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 p7

We had five nights in Guadalajara, staying at the Hotel Dali in Guadalajara Centro.  We spent each day exploring different city zones, visiting museums, drawing, and searching out local food.  We ate from the markets and bakeries, at restaurants, and even from the street vendors.  We rarely at at tourist high-end restaurants, preferring to experience the local color.  I was careful to always order bottled water, and I had no trouble with the food as long as I told the server that I was lactose intolerant.  “No puedo comer lactose, no queso, no crema, no leche.”  The servers were quite accommodating to my needs.

One day we took the tour bus to visit Tlaquepaque, an area famous for its pottery and blown glass.  The name derives from Nahuatl and means “place above clay land”. Historically San Pedro Tlaquepaque was a distinct village.  During the 20th century, it was absorbed in Guadalajara, the state capital of Jalisco.  In Tlaquepaque, one can find many fine galleries and beautiful native arts.  Talaquepaque5

In Mexico, one sees many pruned and shaped trees.  The formal garden in the Basilica Laternensis courtyard features free-standing espalier trees.  Just beyond the basilica walls is a large church, almost as grand as the basilica itself.

Even a simple drawing, such as this involved the set up of perspective grids including the layout of formal gardens, courtyard walls, and a church beyond the walls.  By the time we reached Guadalajara and were sketching for several days, my brain became entangled with perspective lines and multiple vanishing points.

Mexico Travel Journal Winter 2017 p6

While traveling in the colonial cities, I was struck by all the beautiful Catholic churches in Mexico.  Every city has at least one cathedral and often a basilica as well.  In addition, every neighborhood also has a church.  This means that every few blocks one sees another opulent church!  These churches are not what we would see in the US; they are large, ornate buildings resplendent with precious metals, chandeliers, paintings, frescoes, multiple altars, and nearly as big as the city’s main cathedral.  They are old, built in the 16th – 18th centuries in Baroque, Classical, or Gothic styles.  Some of the newer churches were built as late as 1800!


The main bus stop for Tapico Tours, where we could inexpensively travel to Talaquepaque and Tonalá was across from the Guadalajara Cathedral.  The first sketch depicts a vignette from the plaza gardens looking at the corner of the Cathedral.  In the distance the dome of another church is visible.  The second sketch depicts as much of the cathedral as I could fit in my small 6″ square sketch book.  The building is actually about one third bigger, where it fades off the left side of my sketch book.


Mexico Travel Journal Winter 2017 p5

Sunday night on Lo de Marcos, we were invited to a party in the beautiful home of an Argentine wine merchant.  Many of our old acquaintances from previous trips to Lo de Marcos were there, including  the Swiss architect of this beautiful new house and his Canadian artist wife.  Hearing that we were planning to catch a bus from Punta Mita to Guadalajara, screen-shot-2017-02-23-at-10-24-53-pmthey insisted we ride with them, as they had plans to leave in the morning.  We left at 6:45 am; the ride over the mountains was beautiful.  Agave for tequila is one of the main crops we saw.

By afternoon, we arrived in Centro Guadalajara.  Our hotel was just a few blocks from the cathedral plaza.  After checking in, we wandered around the city enjoying the many beautiful old colonial buildings, including government buildings, churches, and museums.  Guadalajara is bustling and prosperous, with much new construction, as well as renovation of the many classic Baroque buildings.

The view from our room. The Baroque architecture is over-the-top with ornamentation.
The Baroque architecture is over-the-top with ornamentation.