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


Mexico Travel Journal Winter 2017 p19


The center of social life in Ajijíc is the Plaza.  Along one side is the Cultural Center; along another side is the old stone church, Capilla Nuestra Señora del Rosario.  The church was started in 1550 and dedicated in 1600.   Its unique masonry features small stones outlining the larger building rock.  Just down the street is the larger San Andrés church.

wedding at San Andrés

Mexico Travel Journal Winter 2017 p18

Our next stop was Ajijíc on the shores of Lake Chapalla, back in the state of Jalisco.  The easiest way to get to Ajijíc from San Miguel de Allende is to board a first class bus to Guadalajara.  At the bus station, engage a taxi to Ajijic.  Sometimes it is best to agree on the fare before you enter the taxi.  Some drivers are very honest and friendly, while others are tempted to take advantage of Gringos.  Our driver was quite friendly, and like many of our taxi trips, we had the opportunity to practice our conversational Spgringos.jpganish with our driver.  Most drivers know a bit of English, and it is fairly easy to communicate with our “un poco de español.”

Ajijíc lies at an altitude of  5,000 feet along a tropical latitude that moderates the climate year-round to an average temperature of 72 °F.  With the perfect climate, colorful quaint streets,  and a strong dollar, Ajijíc is a popular haven for retirees, particularly from North America.  If you are looking for an authentic immersion experience into Mexico, this is not a destination for you.  Many Americans live here year round, and that influence has changed  Ajijíc from a sleepy Mexican village to a tourist-catering destination.

My first sketchbook entry for Ajijíc was another “window” view from our bungalow.  Enrique, our landlord, is an artist with carpentry skills.  He is creating a lush tropical sanctuary in his backyard, complete with four bungalows.  He has many contacts throughout Mexico, where he acquires antique furniture in a state of disrepair and building refuse, which he repurposes into charming features, niches, and furniture for his bungalows and courtyard garden.

Dogs repose in along the sidewalk of a charming veterinary clinic

The perfect cup of coffee, Lake Chapalla, & closeup of the vet clinic sign