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Final dinner in Catrina makeup, Dia de Los Muertes

Day of the Dead 2019

Just a month after the intensive sketching retreat here in San Miguel. Thirteen attendees from Canada and the USA gathered for a week of tutorials and on location sketching. I joined forces with Christina Merkeley, a Canadian process professional and Graphic Recorder/Facilitator. Here are just a few sketches and memorable moments.

Joseph Toon Tour, San Miguel de Allende
Joseph Toon Tour


First dinner for Day of the Dead Sketching Retreat
First dinner for Day of the Dead Sketching Retreat in San Miguel de Allende


Los Milagros Fast & Loose dinner
Los Milagros Fast & Loose dinner


Dia de Los Muertos cemetery
Dia de Los Muertos cemetery


Day of the Dead cemetery, #2
Day of the Dead cemetery, #2


Final dinner in Catrina makeup, Dia de Los Muertes
Final dinner in Catrina makeup, Dia de Los Muertes

Sala de Espero

English translation is “Waiting room”. Whether you are waiting to see a doctor, to catch a flight or open a bank account, you can use this “down time” to advantage when you have your sketching kit handy.

Working with a combination of Micron 08 pen and some aquarelle colored pencils I was able to capture some of the folks waiting in the bank for their number to be called. My first attempt sketching the fellow with his foot crossed over his other knee was in green pencil. I made him look like he was almost completely reclining. I could fix that with a pen drawing, and used my water brush on some of he original pencil work to create the effect of a shadow behind him.

waiting at the bank

With a few minutes to wait for a bus from Queretero back home to San Miguel, I used the Micron pen to capture a variety of people. I began with the whole figure at the lower right, and when I added the guy on the left, I realized that my perspective and visual logic were completely messed up. No problem….I now had permission to just fill page with people, without trying to make it into a scene.

Sketching People

You can practice sketching people “in the wild”, working quickly with just one color of pencil. No way to be sure that your subject will sit still, so you need to work fast! Get the biggest, darkest shapes and shadows in first. Then add smaller bits or lines as needed.

people in a restaurant, Mexico City


Decide if you want your people to be the only item, or the most important elements. You might want to sketch a scene wheree the people are minor characters. Even small figures can help convey the feeling or atmosphere of a sketch.

Day of the Dead 2018

The students who joined me for my third annual Day of the Dead sketching workshop in SanMiguel de Allende came from as far away as California, British Columbia and New Zealand!

Our visit to the Mask Museum in San Miguel provided a fascinating look at about 600 authentic masks used in indigenous festivals and rituals.

We had opportunities to sketch people preparing themselves for the costume parties and parades, as well as the collection of folk art at Galeria Atotonilco. 

My sketch of the colorful scene in El Jardin on the night of November 1st features a fat mariachi horn player, and just a few of the many costumed revelers, with the illuminated Parroquia church as a backdrop.

On the following day we went to a large cemetery, where we could respectfully observe the tributes to dead relatives prepared by families. Flowers and snacks were arranged around graves and monuments. I improvised a sketch using elements plucked from the scene.

A glorious climax to the day was a performance of Mozart’s Requieum inside the Parroquia. I arrived almost 2 hours early to be sure of a seat. This is music I know intimately, as a choral singer. I was able to capture an impression of the audience during this sublime event.


Sketching class in Fabrica La Aurora

Six of us had a lively sketching session at Fabrica la Aurora, a complex of galleries, studios and shops which used to be a textile factory. It was a Thursday, so the topic was THINGS: still life or objects such as potted plants, tall space heaters, ornate lamps. Here are the sketchbooks we “throw down”at the end of the class.

Sketchbooks with work by students and me

San Miguel Urban Sketchers

Meeting with the Urban Sketchers every Tuesday is a great way to sketch, socialize and learn more of the nooks and crannies of this town.

Here’s that tall palm tree I was looking up at. I wasn’t satisfied with the section of dead leaves hanging down, so I just used the right half of the page for a close-up study.


This double page has my sketches done at Plaza Civica. The equestrian statue of General Allende is a challenging subject, and there are several iconic churches to include.

San Miguel de Allende sketches

So busy preparing to actually MOVE to San Miguel in a few weeks, I have neglected to post sketches from the November Day of the Dead workshop. Well, here, at last, are some of my favorites;

Sketching Grace Cathedral in San Francisco

A large group of urban sketchers met in Nob Hill yesterday to sketch the enormous and breathtaking Grace Cathedral. Featured sketchers were the Aussie women, Liz Steele and Jane Blundell. Notice my “leaning spire” in one of the sketches below. After seeing some of the sketches by others, I decided it is a feature, not a bug!

recent Wedding Paintings

July was a busy month for LIVE paintings on canvas at weddings in the Bay Area!

Above is the finished piece for Yoona and Glen. This couple has a great sense of humor, as I easily discovered at our initial meeting months before. Glen is from Australia and requested that a kangaroo and a jar of Vegemite be included in the painting. I was glad to oblige. Most of the piece was painted on location at the Falkirk Cultural Center in San Rafael, CA. Finishing touches were added in my studio.

This large canvas (24 x 36″) was created for Sarah and Andrew at the Silverado Resort and Spa in Napa. The Mother of the Bride commissioned it. I presented it to the couple and the bride’s parents on a busy street in San Francisco, just before the family went to the theatre.




















Here is the final painting for Joe and Alea, celebrated at the San Jose Marriott. I did not have to exaggerate the height difference between this couple…she is five feet nothing and he is 6 foot 8!

Student sketches

On Thursday, August 3rd, I gave my San Rafael workshop students a challenge that I learned from the recent Urban Sketchers Symposium. After a warmup with photos from great Chicago architecture, we went to City Plaza down the street. The task— combine three points of view into one sketch. (Thanks to Veronica Lawlor for that exercise). Here are some of the results. Thanks to Anne, Kimberly and Stephanie

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