The Burma Project: Day 17 (Betel Nut Shop)

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Mission:  One drawing per day for 27 days.  Drawn on location.  The goal was to capture the hearts and minds of the people of Myanmar with art.  Document the work and record observations and leave the drawings there as gifts.  Create an epic blog about the experience.

The Burma Project:  a full description

I expect every society has it’s particular addictions.  Here in Seattle some say it’s coffee, as well as the other usual suspects.  In Myanmar, it’s the Betel Nut!  Upon arrival in the northern city of Mandalay, we found first evidence of the nasty habit in the form of vivid red splotches and stains covering the dusty streets.  Sidewalks are a rarity in these parts but when you came upon one, they too are splashed with crimson.  Some of the marks are old and faded while others lay fresh and wet on the concrete.  It is betel nut tribute to Jackson Pollock!

An ancient practice, the betel nut (actually an areca nut) is wrapped in a betel leaf along with white lime and other ingredients such as clove or cardamom.  Sometimes tobacco is included contributing to the additive nature of the mix.  It is presented in a precious little green package meant to be placed in the mouth, chewed until the red juice flows, and then spit (The Wild Wild West of Burma) with gusto onto the ground.  Men and women alike indulge.  All that chewing and hawking isn’t so bad but what it does to the teeth is nothing less than frightening., especially when you see a big old blood red smile!

Betel nut shops pop up unexpectedly in the neighborhoods of Burma.  From a distance they appear so cute and appealing but upon closer inspection look positively sinister with explosive spills and splattering of brilliant white lime.  There are little jars containing colorful and mysterious ingredients to customize the betel nut concoction to suit every customer.

Art Lessons:

The little betel nut stand in the drawing was located just outside our guest house.  It opened early in the morning and remained so into the evening.  In addition to a steady stream of customers, there always seemed to be other locals there just passing the time.

I did the sketch over the course of two sessions, returning at the same time of day so the light and shadows were consistent.  I decided to restrict my use of color and only put in the light blue found on the side of the building.  The top of the shopkeeper’s head pops up over the signage in front.

Posted Drawings:  Day 3Day 6Day 8


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