fronds over the splotch. (Definitely to work over a scrubbed spot the painting has to be totally dry).

In the second sketch, I felt the person had too much light on her short black top and it looked like she had breasts on her back. To this one, I just added shadow.

The third one was an unfinished quarter sheet watercolour started in the market of Trincomalee. I finished it up.

Then,I did the little painting on smooth paper. I like the smooth paper because it holds the line beautifully but it is a bit more unforgiving than the rougher, cold pressed paper. I use a little essential brush called a fitch scrubber, for going backwards. ( a worn out small oil painting brush would work as well). I put the brush on my palette for the scale ( and the Lion beer cap, well it is after noon so time for a cold beer)
Second sketch

The fitch scrubber

The first sketch

The quarter sheet watercolour now finished

Thursday, March 21, 2019

March 22, 2019

March 22, 2019

Vehicle traffic is very interesting in Sri Lanka. Yesterday, Jim and I ( from the back seat of our tuk tuk) experienced a phenomena that we had seen many times in India.
We were approaching  a rail way cross and the gates were down. The left lane was full of vehicles ( they drive on the left here) and all the smaller ones,tuk tuks  and motorbikes, wove in around the trucks and cars until there was a solid wall of vehicles across both lanes. It took a while for the train to appear, and so this wall of vehicles just continued to get longer and longer.  Of course exactly the same thing was happening on the other side of the crossing. When the the train finally went by and the gates went up,two solid walls of facing traffic attempted to continue! 


Also there are no stop signs at intersections and no traffic lights. ( major intersections have round about with statues in the middle) we quickly identified these rounabouts as “man with a gun”, “elephant” “man with a book” etc. ( sadly never a woman statue). Horns are used frequently!

Wednesday, March 20, 2019

March 20, 2019














Yesterday we moved to Anuradhapura in order to visit the sacred city which we did today. This is a UNESCO world heritage site and it is amazing. It is a vast site with many  Buddhist dagobas and stupas, from huge to tiny. These are are usually dome shaped. Some on this site are over 2000 years, although most are from the 4 th century. One the Jethawana Stupa was 122 metres tall and the 3rd tallest building in the world at the time.  This site is still active and we picked the perfect day to visit as it is Poya, the full moon holiday when Buddhist’s visit their temples. There were several monasteries here and they must have been enormous from the unimaginable size of the stone rice trough and the smaller curry trough. We hired a tuk tuk for the day and this was a wonderful way to get around the no car site. It did mean getting in and out of the back seat over and over. It wasn’t pretty, but I did it.  At one of the sites, we had to go through an inspection that we were suitably dressed. Jim had to loosen his belt and pull down his shorts to cover his knees!  The worst part of the day was that the ground seemed to be burning hot. We started out at 7:30 but by late morning it was painful to walk to view the sites (to show respect, no hats or shoes are allowed). We dashed from one shadow of a post to another but still it was awful. Eventually, I couldn’t take any more and we turned around to get our shoes before seeing the 2000 year old Sri Maha Bodhi tree. We may go back at sunset!

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Tuesday, March 19, 2019

March 18, 2019

March 18, 2019

A terrific and busy day today. This is our last day in Pesaliai. At nine, Jim and  I went to Karthi’s grandfather’s so I could take more photos of the grandfather and his ox and his wagon. We got there and were immediately invited into the house to sit and wait because the grandfather was away milking. Oh, I would love to see the milking! So off we went on the backs of motor cycles! It was hard for me just to get onto the back of a motorcycle. I didn’t know the driver, but I hung on tightly! Jim followed on the back of someone else’s motor bike and Grandfather’s daughter, Nancy road her own scooter. I told Nancy that I have a sister Nancy and she announced that she is my Sri Lankan sister. We saw their garden and their palm plantation. They dug up a seedling so we could see the roots. Then we had some palm jelly. They lopped off pieces of the nut with a machete. “Use your finger like a spoon to dig it out”they told me! Then another chap said “come with me” so of course we did. He walked us to his house and he sat us in the shade and brought us toddy to try. It was good, but since we were on the way to the school and I didn’t know if or how alcoholic it was, we didn’t drink much. We definitely could have spent the entire day, as we were ushered into several wonderfully coloured houses. I guess having given them the little painting of “Grandfather and his Ox” and then getting Nancy for my Sri Lankan sister broke the ice!  It was a real treat for me  to see the kitchens, ( the fridge, if there is one, sits in the living room), the prayer room, the sleeping rooms and the bathroom, the living rooms. Eventually, with me carrying a tiny puppy I was handed,  we walked back where I could take some photos of Grandfather and his ox. Now you can compare a couple of photos of Grandfather and his ox. For a painting, I like the ones where the ox has some spunk and Grandfather has his work cut out for him, not the boring ones of just man and ox standing nicely.  My motto is always look for the story.

Then we went to the high school and were ushered in to the vice principal’s office. “Our school does  not offer art” he told me. And “what religion are you?” So we chatted some more and eventually he told me I could have four classes of grade nine for ten minutes each. I was given a short nun with a big ruler to facilitate and translate. The first class with thirty five went well, but then she put the other three classes in one group. They are rowdy and bad she told me. And there WAS a brawl while we were in the corridor. You can imagine that many kids in one little classroom in this heat! But I did my best.

Then we took a tuk tuk to the elementary school. I was given all of the grade threes and fours from this six hundred student school.

Thirty eight years ago, I left my toddler, Kelsey with my friend Anita and went to teach art in Valley elementary for a day. We were going to do puppets. They gave me the entire school in the gymnasium for two hours! I hoped I would never be faced with this situation again.  The good part of this ancient history day was that the principal made sticky buns for the staff room to welcome me.

And today again, I dutifully did my best. The woman vice principal at the elementary school was a great translator and didn’t have a ruler so that was a plus.  I shook hands with every one of the students and the staff and they were disappointed that I couldn’t return tomorrow.

Jim will post some photos from the schools and hopefully, I can share them.





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