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.
“I travel a lot. I hate having my life disrupted by routine.” ~Caskie Stinnett
A temptuous siren’s call beckons from the open road. Once again, I comb maps of places yet to be explored, finalizing flight paths, formulating rail patterns and charting the wheeled paths where travels may take me this season. It’s once again workshop season.
Second only to sitting absorbed in my own book and box of colors while on the road is my love of teaching the Art of Keeping An Illuminated Travel Journal to students who range from intrepid beginners to like-minded artists already brimming with their own artistic tricks of the trade. There is truly no wrong way to capture one’s travel adventures. For some folks, merely snapping a photo with a cell phone or even a proper camera might be enough of a record of time and experience. But for many many others, a new trend of mindful travel is all the fashion these days.
Our world spins madly on at hyper speed. Many of us look for ways to slow it all down. To step off of this merry-go-round – to hit the reset button and come back once again into our physical bodies. Travel is one way to do this of course, but if we are not careful, we may find ourselves careening through our travel experiences at the same breakneck speed we do the rest of our lives. A travel journal is one such way to ever-so-gently pull the reins back a bit on time itself.
As an artist, I have dwelled in the world with a sketchbook of some sort or other tucked under my arm or in my knapsack since before I can remember. But one doesn’t need to self-identify as an artist to experience the magic of a little book and a box of watercolors. While spring drags its heels here in the midwest, travel season must surely be on its way eventually, yes? As we plot and dream of summerly adventurings, my friend and fellow creative spirit Margot Madison, Empress Queen Bee of Creative Juice asked if I might have a few suggestions related to the art of keeping a travel sketch journal. Not able to contain this amazing practice, I opted to put together a blog post here which might give folks a taste of what I do and teach along with heaps of links and ideas to get you started.
What you need:
Not much really. A book, something to draw with and a little set of watercolors. For the book, opt for something not too cumbersome. Stillman And Birn have lovely books in all shapes and sizes. The Alpha Series features good paper which can take a watercolor sketch without falling apart. Moleskin books are also classically wonderful to work in, just make certain to obtain one with watercolor paper.
For drawing, I like both pens and pencils, depending on how I am working. Nothing fancy necessary in the pencil department, though mechanical pencils are nice to have on hand. Recently I have taken to using fountain pens for ink drawing as I was tired of the waste of an empty marker heading to the landfill. Artist Liz Steel has some lovely ideas and suggestions on which pens and inks to try, but my current favorites are the Eco-pen with Noodler’s Bulletproof inks.
Next you’ll want to choose a watercolor set. Over the years, I have steered students toward the Winsor and Newton field sketching sets and they have held up over time. There are countless options out there to be had from the world renowned Schmincke brand to handcrafted ones from Greenleaf and Blueberry out of Colorado.
Tuck all of these new found treasures into a comfortable little bag or backpack along with a container of water, a cloth for blotting and you are ready to Go Forth And Doodle! If you are to be out in the sun, consider a sunhat and glasses, and maybe a little portable chair if need be. (Though I find that most beautiful places tend to have a bench or two.)
But “I can’t draw a straight line”, you say. Well, first off, straight lines are overrated. Drawing and painting is more about learning how to really see than anything else. A wonderful, playful way to settle into a new place and to get your eyes seeing in vivid color, without the pressure of ‘making something’ is to make little color swatches.
This is a wonderful way to get to know your watercolors, and learn about mixing colors to capture what you see. The first place I saw this exercise is in the lovely work of Sara Midda. Her book South of France, A Sketchbook’, is a favorite of mine and serves as a lovely example of how some simple colors can really give one a sense of place.
You’ll find that every place has it’s own distinct and sometimes quite subtle color palette. Simply beginning with swatches will get you working into a blank page.
Mapping out a Place.
I adore maps of all kinds. You can paste a small map of a place in your book, or perhaps create one of your own which speaks to where you’ve been along your own route.
They Draw and Travel has wonderful examples of playful ways to map a new place as well as creative usage of text to light up a journal page. Below is a page from a student of mine. Notice how she painted the letter ‘T’ which really highlights her drawing from Taos New Mexico!
Another creative way to incorporate text into your capture of a place is to stop into the local post office for a postal stamp. Often state and national parks will have site specific stamps on hand to play with as well.
But wait, I’m still not drawing anything!
No worries! You’ve already begun to ‘mess up’ your journal with these beginning exercises. And this is key to sidestepping one’s inner critic who is so hasty to make commentary on your efforts. Besides maps and swatches and stamps, keep an eye out for ephemera from your journey. Ticket stubs and business cards can be pasted into your journal as a reminder of where you’ve been and what you saw along the way. Perhaps you might begin to tuck in a quick sketch in and around these found objects….
There is a veritable feast of resources both locally and online that can get you actually drawing. Artists like Danny Gregory and his Sketch Skool project, Dan Price’s little tome How to Make a Journal of Your Life, and the local chapter of Urban Sketchers are all great places to pick up ideas about drawing or even take a workshop. That said, there is no greater way to learn to draw than to just sit and draw. That may sound tremendously daunting. But every drawing you make, “bad” or “good”, you will learn something which you will then apply to the next drawing. Drawing is exercise. Drawing is mindfulness. When we sit down and really see something for what it is, in this place, at this very moment, we are in communion with that thing, in this place, at this time.
One great exercise is that of the ‘blind contour’ drawing. Sit in front of what you would like to doodle, look at it for a few moments. Allow your eyes to look at the lines that make up what is in front of you. Now, place your pen or pencil to paper and without looking at the paper, run the pencil around the contours of what you are drawing.
This process is good to utilize, even if you are ‘looking’ at your drawing because it tends to keep drawings loose and scribbly.
In the end, whether your travels are taking your far a field this season, or perhaps merely exploring your own back yard, or watching the kids splash about at the local watering hole, a travel journal is a wonderful way to catalog and capture these fleeting moments.
This week I am off to California to guide a new group of sketchers onto this mindful path of gathering experience. Shortly after that I’ll be back in New Mexico for my flagship class in Taos. If you are interested in joining me for a workshop, consider Antigua, Guatemala next April (I’ll be offering 2 separate weeks back to back!) or perhaps Taos next June. Or just dredge up the courage to join your local Urban Sketchers. I can promise you they are a wonderful, welcoming group of people and you’ll learn a lot just by doing!
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.
Well, I knew the time would come. When I’d be back in my living room in Ohio, attempting to put into words and a few measly pictures, the experience that is The Taos Trip. I last posted the first few days of our adventure here and now I’ll re-cap on the quickly passing second leg of our trip. At some point I hope to share some student work on the travel-journaling page of the blog but for now, just a quick re-cap… and some thoughts on it all.
While in Taos, we were fortunate to meet and spend time with folks who are knowledgeable about Taos or who are successfully living and working in Taos as artists, much like last year. We took a tour of the Mabel Dodge Luhan house, our home for the week, with Judi who works at Mabel’s and has spent years learning about the ghosts of the place and how they fit into Taos history, art history, native and national history.
By the end of our hour with Judi, we felt transported in time and into Mabel’s fascinating life and story.
Last year, we met artists Kate Cartwright (who again paid the class a visit) and Lenny Foster. This year, we visited artist, quilter and fabric designer Terrie Mangat at her house in downtown Taos. It was thrilling! Her home has been lovingly restored in Taos style and we were treated to an up-close and personal showing of some of her quilt work.
Fortunately, Terrie had aprons available for folks to purchase at the end of our visit (much as we would have all liked to buy one of her amazing quilts!!!) Some of us bought 2. Thanks to Terrie for a magical glimpse into the life of a Taos artist with greater Cincinnati ties!!!
Last week (was it really last week?) was the Solstice and to celebrate the longest day of the year (in, frankly, one of the sunniest states in the country) we did some sun prints to put into our journals.
This was a fun activity, specifically geared toward those not so keen on drawing in their journals. I had a range of artistic skill and levels of comfort in this class and it was difficult to meet everyone’s needs. I am already teeming with ideas for next year to get the newbies drawing more and the practiced artists to lean a little less on the camera image back in the class room. There is something so immediate about sitting in a particular place and just attempting to make a drawing. The drawings aren’t always the best, or most accurate, but when made, they can enhance the knowledge of a place one has visited. But this activity was fun for all and most people made many of these. It was great to bring home shadows of some of the natural flora to be found around Mabel’s.
Taos, and especially the Mabel Dodge house, has a tapestry of history with the native people of the region, the Taos Pueblo Indians. Mabel’s backs right up to Pueblo land.
I have always found it tremendously interesting to consider what life is like in a culture completely different from our own. We were blessed with a warm, but beautiful morning to explore the historic part of Taos Pueblo, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Our guide, Cameron Martinez, provided a wonderful, knowledgeable tour of the public portion of the Pueblo and a peek into life there.
The tour guides at the Pueblo are generally college students who are planning to come back to live at the Pueblo and further their cultural heritage there, while bringing a firm knowledge of the outside world back with them which will help them to navigate the future relationship between Native people and the rest of us. Cameron is a photographer and film maker, and I look forward to seeing his work!!
The week sped on and soon, sadly, it was time to say good bye.
Everyone seemed to have a good time. Most everyone seemed to try a few new things, and met a few new friends, which will hopefully extend beyond the boundaries of the trip. I for one am already making plans to make next year even better than this one, though if I learned anything this year, it’s that each year is different, and will have it’s own vibe.
A couple of folks on the trip have blogged about their time in Taos… here are two:
Though the workshop was over for the most part, our adventures were not. While in class one afternoon, we made the acquaintance of Denise Labadie, who was passing through Taos, on route to Ghost Ranch to teach a quilting workshop. We became fast friends with connections to Ireland, quilt making, workshop teaching and a love of the Southwest. She invited a few of us for a visit to Ghost Ranch to her class. And so we went!!
Denise’s work is award winning at the national and international level. She hand paints fabric and then creates paintings of sorts, in quilts. They are breathtaking. Between her work and Terrie Mangat’s it all makes me want to make another quilt!!
Ghost Ranch is absolutely awesome. And I don’t use that word lightly. It’s a different landscape and feel than Taos, but no less beautiful. I was captivated. and I could see why Georgia O’Keefe pretty much took up shop there to make her most famous work.
At one point, in the quiet of the desert, I looked over at the iconic mountains in the distance and thought, I could paint here.
When I went to Taos the first time, I knew I wanted to go back. And so I did. Last year. That visit was overwhelming and fun and rocked my world. And Taos felt like a foreign land. I knew again that I wanted to go back, but I was pretty glad to get back home. I told people upon my return that ‘Taos is great. I don’t think I could ever live there.” This came as a surprise to my closest friends and family who are used to me going places and saying, ‘I love this place! I could LIVE here!!”.
Going back this year was yet again, completely different from any other time. It was more difficult in some ways, logistically and from a workshop management perspective. And yet, there was a feeling of coming home after a really long absence. I’ve begun to create community in Taos. The folks at Mabel’s welcomed us with open arms and we all shed a tear when it was time to go. Dorothy, Maria, Diane and Judi were like a blessed herd of Awesome Aunties the entire week. I couldn’t get enough. The kitchen staff fed us like family and I still wake up wondering if I smell bacon…. I have set the dates already for next year’s workshop (June 16-22, 2013!!) and am planning to go yet another few days early to sink in a little deeper into Taos Magic. My Eco-Chic partnership is another place I have found unexpected community and I look forward to meeting more and more of my co-facilitators on that project. They are a powerful bunch of women, and I am still pinching myself that I’m a part of it all!
I jettisoned (for lack of a better word) back into life back home with an exhausting (and exhilarating!) week of puppetry rehearsals. We are working with Rumplestiltzkin this time around in preparation for a two week tour in Georgia:
As much as I love all that I do, I’m feeling the need to figure out exactly what it is I really want to do, and to follow it. This is scary. And may take some time. I have a couple of kids to get through high school. And some jobs I’ve committed to which I really love. But in the dusty corners of my studio lie some pretty awesome ideas for bodies of work I’d like to paint on, and children’s books I’d like to make, and workshops I’d like to continue improvement upon. I need to make some space.
We shall see how it all shapes up. In the meantime, I’m practicing being in the now. It’s a good place to be. And as much as I can, I’ll take time to share some of those experiences here with you.