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.