Children typically throw themselves at the colouring book – I’m not exaggerating, it’s surprised and delighted me each time. In the case of Luana, age 4, nobody had colouring pens to hand when she received hers… but luckily my partner had a pencil and with this she started happily colouring the merry-go-round picture grey.
Another nice thing is that most kids can find “themselves” in one of the drawings. Buying sweet buns, riding a dolphin, chasing a pigeon, on dad’s shoulders, wearing a silly animal hat or teasing their brother – just look carefully and you’re in there.
Check this out, grown people from the ages of 22 to 72 having a whale of a time colouring in Sancris street scenes! Accompanied by tea, mezcal, campari, espresso, chocolate and fruit panna cotta, but most importantly by good people!
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.
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.
…both marble and plaster busts, of course. The Royal Academy of Arts has a nice feature – a room where they’ve busted out (ha) (sorry) their old …busts, and made them into a pleasure/education feature by adding benches and free paper and pencils. You can sketch the busts and practice drawing. Or if you’re me, you sketch a few busts, and a few sketchers.
The mauve Uni-Ball is a very unforgiving pen for sketching, especially moving tragets like the bearded art lover. But the HB pencils provided by the museum were even less satisfying when I used them for the readers on the bench.
These guys stood still for their portraits… very still.
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 was waiting for someone outside a mall in eastern Turkey and started noticing the women’s fashion, specifically the clothes of the ones following an Islamic dresscode with hair and limbs covered (lots dressed in the same way as women in secular places). At a first glance they all looked like they followed the same dress code: headscarf tucked in, overcoat buttoned over dress. But it quickly became apparent that the details matter. Older, more conservative-looking women had the ends of their scarf hanging down under their chin, younger and trendier ones tucked the ends into the scarf. Some had cardigans, others that strange overcoat with a double row of buttons, some floaty long vests. Skinny jeans and ballerinas were much in evidence. Muslim dresscode – here’s yet another example of how it’s not an oppressive imposition. Here are my three-second croquis done standing up in a little notebook.
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.
I’ve got an exciting commission coming up for the Evangelical Lutheran Association for Youth in Finland, Nuorten Keskus: colouring-in pictures for young people based on biblical stories, to form part of a multimedia activity book called “Painiva Jumala”, “The wrestling God”. The book will come out in 2017 on Kirjapaja but they already needed the image for the cover: Jacob wrestling the Angel.
This is a pretty inconclusive and ambiguous story of how an anonymous person challenges Jacob to wrestle as Jacob’s on his way home to reconcile himself with his brother Esau, after making his fortune in the world… His two wives and two slave concubines and eleven children have already crossed the river and then this dude challenges Jacob to wrestle. They fight all night and in the end the only way the stranger can win is by kneeing Jacob in the groin, well, top of the thigh. When they finally introduce themselves, the stranger doesn’t say who he is but tells Jacob that his name should no longer be Jacob, but Israel, ‘he who has struggled with God’. – The theologians have an interpretation about this story representing humankind’s conflicted relationship with the deity, but I found it pretty unsatisfying, thin on motivation.
Nonetheless it presented an interesting compositional challenge: how to depict a wrestling moment where one party has the other by the neck (this is in the book’s title) but neither is obviously winning. And it couldn’t look gay, as I’m assuming that teenage boys are still one of the most gigglingly homophobic groups of people in existence, and the Youth Centre does want them involved too. And it couldn’t just be a mess of limbs writhing on the ground. Many historical paintings of this scene show a pretty boring Graeco-Roman stance with the angel and Jacob grabbing each other by the shoulders, although Gauguin´s angel in “Vision after the Sermon” has Jacob in a headlock. I wanted something with verve and action. A few hours of wrestling videos later (Finnish Olympic wrestling; aikido vs jiujitsu; Californians doing Brazilian jujitsu) I settled for a kind of theolgical MMA: the angel has Jacob in a Brazilian vale-tudo headlock, but Jacob is countering with a vingativa from capoeira.
This, in turn, reminded me of the capoeira song “Foi no clarao da lua“, a showoff song crowing about how capoeira won over jujitsu in a moonlit bout, and goes into the details of the moves used: “No vale-tudo con jujitsu… a capoeira venceu!”.
Early wrestling sketches from Krav Maga to aikido
Here’s the general idea. In a ‘vingativa’ you get a leg behind the opponent and shove them backwards over your thigh. Landed me in hospital once.
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!
These guys were watching us visit the beekeeping centre. They work for ADHENO, but Tarike is the kebede (village) manager.
The All We Can partnership conference involved a field trip to two of their Ethiopian partner organsations. I went to ADHENO’s project where they’ve spent twelve years developing conservation agriculture and reforestation. We saw beekeeping, the fuel-efficient stove workshop and the church where the project began. A great day with great people.
Life drawing with a proper model, plenty of time and a choice of materials is a welcome change from my normal practice of dashing off line sketches of passers-by after studying them for ten seconds… Here’s a sample. She’s drawn on A3 and scanned on a dinky A4 scanner, with a few technical fixes applied (with very limited success) to the horrible scan line in the middle.
From the sketchbook: Do these featherballs look like chickens? No. They look like fluffy knots. Plus, they produce delicious fresh eggs and do the work of a compost. My views on the marvels of backyard chickens are expounded here!
After struggling for a long time with how to get watercolours into a digital medium I’ve acquired a new scanner for the purpose – an Epson V37. According to illustrator lore this is slightly less great than the truly great Epson V600 – but on the other hand it weighs about two kilos less. So now I’m looking forward to tinkering with the settings to get all those pale subtle washes onto the screen!
I’ve had the honour to be asked to illustrate the invitation and menu for a friend’s wedding… featuring the bride & groom’s ‘spirit animals’ and the wedding venue. What a pleasure. Here are some of the pictures!
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.
This sketch was inspired by some hairdressers we interviewed in 2012 in Mirerani in Tanzania. Mirerani is a frontier-flavour mining town – the origin of all the world’s tanzanite, a precious stone. Our partner organisation was finding out about the social impacts of the tanzanite companies – and small-scale miners. Our interview with some women at the hairdressing salon turned into a major streetside spectacle.
Seven Survivor is a Tanzanian band who play the urban music mchiriku. This is a sketch from a gig of theirs in November 2013. (Another famous mchiriku band is Jagwa Music.) Mchiriku is a frenetic genre based on high-octane staccato drumming. The rest of the instruments and the rapping seem almost secondary to the drumming, which sounds as if the drummer is on speed; or as if he’s anticipating the end of the world any second and is trying to fit in a lifetime of drumming into a few short minutes. The pace and intensity of the drums ebbs and flows but never falls below ‘feverish’. It’s a rhythm that you can only dance to by jumping up and down, but you’d have to do that very quickly – almost vibrating! – to keep pace with the drums. The band also featured a lethargic mini-Casio keyboard player; a rapper (the lyrics are political and worth getting into), another percussionist using sturdy sticks on a small coffee table, and a guy shaking home-made maracas made with nailed-together bottle tops. Here’s a link to one of their gigs. And the main man – the drummer – was in some sort of trance with his head thrown as far back as possible. You’d need to really be at one with the flow to manage to keep that level of intensity going for hours.