Author: Susan Cornelis

Boca de Tomatlan III

Have I said anything about the climate in Boca de Tomatlan yet? Sunny and around 80 degrees every day with a gentle ocean breeze. Warm ocean. It never seemed to get too hot, even in the sun. I was there for one week with two of the days spent in travel from and back to home. That left 6 full days and so much to see in the area. 

But even trying to pack in the experiences, side trips and more, it was relaxing. . . except for the next day’s bumpy bus ride to Puerto Vallarta’s Zona Romantica. The city was full of tourists and stores and attractions which I realized were more a dis-traction. I couldn’t wait to get back to Boca, the small fishing village which felt a bit like our home by the third day.

The following morning I walked the plank bridge (three boards wide supported by rocks in the rushing river) to the other side where boats were being loaded and unloaded with everything from boxes of produce to bags of trash. 

Sitting in the shade on one of those rectangular benches, I picked a house across the narrow river to sketch. It was the palm thatched roof and the dark interior that drew my eyes, but as I sketched, the thatching disappeared as I got absorbed in the sunlit palms!

A house in the jungle, swallowed up by vegetation. I stopped short of the vines that encased it on either side. Too much green! and added a spectator Snowy Egret and boat landing on the river’s edge.

Our scheduled trip for the day was a drive up the mountain to El Tuito, which translates to beautiful small valley. It’s claim to fame is the artesan cheese, breads, cookies and the restaurant, El Patio de Mario, where we ate lunch in a sunlit courtyard with a parrot, . Here I had my first taste of the real Mole, so good! After walking around the dusty village with not much shade to be had, I returned to the restaurant to watch the open kitchen and sketch the lovely ladies at work.

The best part is always sharing the sketch and getting that picture!

The last day before the long trip home to our northern climes, we all spent time on the beach.

This cheerful shop was our neighbor, three doors down. You could buy a drink and snacks and have access to an umbrella table and chairs on the beach, which we practically had to ourselves on that Friday.

I’m not much for sunbathing, being a redhead (well, gray now) who burns even with sunscreen. So an umbrella and a scene to sketch with the warm ocean breeze . . .well that’s the best.

I had to include the dog because I never sat down to eat at the beach restaurant without at least four dogs of all sizes and shapes encircling the table, cozying up to our legs and imploring us with silent doleful eyes. Otherwise you would find them sound asleep in the sun in the middle of any pathway. 

That’s a tiny bit of the story anyway. I’ll be sketching from a few photos now, hoping to prolong the trip just a bit longer.

Muchas gracias to our hosts, Bob Masla and Monica Levine, who shared their winter home and retreat center of the past 18 years with us. It was a small group that week and we enjoyed their delightful company as they got us settled, joined us at meals, and guided us on all our excursions.  The Casa is filled with Bob Masla and other master artists’ work and the open air studio-with-a-view on the upper levels a tantalizing place to paint. Bob and Monica taught us as much about the local culture as about art so that we could feel at home there. Gracias! also to the cook, Rubi, whose meals were the best of regional cuisine, and to all the other Mexican locals who welcomed us to their small village with open hearts and hands! 

If all this has wetted your appetite for a Mexico art journey, visit the Casa de los Artistas website for more information about workshops coming up.

Advertisement

Boca de Tomatlan II

The next morning I headed down to the riverside just below our house, anxious to sketch the boat life. Bob, our instructor/host had warned us about this. With all the activity on the river in the morning, a peacefully anchored boat will be boarded and motor out to the ocean in moments, aborting your best sketch yet. However, I would be quick with this one, I thought.

 

A parade of hikers crossed in front of me on the narrow trail which was the only place to roost on my stool. A quick pencil sketch was done, and the boat still lingered. But I discovered I’d forgotten to bring my water brush. I raced upstairs to fetch it and when I returned the boat had disappeared! I borrowed a boatman from another craft and proceeded to paint from memory and the rest of the scene which had luckily not moved.

Then around 11am we piled into a van and were driven along the mountain road above the  river.  We were having lunch and spending the afternoon at the spectacular Vallarta Botanical Garden.

I could happily have spent days in that tropical paradise with my nature journal in hand. I guess it was a good thing that I’d left my iPhone/camera drying out from its quick dunk in the ocean the day before. Because at every turn of the head a new plant or butterfly or bird was screaming Look at me! Take my picture to prove there is really a lily pad that gigantic and a bird with every color of the rainbow! Good thing not to have the camera between me and all that beauty. 

I sat by the fruit feeder and was rewarded after a while by first one, then a flock of Yellow Winged Caciques having a raucus bird party under the cacao tree.  I sat as still as I could as they frolicked mere inches away.

To be continued tomorrow. . . with another trip to the mountains and beach life.

Boca de Tomatlan I

Vacation? Adventure? Painting workshop? Urban Sketcher “assignment”? As I was bumping down the coastal highway south of Puerta Vallarta, Mexico in a taxi from the airport heading to a small fishing village on the ocean, the sun was setting over the Pacific. I was traveling alone to a place I’d never been and where I would know no one. But with a magical sunset like that, I felt ready for whatever happened.

And with my arrival at Boca de Tomatlan I found myself. within moments, with bare feet in the warm sand, friendly artists to meet, margarita in hand and a dinner of freshly caught red snapper. . . a few feet from the ocean, in candlelight and Mariachis playing by our side. OK I thought. I can deal with this.

The next morning on my bedroom veranda I was greeted with this view, where the ocean meets the shallow Horcones River. I was spending the week at the Casa de los Artistas where room and board, art mentoring with master artist Robert Masla as well as local excursions were provided and friendships developed.  

My first sketch here after breakfast in the morning, looking through the palms to the river harbor below and the village opposite. My eyes focused on the palm thatched beach restaurant. I was greedy for a big picture, and didn’t care about getting it right! My eyes were able to focus only slightly better than the picture above, the cataract having traveled with me to Mexico. Certainly not a reason to stop sketching and enjoying the daily sunshine and exuberant jungle leaning up against river, beach and ocean! 

fineliner, Lamy Joy fountain pen and watercolor in Field Watercolor Journal 10 X 7″

And such an abundance of activity there was, day and night. With no road on our side of the river, we walked or climbed a narrow dirt path through outdoor courtyards with the dogs, roosters, hens, baby chicks, a friendly parrot, laundry drying, babies nursing, children playing, workers carrying heavy loads, and each morning a parade of tourist hikers headed to the ocean cliff trail. To cross the river we walked a three wooden plank-wide bridge propped on rocks just above the rushing water. When tide was low, we could wade across.

The next day was Sunday and a beach day for families. Hungry to get the joyful activity packed into a sketch, I kept adding people to the sketch. This middle aged couple stood contentedly nn the shallow riverbank holding hands, unaware that they were a prized foreground for this sketch. 

I stood uncertainly on the river’s edge, wondering about the current and depth and presence of rocks, but wanting to cross. These children with the ancient boat saw me pondering and offered a lift. English not needed. Pointing to the boat and smiling at me was enough. They helped me onto a wet seat and ferried me to the other side, two on either side outside the boat. The girl was intent on my safe journey and gestured for me to wait til they got close enough before signaling me to rise and de-boat. After that sweet initiation, I was able to ford the river, at low tide, on my own.

On Monday we were taken on a boat trip down the coast to another beach and the village of Quimixto for a picnic. We pounded the waves in our water taxi and surfed it onto another beach down the coast, with a turbulent and rather wet disembarking amongst flocks of pelicans and snowy egrets. 

,The one sketch I managed. While eating our lunch on the beach, this fellow appeared with his iguana.

Of course I whipped out my iPhone camera, greasy fingers and all. You may see this in a sketch at some point. Who could resist?! Then I watched all the crazy activity of the egrets and pelicans and a few frigate birds, and picked through the colorful rocks on the beach. The surf was too wild and rocky for swimming. And accidentally, because I was so intent on taking pictures, dropped my phone in the ocean. It survived but needed a day to dry out. 

Therefor the next day at the spectacular Botanical Museum I was camera-less. Sigh. But how fortunate to not have that distraction. I guess. 

To be continued. . .

Teetering on the Edge of Paradise

Acrylics on gesso textures with sequin collage on 10X11″ watercolor paper

Here am I teetering 

On the edge of paradise

Feet in the sand head in the jungle

Wondering what 

Creatures will be in the greeting party

Will they bring shells and slimy treats

Or stand apart wary

Of me the uncivilized

Of other language, flora and fauna

As I stare open mouthed

Offering for now a mute greeting

We played with gesso textures in Muse Group today. This piece was a part of my demo. I knew better than to resist the urge to go tropical, on the verge of a trip to Mexico. I leave tomorrow for one week. There’s way too much ocean and jungle cycling through this overheated mind of mine right now to think that anything else would emerge in a Muse inspired piece. 

The lesson, Decalcomanie, was one that I cherish for its serendipity of textures – . You slather some gesso onto your paper randomly or in a shape and place another piece of paper on top. Press the sheets together, by hand or with a roller. When you pull them apart you have some kind of texture, often coral-like. The thickness of the gesso determines how pronounced or subtle the texture is. Let it dry and you now have two beginnings to fun acrylic mixed media paintings. Add collage and dry media and you’ll have a hard time stopping. But you’ve got two textured beginnings, so do a second!

This piece started as a kind of sampler for different applications of acrylic texture, so you’ll see some stenciled texture, which I also demonstrated. When the gesso was dry I wet the whole piece and floated fluid acrylic color on, using the tipping of the paper to move and blend the paints and reveal the textures. Voila! a jungle appeared. And what is a jungle after all, but a tumble of textures.

I’ll see when I get there. Back to packing. 

For some other examples of this technique visit these other posts here and here.

 

Beer can pen?

Chinese black ink drawn with folded pen and painted with brush and dilute ink, white gouache in toned sketchbook,
source is courtesy on Esther Kiehl on SktchyMuseum.

I’m loving drawing with this folded pen, otherwise used for calligraphy and its cousin, asemic writing. This is the latest version of the homemade variety of folded pen, and it is both simpler to make and more attractive than the one pictured on my previous post. Simpler because it is cut from a beer can, so you don’t even have to go to a hardware store to buy the metal (if you have beer in your fridge at any rate.) We’re not beer drinkers, but Bob now has some colorful cans waiting to be drunk so he can make more of these! Then there is the dowel and the tape. Bingo! You’ve got a superb drawing instrument you’ll love, as long as you’re not into fine controlled lines only. There are surprises along the way. 

Bob is using his folded pens in combination with his printmaking in a new series called Unspoken Journey which I think you’ll enjoy. If you’ve been following along here lately, you’ll see how much his explorations are inspiring me!

I tried out my new folded pen in a coffee shop today sketching people. It was going great until I realized that I had some puddles of ink in my sketchbook making it impossible to turn the page. Loose paper is recommended for that reason! Or several sketchbooks!

The Latest Drip Creatures

I started a new Playful Muse workshop series yesterday with an enthusiastic group of artists. As soon as they introduced themselves I realized that they would have no problem with the Drip Creature lesson I’d planned!

My demo consisted of the usual; painting a water shape and dropping in inks and gesso and then moving it all around with fingers, rollers, splatters, scrapers, etc. making sure to get some dripping off the paper to suggest possible legs. The only thought in my mind was to not make it look like yet another bird. No problem. Mr. Hiveskeeter appeared after a few minutes.

Do you sometimes get a glimpse of something shining with possibilities? I mean an idea, that is not clear to you yet, but holds enough promise to make you want to fly with it? Well Mr. Hiveskeeter did! I wonder what it was he really saw. You can always ask your critter to talk to you and they will answer. Or just speak for them!

painting with water shape, acrylic inks, gesso and collage on watercolor paper, finished with fineliner pen

Looks like you just got a bright idea, one to stick in that beehive of yours to keep for later. And you are so pleased with yourself, so utterly delighted that your bizarre attire is coming to life as well. Soon those buttons will pop and wings sprout and that stick of a body will become exotic and fly you off to not-yet-known locales where your Heaven Bank Notes are worth more than here. And the sages will be sharing the secrets of life, longevity, and more. . . 

I know, sounds a bit like a fortune cookie, but that’s what happens when you find a pack of Chinese blessing money in your collage file!

One of my favorite poet philosophers, John O’Donahue wrote that “The imagination is drawn to what is awkward, paradoxical, and what’s contradictory. For the imagination contradiction is interesting. The imagination can dwell with contradiction and deepen it because it has a loyalty to the deep unity where everything comes together.” So I always suggest to students that they let themselves search out and find that which is a bit strange, in collage or word and see what they can do to find a place for it in the art. Sometimes the stranger it is, the better it works.

Each creature yesterday was different and each spoke to us in the writing with unique messages, blessings, and perspectives that the group could enjoy.

This was my warm up drip before the class. Yet another bird, I thought at first, til I saw the dog face emerge! Nothing profound here, just a character introducing herself as Birdog.

Folded pen portraits

Chinese Ink applied with homemade folded pen and brush

My husband Bob has been having so much fun with his folded pen which he just made after a quick trip to Lowes for dowels and some light weight bendable metal. There seemed to be no limit to what he could do with it. So I asked him to make me one and give me tips. I had just a few minutes to try it out before dinner and was amazed at how much control I had with it! Enough to tackle portraits! It all depends on how you load it up with ink and position it. I was also surprised by how much drama I could get with the dark thick lines, which I normally steer clear of because the human face seems to demand more subtlety.

But after dinner, when I switched from scrap paper to my toned paper sketchbook, the folded pen wasn’t behaving as well. Blobs of ink coming out at inopportune moments. So it will take more practice, but still, the drama is there. I think I prefer to use the folded pen on white watercolor paper and do the modeling with a brush and light wash of ink.

I decided to switch to the Pocket Brush Pen for this fellow’s pose (on the Sktchy Museum app). thinking I needed more control. Of course the pocket brush pen also has a mind of its own, so I used it just for bold outlining, and for added dimension use a brush dipped in diluted ink.  At the end I added some watercolor for the red beard before declaring it Done! Always best to get out before it’s too late.

watercolor and white gouache in beige toned sketchbook

A couple more portraits here, done before the holidays. This one done with a touch of fineliner and clear choice of focus. How much of the head do you need to tell the story, and what can you leave off? The top of the head for instance?

Such a beautiful model. That makes it much harder. One can’t resist trying to get that beauty on paper. Overworked. 

 

There’s More to Sight Than Eyes (again)

I was just sitting down to figure out what I would teach for the first lesson of The Playful Muse workshop starting this week. I always like to start a mixed media series with fun paint application techniques to loosen us all up. Drip creatures is one of my favorite lessons because it’s silly and profound at the same time! So I looked up past blog posts on the Drip Creature theme and found this one from seven years ago. Lo and behold, it revealed my uneasiness about recent murky vision. Turns out that once again this is exactly my concern today! So here I am reposting it and letting it both speak to my fears and give me a much needed prayer of hope.

 

(from the 2016 post) I thought I was just being playful with this one, picking up an old class demo of a kind of ink drip creature. And then, no kidding, it started to talk to me about something I needed to hear!

I can see you sitting there, thinking about your eyes, one clear and one struggling to see through spots and threads and the murky patch.

Look me in the eye and repeat after me: I can see just fine. This cage of one eye is translucent and does not a prison make. I have three eyes to take the place of the one

and the world keeps opening.

Drip creatures tend to be a combination of many species and so they exist outside the realm of waking mind where we have convinced ourselves that things are a certain way that we can explain.

Yes, my left eye has a retinal occlusion for which there is treatment. . . of sorts, and yes I must be reminded not to worry, but to notice all the ways my other senses and brain fill in the blanks, giving me for the most part decent sight. I won’t soon forget this colorful and bizarre image, like something right out of a dream, or perhaps a prayer. (end of 2016 post)

 

And now (2023!) dealing with cloudy vision again, I feel so comforted, remembering that I have three eyes, and the world keeps opening!

If you want to try your own (prophetic!) drip creatures, look at this post for some simple instructions and give it a try!

Wintertime birds and trees

fineliner pen and watercolor in hand.book w/c journal

Two days before Christmas the ground was frozen solid and icicles cascaded from bird feeders. The suet basket outside my studio window was swarmed by a band of tiny birds unlike the Juncos and Chicadees, Finches and Sparrows I’d been seeing. The winter light was low, and they were so fast and their heads so thoroughly embedded in the suet that I couldn’t see their heads or any species identifying details. They had enough shape though to venture a color sketch!

And God Bless my birding mentors, this group of savvy women I occasionally go birding with. On Monday this week I joined the monthly meet up and sure enough, my simple description was enough for them to venture an ID. Bushtits! These tiny birds crowd-cluster a feeder, just like the one above, with tails helter skelter. As we walked along the trail, sure enough the little guys made a frenetic, tittering appearance in a tree.

As a beginner birder I used to think birding was just about seeing and hearing a bird and knowing its name. But the behavior angle is even more interesting, especially with these Pacific Northwest gray skies, when any but the brightest colors against tree branches is hard to discern. 

And leaves that remain on trees masquerade as bird shapes! Location and type of movement can be the final identifier.

No, this picture was not taken at 5pm. It was 10am. Could you ID these birds? Too big for Bushtits. Robins probably.

 

We were at Pioneer Park which is 5 minutes from my house. At first the bird activity was minor, so I paid attention to the vegetation, which is so dramatically different from other seasons. And my mind was brought back to the crinkled masa paper painting I’d just finished. When you wet the paper and crinkle it, you get a complex filagree of spidery texture. And that turns into instant vegetation when paint is added.

acrylic paint on crinkled masa paper mounted on w/c paper

It becomes impossible to not see the branches and trunks and brambles and . . .birds! I turned a dark smudge here into the crow I’d imagined and otherwise let the imagination take over.

You can see more examples on my blog here and here I learned the technique from master artist Cheng-Khee Chee a good twenty years ago and have been exploring with it ever since, often in Muse Groups, but also on large abstract canvases. The Masa paper is inexpensive and available online and in large art supply stores if you want to give it a try.

Merry Christmas!

The Arctic Bomb Cyclone, oh my! I hope you’re escaping the worst of it, and on target with holiday plans? Yesterday my trip out to the icicle-bedecked bird feeder, where starving birds were grabbing the very last of the seeds, became a daring rescue mission. The driveway was a sheet of glass ice, and my footprints decorated the lawn, as I crunched my way across with the fresh seed.

I warmed up the studio and hunkered down to try out some crinkled masa paper painting. But I kept getting visions of homeless people trying to stay warm on the streets of downtown Olympia, of refugees fleeing humanitarian crises stalled at our border in freezing temps and without shelter, and of Ukrainians facing a winter of power outages and genocide from Russian invaders. My first painting got very dark and I found myself cutting out skeletons for collage! Luckily I also ran across a print-out of one of my favorite Rumi poems, The Guest House.

So I want to share the paintings and the poem that inspired them, turning the black funk that had settled on me into hope. 

acrylic on crinkled masa paper and collage mounted on w/c paper, 10 X 11″

The Guest House

This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.

Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.

-Jelalludin Rumi

 

I was enjoying painting our snow covered Pacific Northwest forest scene, when a storm-tossed body of water appeared, and I thought of  these folks at our border. . .all the hazardous crossings; mountains, jungles, desserts and dangerous bodies of water.  Fear alone could not make it possible for them the survive the cruel journey. In interviews with refugees one hears that in the midst of all that sorrow there is hope, that “the crowd of sorrows, who violently sweep your house. . .may be clearing you out for some new delight”. 

I’ll be sharing more about crinkled masa paper soon. I’ve cycled back to it several times over the years and am aways delighted with the textures one achieves with such ease. 

At home here our Christmas plans have become more modest this year. Ben is staying in North Carolina and braving the sub- freezing temperatures. Thank goodness he didn’t try to get on an airplane! And Andrew is recovering from one of the not-Covid other viruses going around. So it’s just the two of us to stay warm and watch the birds mobbing the feeder. 

Sending Christmas blessings for you and your family and good wishes for the new year! Thank you for being here with me. It means a lot.