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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

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

Urban Sketcher Symposium: Chicago

Chicago, my home town, hosted the 8th annual Urban Sketching Symposium, with over 500 sketchers attending worldwide. What a great opportunity to return after 25 years, to see the familiar as well as new architecture and art.

Whole Foods Market – Berkeley

Today was the second (and last) session for my sketching Fast & Loose offering as part of the Urban Sketchers 10 x 10 series. Here’s a photo with all 8 students displaying the terry-cloth wrist-bands I provide for dabbing their water-brush.

The only supplies used were aquarelle (water-soluble) colored pencils and a water brush to release pigment and create color blends. Students were encouraged to be bold and fearless, using the minimum number of strokes. I shared tips for achieving good compositions: zoom in on just a few items, create variety wherever possible: tonal range, amount of detail,  sizes and shapes.

Wonderful energy in our sketches of fruit and vegetables, then after a break, fish and baked goods. Here are some samples by members of the class….bon appetite, or buen provecho!

A wedding painting for Ryan & Trisha

Here’s my most recent wedding painting. It’s 18 x 24″ and features Ryan and Trish, accompanied by friends and family. Trish’s two sisters are wearing purple, while her best friend is raising her glass to toast the happy couple. I even included the fellow who caught the garter!

The ceremony took place in a gazebo decorated with wreaths. Signage for “Bella” and “Notte” is a reference to R & T’s favorite Disney movie—Lady and the Tramp. The couple was thrilled with the finished painting, which I presented to them just before they left on a honeymoon trip to…..Disneyland!

Cafe Society

The San Rafael workshop took shelter from wet weather by sketching people at the Aroma Cafe. Just two doors down from our Rileystreet Art Store HQ, this location is excellent for finding people sitting in one spot for extended periods….working on their computers, mostly. Drawing people waiting in line to place their order provides more of a challenge….the line moves pretty quickly.

Student work is shown here, using a combination of aquarelle pencils and ink pens. nathalie-cafemichael-cafepatti-cafepatty-cafestephanie-cafe

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