Friday, March 30, 2018


After the sketchbook course in Antigua, Christina and I took a short trip to visit the Mayan ruins at Tikal.  We took a half-hour flight from Guatemala City to Flores, Guatemala.  We heard that the bus ride was 18 hours so we chose to fly.

I have always had an interest in Mayan culture because my great great grandfather, who was a Danish missionary, married a Native American woman from Merida who we believe may have been Mayan.  Our history is a bit murky...but it is very possible I may have a drop or two of Mayan blood.

On the right side of this spread I sketched the Great Jaguar temple.  It was the final stop on our tour of Tikal and I was hot and tired, but I  managed a quick pencil sketch. (You can see Christina's sketch here.)  I added a famous image of a Jaguar shaman to the upper right.  It is from a vase used for drinking chocolate found at ceremonial site not far from Tikal called the "Altar de Sacrificios."

While we were in Antigua we visited a small jewelry store where a man had a book that would tell us our Mayan nahual.  Nahuales are Mayan spirits or totems, sort of like the zodiac.  A person's nahual is determined by their date of birth and has an influence on your character and demeanor.  Each nahual is associated with an animal of importance to the Maya as well as associated traits, qualities and tendencies. It can be spelled "nahual", "nagual", or "nawal."  (Source: The Guatemala Insider).  If you would like to calculate your sign click here

My sign is "Ajpu" which is associated with a conch or snail.  It is also associated with the sun, king, Lord, time, energy and the blowgun. (I find this funny because I used to be pretty good at using a blowgun when I studied bears.)  Ajpu also "represents the holiness in life, the divinity in the physical world, and our search for it" (Source: The Four Pillars).  

After I sketched the Temple of the Jaguar I decided I wanted to dedicate the left page to nahuales and another famous classic image, the "Mayan Vision Serpent."  This image is from "lintel 15" from a site not far from Tikal called Yaxchilan.  The Vision Serpent  was often depicted "with the spirit of a god or ancestor emerging from its jaws" and was thought to serve as a direct link between the spirit and physical worlds (Wikipedia).  There are twenty nahuales and I only had room for three around the vision serpent, so I chose Ajpu (the conch shell), Ix (the jaguar), and Kan (the serpent).  

Source for hand-written text is from the Four Pillars.

"Ix is possibly the most feminine of the nawales. It represents the spirit of Mother Earth and could easily be seen as a Mayan representation of Gaia. Ix can be seen as a mothering energy, nurturing all things, but this should not be confused with weakness – the animal totem of Ix is the jaguar and it is as the jaguar that Ix is often known. The jaguar is, of course, powerful and stealthy. Ix also embodies these qualities. The jaguar is an animal of the night, slipping magically through the darkness, the spots of her back a representation of the milky way. She carries the sun on it’s nightly journey through the underworld." -The Four Pillars

We had perfect weather the day we went to Tikal.  It was hot and dry as we followed our tour guide through the jungle.  Below is a photo of the Temple of the Grand Jaguar.

For all those Star Wars nerds out there, Tikal was used as a filming location for Yavin 4 in Star Wars: Episode IV, A New Hope.

I should have counted how many pyramids we climbed.  Below is a photo of Christina looking fresh as we climbed our first pyramid. 

Of all the things we saw in Tikal, the giant head of Chaac, the rain god, was one of my favorites.  This head was maybe twenty feet tall and very impressive.  It was under one of those palapa huts you see in the photo above.

Below is a carved stela of a Mayan figure wearing a large headdress (and an unfortunate-looking person laying behind them).

I had to take a photo of Christina with this giant leaf behind her.  The jungle was full of monkeys and all sorts of bird life. 

If you look closely below you can see me taking a rest break on the steps of a pyramid.  I think I drank all of the water in my water bottle and three Cokes that day!

Worn out by our day of pyramid-climbing, Christina and I celebrated a wonderful trip and our last night in a restaurant overlooking Lake Petén Itzá. 

Watching the boats and the sun slowly slip into darkness it is easy to see why the Maya settled in this area.  I have always been fascinated with the Maya, their rituals and cosmology and their mysterious demise.  I just spent the past hour searching for the perfect quote to end this post but couldn't find one.  I usually take that as I sign that I should write what it is that I am looking here it is.

La Tela Maya

Although echoes now live in the pyramids
They are still very much here.
We are woven together through time and space.
Our eyes both spy the same big dipper.
The patterns repeat over and over.
The fabric is living and breathing...
Made of tooth and bone and blood and sinew
Mountains and rivers, caves and oceans
Men with big brooms, jaguars carrying the sun
Women balancing baskets on their heads
Wooden saints, magical doors, crumbling ruins
Processions of saints, mermaids and millstones, breathing volcanoes
The long arms of galaxies woven through and through.
And who is weaving this masterpiece?
You and I.
We are the warp and the weft.
Through the eye of the needle
Over and under we go
Weaving the world into being.

If you would like to read the other posts about this trip here are the links:

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

Guatemala Sketchbook Trip - Part 4

One of my absolute favorite parts of the Guatemala Sketchbook Trip was the hotel we stayed in, "Posada San Sebastián."  When the owner, Luis, showed me to my room and opened the door, a soft breeze entered from the open veranda door.  My room was on the second floor and overlooked the courtyard where I could hear water falling in the fountain down below.  My bathroom also had adorable half-windows that opened and every time I took a shower or sat on the toilet I would see the gorgeous palm flower above.  I finally sketched it the last day and thought it would be fun to draw the room next to it.  Below is a close-up of the room.

I haven't even mentioned the amazing collections that fill the posada.  Everywhere I looked there were interesting antiques ranging from religious icons to miniature chairs to an adorable collection of rusting enamel mugs. (In my first post I sketched a collection of wooden santos near the lobby).

Below is a photo of the second floor hallway leading to an outdoor veranda and steps that lead to the rooftop terrace with an incredible view of Volcán Agua.

As soon as I entered the hotel, I knew I wanted to sketch the beautiful "Nazareno" vine that was blooming in the courtyard.  When sitting in the courtyard, the blooms would slowly fall around you...sometimes spinning like our familiar maple helicopters.  The space is truly lovely and it was always such a relief to walk in to such serenity after a long day of sight seeing.  It felt like coming home. 

Also while sitting on the loo, I noticed the play of light against the textured glass of the windows.  It is amazing the things one can see when we are still! 

In addition to the blooming vines, I also loved the potted plants in both the front and back courtyard.  This little succulent cascaded in such a fun way around the Mayan pot below.

The one sketch I didn't have time to do was a sketch of the markets.  When thinking back on it, of course I didn't have time, because when I am in the market I want to shop!  I LOVED shopping in the markets and taking in the sumptuous colors and textures.

Above is a photo of Clara who I met the first day and whom I returned to the last day to make a few souvenir purchases.  As if the whole market wasn't juicy enough, this particular market was set against the backdrop of ruins that had amazing carved columns.  The whole experience was delicious!

We also visited a store called "Nimpot" that was jam-packed with masks and wooden trinkets.  It is a shopper's paradise.

The sketch below didn't fit in any category so it is getting thrown in here.  He probably should have been in the second post next to the plaza fountain.  In any case, I just loved that the central plaza was swept each day with these giant brooms made of palm fronds.

Being a colonial city, Antiguan buildings are set up to enclose their green spaces which means the buildings extend right up to the sidewalks.  One of my favorite things to do as I walked the streets was to try to look into the lush, enclosed courtyards.  If the doors were open, it was like dropping into paradise for a brief moment.  I was often treated to scenes of great beauty...of colorful flower gardens, fountains, and ornate, hanging lights.  But if the doors were closed I was equally just as happy to stop and admire the gorgeous old doors with their incredible ornaments.  I thought about doing a whole post on this alone but decided to end this post with a grouping of these photos.

Somehow it seems apropos for a city named "Antigua" to have doors that look like this.  The doors and the town seem as old as time with just a hint of magic.  I can imagine that if one closed ones's eyes, felt the nub of one of these ornaments and whispered just the right words, one could be transported to another time...or at least that time would stand still for a moment.  Whether the doors were open or closed, I fell under the spell of this ancient town.  And if fortune has it I hope to return one day and wander its enchanting, bougainvillea-lined streets and again visit the land where both volcano and I breathe. 

“Unusual doors often take you to ... unusual worlds!”

― Mehmet Murat

“I love doors. All of them, without exception. Doors lead to things and I’ve never met one I haven’t wanted to open. All the same, if that door hadn’t been so old and decorative, so decidedly closed, if a thread of light hadn’t positioned itself with such wretched temptation across its middle, highlighting the keyhole and its intriguing key, perhaps I might have stood a chance; remained twiddling my thumbs until Percy came to collect me. But it was and I didn’t; I maintain that I simply couldn’t. Sometimes, you can tell just by looking at a door there’s something interesting behind it."

― Kate Morton, The Distant Hours

“Four simple chambers. A thousand complicated doors.
One of them is yours.”

― Jill Alexander Essbaum

If you would like to read the other posts about this trip here are the links:

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Guatemala Sketchbook Trip - Part 3

On the fourth day of the Guatemala sketchbook workshop we visited Casa Santo Domingo.  This hotel was stunningly beautiful and I could barely take two steps into the front portal before I had to stop and take photos of the bowl of floating bougainvillea flowers that greeted us (below).  The hotel grounds are extensive and includes ruins, a giant tented wedding reception/church area, indoor and outdoor restaurant, a pool, and museums.  I am sure I didn't see the half of it. But what caught my eye that day were the ENORMOUS hanging bells hanging in the ruins near the outdoor church.  Several of us sat in the fancy chairs draped in white fabric (probably for a wedding) and sketched the bells.  I wish I had put a person into my sketch to give it some scale because the entire bell structure was probably 50 ft. high. I also added a little textile bling to the side of the sketch to give it a burst of color.

Above you can see one of the gorgeous floral arrangements in the lobby of the hotel.  Again, I don't think you can properly see the scale of this.  It might be better described as a "floral boat" in which I could easily have laid down.  And because it was "Semana Santa" they had a couple of "huertos" (below).  The photo of this vegetable design doesn't do it justice... it was so colorful and bountiful.  

On the way to Casa Santo Domingo I stopped to get my picture taken with this mountain of flowers.  There are benefits to living near the equator!

On the fifth day of the trip we visited the cathedral ruins.  As I mentioned in my last post, there was a severe earthquake in 1773 during which this building suffered extensive damage.  After that earthquake the capital was moved from Antigua to what is now Guatemala City.

It was lovely to sit among the ruins sketching to the sound of the doves cooing.  If you look closely you can see two of my fellow sketchers also drawing the ruins.

One of the most iconic spots in Antigua is "El Arco" (below).  Not only is the structure architecturally interesting...but you can also perfectly frame Volcán Agua through it.  So one morning a few of us woke up early to capture this scene before it got hazy. 

Little did I know that later the same day I would get an even bigger treat.  Not only did I get a photo of the volcano and the arch...but also "La Procesión" coming through! It is hazy because there was so much incense.

Witnessing this event was truly one of the highlights of the trip.  It is certainly not something you see everyday!  Normally I like to at least do a pencil sketch while in situ, but "La Procesión" was always on the move and I am not a purist.  So last night I decided to try and do a quick sketch of the whole scene by working from my photos.  My goal was to be a little looser/quicker than normal.   But I couldn't help myself and started drawing faces on the close people to try and convey the solemnity of the occasion.  I also used a bigger brush than normal for the buildings and really like how fast that made it go and the blobby effect.  As you might be able to tell I am not a new adopter.  Slowly I will loosen steps.

The photo below was taken one day while walking home.  I liked the contrast of the bright building and this "quiet" woman.  I wondered what was in her bag, where she was off to and what she was thinking on her way to somewhere.

I usually try to write something of note at the bottom of these posts... but today I am going to leave you with a bowl of flowers and a lovely quote that my new friend Paula read to us on our last night of the trip.

"The day the mountains move has come.
I speak, but no one believes me.
For a time the mountains have been asleep.
But long ago, they danced with fire.
It doesn't matter if you believe this, my friends, as long as you believe:
All the sleeping women are now awake and moving."

by Yosano Akiko from 1911 first issue of Seito Japanese feminist magazine

If you would like to read the other posts about this trip here are the links:

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Guatemala Sketchbook Trip - Part 2

One of my favorite places on our sketchbook workshop in Guatemala with Amy was the "Convento de las Capuchinas".  Upon entering the building one is immediately struck by the contrast between the dark, shadowy hallways and the brilliant light that fills the central courtyard with its burgeoning bougainvilleas and fountain. After wandering around the outer ruinous grounds and beautiful gardens I decided I wanted to draw the courtyard.  I found the perfect spot and nestled myself contentedly among the arches.  

It may appear that I have drawn the columns too fat and wide, but they really were quite stout.  Below you can see a photo showing the columns and the lovely arches.

The building was consecrated in 1736 but suffered damaged during the severe 1751 and 1773 earthquakes.  When I looked it up on Wikipedia it said there were two kinds of nuns that lived in the convent, "discalced" and "urban".  One of the differences between them was that the former were not allowed to drink chocolate and had to wear rustic clothing while the latter were allowed to drink chocolate and wear fine clothes and jewelry.  I think I know what I would choose. 

The view from upstairs was stunning and there was a well-maintained museum on the second floor.  We were not allowed to take photos but I got a quick sketch in of some amazing tinwork. 

The day after the convent we visited the "Parque Central" for more sketching opportunities.  I wanted to sketch this church but ran out of time.  It had so many statues on its facade it would have taken me forever!

I did, however, make a sketch of the fountain in the center of the park.  The fountain is called "Fuente de las Sirenas" or "Mermaid Fountain" and is rather risqué (IMHO).  Amy liked to call it "La Fuente de Leche".  I debated whether or not to ink this one in but decided that statuary is sometimes best left un-inked.

As I said in my last post, one of my favorite things to do in Antigua is to observe the woman who are often dressed in traditional clothing and frequently have something balanced on their heads.  I asked one of the women if it was hard to do and she said no... that she learned it when she was a little girl.

Another colorful site are the street fruit vendors.  I love their little covered carts that always have fruit piled high and some unknown, colorful bags hanging from them.   

The photo below shows two icons of Antigua: the famous arch, "El Arco" and a tuk tuk.  We ended up walking everywhere so I didn't get a chance to ride in one of them.  I imagine it is a bumpy ride on the cobblestone streets.

Just past "El Arco" is another church which is not to be missed called "El Merced."  The white decoration on the cream building reminded me of icing.

One morning we ate in an adorable restaurant right off the central park square and it had a fountain in each courtyard.  I really liked this fish fountain.

I love how the fountains run the gamut from the Virgin Mary to risqué mermaids.

I also couldn't resist including a photo of the millstones that are embedded in the streets.  I collect millstones and had to appreciate this detail.  Imagine how hard it must have been to carve the surrounding stone to fit them in.

As I sit here writing this blog post looking down at my feet, I wonder why I like this shape so much and the heart sutra comes to mind, "Form does not differ from Emptiness and Emptiness does not differ from Form.  Form is Emptiness and Emptiness is Form."  It reminds me that this life is full of contrasts that define each the silent, dark hallways and light-filled courtyard of the convent at the beginning of this post.  To take the observation even further, I am also aware of the contrast between the vast effort and movement in traveling to the colorful, exotic Guatemalan highlands and the return to the grey, still days of sitting in front of my computer in Ohio. Both have their appeal... but I could not appreciate one without the other and herein lies the beauty and play of this life.

“That which is empty, is full of everything in the cosmos.” ― Meeta Ahluwalia

If you would like to read the other posts about this trip here are the links: