Travel-Sketching Oaxaca: My Favorite Church and a Colorful Street

One morning, before it was time to start our workshop, I ran out with a sheet of watercolor paper, my paints and no pen. When I’m teaching, it helps to have a little bit of time to draw and paint by for myself. It also helps to switch up what I’m doing.

The color in Oaxaca is mad-crazy. Bright reds. Deep fuschia. Gamboge Yellow. It’s distinctly different from the colors in cities like Guanajuato. Oaxacan color is deeper, more primary, not pastel.

One building we walked past multiple times everyday was the Church of Santo Domingo de Guzmán and while it’s not an easy building to draw, I knew we had to draw it during the workshop. Here’s a page with a couple of little studies of it from two times I walked past it.

And from the day we all sketched it together.


If you’re just joining along on the Oaxaca adventure, here are my posts so far: .
Travel-Sketching Oaxaca: Jumping Right in
Travel-Sketching Oaxaca: Capturing Vignettes
Travel-Sketching Oaxaca: Monte Alban and More

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Travel-Sketching Oaxaca: Monte Alban and More

10 years after I visited (on my last trip to Oaxaca) I clearly remember the magic of Monte Alban. It’s hard to put it into words. There are more famous pyramids in Mexico. I’ve visited a few in the Yucantan Peninsula ( here, here, here, and here) and around Mexico City that are much grander. But the site of Monte Alban has a special feel to it.

On our way there, we stopped at a little mercado. Some of us sketched the flower stands. Some of us went in search of amazing mango smoothies. I loved the giant calla lilies, and if I’d painted this a wee bit slower, I’d have found a way to bring more focus to them. But we had to move on!

At Monte Alban we painted from the bottom of the Pyramid, and talked about capturing a sense of big space and scale, among other things.

And then I joined a bunch of adventurous sketcher that climbed to the top of the pyramid for a second sketch.

That afternoon we visited San Bartolo Coyotepec, a town that makes a distinctively Oaxacan black pottery. I loved watching and sketching maestra Adé at work: such simple tools and such beautiful work. Process sketches like this one, with little notes (and the piece of clay I pressed on the page) are just the sort of thing I like to look back at later.

It was a super-long day, and I was tired in the evening, but I’m glad I took my sketchbook with me when we stepped out for a nightcap later that night. The bartender Carlos explained the craft of making mezcal and then he poured us two ‘craft’ mezcals and had us try to guess what they were flavored with. The first one, it turns out, had cooked chicken mole mixed in it before it was distilled. The second one, a bigger surprise, had a whole rattlesnake right there in the bottle it sat in!

The evening makes for a great story. And that bottle with a snake in it was quite a sight to see… but I have to admit it: with a drink that’s 75 proof, it’s hard for me to taste anything more than the alcohol.

Here are the first and second posts from Oaxaca.
Travel-Sketching Oaxaca: Jumping Right in
Travel-Sketching Oaxaca: Capturing Vignettes

There’s a few more in the series coming up!

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Travel-Sketching Oaxaca: Capturing Vignettes

A long, luxurious sketch is lovely. But what do you do when you travel with non-sketchers? Go on guided tours? Or when you watch a performance that won’t last very long? You find quicker ways to sketch.

Perhaps you capture the accordion who comes by while you eat lunch in a quick gesture drawing using a brushpen. It only takes a couple of  minutes.

Or, you create a page of vignettes as you move through your day. Meagan Burns joined me as we put the final touches to our agenda for the week. And when she ran off on a quick little errand, I pulled out my sketchbook, not knowing how long she would be gone, and started on a little sketch of the entrance to the Botanical Gardens. And when that was done, I decided to add a closeup of a detail… and then another one. And then she was back and we moved on (although I think she bought me a few extra minutes to finish up by taking photos of me sketching). Each little piece took only a few minutes, so it was something I felt I could tackle even in a short time. Too often, we pass up sketching something that catches our eye because there isn’t enough time…

The sketches are quick, sometimes a bit wonky, but they’re a memory, captured in minutes.

We did more vignette-capturing that day as we scouted locations.

Los Lavadoros is a beautiful hexagonal building that functioned as a laundry for a nunnery. Our tour guide could take us to it (it is now housed in a hotel) but we couldn’t settle down for a long sketch… Vignettes to the rescue, again, each solving a  problem, or capturing a little thought, detail, or response.

And one more vignetted collection, with our tour-guide, Suzanne in it as we opened our workshop with a guided tour of Oaxaca.

Pages of sketches like this mean so much to me. Each quick little vignette is a way to capture a memory. That black and white graphic in the middle of the page is all I could capture in a short time, but it will always remind me of this powerful mural (if you know who the artist is, I’d love to know) and of the somber significance of the number 43 in Mexico’s history.

The first post in this series from Oaxaca is here. More coming soon.

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Travel-Sketching Oaxaca: Jumping Right in

I’m back from a wonderful week teaching a travel-sketching workshop in Oaxaca, Mexico. I thought I’d share sketches from the trip and take you along for the ride. We sketched in markets, and in the streets, at ancient sites and on walking tours of the city. We drew people and places, and captured the life, color and magic of Oaxaca in our sketchbooks.

I arrived early on Sunday morning in Oaxaca, a couple of days before the workshop so I could check out actual locations and do some prep-sketching before the workshop. There’s something surreal to stepping into a completely new world, especially after a red-eye flight. I headed straight to the zócalo when I arrived. Because there’s something really lovely about how many families you see around on the streets on a weekend enjoying a stroll, a meal or just a balloon from a colorful balloon seller.

I had breakfast at Mercado 20 de Noviembre where you can choose from a lot of food stalls and watch the action as you enjoy your breakfast tamale with steaming bowl of chocolate con agua. If you’re in Oaxaca, don’t skip the tamale experience: Oaxacan tamales are cooked in banana leaves, not corn husks, and this gives them a truly wonderful aroma.

I wandered through the narrow, hot and bustling alley where meats are smoked and served with tacos. I wanted to check it out for a market sketching location, but some places, exciting as they are to draw, that are not meant for group sketching… But I couldn’t resist a quick sketch in the alley.

Here is the finished sketch.

And here’s one more sketch from the market. This time of a stall selling plump chorizo and giant tortillas used to make tlayudas. I call a sketch successful when I can look at it later and see what struck me most about an experience. Can you tell I was fascinated by just how plump those chorizo sausages were?


This was just pre-workshop sketching, so there’s a lot more from Oaxaca coming up. Soon.


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Inked Figures

Since it’s #inktober, I attempted to use only inks for life drawing. Well, except for one-minute gestures where I used charcoal: something about smooshing very soft charcoal into newsprint helps me warm up better than any other medium. Here are the ink drawings.

Chinese ink, bamboo pen, and brush. inktober_extra_week1d

On the left, acrylic ink on cheap paper. On the right, almost-blind-contour bamboo and ink on paper.

This one is in acrylic ink. I drew with the droppers. The only bit that uses a brush is the blue hair.

On the left, chinese ink, brush, bamboo pen. I just love how India ink and Chinese ink disperse when water hits them.

Are you deep in #inktober? Doing a few? Thinking of doing some? Do it, it all counts!

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Faces of Recovery: Cindy, Toni, Mike

Drawing portraits from photographs is always hard for me. Perhaps because there’s no story, nothing to draw and paint except anatomy and light and shade. But with a story, a face comes alive. A portrait is so much more than a sum of features.

If you’re an urban sketcher and draw people in cafes and on the streets, you might wonder how it is to draw so closeup, with your subject knowing you’re drawing them. I find it freeing that there’s nothing surreptitious about it. Sitting across a table makes it more of a conversation. I don’t set up an easel and I don’t work so large that the work feels like a barrier between us as we talk.

This is Cindy White with her story.
“I left home at 17 and it took me until I was almost 30 to complete high school but I did. I persisted.”


This is Toni. This is her story.
“After 20 years of homelessness I’m in independent living now.”


This is Mike with his story.
“Recovery Cafe fills that need for family in my life.”

Find every story recorded so far here.

Posted in Activism, california, Close to home, Faces Of Recovery, people, Portrait, reportage | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Inktober2019, Week 1

Inktober is back. Are you taking the #inktober2019 challenge? Like many challenges, there’s a lot of direction if you want it: like daily prompts and how-to videos. But there’s nothing stopping you from loosely interpreting it or doing just some of the days. It’s great to do them all, but some is better than none. And that’s the spirit I’m going with this year.

I’m keeping it small, just working in one little ink sketch into my normal day. Here are this week’s pieces:

Inktober #1. Chinese Ink, Brushpen and Fude Pen.

Intober #2. Chinese Ink, Brushpen and Fude Pen.

These two are on a spread. This isn’t my normal sketchbook, just something I had but knew I didn’t love because it cracks at the binding when I flatten it (you can see that in the picture). But it works for these little sketches.

Inktober #3 and #4 on another spread. (and no, she says she is not inktober-ing).

Inktober #5. I have a set of acrylic inks and it seems like a good time to try them out. Not sure I’m feeling the medium in this piece, but I’ll give it another shot soon. Based on a Sktchy app photo

Inktober Day 6. Back to Chinese Ink and Brushpen. Also, back to my usual sketchbook, the Stillman and Birn 8×10 inch softcover Beta sketchbook.

Are you doing inktober this year? If you are, do you have a particular focus?

Remember to tag them #inktober and #inktober2019 so those of us following those tags might see them…

Posted in challenge, Everyday Sketches, studies, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 11 Comments