In 2009 my consulting business took me to Lilongwe, Malawi to work with a team up there.  The two-week intervention went really well.  At the end of the time I hired a car and took a drive down to the lake.    I posted a few blog postings while I was there and have collated them all into this post for a good read and view of the work I created while I was there.

This is a sound-clip I recorded while I was out there – music to accompany the reading of this post.  In the clip you can hear the guys packing their boat to head home – featured as a watercolour below.  As they start the motor you can hear a chorus of frogs.  I was able to take one or two photos as they headed upstream.  Then they disappeared around the bend in the river.  And I settled down to complete my sketch.

While I was in Lilongwe I took a walk over to the country club to visit the place where Aura and I had stayed when we did a trip around Malawi on bicycles.  Here is the posting I created on that outing:


I am currently working with an organisation in Lilongwe – Malawi. I have spent most of the time working but yesterday I took a walk around. Just over 20 years ago my wife and I came here with bicycles and rode around the country. We had so much to learn about travelling like that. But we had a real adventure. We spent the first weekend camping at the Lilongwe Country Club. Yesterday I went back to the country club. It is o beautiful, I just wanted to sit and do a painting. I have a little Windsor Newton kit with two horse hair ink brushes, which I have cut off to fit into the bag. It was great just to sit in the afternoon sun listening to the crickets and the birds.   When I got out my kit I saw that I had not brought any watercolour paper.   But I had a photocopy of a consulting text which had one open page behind the title page.   So I used that.  It was a bit fragile when wet, but felt a bit like Arches hot pressed.  This is what I did:

This is the cricket pavilion at the club (not to be confused with the insects I mentioned earlier).  And as I sat I reflected on our cycle trip and our journey since then.  I like to be alone like this.   In my work I am prone to interaction fatigue.   But I would also like to have had Aura with me, and my children.  So this picture is for Aura.

On completion of the intervention I packed my gear into a hire car and headed down to Cape Maclear where Aura and I had relaxed for a day before continuing our expedition.  I remember we were both quite sick at the time.  Here is my posting from my night at the lake:


Last night I left Lilongwe in a hire car and drove down to Cape Maclear – I stopped on the way to take pictures and heard the beautiful bird songs so I was really looking forward to getting there.  When I arrived, I found the campsite in the middle of a village.  The camp was pleasant and Peter the owner and Cheezy the manager were very friendly.  There were the usual assortment of tourists, travellers and aid-workers-on-break which I enjoy.  I had about half an hour to paint so did the painting below while being hustled by a drunken local to buy some curios.


This is not a masterpiece but as I always tell myself, the important thing is to be there painting.  The quality of the result is incidental.   I slept like a log in spite of the Friday night party in next door compound.  This has been a very tiring week.  The village was very noisy and busy.  And there were no birds.  Just people talking about the fish eagles.  So I wanted to leave as soon as I could.

This morning I drove to Liwonde and caught the boat to Mvuu lodge where I am camping for tonight.  It is quite tiring driving on the roads here.  There always people walking or cycling in the road and every now and then there is a huge donga in the road that would rip out your diff if you hit it at speed.   I have had a great afteroon in the camp painting and listeing to the emerald spotted wood doves.   They have such a plaintive call.  It resonates with my sleepy melancholia.

This is a painting I did of the view across the Shire River as I waited for the boat to arrive:


The two weeks in Lilongwe drained my last “interaction-reserves” and all I want to do is sit by myself.  As people arrived for the boat I just sat and painted.  And people left me alone.  This afternoon everyone left for a game-drive and the camp was almost deserted, which was just great.

This is a view looking upstream from the education centre the camp.  There is a small launch area to the right of the picture and the camp workers were chatting and clonking around in boats (what did ratty say “messing around in boats” – the wind in the willows).  It was all so peaceful and mellow.


The tree in the middle distance is a fever tree.  It turned out a bit messy because I fell asleep as I was painting – it was so relaxing.   When I get back to my studio in Cape Town I want to paint more of these scenes.


I took a recording of the doves using my voice recorder and will figure out how to put it on the page if it comes out OK.
You can hear the recording at the top of this posting.
you can also hear my painting the above watercolour.
I just love the emerald spotted wood-doves.  Recording this sound was one of the major objectives of my post-intervention trip.
They have such a plaintive sound.


The next morning I rose early to join a group for a walk in the bush and then I sat on a termite mound on the outskirts of  the camp to do a painting.  The link to the posting is here .  And here is a copy of the posting:


This morning I sat and did this painting just outside the camp at Mvuu. (Mvuu is the Chichewa word for a “Hippo”. It sounds like the blowing sound the hippo makes when it surfaces). In spite of the hippos grunting as they wandered around the camp and a visit from the hyenas I had a deep sleep. So when I sat down to paint I was rested and calm. I climbed a termite mound and sat in the shade of a tree. What a pleasant experience. The Shire River is just behind the bush to the right of the picture. I climbed to the top of the mound and took some photos, but there was no space to sit and paint.

Earlier that morning, Samuel our guide on a walk in the reserve had told us that the termites build the nest to house grass cuttings for a fungus garden to produce food for the queen, who lives for up to 18 years. That is a long time. And she is really just an egg factory. As termites hurry around they touch every other termite they contact and swop body fluids. And they do the same when they take the queen her dinner. The body fluids keep a running ratio of workers to soldiers and other roles and the queen automatically produces the kind of eggs to keep the ratios balanced. So if the wall is breached and a whole bunch of soldiers lay down their lives defending the repair party, the body fluid mix will show it and the queen will lay “soldier eggs” and refill the ranks of the royal guard. And all of this was going on as I sat and painted and looked out for wild and dangerous animals. Such is life in the African bush.


When I returned to Cape Town I created a finished painting of the  above view, with the workers heading out in the staff boat.  Well I did two – here is the first one


Most of the workers at Mvuu camp live at home upstream from the camp and they get a ride by boat to and from the camp. Here is a painting of the guys on the ferry home. It seemed quite precarious but such a cool way to commute. Something to think about next time I am stuck in traffic on the N2.


There is a LOT of green and I started putting in too much detail, though I think the bush supports the boat so I will do it again taking more time on the greens and darks. Also I think the colours in the men and the boat are bit too washed out.
The painting is 760×570 mm which is a full sized sheet of Arches Cold Press (185gm)


I then did another version in which I took big risks with putting down floods of green.  I also crafted the leaves in the nearby trees to create a frame for the workers.  I sold this painting for decent price at the SASA exhibition in Kirstenbosch.  Here is the posting in which I describe the process:


I am busy doing a second painting of the Mvuu Bus watercolour. I started last night, with a line drawing and this morning put on in a wash for the sky and the river, taking K’s suggestion into account to put some more colour in the water. So here is the sketch with the first wash. The water and the sky is really full of colour and I have tried to capture that here.

I have also drawn the men in the boat in more detail to try to capture the patches of light on their faces. We are so fortunate being able to work from photos. Apparently Turner used to spend hours and hours watching water and making notes.
After the first wash I went surfing with the family and returned to continue the painting. The pipe was a bit flat when we arrived but as the tide started pushing we had some really great waves. Here is the next part of the picture. I painted the far bank and then painted the forest in the middle distance. Iwas starting the bush behind the boat when I felt it was time to take a break.

I am listening to the music of The Stranglers – Golden Brown – such cool music – but what is that name all about?
I am ready to do the boat and the guys – here is the detail so far:

And here are all the guys sitting in the boat.  This was quite a mission.

And here is the middle-ground bush and some foreground grasses. This is a very green painting again, but it is Malawi in the rainy season. I like the way the water behind the boat worked.


OK – so this is how it looks now

I see the chap with the blue floppy-hat next to the chap with the red shirt is carrying a rifle. The river is full of crocodiles and hippo and there are buffalo and elephants in the park.
mmmm – the boat looks a little weak and the colour in the river needs to be brought out some more. Maybe it is time to sleep on it and varnish in the morning. I couldnt resist it and put some more colour in the boat – now NO MORE FIDDLING!!! The trees are really dark – Lots of colour. I don’t think about it too much, but at 100 bucks a tube of W&N artist watercolour it gets quite pricey.
Well this has been a good day of painting. And I am listening to Olga Kern play Chopin. She is playing Chopin’s Fantasie-Impromptu Op.66 which my mother used to play often, when I was a kid, on the baby-grand downstairs as I lay in bed to dozing off – a good memory.
OK – here is my last word on this version of the chaps heading home in their river transport.