Friday, May 24, 2013

Taste of Sumatra

Kiaora Sketchers. 

Accolades to Murray for getting lift-off for our Aotearoa (Land of the Long White Cloud) flagship.

Pleasing that Eric in the inaugural post has depicted our ubiquitous flax bush in the foreground.  Something seen in both rural and urban settings.  Māori made clothing, rope and decorative use of it.

Ironically my first post isn’t from New Zealand at all.  I’m from New Plymouth and sketch weekly with ‘The Taranaki Sketchers’.  A big part of our aim is to be limbered up enough to sketch whilst travelling.  New Plymouth is on the left hand lump of the North Island.  NZ has two main islands imaginatively named North and South.  Taranaki is both the name of the province and the Māori name for our dormant symmetrical volcano that dominates the region.

I’ve just stepped off the plane from a hectic month in Northern Sumatra for work.  I did however squeeze some weekend sketching time.

When I first visited Medan, these colourful becaks (pedicabs) were all pushbike driven.  Today they are identical but bolted to motor bikes.  Most riders are now surprisingly even wearing helmets

I sat in the gutter sketching with drivers with toothy grins surrounding me, puffing on their clove flavoured kreteks.  Seemingly tobacco is the single largest employer in Indonesia.  Riding at exhaust pipe level is fun.

This guy arrived back from his nasi when I'd finished the outline and was about to apply my Tombow colours.  He peered, then went back and stood waiting to be sketched to the amusement of the onlookers.  He waited till it was finished before riding off smiling in a plume of smoke. 
Medan is Indonesia’s 4th largest city at 2 million.  The traffic swirls in a chaotic way, interestingly with no angry tooting.  It all patiently works somehow.

I sat cross legged sketching in the road in 35C heat.  The food stall owner in yellow with headscarf kept coming across checking on progress and correcting my spelling of her food signs.

Surprisingly there are still many Dutch colonial buildings.  This Pos Kantoor being one such.  I sat on the road by the becaks on the left of this sketch to draw the food cart depicted above.

The Moroccan style, black domed Grand Mesjid Raya was built in 1906 and designed by a Dutch architect and includes Italian marble and Chinese stained glass.  We were approached outside by five girls who asked in English if we spoke German.  My colleague did and so they proceeded to film us with them explaining in German the aspects of the mosque as part of a school project.

A sketch I did 17 years ago of the mesjid from a different view.  Perhaps practice does mean improvement.

The 1888 Maimoen Sultan’s palace near the Grand Mosque.  The current 17 yr old Sultan had a cousin getting married as we watched.  Black cars with tinted windows led by police escorts drove up, the party in full Indonesian traditional gear covered by umbrellas emerged.  The following day we walked there again and heard rock music pumping out, presumably on-going festivities.

My primitive 1997 view of the same building.

Children in national costume lined up in front of the Sultan’s carriage.  The little guys in top hats were from nearby Aceh, of civil war and tsunami fame.

Batak style house at Lake Toba.  Water buffalo horns on the roof.   Toba was a supervolcano 77,000 years ago, killing most humans living at that time and creating a volcanic winter globally.  A deep crater lake with large island is on what was once part of the old 60’s Australian and New Zealand hippie trail to Europe.


Tjong A Fie was a Hakka merchant who came to Medan in the 1880s came to own much of Medan through his plantations.  His do-gooding activities included funding mosques, Christian churches and bridges.  This two story ‘Tardus-like’ mansion is in a Chinese/European Art deco style.  It is probably Medan’s gem.  In the surrounding lanes tape recorded swallow sounds played to attract the birds to build their famous nests used in the lucrative ‘birds nest soup’.  The poor birds rarely see a completed nest.  Sometimes they spit blood making the even rarer red nest.  I learn you don’t have to go to the caves of Borneo to see them, they are right here in urban Medan.

A batak garuda and monkey carving in the North Sumatran museum.  Being a carver myself I’m always interested in the local work.  A gaggle of young lads attached themselves to us limpet-like, and followed our every move for an hour and a half in the museum.  It was fun, but it was good to give our ears a rest – when we moved back out to the street to pick up a bejak.  Interestingly we must have had our photo taken 20 times with complete strangers, who would want to take photos with us.  We would have thought foreigners weren’t that interesting.

Final sketch outside the1887 rambling Raffles Hotel of ‘Singapore Sling’ fame.  I had a few hours to kill in transit so dashed into town on the Metro.  Stamford Raffles founded Singapore.  Intriguingly the hotel was originally by the seaside, but reclamation changed all that. It underwent a $160 millon refit in 1989.  Two doormen from the neighbouring hotel occasionally beckoned taxis.  I did learn from a Raffles Art gallery manager about an excellent Art store ‘Art Friend’ across the road on the 3rd floor of the innocuous Bras Basah building, 231 Bain St. I’m sure all the Singaporean Sketchers know this. The manager whiles his lunch times away there.

Happy sketching Scott


  1. Epic first post Scott! I'm please your Indonesia trip wasn't just work and you got out to sketch. Your Tombows do a great job of capturing those colourful becaks.

  2. Nice work, makes we want to visit!

  3. Thanks guys. Isn't it great, any place you visit there is always a sketchable scene somewhere.

  4. Scott, please come back to sketch more and of course help me on NEA :)

  5. I would like to buy some of your art, please get in touch with me at