Mexico Winter 2020

Winter– nature’s time to rest and renew.  Usually my husband and I take this time to travel to Mexico, to practice our Spanish, to soak up culture, to renew ties with friends south of the border, and to spend extensive time with our sketchbooks recording our experiences.  Sketchbooks allow a traveler to record experiences in a uniquely personal way that photography cannot. IMG_2587When I travel, I bring an Aquabee sketchbook.  The 93 pound paper can handle a variety of media.  I use toned markers: Copic warm grey numbers 2, 4, 6, 8; a water-soluble black brush-tip marker, a travel watercolor palette with a triad of warm primary colors and a triad of cool primary colors, plus burnt sienna, a collection of watercolor brushes: flat & round with the handles cut short, a few small squares of sponge and washcloth, and a mechanical pencil to lay out my ideas.

Puerto Vallarta, Riviera Nayarit, & Guadalajara

We arrived in Puerto Vallarta in early February to a deluge of rain, unprecedented in PV’s normally winter dry season.  Walking along the Malecón, I spied three sisters.  The youngest was delighted by the size of splashes she could make.  I couldn’t resist making a drawing of this young girl in toned markers.  She wore a colorful, many-layered skirt which begged for watercolor.  In Puerto Vallarta, we always stay at the Belmar Hotel in old town, Vallarta Viejo.  Most of the rooms have balconies that look out over the city to the ocean.  We love this older hotel for the kindly staff as well as a sizable collection of original art collected in the 1950-60’s, well displayed in the lobby, the hallways, and each hotel room.

A few days after landing in PV, we caught the local Compestella bus north to the state of Nayarit where we reunited with many artist/musician friends in the coastal town of Lo de Marcos.  The weather had improved, so we walked daily along the beach from headland to headland.  Giant waves brought out the local surfers.  This was a very social time for us, and we also managed to do a few drawings as well.  Pictured above: street scene- watercolor and toned markers, arched adobe wall with variegated white/pale pink bougainvillea.  I’ve never seen this lovely shade of bougainvillea before.  Downtown, I snapped photos of a dance rehearsal in the central plaza as they practiced for an upcoming festival.  I made the above drawing with markers at the station while waiting for the bus to Guadalajara.


To travel to Querétaro from Lo de Marcos requires strategic planning and connections.  We took a “collectivo” van to Punto Mita, then took a Primera Plus bus to Guadalajara.  From Guadalajara, one can catch a first class bus, to Querétaro.  While in Guadalajara for two nights before our ETN bus to Querétaro, we were lucky enough to catch the Festival of Lights, GDLuz, a multimedia arts and light spectacular in the city center.    The drawing above records the beauty of this Baroque colonial Mexican city.  The central plazas are interconnected.  At night they were transformed into a magical environment of music, dance, and sculptural installations, all lighted in a variety of modes and capped off by periodic firework displays.


Though all my time in Mexico was delightful, Querétaro was the highlight.  This elegant, colonial city boasts beautifully maintained Baroque and Spanish-Moorish buildings in the city central.  Staying downtown, we were able to walk miles each day to enjoy the many neighborhoods, markets, museums, and districts the city has to offer.  We also took local buses to El Pueblito and Bernal, both designated by the Mexican Cultural Ministry as “Pueblos Magicos.”

Top Left: (toned markers) Our hotel was just outside the Jardín Guerros.  The pruned trees in the many gardens make a strong sculptural statement, as well as lending cooling shade from the strong southern sunlight.  Rising majestically above the garden is one of the many cathedrals domes.  Below Left: (pen and ink) View from El Palacio Gobierno, a skyline- not of skyscrapers, but rather the Baroque/Spanish-Moorish city heritage; (watercolor & marker) Below Left Center: Plaza de Armas, my favorite place to go for live Gypsy Jazz and smooth Latin Jazz.  Top Right: (watercolor and ink)  El Pueblita, pueblo magico celebrated the 284th anniversary of their Santuario Santa Maria with a Madi Gras-like festival on the day we visited!  Below Right: (2 pen & ink sketches) The monolith Peña de Bernal dominates the pueblo magico, Santiago Bernal.  This charming indigenous town rises organically from its adobe structures.


Just 30 minutes from Guadalajara is Mexico’s largest lake, Chapala.  Visiting an old friend, we stayed several days.  While there we witnessed a raucous Mardi Gras and an impressive art walk/studio tour with over 100 professional and indigenous artists in a variety of media.  Flowers were exploding with color and spilling over garden walls, inspiring me to get out my paints.

Left:  (toned markers) Ajijíc Malecón  Right Top: (watercolor on Aquabee sketchbook paper) Bird of Paradise  Right Center: (watercolor on 140# Arches) Bougainvillea        Right Bottom: (watercolor on 140# Arches) Birds of Paradise

Back to the Coast, Lo de Marcos & Puerto Vallarta

The natural beauty of Mexico sparks and nourishes my creative spirit. Toned marker study to capture the graceful gesture of coconut palms and watercolor study of abstract design found in a lily pond.

In Puerto Vallarta we visited the world famous 64 acre Botanical Gardens in the jungle mountains above the city, home of jaguars and vanilla orchids.  Above: anthurium and bougainvillea, (watercolor on 140# Arches).

Bon Voyage

On our last day in Puerto Vallarta I made this rooftop painting in my sketchbook.  Serendipitously a boat sailed by as I was laying out the composition.  Watercolor and ink



Santiago de Queretaro es una cuidad con mucha historia, cultura, y belleza…

Three days in Santiago de Queretaro, the capital city of Queretaro, is not enough time to experience all its history, culture, and beauty. A Unesco World Heritage site, the city central remains a pristine jewel of Baroque and neoclassical structures, with world class music in a variety of styles heard on every plaza and jardin, masterful handicrafts, and gardens tastefully landscaped with jaw-dropping tropical flowers. Known by the 17th Century as the “Pearl of the Bajio,” S de Queretaro continues to flourish to this day. It is recognized as having the highest quality of living and is the safest city in all Mexico.

Like Dolores Hidalgo, Queretaro boasts a historic role in Mexico’s struggle for independence. Josefa Ortiz de Dominguez, wife of Queretaro’s Mayor in the early 1800’s, is revered as the Mother of Independence. Using her prominent position and influence to gather intelligence, her home was used to plan and support the insurgency which resulted in Hidalgo’s “el Grito,” cry for independence in Dolores Hidalgo, launching Mexico’s struggle for independence against Spain.

Each city block contains mostly restored and preserved Colonial buildings and churches, each grander than the last. The main streets, along with the andadoras, (pedestrian walkways), are lined with plazas, gardens, fountains, open-air cafes, street artists, and musicians in colorful arrays of rich culture to saturate one’s senses.

Ink drawing

San Luis Potosí

Last night we returned from a weekend in the colonial city and capital seat of San Luis Potosí. Founded in 1592, El Centro abounds with stunning architecture in a variety of styles including Moorish domes, ornate Baroque, and stately neo-classical, (to name just a few). Named a Unesco World Heritage site, the city appeals to both visitors’ and citizens’ aesthetic senses. El Teatro de Paz, a palatial neoclassical period theater, seats 1200 patrons. World-class museums abound, including Museo de la Mascara, a three story, fully restored Baroque government building, exhibiting masks from around the world. Lavish cathedrals, encircled by manicured gardens, elegant plazas, and tinkling fountains dot each city block . La Calzada de Guadalupe, a tree-lined pedestrian boulevard, leads the faithful from El Centro to the Basilica de Nuestra Senora Guadalupe. Music is celebrated throughout the streets. We were treated to open air opera arias, Latin jazz fusion, Chicago blues with a Mexican twist, a kids’ percussion band complete with homemade instruments, and traditional Mexican music. The International Chocolate festival, running the weekend we visited, featured some of the best chocolate I have ever eaten, along with beautiful chocolate sculptures and displays, all housed in a sumptuous neoclassical edifice from the 1800’s.

A weekend in the city of San Luis Potosí is not nearly enough time to explore all the city has to offer. We are already planning a return trip next year.

Plaza Aranzazu; ink drawing

Check out this travel guide with photos: San Luis Potosí

Dolores Hildalgo, Guanajuato

La cuna de la independencia………..the cradle of Mexican independence

We spent last weekend in Dolores Hildalgo, where the Mexican struggle for independence began. Our hotel room overlooked the Gran Jardin de Independencia Plaza Principal and the famous church, Nuestra Senora de los Dolores. It was on the steps of this church that Father Miguel Hidalgo y Costello uttered his famous cry for independence on September 16, 1810, sparking the beginning of Mexico’s struggle for independence. Known as el Grito de Dolores, each Mexican president reenacts the cry on the eve of Independence Day. Benito Juarez later declared the plaza be dedicated to Father Hidalgo. Around 10PM Sunday night, a multimedia presentation was projected on the facade of the church. With our balcony, we had the “best seats in the house!”

We visited many historical sites and museums. Dolores Hidalgo ciudadanos are justifiably proud of their city. To share the history, all museums are free. The city is also well known for its colorful Talavera ceramics- both blueware & polychrome. We bought several pieces for the kitchen and patio.

Ink drawing of the park: my inspiration was to capture the variety of interesting Mexican trees. I couldn’t find anyone to tell me the name of the tall cypress-looking trees. In Mexico, one sees a vast variety of topiary. Drawing the spiral shape was interesting.

Tomorrow we leave for San Luis Potosí. Up early, we will catch a bus to Leon at 8AM, then get a second bus to SLP, arriving around 2PM.

Mas Color

Raining down the hillsides of Guanajuato is a riot of color, as depicted in the painting posted yesterday. The joyful colors permeate city life and culture. Everywhere it is expressed in art and song by los ciudadanos de Guanajuato. Valentine’s Day inspired the posted collage. (Mixed media: watercolor, ink, ephemera, old-style cinco centavo)

What a big surprise to learn that Valentine’s Day is celebrated en masse with colored lights and/or balloon displays throughout the barrios. The whole city turns out to celebrate with padres giving ninos small gifts of heart-shaped candies, balloons, and toys; sweethearts exchanging flowers and huge stuffed animals; families receiving blessings of small crosses on foreheads given by the parish priests; restaurants and bars hosting special dinners and live music; and plazas filled with families eating al fresco at the numerous pop up eateries.

The centerpiece of my collage features an invitation to El Midi Bistro. We enjoyed a three course meal with champagne while serenaded to the sounds of French cafe music in the style of Edith Piaffe.

The preview showcases la Virgen de San Juan de Los Lagos. After witnessing the pilgrimage from San Miguel de Allende, I became interested and did some research into the Candlemas Festival and pilgrimage of San Juan de los Lagos. The town is visited by over two million pilgrims each Candlemas. While in San Miguel, we were awakened at 6AM by 1,000 or more of the faithful, singing, and carrying banners and a statue on their way to San Juan de Los Lagos. From my research, I learned the statue is a representation of the Virgin de Los Lagos. The original statue is just 2′ tall, wears elegant gold trimmed clothing, a gold Byzantine crown, and stands on a crescent moon. With a new awareness, I began to see the Virgin in many places. While walking in the Pastita Barrio, I noticed her image in ceramic tiles on a modest house. (See Pastita Barrio). According to legend, in 1623 a young acrobat, a girl of seven, fell and impaled herself on daggers. The bereft family brought her to the chapel in preparation for burial. The church caretaker, Ana Lucia Antes placed an old statue of the Virgin of the Immaculate Conception with the body, instructing the family to keep their faith and pray with her. Within an hour, the lifeless body began to stir. Her father unwrapped the shroud to discover his daughter alive and unscathed. News of the miracle spread, and the 90-year old tattered statue, made of plastered cornmeal and orchid juice was sent to Guadalajara to be restored. Miraculously the statue arrived fully restored and has remained in pristine condition to this day. Today, the faithful make pilgrimages to the Virgin throughout the year, with thousands walking, even crawling or being pushed in wheelchairs, throughout Mexico to San Juan de los Lagos during the Candlemas celebrations. (Read the whole story here: Virgin de Los Lagos)

Many walls and casas are adorned with ceramic plaques telling their histories. My favorite is the plaque from the Prussian Consulate of 1864. I used two motifs from different plaques in my collage.

Colorful cut paper banners, called “papel picado,” are hung during celebrations, (also see Papel picado). Walking through a papel picado strewn street, one can’t help but feel festive.

Flowers abound in Mexico. The flowers in my collage came from a mural in one of the small family restaurants where we shared breakfast with friends. Last night for Valentines Day, flower vendors were set up on every plaza. I bought mine from the florist on Plaza de Embajadores. I made a new friend, as we discussed the joys of working in a flower shop, a job I held many years ago. I left with a hug, a kiss, and a exquisite bouquet. As I arranged them in water, I marveled at their exotic beauty and ready availability.

From murals to street art; graphic design to folk arts; indigenous clothing to painted houses; music to theater; food to flowers, Guanajuato abounds with “de colores.”

Guanajuato Color

The city of Guanajuato is a Unesco World Heritage site, named for its opulent Baroque and Neoclassical buildings, elegant plazas, and abundant theaters, museums, and galleries. Over and above, (quite literally) the rich heritage in Zona Central Historical, the city’s innate expression of color manifests itself in vibrant markets and neighborhoods. The city sits in a “valley bowl” with bright houses crammed into the steep slopes, ringing the city, and coloring the hillsides.

“Guanajuato Color” watercolor 16″ x 20″ $350

Mexican love of color is expressed everywhere from folk arts, to charming business signs and posters, to flower-filled balconies overlooking every street and callejon. (Stay tuned…….I have a post planned for this theme. Today is Valentines Day. Our landlady just gave us a most charming invitation to her restaurant for a special dinner and musical evening. “Musica Francesa” will feature French cafe-style music, in the vein of Edith Piaffe, one of my favorite singers. Our reservation is for 7:30).