Wednesday, July 20, 2011

"teach us what you know"

I've been having odd dreams here— it's as if my subconscious is running at a different speed. The night before last I dreamt of a gleaming mountain above the clouds, and that I was walking with a monk in the woods. He told me what my name meant, but as dreams typically tease, I had forgotten what he told me as I awoke.

When Lama S.T. asked if I'd like to go to Namo Buddha with him and some SMD students and staff members, he was barely able to finish the question before my "yes" burst out. My experience at Namo Buddha a few weeks ago had left such a profound impression on me, I was thrilled at the chance to return. I packed my bag full of paper and art supplies with the plan of sketching the exquisite, colourful shrine room which had so deeply moved me.

Heavy, dark clouds threatened a downpour, but graciously kept their rain for our journey. The road to Namo Buddha was as mucky as ever, our jam-packed jeep swerved and spun but proved no match for Lama's cool driving. We bumped and lurched our way through the forest until the familiar golden roofs of the monastery appeared, like a break of sun in the clouds.

Upon arriving, we came across a long line of people in all colours of cloth, waiting for a visit with the free clinic's doctors, whom our own group came to see. While they waited for their check-ups, I was taken by a young monk to the staff room at the monastery school, where I met Lama K.S. After a cup of coffee and a brief chat about where I come from and what I was doing in Nepal, he lead me to his classroom, where a small group of teenage monks were studying Tibetan. As we kicked off our shoes and entered the modest room, Lama pointed to a cushion at the front, indicating my place, and sat down with his students.

"Ok. Teach us what you know." he commanded, with an encouraging smile.

I could feel my face turning red. I was handed a dry-erase marker, which I twisted nervously in my hands, avoiding the blank stare of the white board at my back. Eager eyes and grins surrounded me. I fumbled through an awkward demonstration of one-point linear perspective, realising I wasn't making any sense. I laughed. We laughed. I put down the marker, deciding to show the monks my sketchbooks instead, and sat down on the green cushion, the monks gathering around. As we flipped through every page, I recounted stories of the people and the buildings I had drawn, of what I had been thinking and feeling during each sketch.

"You can draw one of us, then we can learn through watching you." suggested Lama K.S. The monks agreed this was a good idea. After a brief warning about my ability to perform under pressure, I got out my pencil case and displayed my tools, explaining their various uses. I cracked my knuckles, generating laughter.

"Ok. Here we go." More laughter.

I felt surprisingly at ease despite the small crowd around me. I explained my movements, what I was aiming for and my general process. We talked about adding details after mapping out the general shapes. We talked about light and shadow, value and line.

When the 'lesson' was over, Lama K.S. lead me back up the hill to where Lama S.T. and the SMD group were having lunch. A shy breeze rustled through the trees around us. Lama asked my name.

"Samantha, Samantha..." he repeated. "In Sanskrit, it means 'respect'."


barbara said...

how lucky those young monks were to have had such an art lesson!

having stumbled along teaching myself with the aid of plenty of library technique books i'm always curious about other artists in the most basic fundamental way - e.g. which pencil mark do you do first, what are you thinking before you put pencil/pen/paint to paper? etc., etc. all the questions that you covered with those young monks as you sketched - light, line, etc.

for my own self once i see how someone else does it, it either verifies my own methods or teaches me something new.

once you get them thinking of what is possible then later follows perspective, vanishing points, and all that!

Great story, thanks again.

Uma Gowrishankar said...

Hi Samantha! (now I have a name to call you!)I visit your blog again and again to look at your beautiful photos and sketches. I am more excited than you about your Nepal visit (I remember the pics and sketches from your last visit too). Thank you for this beautiful post and the previous one on tea.

szaza said...

Thank you, Barbara! I was so nervous and it was so unexpected that I didn't know what to do. I wanted to reply, "But I know nothing!" then I thought of the sketchbooks in my bag. I do think I will be returning next year, and when I do, I would like to spend some time there teaching the monks.

Seriously, every day is a story here, and I am struggling to get it all down! I had an amazing encounter with an old tattooed woman here-- I am not sure of her ethnicity, she may be Newar or Tharu? Still doing research. We had about 5 words of English and 'namaste' between us, but it was a wonderful conversation! More to come...

Thank you so very much, Uma! I am truly delighted you are enjoying my artwork and posts. Knowing that you appreciate my stories and drawings means a lot! Warm wishes from Kathmandu-- Samantha :)

Marco said...

Cok guzel! Veramente molto bello. Marco

szaza said...

Çok teşekkürler and grazie, Marco!

Wongi said...

Everyday, I am half an hour away from where you are taking these pictures from and I certainly envy you. :) I am glad you are enjoying your stay here! Love those young monks' art!!!

szaza said...

Thank you so much, Wongi!
Where are you in Nepal?
Oh- the art is my art-- not the monks' :)

Wongi said...

Hey, I live in Patan area but my college is in Chabahil. Oh, and i meant the art of the children in the photograph :) I must have commented on the wrong post :S But of course, I love your art!!!:D

Sue Pownall said...

What a fabulous story and memory! Do you have the drawing you did or did you give it to the monk?

szaza said...

Ah ok, Wongi-- I misunderstood because the comment was on this post-- aren't they wonderful? The students are so talented and so eager to learn, it's a real joy to teach them.

Thank you, Sue! It was a fun experience, one that I will treasure. I have the drawing, it's in my sketchbook.