Around here, life happens on the back of a scooter. Sure, there are other modes of transportation such as bicycles, cars, taxis, and even the colorful tuk tuks, but no doubt about it… scooters rule. Scooters have their own set of rules, if you can even call them “rules.” They weave in and out of traffic both moving and stalled in order to get ahead of the pack. They “swarm” forward like a school of fish and use every available surface to further their progress including sidewalks and ditches. If necessary, they will drive on the wrong side of the road coming straight at you. At every intersection you will find a large band of scooters at the front of the line, a position they have earned with their dexterity and claim as their god given right.
Being a westerner, it took me months to work up the courage to get on a scooter and although I am getting used to the madness, most outings still require nerves of steel. The Thai people have quite a different attitude though, literally having grown up on two moving wheels. It is not uncommon to see two, three, four, five…even six people on a single motorbike although in last case, two of them are usually small children but still! Helmets are optional as is eye protection. Girls ride sidesaddle not even bothering to hold onto anything except maybe their iPhone with which they casually text their friends.
How many on that scooter? (Don’t forget to count that little kid in the middle!)
Scooters are not just about transportation. They are a central component in much of Thai culture and commerce. Many sidewalk “shops” are attached to a motorbike where the vendor will sit while waiting for business or even stay on while handing out squid-on-a-stick or whatever else they might be selling. (Yes, I did say squid-on-a-stick. Stay tuned for the food blog.) I have seen actual working kitchens driving by with red hot coals glowing in clay pots. Merchandise beyond description is carried by motorbike and dogs are frequently seen with paws on the handlebars.
One of my favorite scooter stories is about the time I went out to eat at a small restaurant. When I inquired about the toilet, I was directed outside where a young man was waiting to take me down the street to the nearest one…on his motorbike. It was the one and only time I road sidesaddle.
Art Lessons: Drawing a moving target Scooter World is rich in terms of subject matter. At first, I was not particularly interested in the machines themselves, but in all the human variation that went with them. Later I came to appreciate and celebrate the difference between a Vespa and a Honda. I studied the common components of scooters and made it my mission to be able to draw a generic model from memory….and fast.
The next important element to master was an understanding of the proportional relationship of scooter to human. I drew many, many versions from both life and photographs until I was able to draw them as one form. My goal was to be able to get down my interpretation in real time, sketching on the street. In order to do that, I had to understand what information was critical and what wasn’t. It was simplification for the sake of interpretation and speed. In closing, one of the most important elements to the depiction of movement is mastering “gesture” line which is fluid, curving, and often unbroken. It is my theory that multiple lines “suggest”the passage of time. Something was here and now it’s there. Movement is not fixed and therefore the line should not be. I will write more about gesture in a future blog. Here are three stages in one of my drawings. I used a photograph for reference only, in other words I did not copy it.
One last parting thought about using gesture. In a way it shows us the nature of abstraction. When the artist gives enough information somewhere in the drawing, all the rest of it starts to make sense. I like that.
You want homework? Pick a subject, any subject, and try to master drawing it. At first, work from life, photographs, video, and other drawings. The goal is to eventually be able to draw it without any reference. At first it might be difficult but with a little practice you will be able to get it down.
“Do or do not do. There is no try” -Yoda