I’m not complaining about the first week of February. So far we’ve had one big winter storm and in addition to that, another overnight snowfall even before we had a chance to properly dig out from the first. But that’s ok with me. I’ll take snow over rain in winter any day. I was hoping to get outside to sketch from my car today but the snow was coming down too quickly, so I set up a chair in front of a window at home and settled for a window view.
I don’t know Mexico well enough to organize a workshop there, but I’m glad I met somebody who does. I got to know Meagan Burns of Art Leap Adventures when she interviewed me for an article in Drawing Attention, the monthly online publication of Urban Sketchers. Meagan is an American expat living in Mexico, and she’s a sketcher, which makes her the perfect person to organize a sketching workshop in a country that I had only visited for the first time a few months ago.
I’m just back from teaching two back -to-back workshops in San Miguel de Allende, with Meagan as my guide and expert organizer. And I’ve had a bit of time to think about what made my teaching experience memorable. I think it’s basically what makes any travel experience memorable, except that there’s lots of sketching mixed in. You have to have the right balance of local culture and history, great food, good weather and interesting sights. And you have to have great chemistry with the people you are with.
Have a look at the photos here and here on the Art Leap Adventures website. You’ll see that we sketched all the iconic sights, learned how to cook local food, toured a fascinating mask museum, visited the famed Mojiganga studio of Hermes Arroyo, AND ate tacos and Mexican street corn (something I probably wouldn’t have done on my own).
San Miguel de Allende is a beautiful place to visit, but when you’re with someone who has lived there, and who understands the culture and speaks the language, the experience is richer and more complex. I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to teach not one but two interesting and talented groups of sketchers, and to have had someone to guide us to all the right places, including into the bar where the Mariachi bands practice before going out into the streets at night!
I’ve been going to this park near my house for years and years. I walk my dog there every day, I took my kids there when they were young, and I’ve done many paintings of the woods behind it. This year they did a big park reno, adding new play equipment and making the park more accessible to people of all ages. They moved one of the kiddie skating rinks to a higher place and added benches so parents can watch. I’m not complaining. It looks pretty good at sunset. Painted in gouache and watercolour, 15″ x 11″.
The centre of San Miguel de Allende is clearly the Jardín Principal. This beautiful small square facing the big pink church is where everyone hangs out, both day and night. During my workshops we sketched there often because there’s a little bit of everything for both beginner and advanced sketchers. You can tackle the complex spires of the church, the balloon vendors, the hat sellers, the carts with ladies selling snacks, or the topiary ficus trees that have been trimmed into compact rounds to keep birds from nesting in them.
I loved sketching the candy carts. It was an opportunity to use my brightest colours in an almost abstract way by adding dabs of colour and creating separations with darks. I probably say this about every place I visit, but there really is enough in this one small public space to sketch for a full month.
Every morning in San Miguel de Allende I painted a sunrise view from my window. I wasn’t planning on creating a series when I did the first one, but the morning view was so beautiful — with a distant mountain range slowly emerging beyond the valley — that I just couldn’t stop myself. After the first day, I set an early alarm to make sure I wouldn’t miss it.
These are painted with gouache and watercolour on Strathmore toned paper and are approximately 5” x 7”, done two per page on a 9” x 12” sheet. Knowing that I had no more than 30 minutes to paint each of these, I would prepare my materials in the evening by setting up my palette and brushes, and have a rectangle drawn on my paper in advance.
Gouache is perfect for this exercise because it dries so quickly, and also because you can add light colours on top of dark ones. A sunrise view changes so rapidly, but I tried to capture the beauty of the vista by putting sky colours down with immediacy and never touching them again.
It’s always a great exercise to paint the same scene at different times of day or in different seasons, but I was especially fortunate to have a panorama like this in front of me when I pulled open the curtains each morning.
My first group of students from my San Miguel de Allende workhop is headed home today, and another group is arriving this evening. In the middle of the goodbyes and the hellos, I spent a few quiet hours sketching on my own at locations I had seen during the week but never stopped at.
The Mercado de Artesanias has an interesting entrance because it’s on a downhill slope with little stores on either side. I found a great seat on some stairs where I could see all the colours and activity as the crowds arrived for Sunday shopping.
I’ve also been itching to sketch the view of Parroquia de San Miguel de Arcangel from Calle Aldama — a street we walk on every day to get to our locations. I haven’t been able to do a demo there because there’s nowhere to stand on the narrow sidewalks, but when I’m on my own I can sit on the curb without disturbing too much of the pedestrian traffic. More about the workshop soon, when I can scan my work and post some photos from a fantastic week.
I’m back in Mexico, getting ready for a couple of workshops in San Miguel de Allende. I arrived just in time for the 251st anniversary of the birth of revolutionary leader Ignacio Allende, which was celebrated in grand style with a holiday and a military parade. In honour of the man, I sketched his statue in the Plaza Civica. It was there that learned that he is not only a favourite of the people. He is also well liked by birds.
I also sketched the iconic pink confection of Parroquia de San Miguel Arcangel. In this hilly town you can get a view of the spiky church from both above and below, but the best spot was from a cafe with an outdoor table and a good latte.