Sketchbook pages by Abi Box

Sketchbook pages by one of our Trelex Amazonas residents, Abi Box, made during her time in the Peruvian Rainforest.

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From Melanie Ward

02 Feb - 31 Mar 2017

And when I wake in the middle of the night I see small lights, they flicker and come and go. Or they’re larger and they linger like that of a fairy, floating, gliding through the air. Or they creep and stalk something, then fade as though they were never there. They could be fireflies, or the eyes of a cat, or a man with a torchlight. The jungle is a magical place, but it can play tricks with your mind. It is hard to see what is real in the darkness.

Morning brings about a different world when the sun rises and the jungle awakens. The low rumbling, alike to a lions roar, echoes through the trees as the Howler monkeys wake and compete with the sounds of the Brown Titi monkeys who call back and forth between the males and females. If you’re lucky and quiet you may even catch a glimpse of them outside your room, which has no windows and no ceiling, only a high shared roof between the rooms. This is freedom. This is getting back to nature.

From the tower you can observe the parrots and macaws flying overhead at a height above the canopy. You can look down on the monkeys playing below, away from the bullet ants and wandering spiders, photographing the sunrises and sunsets. Everyday brings a new creature, even if they’re a different beetle, another bird, the novelty is refreshing and inspiring. Trees are abundant and everywhere, fighting for survival. Some fall down, whilst others grow and replace them. Brazil nut trees, Ceiba trees, strangler figs, all merge with vines, orchids and medicinal plants; the list is endless.
Daily walks to spot the harpy eagle or boat rides to visit lakes give sightings of piranhas and giant otters, or the clay licks where the parrots and macaws noisily gather en mass, but nothing can prepare you for the rare sighting of a jaguar as it disappears along the riverbank into the undergrowth.

One week the river is fast flowing and full of debris, the white caimans are rarely seen at this time, unlike the mosquitoes who will always find me no matter where I am. I feel safe confined within my mosquito net at night. The creepy crawlies can’t reach me here.

It is wet season and some days are just filled with rain. There is a calm and beauty to the sound. Regrowth and regeneration will follow. The present is forever changing.

From Rebecca Molloy

01 Mar - 31 Mar 2017

Image: Video still: ‘Where there are Females there are Flowers” 2017

Text: Where there are Females there are Flowers

Swinging in a hammock in the Amazon Rainforest, within a lacquered wooden lodge, surrounded by mosquitoes, thick swelling heat and lush vegetation... I still have access to the internet. I am inside and outside of nature all at once.

Our devices are absurd objects that have become a part of us, we keep them close to our bodies and yet they encourage us to view ourselves from an external perspective. Perhaps we are more aware of being surveyed than we are of the feelings of our own bodies.

Everything in nature develops gradually, step by step and organically. Tarmac, television screens, office cubicles and glazed doughnuts are the materials of our time and we are growing with them:

Once upon a time there were bodies that worshipped plants. These plants provided these bodies with sustenance, minerals, nutrients and life. These plants were sacred, they were nurturing, healing, powerful and plentiful. But now instead of growing and anchoring themselves into the ground, these plants are potted and placed next to television screens or on top of refrigerators. They are exotic and homely all at once.

When we put our hands in soil, dopamine is released in the brain. This is so that when we need to go out and gather food, we feel good about the action, ensuring that we will survive another day in the wilds of the world. The same release of chemicals happens when we receive likes on Instagram.

Once upon a time there were bodies that came from Mars and bodies that came from Venus. At times these bodies were unified, seamlessly harmonious and synchronised, but for the most part they were divided by their physical attributes and chemical makeup. It was hard to know whether these bodies behaved differently to each other because they were conditioned to, because they wanted to or because they had to. 

You will never see yourself fully in three dimensions. Only others will. You will only ever know yourself as an image, through the screens, mirrors and reflections of the world. Perhaps it is more important to feel and be in your body than it is to think about it. 

Once upon a time in the future there will be bodies that are able to suck up heat from the tarmac of the ground and modern materials will move through the layers of the skin to give them pleasure and strength. These bodies will spend time worshiping the digital world as if it were the sun and bearer of life. This world is the wildest of them all, it has the greatest calm and the greatest power as for the first time ever bodies are not separated by their physical constraints, instead they merge with each other, themselves and technology freely. 

In this world there is no gratification in having too much. Be it objects or images there is potency in everything. In this world images are protected and sacred, images are made with quietness, dignity and respect.   

Once upon a time in the future there will be bodies that sweep up the garden of the jungle in order to make way for the worship of the screen.

Everything in nature develops gradually, step by step and organically. Tarmac, television screens, office cubicles and glazed doughnuts are the materials of our time and we are growing with them.

Once upon a time in the future, life will be a journey of feeling.

Video and text made in the jungle by Rebecca Molloy, April 2017. 

From Nicole Salcedo

05 - 31 Jan 2017

Nicole Salcedo 28 Days

The anticipation of this trip began as soon as I booked my tickets. It has long since been my dream to come to the Amazon rainforest.I had no idea what to expect besides the accounts I had read online, but I knew I was in for quite a treat.

The jungle is a magical place, even in my exhaustion upon arrival I could immediately sense the energy coming through the thick of the trees.

The trees have such a commanding presence, but it was the ferns, moss, and vines creeping up the barks of lichen covered trees that really caught my attention. And the fungi! These organisms displayed such a variety of shapes and colors.

The color palette of this place doesn’t make itself known at first, seemingly all shades of greens and browns. But the more I walked the trails, the more I saw the gems of color. Coral reds, bright yellows and oranges, so many shades of pink.

Some of the plants have new growth leaves of iridescent purple that you can only see when the sun shines on them at just the right angle. These plants had me hooked. The lichen also has a very subtle palette that revealed itself to me little by little, along with the mosses that accompanied it. I couldn’t get enough of the pale shades of green and grey combined with patches of charcoal black and orange.

Then came the soil, totally lacking in nutrients but beautifully vibrant orange along the banks of the river, sprinkled with green hues of the opportunistic plants. I learned that the roots of the trees are very shallow due to the need to derive their nutrients strictly from the falling and decomposing leaves at the base of the roots.

The forest boasts of shape-shifting insects and leaves, survival through optical illusion, nothing is really what it seems until you take a closer look.

This place is a dream, the passage of time is so apparent, and yet, gets lost. The routine of the meals and activities helps but only to a certain extent, it really depends upon how you decide to spend the time. Hiking can seem to take hours when it has really only been 30 minutes, especially if you stop (like I do) to photograph every little interesting shape or color that crops up.

Hiking was one of my favorite activities, especially when I was accompanied by the resident biologists, Vania Tejeda. Her breadth of knowledge on birds and plants was incredibly captivating.  We quickly became friends on this month long journey. Vania is from Arequipa, Peru and studied biology at the University of Sarajevo in Bosnia. Her biggest passion is ornithology, but we also share a passion for art, Vani loves to paint in her down time.

This time away from my typical reality, has been very clearing for my mind, and the art that came out of it reflected exactly how I have been feeling out here. My body and consciousness covered in plants and other organisms.

My best advice would be to be open to any and every experience in this beautiful place, it has very ancient knowledge to offer.

Nicole Salcedo

From Isabel Galleymore

01 Nov - 30 Nov 2016

Tambopata Research Lodge Isabel Galleymore  

When I stepped off the plane in Puerto Maldonado, I thought the extreme heat pressing toward me came from the plane’s engines; the sweet-humid air suddenly surrounding me took me back to the controlled hot houses in Kew Gardens. My first few days in the Tambopata Reserve were punctuated by these perceptual mistakes. Coming from the UK, I kept finding myself comparing Western derivatives of tropical life to the real thing. Inhaling the saccharine scent of a flower that had fallen to the forest floor had me thinking of artificial air fresheners. Mortifying. But of course as I was confronted day after day with the scale and complexity of the rainforest, this way of looking at the rainforest soon wore off. The giant trees and their vein-work of creepers; the quietness of a two-toed sloth bathing in the last of the afternoon sunlight; macaws scattering over the dawn sky like flying rainbows; the monster sounds and smells of the peccaries; all these served to stretch my senses until “The New World”, the name given to the Americas by early sixteenth-century explorers, came to the fore. 

My poems focus upon the natural world and how its complicated relationships might shed light upon our own human relationships. I knew a month in one of the world’s most biodiverse rainforests would introduce me to a whole new range of species and relations based on mutualism, parasitism and commensalism. A couple of weeks into my residency, I happened across a very hairy caterpillar overtaken by what must have been up to a hundred wasp eggs. The caterpillar was still alive on the tree trunk, but zombied by such a burden. 

What astounded me about the environment I was seeing was not only these details, but the sheer physical matter of what was around me: the thickness of the leaves underfoot and the thickness of the leaves overhead; the huge vines loosely stitching everything together. Whilst I was curious about the small and intricate relations of species, I could not help but notice the atmosphere in which they took place: a place in which sex and threat dominate. This might just as easily be called “life and death” but such a phrase seems far too black and white in light of the rainforest’s incredibly colourful show in which pigment, form and movement might suggest a mating ritual just as it might suggest venom, poison, danger. Given it was the beginning of the rainy season, even the ladybirds (which I thought looked more like halved watermelons) were mating. Their rendezvous just metres from another discovery: a plant with leaves covered in thorns. 

For a poet looking for a license to write about such exotic creatures, I had not expected how the rainforest would force me to confront the form of my writing – the very basics of stringing a sentence together. Common orders of grammar no longer seemed to apply. At first I thought this was because my own human voice was diminished: cicadas, frogs, macaws and howler monkeys (amongst others) spoke over all human noise at the lodge and on the trails. However, as I continued to write I started to wonder about the value and meaning of imposing literary rules and culture on such wildness. The rainforest’s prolific growth appeared antithetical to a full stop. What was the point of a stanza break or a comma when the subject of my writing suddenly flies away or I find it tangled inextricably around another plant? Returning to the UK with these thoughts, notes and poems feels like I am returning with riches.

A huge thank you to Nina Rodin and Abi Box and to all involved at Rainforest Expeditions. A special thanks goes to Laura Macedo, Emmaleen Tomalin and, for forcing me to practice my Spanish, Sabino Jaen.  

From Taissia Basaria

01 Dec - 22 Dec 2016

The Trelex residency went above all my expectations. It was amazing to see just how productive one can be given the time to work and the right environment and Refugio has been the perfect place. I was on the residency for 3 weeks. This was the first time I had gotten a chance to focus solely on my work without other obligations. I began painting right away. My daily schedule consisted of getting up at 4 am and after a quick breakfast, I was on site painting from life. On most days by 10 am, a couple landscapes were completed and the rest of the day was spent walking the jungle and scouting out the next painting location.

Tambopata River

Even before arriving in Peru, I knew that the clay licks (colpas) where going to be one of my main subjects. They attract an abundance of wildlife and the colorful Macaw parrots flock there by the hundreds. With color being the most important element in my work, it was surreal to see such visual lushness in person and to be able to capture it in paint. But this I couldn't have done without the help of the Rainforest Expeditions guides. They were beyond generous with their time and, despite being on a tour schedule, let me paint the colpas from life. It is these paintings that I am basing my new body of work on, as I feel that it is the colpa that most embodies the spirit of the Amazon jungle with its visual abundance and the nourishment it provides.

Chuncho Colpa plein air

The lodge is a hot spot for career professionals from all fields. Refugio welcomes many projects and there is always something new to learn. Whether it was going on night walks to the light trap to find new species of Tiger Moths, re-releasing a baby snake after its photo shoot for a biology book or watching a drone film uncharted jungle canopy. The jungle not only supplied subject matter but also a nurturing work environment to create.

At the tower, taken with a drone

I was very fortunate that my stay coincided with fellow artists Emmaleen. Although we had different styles, our works complemented each other well and I enjoyed watching her process. We spent many days drawing and walking the jungle paths together.


The management team at Refugio were very supportive of our work and over our last week there they arranged a gallery reception for us (pictures of the opening below). The work from the residency filled a very long communal dining table. After dinner guests and lodge staff got to finally see what we were working on over the past month. It brought me a lot of joy seeing everyone examining the works and trying to decide which one was their favorite. Many recognized the places I painted and we stayed up late as the employees told stories about the giant Lupuna tree from my drawing or about how they could tell the exact time of day that I had painted the river. Upon my return home, I found that it was the people that I missed the most.

Gallery opening night

Trelex residency was a once in a lifetime experience. I still find it hard to believe that this opportunity came into my life. Working in the field challenged by painting abilities and the works completed while at the residency have already begun to open doors for me back home. Again, thank you Nina, for your generosity in creating such projects for fellow artists and Abi for all the care and support.

Colpa, painted from sketches done in the Amazon

From Emmaleen Tomalin

01 Nov - 21 Dec 2016

I have a strange ache in my heart thinking about the amazon rainforest, the mystery of the place, the unfathomable depths. I struggled a lot to write this blog as I’m still trying to comprehend my experience of the jungle, so I’ll begin with a little list of loose descriptions.

A pair of slinky snake- like tayras weaving their way.
Old man baby- faced capuchins with tails dipped in foam snatching fruits just outside my room.
Bear faced tamarins and elfin squirrel monkeys moving across the canopy.
Tiger moths and a purple berry dragonfly,
Bullet ants hunting on the outskirts.
Beastly, foul smelling peccaries with their squealing young. Clicking their teeth and bristling their hair.
I heard footsteps and felt eyes on me.
Mocking wild turkeys and a nightly moaning bamboo rat.
A silent, slivery blue jungle bathed in super moon light.
Gorgeous snowflake daisy fungi,
Curly tails and swirly twigs. Walking trees growing new limbs.
A stripy tailed raccoon weasel creature straight out a story book.
Pulsing azure blue morpho butterflies,
A gentle two-toed sloth person combing her hair in a world time all of her own.
Crashing trees, drowning darkness and firefly fairies.
Slow mournful ginger howlers resting and tuning up. And the eerie echoing begins. Here come the howlers.

There were times when being in the amazon felt like an out of body altered mind experience. I lived in a surreal dream world for seven weeks, with extremely heightened emotions, punctuated by reality from members of my own species. I was lucky enough to spend time both at the Tambopata research centre and Refugio Amazonas.

Everything was stranger and more complex than my wildest imaginings. How does an artist even begin to capture a place like this? I wondered. I knew I had to start scribbling as soon as possible before fear kicked in.

I began working in a sketchbook taking as many visual notes as possible and was fortunate enough to draw some animals from life. My absolute favourites were the two toed sloth and the howler monkeys. It was such a privilege to see these incredible animals let alone draw them. Although drawing through a telescope proved to be tricky.

I soon learned how difficult it is to see animals and how active of a process it is to spot them. The jungle slowly reveals itself if you are quiet, open minded and alert. I really enjoyed the daily visits from the macaws and peccaries and spent a lot of time trying to draw them in movement. Later on I started drawing hybrids of animals and began my own imaginary menagerie.

I slowed down in my last two weeks and spent a lot of time staring at trees, walking around on my own and trying to listen closely to the voices in the jungle. I enjoyed swinging on a hammock in the middle of the night watching the firefly fairies dart around in the enveloping darkness. This quiet absorption thinking time was just as important to me as drawing.

I saw and felt so much in the jungle and I am eternally grateful to have had this experience and to come home with countless ideas and invaluable visual information for new picture books.

I’m thankful I got to share my residency with the gentle, light-footed poet Isabel Galleymore who braved illness and the tough-as-nails landscape artist Taissia Basaira who grew a little pale but didn’t bat an eyelid after being repeatedly stung by a bullet ant. I’m also so glad I met the wholesome soul Laura Macedo (the guest service manager at TRC) who listened to me play guitar in the evenings. I learnt so much from these three women who challenged me each in their own way. I would also like to thank all the guides and rainforest expeditions for housing us and looking after us. Nina, thank you for starting such an amazing residency, Abi, thank you for all the leg work.

Emmaleen Tomalin's Flickr Album