Category Archives: Antigua Sketch Trip

Antigua on my mind.

Brew a cuppa, this could be a long one.  It’s one of those borderless days.

***** A quick note about this post.  It is offered here today and also over on my Patreon page to everyone – in full – regardless of patronage or lack there of.    As always I appreciate those of you who come to this space to read and I will continue to offer bits and pieces here as I have since the beginning. I have been told my writings brings a smile sometimes, or value of some kind at least.  Occasionally. 

If this is you, and you would like to buy me a cup of coffee each month, (house brew, with a splash of oatmilk if you please) head on over and make a little pledge to do so.  Every little bit helps.  And at this point with the help of my new patrons, I have financially covered what it will take to upgrade some of my tech to keep this website alive and kickin.  For this I am deeply grateful.  Now….. let’s go to Antigua, Guatemala on this cold and snowy gray day……..*****

These are strange times in which we find ourselves.  I for one am still feeling a bit twitchy since the January 6th insurrection at our nation’s capitol.  While I am, for all intents and purposes, just fine,  I also write this post with a heating pad round my neck just after an appointment with an acupuncturist this morning.  I think it may take a while to physically remove the stains of vitriolic hatred from our bodies after the past 4+ years.  I know in my bones that we aren’t finished with this madness, just getting a little break.  Some time to recoup and catch our collective breath.

I find myself quick to cry lately.  Perhaps a song in a poignant key, or a tune comes round that I remember playing together with friends in the before times and I well up.  I suppose crying acts as a sort of pressure valve release.  Affording us a small respite so as not to shatter into a million tiny pieces.  I’ve lost count of the number of friends I have who have lost parents and other loved ones.  I know friends who’ve sickened and suffered but survived.  I also know friends who’ve sickened and not survived.  And I know those who are simply surviving in other ways as well – mentally, spiritually, financially.  It’s a slog, and we don’t even have each other to lean on.  Not really.  Though to be honest, as much as I may grow weary of zooming, I cannot deny it’s presence has been a god-send in this era of endless loneliness.

It has been almost a year since I packed my satchel to travel to Guatemala for two back to back travel journal workshop offerings.  My heart was heavy at the time with the household loss of my pack of aged animals – one on the heels of another and yet another, but the very soul of the city of Antigua acts as a balm to a weary spirit and the healing begins the moment my plane touches ground in Guatemala City.

There is a woman next to me on the plane in traditional Guatemalan dress.  She has no English, only a bit of Spanish and my Spanish languishes hidden behind veils of trauma and time.  I have no Maya to speak of either (let alone the dozens of dialects therein) .  But the universal language of humanity allows for mild pleasantries to occur during our flight – “excuse me, can I pass through to use the loo?”, “can I pass your cup of tea to you?”, “would you like this last cookie?”.  In this way we have traveled companionably.

The sun is up outside our minuscule scratched  porthole.  We see the smoking tips of volcanoes peeking up through clouds below us.  The land in Guatemala is alive, breathing.  My companion breaks into a tooth gold grin when our wheels hit the tarmac and I can’t help but join her in this gleeful feeling of homecoming.  Anxieties surrounding the years of my childhood spent here are tucked away into what feels like a different lifetime and I’ve developed a deep love for this place as an adult and an artist.  This land, these amazing people.  In spite of a crushing level of poverty to be found here in many places, people are quick to smile, to correct my woeful grammar or to give assistance in finding my way.  From here in wintry Ohio, in the middle of a raging pandemic, I need only close my eyes to see the smiles of my friends in Guatemala.

I’ve been thinking a lot about the work that I do in the normal times.  When asked “so what is it that you do?”, my answer is “I teach the art of keeping an illustrated travel journal.”  That’s the short answer at least.  The truth of the work is much more complicated.  Sure I teach a bit of art, I do a lot of cheerleading, and I share words and writing – my own and that of others.  But the real heart of the work is that I teach people to notice.  I conduct exercises which promote an opening up of the mind to the art of attention.

It is said that we teach what we most need to learn.  I suppose in a way, this old adage holds a grain of truth for me.  Engaging in a small blank book when traveling is a bit like holding a magical key of a kind.  I can slow time, focus in on the most miraculous sights, sounds and memories.  Later, when leafing back through old volumes, a drawing or the jotting of a few words’ impression can catapult my mind and heart back to the exact moment I wrote, drew or painted it.

This morning, before dawn, I sit with some coffee and a sleepy melted puppy (aren’t puppies the sweetest when just a bit melty?).

In my mind, for some reason, I go to Antigua.  I can smell woodsmoke on the air from cook fires off in the distant hillsides and diesel from cars and motorcycles shuttling local folk to work and school.

For my ears, there is the music of school and church bells ringing through out town.  These bells have a tinny clang to them unlike the bells I know back home.  I wonder about the families rushing to get to school on time, the grandmothers who light a candle upon entering a hushed and darkened church foyer.  There is laughter perhaps downstairs on the main level of our posada where the work day begins for our gracious hosts.  Hugo’s laughter is a bright light the world.  It is good to conjure on a dreary Ohio morning.  The sun shines and warm breezes blow, Fuego’s most recent eruptions drift off into the distance….

As much as being fully present is vital and advisable, I am not beyond a bit of escapism in difficult times.  Why else would we have the imaginations we do?  My Antigua travel-journaling class won’t be happening this spring, and summer’s trip to Taos is looking more and more doubtful each time I read the covid-related headlines.  Perhaps I can squeeze in a trip to Guatemala just to make art and work in my own journal before this calendar year is over.  I do not know.

I do know that I dearly miss the other soul-home-spaces I’ve come to know over the years of my nomadic work.  I also know that it has been a real gift to work on tending to this home-place here in Ohio for a time, cold and gray as it is just now.  I hope that wherever today’s missive finds you, be it sitting with sorrow or gratitude, or perhaps diving into old journals as a means of momentary escape, that you find a way to be gentle with yourself.  Have that second cup of coffee or tea.  Spend an extra moment holding it close for warmth.  Give into a good cry.  Trust me, it feels good.  Let your friends know you miss them.

We will get through this.  Eventually.

 

Processing carrots

How to go from this….
……to this!!

Start with the shape of a carrot.  “ish”.

Add a “head” to your carrot shape.

And then a wee shadow to ground your developing figure in space….

(for the record, my sunshine is found in the left of my little world.)

Once your carrot is feeling like a figure, time to clothe it a bit.  This is done with some basic shapes, like rectangles.  The vendors here in Guatemala with their traditional outfits (the word for these is “traje”) are lovely to sketch in this way as the forms found in their clothing can be broken down to simple shapes.

Next I begin to add some appendages for this particular figure.

I then add a bundle on her head.  Folks here work so hard!  They carry their wares for peddling on their backs, heads, arms and then walk and walk and walk to make a sale.

I begin to find light in the bundle….

Then some patterning in her corte…..

And added some color therein….

I darken her outfit, showing the shadow beneath her heavy bundle….

a little more personality to her shadow.

Then I begin to add more wares for her to sell to the tourists here in Antigua.  Necklaces which will dangle from one arm whilst her other balances the bundle above.

More colors on the necklaces and some threads too.

She’s looking good I think!

So very tiny, but these little portraits really have a ton of personality and I enjoy creating them!

I am SO inspired by the Guatemalan people.  So very patient with us often clueless tourists with our clumsy spanglish.  Quick with a smile and a “buenos días” on the sidewalk.  The traditional textiles worn around town are a feast for the northern-most among us so thirsty for color.  It is such great fun to learn about the various patterns and places represented in these weavings and embroideries.  And great fun to explore them in a variety of ways in my sketchbook….

Una semana mágica

Volcán Fuego gave us quite a show this week here in Antigua.

“Deep peace of the running wave to you.

Deep peace of the flowing air to you.

Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.

Deep peace of the shining stars to you.

Deep peace of the infinite peace to you.”

A Gaelic Blessing.

Even to witness warmth and light and open sky without bundling up against winter’s wrath has been a gift beyond imagining.

It is a liminal time.  Alone with my thoughts and a well earned glass of wine, I straddle two weeks of this travel journaling workshop process.

Bittersweet, this saying good bye to new and old art friends alike.

It has been una semana mágica – a magical week, indeed.

Together we glimpsed enough of the city to capture our hearts and imaginations.  Those new to this mystical city found themselves captivated by it, and those of us returning, renewed our love affair with color, light, a vibrant, smiling community of people of all walks along with rich history, sound and beauty.

A great deal of work was accomplished in our sketchbooks and within our eyes and minds which were opened to places previously untapped.   Of course this was not possible without spending time out in the city itself.  Walking, dining, shopping, meeting new friends, observing the comings and goings of people, light, color, tuk-tuks, motorbikes, vendors, joggers and fellow tourists.

We came to this trip not without our own troubles, this is to be sure.  The world has some really hard stuff going on just now, and the hope was we might delve into the beauty here for a respite.  A refill.  In order that we might better serve others upon our return to regular life.

“Lovers find secret places inside this violent world where they make transactions with beauty.”

~Rumi

I wish the fellow artists of week one fair winds and following seas in their journeys back into their work-a-day lives.  That they might bring some color, slowness, and beauty back home with them.

One of our kinds hosts here in Antigua is Hugo Espinoza, manager at Posada San Sebastián as well as a brilliant photographer.  We commissioned him to give us a tour of his  Antigua, the city he was raised in.  He thankfully obliged.

Hugo, accompanied by his camera showed us around Antigua, complete with intoxicating samples at the local chocolate museum, glimpses into the back courtyards of some of the higher end hotels, meetings and greetings with local artisans….below is a glimpse….

Just one stunning view from the roof of hotel Don Rodrigo
At Hotel Santo Domingo, there are rescued parrots living in the lap of luxury, well cared for, but of course.
Hugo graciously answered so many of our questions about his home town.
One of my favorite places to visit was an artists cooperative called Casa Para Las Artes where I obtained a painting from a fellow artist with a “colibri” soul.
Hugo made friends with the little dog who plays hostess at the cooperative. She was not sure if she was ready to share her bone with him or not. I think they are still working it out.

Gosh I miss my dogs. 🙁
There are two choco museos here in town. We swung by them on multiple occasions. We like their philosophy.
While Mari was not part of our Hugo tour, she did lead us to a number of lovely treasures. We hope she hits send on that pesky thesis in a day or two so we can paint together more next week!!

And so the week flew along, at once fleeting and expansive.  So much work.  It is a wonder we hadn’t split ourselves into multiple selves to get it all accomplished.  Such is always the case with these magical places, is it no.

Tara sketched at lovely Capuchinas in the early days of the week.
Penny did as well. Penny’s big victory this week was tackling many many many arches and figuring out perspective along the way.
A favorite place of everyone was the rooftop coffee place we adore called Bella Vista. We are always welcomed home like old friends. So grateful. Also, best coffee around!!
Rosemary set a goal to do up one whole half of this accordion book during week one (with the back side saved for week 2!!) She was successful! I’ll post a video soon!
Mary’s work is exquisite. She comes to every workshop with a book already primed with things she finds inspiring from past visits. Such beautiful creativity.
Lily described herself as a “total beginner” but quickly took to the lovely “basics” (ahem, never basic) of perspective, light and shadow. Well done Lily!
Tara makes gorgeous drawings always, but I loved this interpretation of the land being held. So beautiful.
Before I left Ohio I attended a little workshop at the Art Academy featuring the fabulous CF Payne who showed us a bit about his technique in painting and drawing. Rosemary attempted the process which I brought down here with me and found a beautiful result for her efforts!!
I absolutely adore this sketch by Penny. She often chooses quiet beauty as her subject matter and it never disappoints.
I didn’t sketch a ton this week, but I managed some of my tiny paintings.
Lily works in the court yard at the Posada
Mary’s exquisite sketch of the coffee set up at Choco Museo
Jo is an accomplished artist who stepped out of her comfort zone on multiple occasions this week. Also, she kept us in stitches with comedic hilarity.

All in all it was a tremendously successful week.  And now I am part celebrating, part resting, part readying for week two which I am sure will find it’s own brand of Antigua magic.

It’s fun toward the end of the week to begin doing occasional “throw downs” where we all share our work.  This can be intimidating of course, but with such a small tight knit group, sharing was fun and inspiring.

We all learn so much from one another.  I simply provide a container of space and place in which to foster it all.  Art doesn’t have to be a competition.  We all begin some where, do we not?

There is a sacred quality to the creation of something which wasn’t there before.  Even if it’s “just a sketch”.  There is a special magic to spending time, real, slow time with a scene, a place, a person we find inspiring, and following the bones of it with our pens, pencils and paints.

It is this slowness in the travel experience which really shines in this process.  I am deeply grateful to facilitate this amazing work in a small way here in Antigua, Guatemala.  Dates are set for next year.  Let me know if you are interested.

For what do you use your hands?
What sacred job do they do?
And what are your tools to change the world? It doesn’t take much…..

Birds of a Feather

It is early morning and we are greeted at the gate of a local nature preserve by staff most serious of purpose.

We purchase tickets into El Pilar, a well kept, multi-purpose bit of land and head off for a hike to see about seeing some birds….

Our gracious hosts are our friends Mari Gray and Leander Khil, who between them carry many labels such as designer, ornithologist, writer, photographer, artist and so much more.

They take us into the forest and invite us into their world where birds reveal themselves in ways previously unknown and we are delighted.

Mostly we see and hear birds alive and well.  Calling and chirping, flitting and flying.  Yet we also see signs of nature taking it’s course which gives us a way to study closer…

 

This is indeed a seemingly magical wood.  And I begin to wonder where we are in the world.

Up and up we climb, witnessing the world of the flying kind at their own level.

A glimpse of the valley below, and a cookie or two for our efforts, we marvel at the vista and rest a bit before heading back down where the birds have gone into hiding but there are still some interesting insects and flowers to behold.

We head into town for brunch where we revisit the names of all of the birds we saw this day.

Eventually gears must shift and we are back to the workshop scene where birds of another feather are gathering.

photo credit Julie Persons.

One by one, this upcoming week’s workshop participants arrive and are greeted with views of a volcanic realm where there is poetry hiding in the most unlikely places.

Like in the clouds…..

Or under a napkin holder on a silverware sleeve….

Days dawn bright and beautifully and some of us greet the sunrise with an early morning run up the hill for a view of the city….

These recent days have also given us surprise visits from some esteemed guests.

Claudia was here today for a photo shoot….

And she met her greatest fans...

photo credit Julie Persons

In between complicated scenes….

Mari stopped in to meet everyone today as well.  We are hoping she can finish her thesis this week and come to paint with us!

By evening, we are all getting to know one another and making plans for Day 1 of this week’s activities over dinner.

It’s been rich, and we haven’t really even begun.  Yet like birds of a feather, we have gathered to feel volcanic breezes ruffle our winter plumage.  Our sights are set on seeing the colors for what they are and exploring Antigua in the week ahead.

As the week gets started, I will be doing my best to update on the usual channels where I can, but my priority is, of course, being fully present for those who’ve come here to make art with me.  So I’ll catch up here when I can…. Til then…

 

 

 

 

Day two – Readying

A busy day of many good things workshop related – errands run, lists checked and re-checked, details double checked, last minute messages sent, plans solidified.  I am so grateful for the people who make this work not only possible, but gratifying and fun as well.

In which Rosemary and Hugo are asked to “look serious” for the “we are working very hard” instagram photo.

Though we managed to get so much done……….(swag packages readied? check!)

…. we also managed a little shopping, some lovely meals, and even a few hours sketching at a local ruin.

The mixing of work and play, art and vocation, self care and the tending to a job to be done.  All of it a beautiful balance.  Feeling the magic of Antigua seeping into my bones as we settle in for what will be two wonderful weeks of art-making with amazing people.

Who knows?  There may even be a guest appearance here and there by some special non-workshop friends…..

First night

A smooth day’s travel via winged chariots hailing from north and west and of course my little Ohio River Valley.  A few of us are landed, in our physical bodies at least, if not fully and completely just yet.

Antigua is mostly quiet, especially compared to years past when Easter time was nigh.  The breezes are warm, two of us here are from cold climes.  We are beginning to thaw.

These past weeks of grief and loss have been wearying, this is certain.  Traveling finds me weary at the end of an uneventful but rather long day as well.  But I am grateful for the thawing.  Grateful for this work which brings me to such beautiful places in the world.

Tomorrow is a fresh day.  With camera and sketching gear in hand, I’ll head into town to warm up the image making muscles with my fellow artists.

For now, it is time to rest.