Under Construction

“Construction workers”    mixed media 2013

How would you describe a stereotypical construction worker?  Where I come from, he’s a big, burly guy wearing a tool belt and blue jeans.   There’s the required safety helmet, sunglasses, shiny orange vest, and heavy steel-toed boots.   And let’s not leave out the jackhammer and other heavy equipment.

Constructions workers in Chiang Mai look a little bit different.  First of all, they usually wear straw hats instead of helmets and the footwear of choice is flip flops.  Who can blame them when it’s this hot right?  Speaking of which, they also go to great lengths to cover up from the sun so they wear scarves under their hats, long sleeve shirts, gloves, and even socks with the flip flops!  My personal favorite accoutrement is a kind of face mask where all you can see are slits for the eyes.  This makes them look like either a character in a horror film, a terrorist, or a bank robber.  Take your pick.

Thai people are quite fond of wearing uniforms and construction workers are no exception.  During our dog/house sitting stint in January, we lived in a new housing development where buildings were going up all around us and each morning a small army of workers would show up wearing matching purple shirts.   It was interesting to watch women assembling rebar by hand while chatting away and sitting down on their haunches as Thais so easily do.  They don’t seem to be in much of a hurry to get anything done and they are experts at finding ways to work in the shady parts of the lot.  Don’t get me wrong, Thais work hard and for long hours but I think because of the heat they also need to find ways to conserve energy.  Much of the work is done manually, buckets of cement passing from hand to hand in a long line and bricks are tossed through the air from one location to another.  Scaffolding is a wonky grid of bamboo that defies the imagination.

Coming from litigation crazy America, I appreciate the fact that here in Thailand safety standards are more relaxed.  Around the corner from my apartment, there is a pothole in the sidewalk that would swallow you whole if you had the misfortune to fall into it.  I heard a story recently about a window washer appearing outside a 16th floor window perched barefoot on a bamboo pole suspended by rope.  While I cannot personally vouch for the accuracy of that, I would not be one bit surprised.

Construction in Thailand is a mystery to me and I think I’ll keep it that way.  It is a constant source of wonderment and humor.  Across the street there is a tall building going up and it is shrouded in green fabric.  In the vast empty lot adjacent, a lone worker sits in a makeshift shack apparently manning some piece of equipment which is tethered to the top of the building by a single cable.  I look down on that scene day after day and can’t fathom the purpose of that slender umbilical cord.

“Cable Keeper”  pen and ink/graphite  2013

Art Lessons

Normally in a composition I would not put the focal point dead center.  This tends to make the image static rather than dynamic.  The rule is meant to be broken (as they all are) as I wanted to convey a sense of isolation, loneliness, and stillness.  In this tableau the clock has all but stopped.  The objects and shadows create a “frame” around the figure.  They are also intimately connected to him.  There is a good balance of positive and negative space.

As you can see from the reference photo, my view from nine stories up is a long one.  I zoomed in with my digital camera which ended up being a somewhat blurry image but for my purposes, that’s just fine.  Working from bad photographs frees you up because you have to make improvements and won’t be tempted to copy it.  I also took several reference photos at street level and at different times of day to study the light and shadow.

In my initial version I used graphite only and felt it was too “soft”  so I added pen and ink for greater definition and visual impact.  (To tell you the truth, now that I’m seeing the two side by side, I’m not sure which one I like better!)

Homework?  Find a lousy photograph and make a good drawing from it!  Blurry is good.  Blown out light is good.  Awkward cropping…no problem!  Make it right.  Send me an example.  amy@artconspiracy.net

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