Thursday, March 12, 2020

Ancient Art and Modern Kids in Alotenango

The early afternoon light makes colours pop out even more. Overwhelming fuchia-pink and purple bougainvillea grows over bright white walls, set against a deep blue sky. Dramatic clouds of cotton white and menacing grey, with little shades of grey (much less 50) in between, flock around the top of the volcano.
Blurry colours flash by the windows as the bus speeds over the highway, weaving in and out of traffic, faster than the Knight Bus in Harry Potter. Music blares over the speakers, but not loud enough for the driver to stop talking on his phone. Who needs hands on the steering wheel when the bus and its load is protected by a teary-eyed Jesus over the rear view mirror, flanked by two Playboy bunny silhouettes?
No room for more thoughts as the ayudante wriggles his way through the isle, squeezing through tight packed bodies while charging $0,50 for the ride. Just ten more minutes of elbows, buttocks and thighs. I'm on my way to work.

A little over a year ago I promised the kids of the Escuela Comunitaria de Arte (a municipal art course) in Alotenango to come back and here I am, for a series of workshops and the creation of a mural. And as usual in Guatemala, the project is yet again one big lesson in patience and flexibility.
My initial plan was to paint a mural in the classroom where the course is being taught. The teacher and kids were all for it, we got the new mayor's permission too, but after the Christmas holidays, the space looked like this:

Now, two months later, the space looks like this:

And since the mayor has only recently been installed, things are moving sloooowly...
Nonetheless, teacher Rolando and his students have been assigned another space, on the top floor of a lawyer's office, which is located above a convenience store and something they call here a “bookshop”. It sounds big, but it isn't, much less for 20 students. But it does have a perfect view over the soon to be painted wall, a stair-step-shaped partition of the sport complex across the street. When we asked the mayor permission to paint this wall, I was planning on the side within the sport complex, but this side, facing a busy road, is much more visible. And since we didn't specify which side we wanted to paint in the first place, we decided to go for the more public side. But I'm getting ahead of things...
The soon to be painted wall, the sport complex and in the background the Agua Volcano

I started preparing this project back in December and the worksheets I was working on soon turned into a 45-page manual. It begins with a section on murals throughout the history of art and goes on to explain in detailed matter how to create a community mural, including on how to collaboratively decide on a theme and design. Adding a section on art history might seem a bit unnecessary, but most of the kids I wrote the manual for have very little access to any cultural context, and I know from experience they are actually very much into it. Especially this group of 20 students. The youngest is 8, the oldest in her 60s, but most of the students are between 12 and 16 years old. So far I spent a whole week teaching art history and it was great fun! From the earliest cave paintings we went on to study the Maya murals of Bonampak, San Bartolo and Calakmul. The Romans taught us about fresco technique and in the section about medieval art we discovered how the image of Jesus Christ has changed over the centuries, with lots of intercultural Copy/Paste. The kids had no idea that the first depictions of Jesus were actually of a chubby boy with curly hair and a wand. Or that Nike's logo represents a wing of the Greek goddess of victory.
Furthermore we dove into the Renaissance, the Mexican revolution, all the way to today's graffiti and street art.

The teacher has asked me to consider including some samples of different art movements in the mural, even before he knew I was going to teach some art history workshops. So that was a given. To take the idea even further, I figured it would be nice if the students would paint several famous artworks on the wall, as if they were hanging there, framed and all. It would not only be a great exercise in painting a mural and a fun exploration through the history of art, but a permanent art exhibition in the classroom!
If only the space hadn't been stocked up to the ceiling with toilets....

Plan B. We still painted famous artworks, but on cardboard. Unfortunately on a much smaller scale (because of lack of space), but otherwise with pretty much the same techniques. It wasn't easy, especially how to figure out what scale to use for the grid, but all in all the students did well and learned a lot. We have a few more things to go over before we start the real work on Monday....

This project in process is being sponsored by Dr, Jim Bader. The manual is sponsored by the Dutch foundation Colour4Kids.

To be continued!

Sunday, February 9, 2020

A Forest for Cats

If it's true that the purring of cats lowers your cortisol while raising serotonin and oxytocin levels, then I'm now as relaxed as one can physically be. Two days in a cat shelter does that to you, especially while doing what I love most: painting murals.

After a seven month pause (due to my move to Spain), it was great to pick up a brush again and even more so doing it at one of my favourite spots in Antigua Guatemala, Unidos para los Animales' rescue.
In 2018 I painted a tropical garden at the cats´ home while new walls were erected on both sides of the garden. Now those walls were ready, as smooth and white as can be. An 18 meter long canvas waiting to be transformed.
The request was to paint trees, birds, nature. Since the tropical garden with its kittens is pretty wild, colour-wise, I opted for a more subdued design this time. Soft pastels in the background with trees in shades of a greenish blue. The result? You decide for your self.

Besides the constant back-rubs and occasional affectionate nibbles by the cats, it was also great to see my human friends at the rescue and to work again with my assistant Henry Navarijo Calel. He has painted a few murals himself in my absence and he is getting really good!
Henry and Macey
So, one mural down! More to come in the next few weeks!

Monday, January 13, 2020

The brand new Manual for Making Murals!!!

My trip to Guatemala is coming closer and I'm very excited about the two projects on my agenda! One is painting a mural in the two dorms of a brand new clinic for children with cleft lip and palate, currently under construction, by Tess Unlimited. This project is sponsored by the Dutch foundation Colour 4 Kids.

The other project is a mural with the students (age 9-17) of Alotenango´s municipal art course. I'll be teaching the kids over the course of two weeks about the history of muralism, how to create one from scratch, how to pick a theme etc. This project is generously sponsored by Dr. Jim Bader.

While I was working on my lesson plans, the worksheets were getting more and more elaborate and I figured it would be pretty cool to actually turn them into a a real book. And so the Manual for Making Murals was born!

It's 43 pages long and includes:
  • A short history of muralism through the centuries (prehistoric art, ancient Maya culture, Roman murals, medieval art, Renaissance, Mexican muralism, street art and graffiti)
  • Colour (colour theory, colour psychology)
  • Why painting community murals (impact, audience, how to get involved)
  • Picking a theme (exercise to collaboratively pick a theme)
  • Making a design (composition, background, symbolism, scale, enlarging through grid)
  • Preparing the work (prepping the wall, getting materials ready, how to take care of equipment)
  • Painting the mural (how to divide the work, mix paints, cleanup)
  • The aftermath... (inauguration, press release, credits, thanks, report etc.)

The manual is written in Spanish and include a lot of activities for kids to do. The graphic design is in black and white, to make reproduction cheap and easy. (The coloured cover is optional). Right now I'm the process of finishing editing (many thanks to Neyla González for her corrections) and then the mural is ready for print! The students in Alotenango will of course each receive a copy, thanks to the Colour 4 Kids Foundation.

For the near future, the idea is to offer the manual in PDF format to whomever plans to create a community mural, in exchange for a $25 donation towards MuralArte's projects.

Soon more news on these upcoming projects!!!

Thursday, December 19, 2019

More murals in Guatemala!

About a year ago I worked with some of the coolest kids in Guatemala. I met them through my contact at the townhall in Alotenango, the town that was recovering from the deadly volcano eruption in June. I was about to paint a mural in the townhall and was offered assistance by the students of the Municipal Art Academy which turned out to be an art course for children and adolescents. The Municipality of Alotenango provides a teacher and classroom, the 15-20 participants bring their own materials.
I can always use some help, so, yes! And help they did! Although it was the first mural they ever painted, it was clear that they had both talent and some experience painting. They were eager to learn and we had a lot of fun. We finished the mural way too soon to their liking, the kids wanted more! So I decided to offer a few workshops and although the course had officially already stopped for the holidays, the kids were eager to assist.
 Since children in Guatemala don’t have regular access to museums or art galleries, I decided to do workshops on some famous and inspiring artists. The first one was Henri Matisse. We started the class hands-on, painting large sheets of paper with different techniques. The goal was to cover up the paper, not painting something recognizable, so the kids had a lot of fun experimenting with new techniques without the pressure of achieving a neat result.
Afterwards we explored the life and work of Matisse, which fascinated the participants. By the time the presentation was done, the sheets of paper had dried.  We discussed what we were going to create and decided on a volcano erupting butterflies, each one a symbol for the deceased after the eruption of the Fuego Volcano six months earlier. The kids starting cutting and pasting and soon the volcano took shape. It turned out quite beautiful and the concept was used again for a mural at the shelter in Alotenango, a few months later.
The Frida Kahlo workshop was also a success, this time resulting in beautiful self-portraits in soft pastels. Saying goodbye to those kids was tough, but I promised I’d try to come back…

By now I have changed the volcanoes of Guatemala for the north coast of Spain. But I haven’t forgotten about Guatemala and can’t wait to go back and paint some more…

I’m planning a trip in February of 2020. I already have a mural in a clinic lined up and hope to find financing for another project with those fantastic kids in Alotenango. This time the theme will be Diego Rivera and the project will take a full two weeks. We’ll of course explore the life and work of Rivera as well as the history of murals in general, in its socio-historical context. We’ll also study myths and legends of Guatemala. And then, like Rivera painted the history of Mexico on public walls, we’ll depict local legends on our own mural. It will be painted on a wall (approximately 3 x 5.5meters) in their own classroom of the municipal building, so they’ll be able to enjoy it themselves (as well as other people who make use of that space).

The kids and teacher are already very excited about this project, as am I! The only thing is… the financing I hoped to get fell through (the institution that offered to sponsor this project won’t decide till March and that will be too late) and actually also puts my whole trip in jeopardy, because I need at least two mural projects to make my trip worthwhile. So I’m desperately looking for sponsors!!! The whole project (two weeks of classes and painting) costs USD 950, including all materials and expenses. I hope to raise that amount, of course, but could adapt the project a little if necessary. Anyway, I hope there are some sponsors out there who are willing to make this happen! If so, thanks in advance for making this world a bit more beautiful!

You can donate using the button on this page or through PayPal (carinsteen at For bank transfer (in Spain or Holland), please contact me.


Sunday, September 1, 2019

MuralArte Guate/Int

Hopefully I'll be able to report soon on some new community murals in Spain! My new location in Asturias, Spain, is quite nice, but I haven't forgotten on Central America! I'm planning a trip in January of 2020, mainly to paint some murals at schools and a clinic. But MuraleArte is now expanding and thus in need of an addition to its name. So from now on, it's Mural Arte Guate/Int! may there be many new community murals in the future, internationally!

Friday, May 31, 2019

Last Mural at Home Base

I didn’t realise how hard it would be to write this out loud, but darn, I just finished my LAST MURAL IN GUATEMALA!

Well, for this year at least.
In a matter of weeks I’ll be moving to Spain, but the plan is definitely to come back next year and add some more colour to this part of the world.

I was glad that my last mural happened to be this one, at the school in San Bartolomé Becerra, for several reasons. For one, because I promised so about two years ago and I always try to keep my promises. But also because this wall is very visible from the street and the highway to Ciudad Vieja. And maybe most importantly, because San Bartolomé Becerra, or San Bartolo, as we call it, has been my home for the last five years. I have grown very fond of this community just outside of Antigua Guatemala and I’m glad I could leave something behind. It’s isn’t my fist mural in San Bartolo, but by far the most public one.

This was also the last time (for now!) I worked with my wonderful assistant Henry Calel Navarijo. He helped me paint for the first time in 2016 and since then he has grown a lot, in many ways. I’ll surely miss him!

I’d been a few times to the school to discuss the design and take pictures (I needed kids for modelling, no shortness of those at the school!), so the kids knew I was coming and most of me knew me anyway, living in the same neighbourhood. One kid came up to me and said:
“I know you”.
No big surprise, after all I have been living there for five years and painted two murals.
“Yes. You give hot-dog to the dogs.”
Well, yes, that’s me too. I think I would have cared more for a reputation as a renowned mural painter. But being known as the woman who feeds hot-dog to dogs is a pretty good second.

Anyway, off to work. The theme wasn’t my favourite of all time; the teacher insisted I’d include the school’s crest in the mural. A pretty ugly crest, I must add. I suggested camouflaging it a bit, maybe put it on a kid’s shirt? No, it had to be there and right in the centre. That took some thinking on my part but I finally came up with a design I’m okay with and that does include the schools emblem. So, ready to rock and roll.

The weather forecast couldn’t be worse. Somewhere off the coast of Guatemala a hurricane is brewing and it was indeed windy and drizzling. Drizzle is okay. Wind is doable. A tropical storm is not, for mural painting. But we were extremely lucky and didn’t get more than a few drops.

While we painted, yesterday, classed were interrupted for a celebration Día del Árbol, Tree Day. In familiar fashion, the activity included the national anthem, a prayer, a few speeches and a mini-parade of kids dressed in folklore outfits. Each class had made a huge tree which they presented to their peers. Ironically made out of paper. Even more irony: the background noise was provided by some handymen cutting down a tree at the schoolyard. But let’s not get me started on the educational system here…

So, besides a few wind gusts and thick fat raindrops, (oh, and the promised ladder that never arrived), the work went well and the mural is finished. Whether the result is better than before is for you to decide…  

A BIG thank you to Henry, not just for helping with this mural but many before and hopefully more to come.

And of course also a HUGE thank you to veterinarian Dr. Jim Bader who besides coming down at least twice a year to voluntarily sterilize dogs and cats for 14 years in a row now, he has also generously been donating towards my community murals! Thanks so much Jim!!!

So long, for now….

Monday, May 13, 2019

Busy Bees in San Cristobal el Alto

Now, this community mural was a true team effort!
For a while now the people in the small mountainous village of San Cristobal el Alto have been trying to attract tourists by offering hikes on nature trails and by selling food and homemade products. Volunteer Miki Iwatsuki (JICA) has been involved in the project and has set up a mural project to beautify this charming village. And yesterday we painted the first one!

While Miki arranged everything with the owners of the wall, Laurel Jacobson (Mesón Panza Verde) had the wall plastered. She also sponsored the materials and organized all the logistics (paint, brushes, transportation and lunch for the painters). Laurel teaches art to the scholarship students at CasaSito and it was her idea to get the kids involved.
I came in to teach the students how to copy and enlarge a design and to prep them for the hard work. I also made the design with nature as an overall theme and more specifically apiculture since the family that owns the wall has beehives.  

All nine of CasaSito’s art students joined us, as well as three of the students that participated in my mural project that we finished last week. CasaSito’s founder Alice Lee So Fong joined us too and off we went!

It was hot and humid but that didn’t stop us, not for a minute! The family of beekeepers helped us paint, as well as passersby and friends. The students did an awesome job and by the end of the afternoon the mural was on the wall, varnished and all.
What was incredible was that INMEDIATELY after finishing it, tourists started to pose in front of the wall to take pictures. People actually stopped their cars to get out and take pictures, causing a traffic jam in the narrow street. And the owner of the house already sold a bottle of honey because of the mural! I’d say, mission more than accomplished!

So all in all we had a great day. Lunch at Doña Angela’s (across the street from the mural) was delicious, as was the cinnamon bread with honey the family treated us to celebrate the completion of the mural. The only one not quite satisfied was the little boy of the house who was slightly disappointed that we didn’t paint Spiderman on the wall. Other than that, it was one of those days with a golden edge…  

Please do go visit San Cristobal el Alto, it’s worth it!