San Miguel Allende, Part 3

I’m not an early riser except when I travel. Then, I’ll get up early, get out and get a quick sketch in before the rest of my family wakes up. This is how 2018 started. Out on the streets, at a little stall, sketching the line for tamales while eating a pork tamale and drinking atole.
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Then back to the hotel for a lazy morning with my family, with breakfast spilling into lunch. I drew us all as we ate and then drew the flowers at the table. Yes, like I said, a lazy day.sma14

The Mask Museum in San Miguel Allende is actually a private collection. You can call them and arrange to tour this fascinating collection. Interesting fact: see that strand of hair hanging down the middle of the forehead on that mask? The wearer of the mask gets to choose whose hair that is: usually that of a wife, a lover… someone special. Almost all mask-wearers in traditional ceremonies are male.
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Here is a sketch at the archaeological site of Cañada de la Virgen , which was arid, yet beautiful. Just being among ruins that old (from about 530 AD) is really special. You’re not allowed to take a backpack with you, so I carried a few things in my hand: a small Nova sketchbook, a tube of white gouache, a waterbrush, brushpen and a couple of watersoluble colored pencils. Sounds like a lot, but it’s really just a fistful of stuff. Enough to make a quick sketch. Cacti are wonderful shapes to draw.
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I think there’s one ( maybe two?) more posts of sketches from San Miguel Allende that follow this one.
Here are post 1 and post 2.

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San Miguel Allende, Part 2

An early morning sketch from my hotel, looking out at the sloping street beyond the arched doorway. The greyest scene in this city is not without a pop of color.
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In contrast to the rest of the day, the zócalo is pretty empty in the mornings. The only action you see is the pigeons that circle overhead every time the bells ring.
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By late morning, it’s busy again until late into the night. Spot that Hello Kitty and Pikachu balloon? Amazing how they’re almost universally known…
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Lunchtime most days was at Baja Fish Taquito. My kids loved the fish tacos. Me? The seafood ceviche and the flan.
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More food sketches, this one done after dark under halogen light. I tried to capture that extra-yellow, confusing, high contrast feel of the light.  Mexican corn-on-the-cob is delicious. Grill corn until lightly charred. Roll in melted butter, then spread with mayonnaise. Sprinkle with cotija cheese and a liberal dose of lime juice. Tastes good at home but like all street food, never as great as it does on the street.
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More from San Miguel Allende in my next post. Here’s post 1, in case you missed it…

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San Miguel Allende, Part 1

Everytime I visit a completely new place, a different landscape, a new country, I spend the first few days being totally thrown off by the light, the color, the new energy, new things to see. I’d been in Mexico City for 3 days before catching a bus to San Miguel Allende so you’d think I had a bit of time to get used to the colors, right?  Nope. If you think of Mexico as a country in technicolor, then San Miguel Allende is Mexico on steroids. There’s just no other way to describe the light and the dazzling color. You can see in my fist sketches, I’m overwhelmed…

Blue skies, cobbled sloping streets, colorful paper flags, orange and pink buildings…trying to take it all in…sma1

And at the Zócalo that day. Balloon sellers, crowds, piñatas, a jardin with strange-shaped trees, the criss-cross of wires, ornate metalwork lamps. And like that wasn’t enough, an ornate pink, yes pink, church.
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At almost that same location, minutes after the sketch above, these mojigangas appear. All day, everyday, all over downtown San Miguel Allende, you see these giant puppets walking around, posing with people for photographs, or off to an event.
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This never-changing view of San Agustin was to become etched in my brain over the next few days: more than once, I spent close to an hour standing in the evening in line for piping hot churros. No ordinary churros, these. Fried for you right when you reach the front of that line, rolled in sugar, with the filling of your choice. I tried dulce de leche, fresa, chocolate and nutella. Totally worth the wait. My kids played in the jardin on the opposite side of the street while I waited.
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The Toy Museum is something else. Like with most museum visits, I start by trying to sketch as I wander, but all too soon the dizzying displays means I give up on sketching and just try to take in what I can. This is all I sketched, but it tells you almost nothing about why you have to visit this museum. Mexican toys, even the simplest of them, are wildly imaginative handmade works of art.
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More from San Miguel Allende in my next post.

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Back in Mexico City , Part 2

More from Mexico City. Food first, as always… Sanborns is a local chain where the servers wear the strangest cape/collar. Worn over a blouse and skirt, it looks like a a mashup of traditional  mexican garb and Star Trek. The coffee cups match the theme of the restaurant: the one I visited is in a gorgeous blue-tiled building called Casa de los Azulejos.

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This is Santo Domingo Church, just off the main square. Smaller than the main church, but lovelier, I think, more human-scaled.
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Here’s a random drawing of a giant succulent. Sketched when taking a break in an outside courtyard at the National Museum of Anthropology . 
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The museum is vast and you could sketch there forever…I did just a few quick line drawings before I decided to wander, and take in as much of the beautiful work as I could that day…
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Street vendors are one of my favorite subjects to draw. Sometimes, they just move too fast for me. This taco seller on his bicycle saw me start to sketch, handed me his business card (never forget to carry a card!) and then packed up in a jiffy and moved on.
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The Palacio de Bellas Artes is the brightest gold and orange colored dome you’ve seen, but this street vendors snacks outdid the brightness of the dome in their neon-ness. The actual color of some of those snacks? Opera Rose. No kidding. And yes, that’s a fugitive color. So next time I travel to Mexico I’ll carry some Quin Lilac with me. mexcity_brightsnacks

This icecream man almost outshone those neon snacks with his rainbow-colored cones…
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That’s it from Mexico City. Next, we head to San Miguel Allende.

Part 1 of my Mexico City post is here.

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Back in Mexico City , Part 1

6 years ago, I visited Mexico City for the first time. So I was excited to go back for a few days before heading to San Miguel Allende.

Nothing like starting out with a meal at Cafe de Tacuba. Ornate cherubs and a timepiece over the doorway. Servers in starched whites bustling about. Enchiladas in verde sauce for me.
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Day 1, sketching with my son in a back alley near the historic Centro. The trouble with this city is that everything is eminently sketchworthy, which means I don’t get far from my starting point. This was literally steps outside our hotel.
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A short walk and we’re approaching the main Zócalo in Centro, the historic downtown district of Mexico City. People queue up to receive a limpia, an Aztec shaman cleansing. This guy wore a full length wolf pelt and the air was thick with the smell of burning herbs.
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The ruins of Templo Mayor from the Aztec capital city of Tenochtitlan sit right in the Centro, surrounded by the city. It’s an uncomfortable juxtaposition that speaks to the history of the country: Aztec ruins surrounded by grand Spanish architecture built practically over it.
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Harmonipans, portable hand organs, are played everywhere in the city. Passersby drop coins into into the players hand (or hat, if they’re holding one in their hand). Only very few songs seem to play, over and over. If you are going to develop an earworm, it will happen on the streets of Mexico City.
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It was the holidays when I visited and the center of the zócalo had a huge Christmas tree. There’s never a time, day or night, when the zócalo isn’t packed with people. Hanging out, enjoying an evening with their kids, eating a snack from a streetside vendor. In the background is the Mexico City Metropolitan Cathedral, the largest cathedral in the Americas.
mexcity_treeDarkness comes early, but that doesn’t mean the action ends then. Balloon vendors sell these wonderful rocket-shaped balloons and we spent almost every evening sending balloons as high into the air as we could. Here’s a night sketch of the inky sky littered with rocket-balloons.
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More from Mexico City in my next post.

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Coffee Shop Sketches to wrap up the year

‘Tis the season for drawing in coffee shops. Because I’m a cold wimp. So come 60-ish degree weather (yes that’s cold) I’m headed indoors.
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Drawing in coffee shops is a great way to start at people drawing, if you find people-drawing intimidating…For one, they’re sitting down, not moving a lot, and you’re basically just drawing torsos, not full-length figures. Grab a corner seat. A small book, and the simplest of tools.

Sometimes I’ll draw the action at the counter.
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But mostly I’ll settle for simpler stuff, often sketches that don’t get finished because people get up and leave…
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If you find multi-people scenes intimidating, pick one person.
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Still intimidating? You can draw someone not facing you, perhaps?
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Your tools can be super-simple and not every little vignette you attempt needs to work out…
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Sometimes I’ll work in black and white, other times in color…
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All of these people were sitting atleast a couple of tables away from me, which means I couldn’t see too much detail: perfect for simplifying shapes and for leaving out extraneous detail.
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You can use this same “quick coffeeshop portrait” style to draw friends too. The nice thing with drawing people you know is it’s not rude to stare at them. Once you make peace with the fact that your friends might not look fabulous in your sketches, it gets easier…
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I’ll be teaching the basics of coffeeshop portraits in the one-day workshop I’m teaching with Nina Khashchina and Gay Kraeger in June 2018. It might be a long time from now but the class is filling up quickly.  More details here.

With that, I’m wrapping up the blogging for 2017. Thank you for following along for all these years, for commenting and sharing. Writing about my art, why and how I make it, and sharing what I know has really helped me grow as an artist. I could do all of that in a void, but it makes for a much better experience to have you there to read, share and comment.

Happy New Year. See you in 2018.

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What’s in your palette?

Every so often, I’ll do a palette post. Mine changes often. Some colors are always there, like Ultramarine Blue and Burnt Sienna, but a lot will change periodically. Right now, I seem to be adding a bunch of neutral and darks to my palette. Also, 18 colors is a lot… I might  cut some of them out and put in some full pans of my most-used colors.

Below is my palette, as of now. A bunch of these colors are newish to my standard palette. More often than not, I’m surprised by the colors that end up finding a place in my palette. So many of these are recommended by friends and teachers.

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Like Phthalo Green, a color I couldn’t work with for years and then a workshop with Shari Blaukopf changed my mind about it. If there’s to be just one green in my palette, this would be it. As long as I remember not to use it outside of mixes, it’s a magical color.

Carbazole Violet, like Phthalo Green, will take over your whole painting if you’re not careful. But I love it in dark mixes, it keeps shadows mysterious instead of just plain dark. Thank you, Tom Hoffmann, that’s one color I’d never seen in a palette before a workshop with you.
Oh, and Transparent Pyrrol Orange too!

Nickel Azo Yellow, Potter’s Pink and Schminke Transparent Orange are here via Liz Steel‘s recommendation. And even though the pigment in both these oranges mentioned above might be the same, they look different enough to me that I want them both: the Pyrrol Orange is a lovely burnt orange and the Schminke is that exact shade you need if you like painting at construction sites (I do!). Besides, I can never have too much orange in my palette.

Buff Titanium and Neutral Tint are colors I’m trying because Marc Holmes does super interesting stuff with them, and I really need some neutrals in my work to calm it down, every once in a while.

And then there’s colors like Cobalt Turquoise and Olive Green that I have full tubes of and don’t want to waste, but they’ll be replaced when I’m done with those tubes. Cobalt Turquoise Light or Cobalt Teal Blue will replace the Cobalt Turquoise. Which one? I don’t know, I love the color of the Cobalt Teal Blue from Daniel Smith more, but it runs all over my palette because I use my paints so wet. Cobalt Turquoise Light from Winsor & Newton is more reliable in how it behaves. I might have to make the sensible choice on this one. Green Gold or Sap Green will replace the Olive Green.

You can see that this isn’t a very logical way to build a palette, but it works for me. And if you look at that left side of the palette, it’s not a huge stretch to see my split primaries there. I’m also liking the idea of leaving that one space open. It makes it feel like it isn’t totally set, like I could chance on a color I love and add it in without having to figure which color to replace.

I could discuss palettes and paints forever (and it’s fun!) but I feel like I could paint with pretty much any set of artist grade colors if it included some version of the left row of my palette and a quick neutralizer, like Burnt Sienna.

How do you build your palette? What’s in it? What are colors you can’t live without?

If you’re looking to build a palette, and don’t quite subscribe to my “add what you love” view, then here’s a few links to artists who talk about what’s in their palette and why:

Shari Blaukopf’s palette
Liz Steel’s palette
Brenda Swenson’s palette
Marc Holmes’ palette
Jane Blundell’s palette

If you’re overwhelmed and confused, just pick a palette , use it for a while and modify as you go. Happy Painting!

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