From Copan, Honduras

Conte Crayons 14 x 17

I stood below this grand monument, awestruck by the late afternoon sun licking the motifs upon its intricate stairway. A stela of a later king loomed nearby.

Built upon several other structures by the Maya king of Copan, this grand stairway retells the history of Copan in stone. My guide explains this has been the longest Maya text found ever, in 1260 glyphs carved upon 63 stairs narrating the story of the kings of yore and their valiant exploits in these lands.

Integrating the occult with history, this was also the secret pathway of the king to his ancestors as he ascended these steps to a grand temple perched above. Accompanied by chanting priests, here he would worship the kings of yesteryear and make his offerings to the many Maya Gods of the thirteen heavens. Incense from sacrificial altars would have clouded the place, adding to that sense of mystery.

Archaeologists in the early 1900s had found this place in an utter state of ruin, with only the stones making first 15 steps of the stairway mounted, and the others scattered on the forest floor. The Maya script hadn’t been decoded and eager professors had hastily rearranged the stones above based on visual appeal, completely scrambling a visual story that can never really be put together again!

All these months I had been wondering what the right medium was to depict such a scene – its eternal mystery, the puzzle and the incense smoke. I decided to employ a similar technique, keeping the architectural elements intact.

Check out my travel/art book Rambles into Sacred Realms

SMALL HIEROGLYPHIC STAIRWAY

From Athens, Greece

Scratchboard 11×14

The Porch of the Karyatids, Acropolis, Greece – Scratchboard 11×14 (From an old sketch, imagination and + my ref photo)

Some of you who attended my ISSA demo will remember this incomplete piece showing comely Kore maidens holding up an entablature in the Acropolis in Athens, and my demonstration of the reverse scratching or ‘back-rub’ technique as I call it!

Well, at long last I managed to complete this piece after all my travels and other life interruptions.

Check out my newly-released new travel/art book Rambles into Sacred Realms

KORE

From Copan, Honduras

Scratchboard 9×12, colored in with Ampersand inks.

By the ancient Maya ruins here, I could see these large birds squawking above the trees. One made bold to perch near where I stood, inspecting my photographic paraphernalia with studied curiosity. I took several photos, also drawing some quick sketches noting the light and shade below the thick canopy. I spent the larger part of last week’s evenings and this weekend to complete this work.

Check out my newly-released new travel/art book Rambles into Sacred Realms

MACAW

From Copan, Honduras

Pen and Ink 16×20

Over a long weekend, I attempted what turned out to be a rather complex pen and ink drawing.
I wanted to recreate the sight of a scarlet macaw that flew past me as I stood admiring the ancient ball court of a great civilization. The tarp protects a delicately-carved stairway chockfull of hieroglyphics which had helped decode the Maya script. What an unforgettable moment that was!

Check out my newly-released new travel/art book Rambles into Sacred Realms

Scarlet Macaw - The Great Ball Court, Copan, Honduras

Knight with a Sword – Akko, Israel

Watercolor, 9 x 12

The Ottoman-era streets of Old Akko with their teeming souks looked truly charming as sunlight dappled upon shop awnings.

A fantastic world lay underneath these cobblestones – an enormous underground city that had been built by the Crusaders. The Knights of St. John had originally been established here in the eleventh century C.E. to care for the sick of Jerusalem. I explored this seemingly endless subterranean world of dining rooms and pillared hallways, dungeons and an elaborate sewage system that crisscrossed under the entire city.

I could also imagine knights clad in mail and armor, exiting the city in a swift march through an escape tunnel that connected the seaport to the ancient fortress, even as invading forces were penetrating the main defenses.

_DCS0954

At one point, my son’s movements caught my eye. With only his little plastic shark for protection, he looked awed, even overwhelmed by the enormity of the vaulted ceilings and the somberness of the place. Yet behind him, the morning sun had found expression through the arched entrance, lightening up the mood of the moment.

– Check out the link to my book Rambles into Sacred Realms: Exploring Divinity through Pen and Paint, where I invite readers to experience such adventure, humor and imagery illustrating my travels.

From Giza, Egypt

Scratchboard, 9 x 12

 

I haven’t had much luck with camels. Laden with cameras and film, I had agreed to this “exotic, rarely conducted camel tour around the pyramids in Giza.” Of course, I figured out much later that the tour was indeed “around” the pyramids — because my guide did not want to pay the entrance fee to the Giza complex.

So there I was in the midst of the Libyan Sahara, far from both monuments and humanity. Gesticulating wildly, he was heatedly haggling with me, threatening to walk the camel —with me on top — further into the desert should I not agree to his “new rate”.

Egyptian Camel-SMALLEST

“Fifty pounds extra,” he persisted, lowering his bid. Previously I had stuck to a stubborn 30, but now, out of unashamed fear, I capitulated.

Much later I disembarked with relief. I took a final look at the beast, now absolutely nonchalant, who stood relaxed in the blazing sun. Her demeanor was so comically calm, given the threatening transaction that had earlier taken place, that I had to take some pictures.

Scratchboard was the inevitable medium to convey these distinctive textures. I used a scalpel to evoke the woolly fluff of her face and neck.

– Check out the link to my book Rambles into Sacred Realms: Exploring Divinity through Pen and Paint, where I invite readers to experience such adventure, humor and imagery illustrating my travels.

From Varanasi, India

Acrylic on board, 12 x 16, circa 1986

It was late afternoon in the holy city of Varanasi in India.

I had blundered from one spot to the other till I had wandered hopelessly far away from my destination. It had become ominously cloudy and a downpour seemed inevitable. For a fleeting impressionist moment the sun straggled through a cloud bank, lighting up the water and a distant bridge ahead. The mottle of boats and cattle added a strange vibrancy to the scene.

A washerman was hurriedly pulling clothes from a makeshift clothesline. An obdurate goat wouldn’t budge from its sunbathing moment much to the chagrin of its masters trying to hurry it home.

In this land of contrasts, a distant mosque loomed in the sweep of this ancient temple town.

Varanasi - Light and Clouds-2

I captured the conflict of moods with an ink drawing on a paper, later recreating the scene on hardboard painted white, using acrylic with a dry-brush technique I found effective.

– Check out the link to my book Rambles into Sacred Realms: Exploring Divinity through Pen and Paint, where I invite readers to experience such adventure, humor and imagery illustrating my travels.

From Ambarnath, India

Ballpoint pen on paper, 14 x 16

 

One lazy afternoon 30 years ago, I stood by this ancient temple – an 10th Century stone jewel incredibly tucked away in the clangor of a bustling Mumbai suburb.

Ambarnath

A couple of men were getting ready for their afternoon siesta even as a goat foraged the stubbly grounds in search of a green morsel.

More than a thousand years ago, upon this very spot, architects may have looked on watchfully even as skilled artisans chipped away at obdurate stone, immortalizing poetry in stone.

Braving the onslaught of persistent flies under a sweltering sun, I used my ballpoint pen on my sketchpad to capture this inspirational moment.

 

– Check out the link to my book Rambles into Sacred Realms: Exploring Divinity through Pen and Paint, where I invite readers to experience such adventure, humor and imagery illustrating my travels.

From Sukhothai, Thailand

Conté crayon, 14 x 17

This could have been a scene from ancient Sri Lanka. The influence of that country’s architectural motifs was unmistakable, from the stroke of the chisel to the slather of the trowel.

I was walking in the central part of the Sukhothai Historical Park when I chanced upon this masterpiece in the deserted shine of Wat Sorasak. It was commissioned to be built in the early 1400s by one monk Nai Inthara Sorasak in honor of the governor.

In awe, I gazed at the parade of 24 stucco elephants that protectively emerged from the bricks holding up the chedi. “These elephants,” my guide told me,“are eternally upholding our great tenets of Buddhism.”

The bricks that made up the base were now worn out by 600 years of exposure to the elements, but the stucco was firmly holding up the line of resolute pachyderms.

I would have liked to wander around here some more, but the mosquito orchestra was getting a bit sonorous and aggressive.  I took a few pictures and later sketched this in the air-conditioned comfort of my room.

 

_DCS1357

From Sukhothai, Thailand

Scratchboard with line tool, 12 x 16,  Time taken: 2.5 hours

Living in Thailand for nearly five years, I had adopted the common mode of transport and took the motorcycle taxi or simply the “motorcy” as it is known in local parlance. Like everyone else I’d weave furiously through the dense Bangkok traffic, clinging to the handlebars for dear life. Several times on Bangkok’s main street – Sukhumvit Road – I had come close enough to tickle an elephant on its leg. But then at some point they stopped these animals from plodding the streets in Bangkok. Now I was back for a brief visit, having lived over fifteen years in Chicago, and I longed to come across an elephant again.

I had desperately called up a well-known elephant sanctuary in Sukhothai. However, they would accommodate only guests who stayed over in their lodgings so that these gentle giants could bond with the visitors. Even if I was able and willing to do that, their location was more than an hour away from the ruins and it wouldn’t serve my purpose given that my time here was short.

Maew, my Sukhothai guide, was eager to help me in my quest. We could, he said, wander the forests of Si Satchanalai in search of elephants that often emerged out of the thickets in search of sugarcane fields. He even suggested the far-fetched notion of lying in wait in one such clearing, from which, he assured me, a trumpeting herd would emerge during the sunset hours. Alas, those forests were more than six hours away, and in such sweltering heat, wasn’t the most appealing of options.

_DCS1026

Out of the blue, we bumped into a mahout by the name of Tong, who was ambling towards a welcome patch of shade with his handsome charge. Tong was headed home, to his village which was located between Sukhothai and Si Satchanalai.

Happy at my good fortune, I took a few pictures of Tong and his pachyderm companion — simply known as Nok. As a token of my gratitude I gave Nok a bunch of bananas I had tucked away in the van.

A month later I recreated this scene on scratchboard, using a line tool to capture the soft yet wrinkly skin.

– Check out www.kvkrishnan.com to get more insights into my new book Rambles into Sacred Realms: Exploring Divinity through Pen and Paint, where I invite readers to experience such adventure, humor and imagery illustrating my travels.