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.
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.
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.
…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.
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.
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.
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.