I literally never know what to expect when I go to Pohchang. Everyday is an adventure.
Today is the first day of school in the year 2013. I arrive at 9am and join a group of Ajahns for breakfast in the canteen. The pretty young lady who sells drinks asks me where I "kaw dow". I know basic Thai, but I had no idea what she meant. So I ask Ajahn Fai to come and translate. "Kaw daw" is Thai for "count down". She was asking where I went for New Years Eve!
That was the first funny Thai lesson of the year. The second came during lunch. Kekuay means chrysanthemum, which is made into a popular drink. A. Pei, Fai and Duang were perplexed by the Greek word--so I looked it up and explained that "chrys" was gold and "anthemum" was flower in Greek. They roared in laughter, and told me that golden flower is a euphemism in Thai for a slut. In their attempt to explain why, A. Pei draws a salamander with spots, representing venereal disease. I love language.
After lunch, we all (except for A. Pei) went to get haircuts. Conventionally, Thais believe Wednesday is a bad luck day to cut hair. But since I explained that in the Tibetan calendar it's a day supposed to generate wealth, we all decided to go.
Here's A. Pei's lesson for the day:
Go beyond existing concepts.
"Think curve then smooth out parts--forms are not realistic." I need to forget that I'm making an "arm" or a "head". Remove concepts of body from your mind when sculpting Buddhas (in Sukhothai style).
Sculpt from light.
"Create form from light and shadow", in other words, determine the shape according to the proper proportions and then refine it according to how highlights of light and shadow fall on the statue itself.
Ajahn Pei instructed me to turn off the ceiling lights and use a candle to check my work. Light should be directed from 90 and 45 degree angles to the side of the piece.
This ancient practice is fascinating to me, because it also pertains to the architecture of ancient temples.
While in Sri Lanka, touring the ruins in ancient city of Polonaruwa, a monk told me that the temples were designed so that light rays from the sun or moon would be directed by shafts unto large gems that would them light the statues within.
Get a different perspective on your work often.
Step away every few minutes. Look often from at least 1 meter away (depending on the size of the statue). This serves to reduce strain on your eyes, body, and mind as well.
Check proportions, then after structure is finished, remove references.
This surprised me. The whole process so far has involved copying multiple references. Checking for precise replication. But after a certain point the piece is allowed to have a life of its own.
Perhaps not unlike art students.