Saturday, April 24, 2010

Awakening the Dragon Boat

Leslie Silvia gave me a tip that a Dragon Boat was going to be launched at Lake Fairview at the Orlando Rowing Club. As I approached the park, pink balloons let me know I was at the right place. After I parked I walked up towards the lake because I could see the dragon boat on a trailer behind a pick up truck. There was a chain link fence between me and the boat so I walked the length of the fence looking for an entry. I didn't find one, all the entrances were locked up. I walked back the other way towards a crowd of people many of them wearing pink shirts. As I approached this crowd underneath a picnic pavilion, Leslie saw me and approached. She gave me a program and explained what was about to happen. Before the boat would be launched, there would be opening remarks and a performance of the Orlando Taiko Dojo. I set up and started sketching the performers. The rhythmic drumming didn't last very long and I rushed to get as much detail into the sketch as I could before they left the stage. I was just starting to apply color as the group stopped and prepared to go home. I had chosen to sit at the table where the performers had left their supplies so when they were done I found myself surrounded. A little boy saw me working and stood right in front of me watching me work. His friend tried to convince him to go play on the swings but he stood transfixed. I had to lean side to side so I could see around him.
When a new Dragon Boat is launched a black mark is painted on the center of the dragon's eye. According to legend, the dotting of the eye awakens the dragon, and grants the boat and it's racers good luck. Dragon boat racing commemorates the life of Qu Yuan who lived in the third century BC. He was a minister who advocated reforms for his home state of Chu. The king refused to listen and Qu Yuan was banished. When Qu Yuan heard his home had been invaded, he drowned himself in the Mi Lo river. Local fishermen rushed out in boats in an attempt to save him. They beat drums and thrashed the water with paddles in an attempt to keep fish from eating his body. Rice dumplings were thrown in the water to try and lure the fish away.
When I finished this sketch, I walked out to the water where a dragon dance had just stopped. All of the women in pink shirts turned out to be breast cancer survivors and they were the dragon boat's crew for the maiden voyage. I followed them out to the dock where the boat was moored and considered getting a sketch as they loaded into the boat but the moment was gone in an instant. The boat had been funded by Harriet Lake and named for her daughter and breast cancer survivor Shelly Lake and Harriet's sister Isabel Etter. The warriors paddled the boat gently off shore and then they threw pink and red carnations into the water to commemorate people they knew who had died from breast cancer. The flowers floated gently back to the dock in the afternoon breeze. The women in the boat were known as Warriors on water (WOW). A woman sat at the each end of the boat and the woman in back shouted out a beat for the rowers to synchronize to. The sun was setting creating bright orange flashed on the water, as the warriors gracefully cruised out to the center of the lake and back. I stood on the edge of the lake for the longest time thinking I might get one more sketch, but I decided it would be dark before I finished. I simply etched the image in my mind and vowed to return to sketch another day.

Prints are available for each sketch for $250 and many originals can be purchased for $400. White museum grade shadow box frames are $100 more. You can e-mail Thor at


David-Glen Smith said...

Wonderful depiction and background details.

Steven said...

You rock, Thor! The stories are as good as the sketches. Yeh!

Izumi Sakurada said...

My daughter and I performed Taiko drumming! We remember you sketching us. How refreshing to see analog art of our performance! We have many video and photo clips posted, but not like this one! Love it! Thank you. I am sharing your blog on my facebook as well as forwarding the site to all my drumming buddies!
Come and see our next performance at Downtown Disney on Oct. 15 for the Dragon Boat race and the annual Japan Festival on November 6th at Hunters Creek's Village Shopping center.
Izumi Sakurada