We are met in Guatemala City by our trusty driver Pablo and are whisked away from the big city to Antigua where Posada San Sebastian awaits us as our home away from home. We stash our things and wander for a cup of coffee (first of many) as our lodging isn’t quite ready for our weary heads. We wander the quiet town as it awakens to an average work day- shops opening, my favorite coffee place too, Bella Vista, and we some how make it until our room is ready and we can nap .
The Posada is bustling but calm and we sleep soundly until well after lunch hour. This is the price we pay for an overnight flight. With more awake minds and bodies we spend some time with our sketchbooks . I’m well over due for it and feeling rusty but I manage.
After a while we are famished for a late lunch/early dinner so we head out to town for some local fare.
It’s delicious and there is even a strolling minstrel who sings to the diners. It is a magical meal. One of many to be sure .
We wander a bit more, acclimating, looking into the shops, greeting the greeters outside of all of the establishments .
Upon our return, the sun is setting with much fanfare.
We are delighted by this, and even Fuego itself gives us a small (non-catostrophic) belching light show of lava in the distance .
Though We are weary, we eagerly await the arrival of our fellow travelers with whom we will share the coming days .
More soon, provided we have continued connectivity.
This time just last week I found myself still in Antigua, Guatemala, soaking up the last bit of sweetness and sunshine of a truly remarkable artistic adventure.
Today, at least according to calendars, spring has arrived.
Charlie is not amused, but I assure her that this will pass quickly. For while the snow falls and is apparently due to drop 4-6 inches on our fair river valley, the birds do sing, the buds do promise a show, and so I admire the loveliness, and sift through sketches and photographs of a time well had down south….. now while sipping hot bevvies.
It is always a bit of a journey to truly move between one place and another, each beloved, each so different from the next. And so I have taken my time getting back into the swing of things here at home. There has been work to catch up on at the shop (this is my day job where I help craft world class concertinas and the cases which house them). Not to mention unpacking, much laundry and the defragmentation of lists and accounting. And oh yes, St. Patrick’s Day nudged itself in there as well.
All good and fine things, but I’ll admit to being a little more on the ‘busy’ end of the activity spectrum in recent days than I would normally care to be. It is a gift to have a bit of time on a snowy morning to share a bit of this latest Guatemalan adventure here. What a time we had!
After a quick visit to foggy, rain soaked Chicago, I traveled for a lengthy but uncomplicated day, arriving in Central America at sunset. By the time I made my way to Guatemala City, it was fully dark, but there was full moon splendor for the first few nights of my stay. I spent a number of evenings just marveling from the rooftop as la Luna came up and over the horizon.
A bit of time was also spent just marveling once again at the collection of trinkets and santos and other such things at our beloved Posada San Sebastián in those first few days.
Eventually, we did spend time out in town as well. Antigua does not disappoint with it’s charm.
The local active volcano, Volcan de Fuego, was quite active indeed. Breathing it’s blessings upon us by day and by night.
“We are volcanoes, when we women offer our experience as our truth, as human truth, all the maps change. There are new mountains.”
~Ursula K. LeGuin
We enjoyed working in our books a bit before workshop participants began arriving. I was thrilled to see them! Old and new friends alike.
They turned out to be very hard workers! Some folks came with a fair bit of know-how and skill, while others brought a beginner’s wonder to the table. All worked beautifully together which was fantastic and not unexpected. Somehow, I manage to attract the most amazing people to these Sketch Journaling adventures.
As luck would have it, before we even began working, our group was treated to a front row viewing of a local Lenten Processión just after our first dinner together….
We spent the coming days soaking up everything Antigua had to offer, both out in town and close to home, depending on mood and how warm the weather might get on any given day. The days flew by and yet stretched endless with possibility.
I drew the Joseph Santos at our Posada a couple of times.
My friend and fellow artist Vanessa Sorensen took a fancy to the Santos as well. Take a look at her gorgeous sketches and blog posts about the trip here and here.
There is color and community at every turn in this ancient city.
A brief note: Having lived in Guatemala as a child, I have a deep regard for the complexities of the variety of communities to be found in the country. When looking to acquire textiles and other forms of handicraft, it’s important to me to buy second hand and to pay a fair price. If I get anything first hand, I like to, again, pay a fair price to the artisan responsible. In recent years, thanks to my friends Rosemary who’s an amazing sketcher and mixed media artist (and a dear dear friend, pretty much responsible for this trip happening) and Mari Gray over at Kakaw Designs, I’ve gotten to know some weavers personally and I’m slowly learning a bit about what makes Guatemalan textiles. Below is our friend Lidia Lopez talking a bit about her work and how she teaches others about it. I always enjoy a visit to see her. She is constantly offering new things to admire and perhaps purchase and she’s always great about helping us practicing our ever-evolving Spanish.
And yet there was always a chance to duck into a cool and shaded corner for some quietude or to escape the sunshine.
There is a deep spirit of reverence at every turn. Santos on santos on santos. Religion is a very visceral and real thing in Latin America. It’s refreshing.
I prayed to the gods of all things in my own way. Best I know how.
We drew and drew, sketched and painted. Some just quick captures here and there.
Other longer drawings, begun in place and tweaked and worked (perhaps overly so) back at home at our posada.
The quirky festival atmosphere in Antigua lingered on. Lovely evening light delighting photographers day after day after day.
As all trips do, this one eventually had to come to an end. I traveled back home to family and day job responsibilities, friends traveled on to other places in Guatemala to do work in the realm of Speech Pathology. While I sit here with tea and a wool hat and extra socks on, they informed me this morning that they grapple with 100 F degree heat for their work this week. What a difference a week makes.
Meanwhile, I heard from the lads at the Posada that the new courtyard being installed in my last couple of days there is now complete and the results are stunning. The outdoor space there has always been captivating, but now it’s truly expanded in its usability. I can’t wait to get back there with workshop groups to sit and draw all day! The dates for next year are approximately the first 2 weeks of April. I’ll craft a specific page here on the blog soon with specifics and you can choose one or both weeks, both will be essentially same, but no two weeks are ever the same so if you attend 2, you’ll get 2. More soon on all of that once the numbers are crunched. If you are in the Northern California realm of this world and want a taste of this process, I’m doing a 2 day workshop outside of San Jose and Santa Cruz the last weekend in April. You can sign up for one or both days. Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org if you are interested and I’ll get you the specifics. And, while I’m on the topic, there are still a few slots left in the annual Taos, New Mexico trip which is a week long…..
There is much I miss about Guatemala as I gaze out upon our, for the moment, snowy landscape. I miss the color and timelessness, the quick smiles of locals one sees every day on the street on the way to breakfast. I miss the sense that just beyond the veil there is a part of myself I lost along the way somehow and which, with every visit, I begin to recapture.
There will be more about Guatemala on this lowly blog to be sure. I hope to bring The Hub back there in November to share with him all I have discovered since our trip there for our anniversary. I have many more drawings to make and musings to consider as well. Something about this place feels like it can unlock a lot of what makes me tick as a person. This is something I seek to explore. We all have complicated histories. Mine includes this marvelous place.
Amidst quietude, color and beauty, I am ready to begin unpacking it all….
We awake at 230 am, Antigua local time, to brew a quick cup of coffee, double check that we’ve packed every last little thing we brought with us and picked up along the way. It is dark, quiet and cool. Hugo, one of our beloved innkeepers, sees us off with hugs and sleepy eyes and makes sure our driver arrives. Which he does, only a few minutes late due to road closures set up for the weekend’s Procesións.
Careening through the wee hours and the volcanic hill sides to arrive in Guatemala City where lights, sounds, people and the airport are to be found, we begin our trek back into modernity one small step at a time.
The day awakens with a pink dawning. I part ways with my friends, knowing we will be drawing and painting and laughing together in just a few week’s time for a smaller workshop out in the San Jose area. And so there are no tears, which is a relief. I am sad to be leaving this 3rd world, but I look forward to my home comforts and creatures.
Airport life is strange and timeless, full of noise and people rushing about, and lots of concrete and hard surfaces. I do not care for it. I am fortunate on both ends of this trip to have familiar faces to greet me along the way. This sweet dog is called Enya. She works with my dear friend Danielle in customs making sure no inappropriate or potentially dangerous things come along in peoples’ baggage. I have such high regard for dogs with jobs and it is lovely to make her acquaintance. Though clearly Enya is on the job and only has eyes for Danielle.
Eventually, I make it home to the Ohio River Valley, which is carpeted green with spring and there is even a bit of sunlight.
I settle in, and unpack a bit, catching up here at home, which feels really good.
Just like that, it’s my first day back home. Coffee in hand (in my new hand painted mug from Guatemala), I walk outside with the dogs for our usual routine. Almost like the last week never was.
And yet, it was.
I left for Antigua just over a week ago with a head full of the spin-cycle of modern life, but return now with a handful of worry dolls to carry those little things instead, and a heart filled with color, beauty, simplicity and love. Along with a huge dose of gratitude, which is a great gift indeed. If you don’t shake stuff up now and again, all the good stuff sinks to the bottom. We can’t have that.
Life in Antigua is quite easy and simple for tourists, or those residing there with money. However, I believe that for the average citizen, life is probably a bit rough around the edges. Yet people seem to get by for the most part.
Ever so creatively.
Shopping and laundry get done.
Money gets made, which can be a family affair.
Life goes on. In some ways so very different than life here, and yet, mostly, pretty much the same. To me, this was one of the take-aways from this trip. I was reminded how very much alike we are as people. Human beans are so keen to draw lines between ‘us’ and ‘them’, when really, we are all just us. My modern life, white skin and heaps of built in privilege are just the luck of the cosmic draw, really. This is something to consider when we walk in the world.
I’m taking today to launder some well worn travel clothes, bathe my smelly dog, and enjoy a little quiet after the trip. Perhaps a run and a bit of time in the garden as well if the weather holds. I am enjoying the liminal, post-travel version of myself. This mellow feeling that anything is possible and life is good. Because it is.
I am thankful for the ways I have of connecting back to my travels in my heart of hearts, even as my life back home slides back into place.
I find myself unexpectedly weary today after a day of art making and eating and not much else. It was great fun to dive fully into book work but it is work. And work I love dearly. I feel a bit more up to snuff in my sketchbook after today’s efforts so I’ll share a few more Antigua adventures with you here.
I’ve been really enjoying meeting the other artists here in Antigua and beyond. Rosemary has made many connections over the years between service trips for her speech pathology work and textile tours. Yesterday we had the pleasure of stopping in to see Lidia López who is a talented weaver among many other wonderful things (I’m keen to learn how to make Pepian sauce from her!).
Lidia was pregnant with her son and visiting friends in Panajachel, and I was a 7 year old kid living in Guatemala City when in 1976 tragedy struck this region in the form of an earthquake. Thousands of lives were lost and it was indeed something one never forgets. But time passes, and as Lidia says, it was not our time then. We had more work to do. And so we did.
It was lovely to chat with Lidia about the work she does and life in general. She patiently let us practice our Spanish on her, although her English is amazing. We talked to her about visiting again when we come for the travel sketch workshop next year which I hope comes to frution.
Our visit was over far too soon and I hope to stop in to say goodbye and share with her some of the work we have been up to in the mean time. Including a drawing I made of Lidia herself.
Later in the afternoon we went to sketch and photograph a lovely ruin…..
I was very happy to have my fancy camera this day as the structures and light at play in this old convent make for beautiful imagery.
But time was ticking and the ruins close fairly early to visitors. We knew we had to get to work if we were to get a sketch in.
As the kids do often put it,
Seems kids have been the same since time began….
We had 40 minutes to do a quick study and we opted for a fairly complicated stairwell.
While this is not a scaled architectural study, it’s not a bad painting to my eye. Coming back to this drawing in my sketchbook in years to come, I’ll remember the light in this stairwell, and church bells on the wind and quiet drawing time with a good friend. The gifts of a well fed travel journal.
Today was a slower paced day in the way of touring. We had meals out of course but mostly we stayed home and caught up in our books. Little things here and there….
…like this creepy antique wooden baby Jesus spotted at a collectibles and antiques owned by a nice fella called Axel.
I also did a page spread in my book to try and learn a bit more about the weaving tradition here in this country.
Although it took me the better part of the day, I’m happy with the results.
I wanted to try to capture the beauty and variety of the indigo dyed corte or cuts of cloth we encountered the other day at the market in Panajachel. Each piece different, punctuated with the colorful seam stitching called randas.
The textiles in Guatemala are not something I can try to adequately comprehend in one go, but it’s been great fun to get a weaving 101 from Rosemary, Mari and Lidia.
Tomorrow there will be more and more drawing. And I hear tell of some hot chocolate which contains chili powder in it. Two days left in this captivating country. For this visit at least.
Yesterday we took a field trip to a town called Panajachel where a weekly market was to happen. We awoke early to be driven higher into the hills near Lake Atitlan. Though rain was forecast, we were greeted with a most lovely day.
I was traveling with my friends Rosemary and Steve of course, who are helping me build my second travel sketch class, but we also were accompanied by Mari Gray of Kakaw Designs, based in Antigua. More on Mari’s work in a bit, but suffice it to say, this was a business trip for her. For me, it was a nearly overwhelming array of color and texture. All gently used and ready to be repurposed.
It was difficult to choose! I purchased one small bit of cloth I hope to make a wee something of eventually but at the very least, it’s just a gorgeous bit to have on hand as a throw.
The prices were amazing and we counted our quetzales and haggled a bit with the vendors which was fun and good Spanish practice.
Soon we were vended out and went in search of a place to eat with a view of the lake. We found a little spot courtesy of our lovely driver and knowledgeable guide, Andres, and we all enjoyed the breezes.
We didn’t tarry long though as we had an afternoon appointment at Multicolores, an amazing artist cooperative changing the lives of women artisans in many areas of Guatemala.
We were greeted at the mysterious teal colored door along a busy side street in Panajachel by the lovely Rosario who proceeded to show us around and introduce us to the vital work going on at Multicolores.
Artists from Guatemala are trained in this rug-hooking technique and given further instruction on basic things as well, such as color theory and even vision statements.
They were asked to really consider their life’s calling. One wall hanging said:
Solo existen dos dias en el año en que no se puede hacer nada. Una se llama ayer y otro mañana. Por lo tanto hoy es el día ideal para amar, crecer, hacer, y pricipalmente vivir.
Loosely translated, there are only 2 days in the year that you can do nothing, yesterday and tomorrow. Every other day is ideal for loving, growing, doing and principally living.
So, not only are these artists learning a skill they can earn a real living off of, they are bettering their lives all around. They take used clothing from the local thrift shops and painstakingly turn them into exquisite utilitarian works of art.
There are also a few beautifully embroidered dolls available as well, which some folks might not consider utilitarian, but I do. Play is a most useful thing.
Will you look at her sweet hair??!
These guys had secret coded messages to share with anyone who knows the language of symbols.
After much careful consideration and admiration of the sheer amount of work this collective produces, Rosemary chose a new piece of art for her newly remodeled space at home. Its stunning. And even more so in person!!!
As much as we had enjoyed this full day, we soon needed to get on the road to avoid traffic on top of the already two hour drive back to Antigua. With rain and pea-soup variety fog on hand, Andres calmly got us through a somewhat white-knuckled drive and we were home by sundown.
It was a day of no art making for me, but rather of gathering material for consideration. The best travel journals come from real, lived experiences and the impressions these experiences bring to us on many levels. The tastes and smells of food, the textures of things at the vendors, the people. Conversations with new friends and those overheard at the parque while walking. All of these things get recorded and captured in some way, even if they don’t make The Book on that very day. There must be a balance to it all.
This taking-it-all-in field trip mode continued into today with a visit to Mari’s place back here in Antigua. It was amazing to see how this young designer lives and works and to just visit and have an opportunity to see the things she creates with the types of materials acquired the day before. She lives in a hidden little magic place with a sweet dog.
Such a sweet, magical place, even the fairies are in residence.
Evidence of Mari’s passion for textiles is at every turn.
Soon we got to see some of her products and how they come together. These lovelies have been well worn and even re-heeled over the years. They are still beautiful and on my wish list.
She had a few shiny new pairs around as well But they weren’t in my size.
We so enjoyed hanging out with Mari again today and I feel I’ve made a new friend here in Antigua. I’m so thankful Rosemary knows so many lovely folks here!!
This all just takes us through to this morning! I could certainly tell you of Lydia, a beautiful weaver and vendor (and yet another lovely friend of Rosemary’s) who lived through the same earthquake I did in 1976. And I might also share our afternoon visit to a local ruin and the sketches which resulted. But alas, those sketches could use some daylight to best share and perhaps these are tales for another day and another blog post.
We have another solid three days here in Antigua and no more lofty plans such as the last couple of days have seen. Just working in our books and soaking up more of the beauty here in Antigua Guatemala.
We are still working out details for the 2018 Travel Sketchjournal -Antigua trip but if you’d like to be on a list to get more information as it unfolds, just comment below or send me an email.
This morning began misty and mysterious. I sipped coffee and sketched a bit.
We breakfasted – and, following the sunshine, then did a bit of perusing the shops round town. Have I mentioned the feast of textiles to be found here? Old and newly made, well worn and repurposed, they are everywhere. Draped on the furniture, piled in shops, peddled by Mayan street vendors.
Besides the traditional, there are more modern and quirky things to find as well. I picked this one up for Jack.
Because remember that time he played fiddle and banjo in a hilarious Fringe Festival play called Hot Damn, It’s The Loveland Frog? And also played the frog at the very end… With banjo?
Hmmmm, yeah. Me too. What can we say? It was a paying gig, and it was fun, strange as it all might seem.
I picked up a pair of pantalones from a lovely vendor named Gloria whose passion for the handwork she does in her home pueblo of San Francisco A.C. is truly inspiring.
They have pockets! I love pockets.
All over town things delighted our senses, more to bring back to our sketch practice later over a lunch of leftover pizza which was delicious!
I could make art for ages merely on the procesión we witnessed yesterday.
All the while, our watchful volcanoes drift in and out of their self made mists, teaching us to breathe.
After some work on next year’s travel sketch workshop plans and pondering, Rosemary, Steve and I drifted out once again for our evening meal. Taking in Antigua along the way.
I’ve technically been here in Antigua Guatemala for a day. Just shy of 24 hours. And in that time I’ve seen a city of history alive and laughing. I’ve heard many tongues being spoken upon the breeze. One conversation between a lovely, crackling fireworks display to end a raucous saturday evening in town and the volcano in the distance which answered with its own beautiful breath of fire and light in the distance.
Life happens amongst the rooftops and streets here. Creature comforts being the first order of business for this weary traveler, we had a snack before bed late last night up the street and coffee and a hearty breakfast on a local rooftop this morning. The volcano was still whispering its thoughts on the breeze. After breakfast we followed rumors of a procesión happening a number of blocks away. A celebration of the Lenten season.
Temporary carpets were being delicately installed along the streets where the procession would return them to dust.
It was hot, diligent work. The carpets (alfombras) were crafted of tinted saw dust, raffia, flowers and vegetables.
Some had a way of looking at us.
Soon we reached the center of all the activity, Santa Ana Church.
Here, hundreds (thousands?) of faithful folk gathered to watch the spectacle. I am told this happens every Sunday leading up to Easter Holy Week when things are happening every day by then. But all in all, we were lucky to witness what we did.
After the crush of humanity it was great to get lunch and head back to our hotel, Posada San Sebastián which is a wonderland really. And a feast for the senses for anyone with a whimsical bent.
This special place contains many collected items set around in groupings. Such as chairs.
And my personal favorite, a cabinet chock full of baby Jesus.
Yes it’s true.
One might think that with barely a day here, all of this activity might have had us so busy as to forget our art making. But I did manage a page in between times. And after some rest, tomorrow will bring more. Sometimes it’s important just to fully soak up what’s in front of you in the moment .
Good night watercolor set. Goodnight baby Jesus. Goodnight chatty neighbor.