This double-spread image for my colouring book shows a typical street. I had in mind Almolonga here in Sancris, with its verdurerías (greengrocers), carnicerías (butchers) and abarrotes (corner shops). I also wanted to draw someone who pulled up next to me at a red light once: a young mum with her two kids, all on one Italika vespa, all wearing their favourite helmets. It’s typical here to see whole families on vespas but normally the driver is a man and nobody has helmets on.
And the third element is the fruit salad guy with his portable stall (a tooled-up wheelbarrow). You see these guys on street corners selling varieties of fruit in a cup. The jicaletas in the picture are slices of jícama on a stick, with a lick of jam or chili. You see juice guys, the orange-juice people with a nifty little orange-lathe for peeling. The mango seller uses a useful no-hands innovation for mango peeling: you stick a sharpened screwdriver into the base of the fruit and peel.
Just because I’m publishing a colouring book doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come with references!
I’ve found in-depth background for my drawings in these excellent books. (You can find many of them at the bookshop La Cosecha.)
Aubry, Andrés: San Cristóbal de las Casas. Su historia urbana, demográfica y monumental 1528-1990.
Segunda edición, Colectivo Bats’il K’op, San Cristóbal de las Casas 2017.
This is a masterpiece about Sancris, covering the city’s history through its architecture, using poetic language and solid sources. Although it doesn’t try to entertain it often does, with anecdotes like the fine ladies’ church strike when the Bishop tried to stop them drinking hot chocolate during Mass. I used it for points about the orientation of the town, San Nicolás being the church of the black residents, the eggs in the stucco of the Cathedral, and la Merced (including the detail about the disturbing-sounding institution for detaining “obstreperous women” that was run on the square in the 1700s.) A lot of the decisions taken here at the city’s initial founding are still relevant today, such as the orgins and crafts of the different barrios. Since Sancris is an old, colonial city (only the second founded by the Spaniards in the Americas) we tend to look around the pretty centre and think that this is what it’s always looked like. But Aubry writes about things like the shifts in colour from the mudejar (Moorish) to the Neoclassical styles, reminding us that nothing is immutable.
Morris, Walter F; Martínez, Alfredo; Schwartz, Janet & Karasik, Carol: Guía Textil de los Altos de Chiapas, A Textile Guide to the Highlands of Chiapas.
Segunda edición, CONACULTA y Na Bolom, Ciudad de México y San Cristóbal de las Casas 2014.
This photo-packed book charts the different local indigenous weaving styles with a tongue-in-cheek commentary that comes from real earned insider knowledge. I especially enjoyed the tidbit about the cardigan being introduced to Chamula by evangelican fanatics trying to bribe their way into peoples’ faiths. I used the book for the information about the embroidery from Zinacantán. Morris et al tell us that the striking Zinacanteco flower embroidery was inspired by Guatemalan refugees who came through in the 1970s. Again, you look at something that looks traditional and assume it’s always been that way…
The flower designs on the Zinacantan family’s clothes in the colouring book are my own improvisations.
Guess, Virginia Ann: Spirit of Chiapas: the Expressive Art of the Roof Cross Tradition.
Museum of New Mexico Press, Santa Fe, 2004.
I came across this scholarly book in Oaxaca and bought it for big money. Guess does a great job of cataloguing San Cris’ roof crosses and talking to their owners and blacksmiths about them, but she doesn’t actually manage to get to the root of where they came from and what they mean.
Montaña Barbano, María M., Huicochea Gómez, Laura, & Mejía Lozada, Diana (2015). Being “coleto”: plants inside the houses of “El Cerrillo”, San Cristóbal de las Casas, Mexico.
Culturales, 3(2), 181-207. Instituto de Investigaciones Culturales-Museo, Mexicali
Here’s an article about Coleta women talking about their houseplants. Coletos is a name for the locals, but it’s fraught with meaning: it refers to the dominant class who’ve lived in San Cristóbal for centuries and claim Spanish ancestry. When the Zapatista rebellion took San Cristóbal in 1994, three civil society movements arose in response: two in favour, and the grouping los Auténticos Coletos, against. Our other neighbours are known as Sancristobalenses, meaning locals who don’t consider themselves coletos, and foraneos, or “outsiders” like me who come from other parts of Mexico and the world. The article about the plants also gives insights into how traditional houses are organised, with their central patio for decorative flowers and their backyard “sitio” for urban farming – and how the subdivision of houses as families grow makes this trickier.
I haven’t read these other books yet but they are very intriguing. Zapantera Negra contains stories by Black Panthers who have visited the Zapatistas in solidarity – the urban-rural clash came out very vividly in one of the testimonies I read, with the aged Black Panther being expected to ford streams and balance on narrow mountain paths. ¿Dónde Están? or Where Are They? is about Afromexicans. You can buy the PDF print-at-home version of the whole colouring book on my Gumroad page.
Here in San Cristóbal de las Casas, 2200 m above sea level, when it gets cold it gets cold. The locals seize the opportunity to sell shawls, hoodies and knitted hats to the unwary tourists who left home in the sunny afternoon without enough layers… well, knitted goods and these synthetic, imported animal hats. You sometimes see whole families where everyone’s bought a different hat. Very sweet! I wanted to include this in my Sancris colouring book and now you can also decide which colour the sheep, canary and snake hats will be.
These felt souvenirs, made in neighbouring Chamula, are a ubiquitous sight here in San Cristóbal de las Casas. I find them very cute and endearing, even though they aren’t exactly cuddly. I prefer the ones made from rough woollen felt rather than the bright synthetic felt you see more and more. The animals sometimes have bright red rings around their eyes, giving them a hungover or even deranged look. As part of the great Sancris colour anarchy, you can colour these in any (and I mean ANY) combinations you like, each panel a different hue, and remain totally true to the original style. I wanted to include these animals in my Sancris colouring book – I originally got the idea of the colouring book when I started notcing the subtle differences in the Sancris felt giraffes, and thought that it would be fun to be able to colour them to my liking.
I have a soft spot for La Merced plaza in San Cristóbal: you often see people being free and active there, doing sports and smooching their boyfriends, like in European parks. We in the capoeira group CECA used to train* on the outdoor stage at La Merced, watching the clouds lit up by the setting sun while stretching. In the photos we are practicing a sequence with Treinel Cavera (in the rasta-striped knit hat). The capoeira, breakdancing and dog-walking is what I had in mind when I drew the image of la Merced for my Sancris colouring book.
Sketch of the day: a woman about to start selling deep-fried snacks. She was carrying her stock, hot sauce bottle, trestle and toddler while having a phone conversation. This was in San Cristóbal’s central plaza.
For the past three years I’ve been chipping away at a little project of mine: a colouring book featuring street scenes from San Cristóbal de las Casas in Mexico, the picturesque town I live in. There’s so much detail and colour going on that it’s hard to take much in while we stroll around… apple blossoms peeking over a wall; a house painted in turquoise and peach; Chamula women’s blouse embroidery fashions; a courtyard from the 1500s; a garage opened to sell multicoloured pastries; the breakdance crew at La Merced; street dogs rolled up to sleep; the spectacular piercings of an Argentinian hippie.
With this colouring book, I want to give us fans of Sancris a chance to sit down and contemplate it, one scene at a time. And here we can finally paint a house in magenta and purple.
During a recent visit to Oaxaca I sketched these plants in the courtyard of the Instituto de Artes Gráficas de Oaxaca (IAGO). It’s a beautiful space where people were working and reading… a couple of sketching tourists fit right in.
More croquis from the EZLN International Festival for Women who Fight! (Although the verb luchar in Spanish in this case means “struggle” as in “the ideological struggle” , rather than actually fighting. It also means wrestling, as in lucha libre. Fun with etymology.)
I drew these women during a really confused lecture on “Dismantling The Man into Things”. Hence the sceptical faces.
More sketches from the women´s encounter in March.
I drew these during talks on masculinity in childhood (halfway through which two boys in the audience started shooting us with imaginary pistols) and on social organization as love. There was a whooooole range of talks, some weirder than the rest…
These croquis are of varying quality depending on how still the “model” was and how much time I had to draw her. I chose faces that interest me.
7000 women make a noise like a low-frequency beehive. Every morning when we crawled out of our tents in the freezing, clear air, the hum was already going and it kept getting stronger as more people woke up and started looking for breakfast. The festival was organized by the Zapatista movement and hosted by Caracol 4 in Morelia. Nobody knew quite what to expect. I arrived with a contingent from Ama-Awa, the women agroecologists, carrying tents, food and water for three days. We were pleasantly surprised to find abundant flushing toilets, food outlets (although the queues did stretch out), showers and drinking water taps… all without the presence of a single man. And no alcohol either. My friend’s ten-year-old daughter could attend any session she liked without her mum having to worry. And there was plenty to choose from, ranging from lectures on land rights, Indigenous lesbianism, masculinity in childhood to art, dance and theatre and workshops for making reusable menstrual pads. And a Colombian batucada.
I sketched participants during the lectures, amazed at the sheer range of women there… tall, short, skinny, round, old, young, lawyers, hippies, gorgeous, ugly, of all colours, made-up and rolled-out-of-bed. Here are some of them.
History of the festival: http://luchadoras.mx/mujeres-zapatistas/
This was just one of the hardcore women who brought their babies to the event and stood with them in the hot sun for hours during the first day’s plays. Wearing layers of heavy clothing and knitted black balaclavas.
Would you buy a multi-coloured felt cow with goggly orange-rimmed eyes? Of course! They are endearing! These marvels of creativity are sold by scores of handicraft sellers in San Cristóbal de las Casas in Chiapas, Mexico, and once you start looking, you start noticing how amazing they are. The quality of the felt, the sense of colour combination, the finishing, the creativity… Felt bulls and chickens are classics, and the current fashion is for felt unicorns and Tyrannosaurus Rexes.
Sketches from Calle Pedregal around the corner from the embassy. People glimpsed on the street or in the juice bar, me trying to pay attention to the detail in glimpses, without staring, drawing without them noticing…
Smoking ladies on a tiled bench outside a sex shop.
The week-long carnival in Tenejapa in the Chiapas highlands includes several colorful elements, such as this “chasing of the cow”. The men dress in red ceremonial finery and, among other things, chase a woven-mat “cow” around the town plaza. (Later there’s “chasing the bull” at another plaza, looking exactly the same as “chasing the cow”, but at that event cameras aren’t welcome… so I figured sketchpads aren’t either). It’s a day full of symbolism and prehispanic references and local pride – also lost of whooping at jokes. It’s very contagious and after we left we spent the rest of the day going “i-e-e-e!!”
Special costume including a stuffed ocelot.
Even though he was standing still it was hard to get all the textile detailes!
Some sketches from the art festival CompArte at the zapatista centre Caracol Oventic. The festival took place for a week at the campus of CIDECI with concerts, changing art shows, workshops, documentaries and theatre; and at the weekend there were performances at Oventic too.
EZLN soldiers holding the crowd barrier
An intrigueing experience for sure. This time I had a bit more time for sketches as most people stayed put watching the performances of theatre, dance, poetry and music.
A “bailable” dance
The girl band – like all the zapatistas, wearing Indigenous traditional dress and balaclavas – were a riot of energy and power.
Zapatista girl band singer
Zapatista girl band bassist
As always, people couldn’t resist filming instead of watching. Or, in my case, drawing.
I took a pile of my colouring-in pictures to a work party recently, reasoning that not everyone would like to join the bachata class or read a poem and this could be a nice activity for the less extroverted of us. It worked a treat! The table with the pictures and box of coloured pencils quickly became a centre for chatting and colouring.
I was also surprised over how different everybody’s style was. Antonio started by colouring the whole elephant an even grey, according to me the most boring part of the picture. Lupe coloured all the shoes and was the only one who finished in the sense of covering her whole picture in colour. Giovanna added patterns and psychedelic details to the forest scene. Both she and José Luis gave the little girl in the picture a green or blue elf skin tone. I think this could be a hit at other events too.
A Mexican street scene: one of the guys selling toasted snacks, peanuts and grasshoppers (chapulines) with lemon and hot sauce. (In addition to people selling macadamia nuts, creamy pastries, shoeshine services, oranges whole, peeled or juiced, cotton candy etc… and I haven’t even mentioned the textiles or child labour)
This guy was one of the least enthusiastic salesmen I’ve ever seen, and I’ve lived in African controlled economies.
In honour of the US American Thanksgiving holiday coming up, here’s a sketch of turkeys! And the small boy who was chasing them gleefully.
These two black turkeys came high-stepping down the path like they owned the place. They were not much smaller than the smallest kids playing football on the path, and for a minute I was worried about how the beak vs cheek contact would go. But the Southside Team goalie stepped up and chased the turkeys back the way they’d come with an exuberant series of sideways leaps, as if he was swinging on invisible lianas or vaulting invisible fences. At one point he did go splat on the ground but the turkeys looked at him indignantly and beat a dignified retreat.
Turkeys are called guajolotes in Mexico and are one of the few animals to have been domesticated in Mesoamerica. Provecho!
You’d think that someone lounging in a hammock on the beach would stay still for more than five minutes. Not the case. My drawings of friends in hammocks ended up as express sketches – croquis – live drawing done with very little time.
But once they moved and messed up my portrait I could still work on the ropes and knots.
Hammocks define the outermost points of the person inside… it’s as if they wrap a plane around limbs and protrusions which makes for fun drawings. There’s something early-90s-computer-graphicksy about them.
And you get to feel like you did something creative on holiday.