Oaxaca sleeping dogs

As a resident of a suburban neighbourhood where all canines are leashed, I was fascinated with the behaviour of the stray dogs in Oaxaca City, and probably could have spent my full five days drawing them. The first one that caught my eye was the one who was napping in the middle of a pedestrian street near a noisy market. Seemingly in a sound sleep as cars, delivery trucks and crowds of people circulated around him, he simultaneously jumped up and went into a full snarl as soon as another stray entered his territory. Needless to say, the other dog skulked away.

Another morning on our way for breakfast, we watched a very muscular sleeping dog on a street corner suddenly leap up and begin stalking his prey. The prey in question? A pigeon that was walking along the sidewalk. The dog slealthily followed the bird for quite some time, hoping to catch it for breakfast, no doubt. When the bird flew away, he was undeterred. He made a quick u-turn and tried to chase down a passing Toyota, narrowly escaping having his legs run over.

The dog that I finally ended up drawing was one of a group of dogs who dig themselves into the cool sand to take a siesta on the main square. They all seem very well fed and as much a part of the scenery as the balloon sellers and the tamale vendors.

A note about the materials for this sketch: I used my Etchr sketchbook for the whole Oaxaca trip. While I haven’t been working much in ink and wash these days, I find that the thick Etchr watercolour paper takes an ink line really well. Even though you can’t correct your lines (like the one across the dog’s face), I enjoyed reconnecting with my Pitt pens on this trip.

Before lunch

I took Alice out for a run in the woods this morning. It seems awfully early for an onslaught of snow this deep, but I’ll take it. I snapped a quick photo of my favourite winter view and had the painting done before lunch. A productive morning.

Oaxaca Day trip

The pre-Columbian archeological site of Monte Alban is just a quick twenty minute bus ride from Oaxaca City, but it seems a million miles away. The bus from the city transports you away from the crowds and noise, chugging up and up towards the clouds, and eventually lets you off at the base of a vast plateau. From there you climb a little more on foot, past the vendors selling bracelets and hats and pottery, past the ticket window, to what was, thousands of years ago, the centre of Zapotec civilization.

The site is vast, and requires several hours to see all of the monuments, carved stones and other structures. The best views of the plaza and surrounding hills of the Oaxaca Valley are found at the tops of the North and South Platforms. I climbed what seemed like a million high and narrow steps to sketch these two views, but it was worth it. From atop these platforms, besides getting to practice your one-point perspective, you get an incredible sense of how much construction went into levelling the mountain to create this site. And you meet tons of other tourists who are quite content to sit and watch someone sketch while they also catch their breath at the top.

Oaxaca dusk

Last week in Oaxaca, I filled my sketchbook pages will all kinds of things. Sketches big and small, as well as museum tickets and other memorabilia. I’ve really been enjoying having the space to spread out my sketches in this new Etchr A4 size sketchbook, but painting across the page doesn’t make for very good screen reproductions since the book is so big.

This spread includes a large panorama I did on the rooftop of my hotel at dusk one evening. When I look at it now, the word “fever” comes to mind, for several reasons. First of all because I was knocked out by some sort of virus that day, which was the reason I sketched not too far from home. I also painted feverishly, frantically really, because it was the end of the day and the light was changing quickly. By the time I finished this, I needed a flashlight to see my sketchbook, and I had to stop myself from piling on the paint in the fading light.

I also included a little sketch of a Beetle that was tucked into a covered parking spot. I spotted this while waiting for a bus, and sketched it in the ten minutes before the bus ride to Monte Alban. More about that trip tomorrow.

Oaxaca lunch

Last week, I gave up trying to post from my hotel room in Oaxaca, and decided to wait for my return to Montreal to post my sketches. As with my most recent hotel wifi experiences, transmission was uneven and frustrating. Maybe I need to stay in better hotels : )

Now that I’m back, it’s fun to relive the Oaxacan experience as I flip through my sketchbook. I went to Oaxaca with the intention of absorbing the atmosphere and colours of Mexico, in preparation for my upcoming workshops in San Miguel de Allende in January. I managed to complete 10 spreads in my Etchr sketchbook, which is quite a lot since this is an A4 size book. I’ll be scanning all of them in the coming days. The experience in Oaxaca was so rich that I’d like to take the time to write about each sketching experience on its own, rather than add them all to one post like I did for New York City.

Two things that amazed me on this first trip to Mexico were the vivid colours of the building facades, and the shapes and sizes of the agave plants! After a long day of touring the city, I found a quiet spot on a bench in a little square, a bit off the beaten path, with a great view of both agave and colourful facades. A man across the plaza was eating his lunch, which was followed by a short siesta. You can’t find a better model than a sleeping one, right?

In a scene like this, where do you start? Since I’ve been trying to add more people into my travel sketches, I started by drawing the man on the bench first. I knew that if he finished his sandwich before my sketch was done, I would at least have a drawing of him and I could add colour from memory. From there, I was able to add in the bench he was sitting on, the agaves, and finally the buildings. I painted this pretty quickly because the sun was going down, but I was happy to have started with a figure in the scene.

Interested in joining me for some travel sketching in Mexico in January? Yesterday we had a cancellation in one of my groups. If you think you might be interested, here’s the link. You can be sure we’ll be sketching lots of colourful facades (and people!) in San Miguel de Allende.

Templo de Santo Domingo de Guzman

Before visiting the Museo de las Culturas de Oaxaca, I sketched outside on the plaza in front of Santo Domingo. It’s a very lively, touristy area but there’s a shaded spot with benches and a view of the facade. My original intention was to sketch the Baroque architecture but the landscaping in the front was so beautiful — with its tall spikes of some kind of agave — that my eye stopped there. Today I hope to visit a very special garden that I only caught a glimpse of from the windows of the museum itself: the Jardin Etnobotanico de Oaxaca. The only way to visit is by guided tour, so we’ll see how my sketching while walking system works out.