Thursday, April 25, 2019

Guatemala Sketchbook Workshop 2019 - Part 2

A sketchbook workshop in Antigua would not be complete without visiting the Antigua Brewing Company's rooftop terrace.  While drinking a cool beverage you can enjoy incredible views of the volcanoes plus the gorgeous tile roofs and cupolas of Antigua.  During the course, Amy demonstrated how to draw both clouds and rooftop tiles and I thought this image would be good practice at both.  I also decided to experiment with not using any micron pen in this illustration.  I usually draw a pencil sketch, ink it with a micron pen, and then add color.  I ended up liking the softness of the drawing without pen although it then presented me with another quandry. . . what medium should I use for the type?  I ended up using an Arteza watercolor pencil my friend Jodi gave me.  I think it worked as a softer alternative to ink but I did have to be super careful because blotting it smeared the type.

One of my favorite things about Antigua are the women and how they dress.  I have visited Latin America often but have never been to a place where the women actually wear traditional clothing.  I love the colorful huipil shirts, the embroidered belts, and the corte skirts.  I am also always amazed to see how they balance items on their heads.  Plus I adore their colorful ribboned "trenzas." Below you can see several examples of the beautiful clothing and my reference photo. 

Another wonderful thing about Antigua are the ruins everywhere.  The ruins below were right next to our posada and some day I am going to draw its ornately textured columns.


One of our sketching destinations was "El Tanque."  This is a covered portal where there is a large pool of water for people to do their laundry the old-fashioned way. 

On the way to "El Tanque" my Dad and I stopped to get a photo in front of "Iglesia San Hermano Pedro."  I love the detail on this church and it was one of my favorite sketches from last year.  If this church were made of icing I would want the corner piece!


A new sketching destination this year was a church called "San Francisco El Gigante."  True to its name the church was HUGE and the property contained extensive ruins within its walls.

Below you can see Monica and my Dad sketching among the ruins.

I found a shady spot to sketch near the entrance that had a view of the large dome of the church plus a very large palm.  I ended up being surrounded by groups of children having tours a couple times and had to fight off mosquitoes.  But all in all I quite enjoyed sitting among the giant columns and angel-adorned domed ruins.

The photo below shows the same view but from the second story.  I had wanted to draw there but it was too sunny.

I also really liked the enormous spiral columns on the facade of the building.


One of our most fancy sketching destinations was Casa Santo Domingo.  It is a gorgeous hotel that contains ruins and a museum on the grounds.  Below you can see one of the "alfombras" or carpets.  During the Lenten season designs made of food, fruit and vegetables are common around the city.  I had never seen one before just made of beans. (You can see last year's alfombra was made of vegetables here.)

At the end of this short video you can see the black Madonna that I sketched below.

This sketch was also an experiment using watercolor pencil.  I think it worked for the wood but maybe not as well on the Madonna.  Or maybe she was just a little wonky from the beginning.


The posada where we stayed is a lovely inn chock full of interesting vintage finds.  Below is a case of baby Jesus figurines.

I also loved the collection of old irons with chickens on the front.

During the course Amy did a color demonstration of the blue patio wall of the posada.  She encouraged all of us to try and capture the interesting color of the walls and to notice how the color changed in the shadows.  I spent a very relaxing couple hours staring at and painting the blue-green walls of the sketch below.  I looked and looked for a quote I liked to go with this image but couldn't find the perfect thing.  So I ended up writing a little blurb which I think sounds way cooler in Spanish than English. 

When she looked at the wall

all was still

The wind stopped blowing

her mind white as a sheet in the sun

the aging color enveloped her

turquoise, cream, grey, and rose

One could only describe it as love

Cuando ella miró la pared

todo estaba quieto

El viento dejó de soplar

su mente blanca como una sábana al sol

el color antiguo la envolvió

turquesa, crema, gris y rosa

Sólo se podría describir como el amor

I am fascinated by the door ornaments in Antigua and couldn't help but photograph them every time I walked by a new door.  Below is but a small sampling of cool door bling.

On our last day in Antigua we were walking back through the central park and the light was so pretty coming through the trees and fountain.  Poppy posed for this photo wearing his new guayabera recently purchased in one of the markets.

If I had to choose one word to describe Antigua it would be "enchanting."  Both times I have visited I am charmed by the friendly people, the vibrant colors, the abundant markets, the crumbling ruins and the cobblestone streets.  It is a land where you cannot deny the presence of living giants poofing in the background and where the sun may appear another "pelota" to be gathered by a determined woman to sell at market (see sketch here).  Every time I visit this amazing country I feel its magic soak deeper into my bones and I hope I am lucky enough to return again someday soon.

A thousand stones
Each one place by hand
To bear the weight of the world
    A rubber tire, a horse's hoof, the soft clad feet of man.
To feel from above
   the sun, the rain, and the moon
And from below
   the heat of coursing lava
Even "Antigua" cannot tell their ancient stories.
But if you kneel upon their worn bodies
Touch your hand to the aged surface
Cheek to stone
And listen
You may hear the ancient tales of fire and ice
Of the birth of the mother
and her beautiful, rounded children.

The video below shows the entire sketchbook spanning two years of visiting Antigua on Amy Bogard's sketchbook workshop.

(Music courtesy of Fonogramas América Afroindígena: Free Music Archive)

If you are interested in taking Amy's workshop, visit her website here:

To see the first post from this trip click here: Guatemala Sketchbook Workshop 2019 - Part 1

To see last year's trip click here: Guatemala Sketchbook Workshop 2018 - Part 1

Friday, April 19, 2019

Guatemala Sketchbook Workshop 2019 - Part 1

This April my Dad and I attended Amy Bogard's Guatemala Sketchbook Workshop.  I took the workshop last year and I thought my Dad would love Guatemala.  I wasn't sure if he would be up for sketching but he surprised me and has not only quite a talent for it, but he has continued sketching even after we got home!

Guatemala is a place where you are always reminded that the land is alive.  While we were there we experienced a small "temblor."  It was relatively minor but left me sleeping with one eye open every time a large truck rumbled by.  Our first night we were also greeted by loud explosions quite near our posada that left us questioning if the source was fireworks or something we needed to be concerned about.  Needless to say we were all a little bleary eyed our first day but that didn't stop us from exploring the streets of Guatemala.

“He was attracted to this edge of unknowing, of hope and fear, he instinctively knew that surfing it was precondition for growth and transformation. And for feeling alive. Waking up and going out into the world not knowing what each day would hold, taking life as it comes, relinquishing any illusion of control. That's fresh, that's a good morning!”
― Matt Padwick 

We arrived a day before our course started and my Dad has always been a good shopper.  So we spent our entire first day perusing the incredible stores and markets.  Of course I had to take him to Nimpot which is a GIANT market store full of Guatemalan wares.  Below you can see the section of santos and masks.

There was also a super creepy section of Day of the Dead skeletons and Maximón (a Mayan deity and folk saint) seen below in the black suit.  He is a complex character that can be both good and bad and is often viewed as a trickster.

And then there was the fabric section.  I could spend all day just looking through the incredible fabrics.  Last year I covered some chairs in my basement with Guatemalan huipiles I bought at Nimpot (you can see them here).

I should have made my Dad stand by this giant bowl of chinchines (maracas) for scale.  It was about 6 feet wide. I love the crazy, colorful abundance that resides in Nimpot.

Our class began with a trip to Bella Vista coffee shop.  True to its name you get incredible views of both Volcán Agua and Fuego. You can see "Agua" in the photo below.

After delicious coffee and breakfast our first task was to create a grid of our watercolors so we could see the colors in our travel sets.  I was so proud of my Dad for jumping right in.  Not only has he never used watercolors, but he is colorblind.

Our first sketching destination was the "Convento de las Capuchinas."  It is a beautiful ruin of a convent from the 1700s that has been partially renovated and houses offices and a museum. 

Before settling down to sketch we wandered around the ruins and came upon a staircase that lead down to a basement room shaped like a donut.  The acoustics in this room were amazing and Monica and Cindy sang us a song that was so heavenly it sent chills up and down my spine.

I imagined their beautiful singing set the souls of all the old nuns that lived in the convent at ease.  It was completely magical to be standing in this old nunnery listening to angelic voices that could easily have been coming from another time and age.  For the rest of the day we all kept singing songs and I couldn't get "How do you solve a problem like Maria?" out of my head. 

Afterwards we all settled in for some sketching time.

I ended up sketching a spade-leaf philodendron and bougainvillea that was climbing the wall of the ruins.  You can see my sketch of the courtyard from last year here.

One of the things I most wanted my Dad to see during our stay in Antigua was "La Procesión."  During the Lenten season huge platforms displaying statues of Jesus and Mary are carried by somber men and women.  The men wear purple robes with pointed hats and we learned they are called "Cucuruchos," which means "cones".

You can see last year's sketch of La Procesión in this post.

The photo below looks a little cloudy and that is because there was so much incense in the air.  Between the smells and the colors and the melancholy music it is a full body experience and I found myself full of joy and sorrow at the same time.  

It is also an incredible people-watching opportunity.  If you look closely at the the young man in the bottom right-hand corner you can see he is selling stuffed toy Cucuruchos.

Below you can see my Dad sketching a little candle "Cucurucho" that he bought at mass.

One of our assignments was to draw whatever we wanted around the posada.  I ended up sketching the view of the rooftop on the second floor and the stairs leading to the rooftop terrace. (You can see last year's sketches of the posada here.)

The staircase appeared quite normal,
But next thing she knew,
She was on top of a mountain,
In a foreign land.

To see more sketches from this trip click here: Guatemala Sketchbook Workshop 2019 - Part 2.

Sunday, February 24, 2019

"The Sea Captain" Linocut Print

As long as I can remember my Dad has had the same lamp sitting on his roll-top desk.  The lamp is from the 70's and the base is a 3 ft model of a sea captain with a beguiling look on his face holding a pipe.  The photos below don't show it but the lamp has a giant manila-colored tube of a lampshade that sits atop the whole thing making it even more clear that this is from an era gone-by (apparently an era where enormous lampshades were necessary). 

When I was considering what to do for my next print I knew I wanted to do a print that had to do with whales or Inuit themes.  I have been obsessed with Inuit art lately and came across a sculpture where someone had carved a face into a whalebone.  I liked the face and it reminded me of my Dad.  At first I thought of putting my Dad's likeness on a whale vertebrae, but then a light bulb went off in my head (shielded by a giant lampshade!)... I should put my Dad's likeness on the lamp that always reminds me of him!  And so it began.

The Sketch

When I first became interested in illustration many years ago I visited a friend who was a professional children's book illustrator.  She was kind enough to let me visit her studio and I will never forget what I learned there.  She had a projector set-up over her desk that allowed her to project images that she could trace.  I never thought that was "allowed." 

Don't get me wrong...I am all for practicing drawing from life.  It is a great skill.  But I firmly believe that when one is trying to do a realistic portrait of a person it is very helpful to use all the resources available to you.  And that might mean taking a photo of your subject and tracing it.

One also learns along the way that when one does trace a photo, you don't really get a very good likeness as you can see below.  It is more to help get things in the exact right places.   

To me the fun part comes when you take the tracing away and add the shading and character.  You have to look back and forth between your reference photo and your sketch, attempting to capture the essence of the person.  It is always a dance between "reality" and what is flowing from within you onto the paper through lines.  Through this "fleshing out" process you add your own style.

It is also important to stand back, take a good look and change things according to how you want them.  For example, I thought his pants were too short so I made them a bit longer. I also wanted the collar on the jacket to be larger so I exaggerated it and made the buttons bigger.

As you can see below I also added the entire background scene.  I didn't like the way the rope wrapped around him on the lamp, but I liked the rope element.  So I changed it up.

Somehow it still felt important to work a whale into the design so I put a whale tail in the moon.  This is a whale-friendly sea captain.

Transferring the Sketch

Once the sketch is done I transfer it to the safety-kut plate by flipping the sketch over and rubbing it with a credit card. You can see the process in the above video and the final result below.


My favorite part of the whole process is carving the plate.  I like to turn my favorite music on and lose myself in the work.  Carving this plate was especially fun because my Dad was looking back at me the whole time.

"Thirst drove me down to the water where I drank the moon's reflection."

Test Print

I don't always do a test print because I am frugal and don't like to waste ink and time and paper towels cleaning up for a single print.  But I had several decisions that I needed to make and really needed to see it printed (and not backwards). 

Below is a video of me inking the plate for the first time.  If there was ever an exciting time in the process, it is at this point.  It is so fun to see the image magically appear as the roller passes by.

On the left below you can see the plate completely clean.  I used vegetable oil to clean the graphite off.  On the right is my test print.


"The wise man lets go of all results,
whether good or bad,
and is focused on the action alone.
Yoga is skill in actions."
-Bhagavad Gita

After making my final adjustments to the plate it is finally time to print.  Below you can see my setup.  Normally for a one-color print I wouldn't use my registration pins (called Ternes-Burton clips).  But this print was so long I was worried about placing my paper down perfectly.  I only gave myself one inch of paper on either side of the block.

Because this print was smaller than I normally print I decided to splurge and upgrade the paper from my usual Stonehenge to Rives BFK.  I knew it might be a hair thicker and maybe toothier, so I decided to pre-wet my paper.  This helps with ink adhesion.  But this also presented a problem using my Ternes-Burton clips.  Would they stay on if I got them wet?  I decided to tape them on using Gorilla Glue tape (serious tape!).  I knew the paper would tear when removing the clips with this tape so I planned on cutting them off when I was finished.  This would require extra paper and meant I had to put the clips at the long end.  Normally it would be better to put them on the sides on such a long print but I didn't have any extra paper on the sides that I could cut off (my print was roughly 11 inches wide and I could get 2 prints out of a 22x30 sheet). 

Long story short, the clips stayed put through wetting.  But I discovered on the first print that the clips no longer lined up because the paper had expanded.  Luckily I adjusted my metal pins and it was fine for the rest of the prints.  The good thing about using the clips was that it did indeed help me get the paper in the right spot.  The bad thing was the print was so long that when I tried to pull the print up to check to see if I had burnished enough and then lay it back down, it did not line up perfectly.  If I had put the clips on the side and used three clips like I normally do, it probably would have worked.

The saddest part was that my upgraded Rives BFK paper was quite toothy and even with TONS of burnishing I had a hard time getting a good print. Below you can see what it looks like if you don't have enough pressure.  You can also see my "fingerprints" where I pressed with my fingers.  NOT IDEAL.

The first night of printing was quite rough because we finally pulled a decent print after 7 prints and then I ran out of ink.  The 6th print probably would have been OK but it slipped and got ink on it.  I actually screamed out loud I was so frustrated.  George (my husband) helps me burnish and I think I scared him. 

After that night I was determined to try and make this process easier so I did TONS of research about the best papers for hand-burnishing.  Through my internet searches I found people recommended Somerset Satin, Zerkall 145, Fabriano Rosapina, and lots of different Japanese papers.  I have always avoided using Japanese papers because I am a sucker for thick, luscious paper, but this process was forcing me to consider my options.

After a trip to Suder's, I came home with my usual Stonehenge, a sheet of Magnani Pescia, and a sheet of Torinoko white.  Plus I knew I had some Mulberry paper I could add to the test.  (I would have bought the other's but no one carried them - except for the Fabriano Rosapina which was too small for this print).

The next night of printing was difficult again.  My prints were coming out too light... not enough pressure (or ink).  My hopes were high for my thin Japanese papers, but no luck.  After about 7 prints we were getting closer to pulling a decent print on the Stonehenge.  But then I tried a new paper that was clearly superior.

And the winner of the paper test was...(drum-roll please!)...Magnani Pescia!

I had been inking the plate so heavily to help with the "lightness" problem that the first print I pulled with the Pescia was a bit too heavy (but the black areas were solid!).  Finally, the second print we pulled of the Pescia was perfect!  The only problem was that I only bought one sheet.  After we printed the Pescia I returned to my Stonehenge and continued to pull some OK prints.  We even tried pulling the rest of the Rives BFK.  The final two prints I ended up peeking under the paper to see if we had achieved a good solid black.  I have ruined prints doing this, but in the end it helped a lot and the last two prints were good because of it.  You just have to be super careful when you do it.

Below is a video of me hand-burnishing and pulling a print.


From the very beginning I had the idea that I might add color to the print.  But I also wanted it to be able to stand alone as a black and white piece.  And I think it works in black and white but I do like the way the color helps to differentiate the smoke and the water shine.  In the close-up you can also see that it helps his eyes and beard stand out.

You can't see it in these photos, but the smoke is iridescent.  My friend Jodi gave me some Daniel Smith iridescent topaz and I painted it over top of the gold.  In my humble opinion, it transformed the smoke from "dirty smoke" to "magical smoke."  She told me there is another color that is just "shimmer" and I might try painting another where the moonlight is iridescent instead of the smoke.

Lessons learned

Every print I do teaches me so much.  From a printmaking standpoint I learned the best paper for hand-burnishing in Cincinnati is Magnani Pescia (although I would still like to try Somerset Satin).  The only bummer is that, as far as I can tell, the largest sheet of Pescia is 22x30.   I also learned you can use Ternes-Burton clips even with wet paper but you have to use strong tape and cut them off.  Plus you have to adjust your pins to accommodate expansion.  I also learned it is worth risking a peek under the paper to find spots that aren't burnished enough.

In addition to the technicalities, printmaking is teaching me deeper lessons. There is something about this process that seems to bring me to my knees every time.  After the first difficult night of printing and my screaming episode, I was determined to do better.  Not only did I want to physically make the process smoother, but I wanted to do better mentally.  The second night of printing I went into it with the understanding that I can only really control one response.  So when the first seven prints didn't go so great for the second night, I rolled with it.  I kept trying things with the understanding that I might not pull a good print the entire night.   And this experience was AMAZING!  I openly accepted what reality presented.  Every time I pulled a print up and it was too light, I accepted it and moved on, determined to try again.  There was no resistance to what reality presented.  I felt truly free.  I felt free of the outcome.  No matter what life gave me that night, it was going to be OK.  And it was.

"You have a right to your actions,
but never to your actions’ fruits.

Act for the action’s sake."
-Bhagavad Gita

This print is available for purchase on my website