Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Three Cats on a Wall Amongst Many More!

Aren’t you jealous if I tell you yet another day in the “office” meant painting under a bright blue sky surrounded by a few dozen playful kittens? Can’t complain!

Today I finished the third and (for now) last cat mural at PAAWS cat sanctuary. Cats everywhere and now three on the wall. I was very happy to cheer up this beautiful place where abandoned cats find a safe and loving home before they find their final destination with a loving family. And I speak from experience! A few months ago I found three kittens in the garbage behind my house. I didn’t think they would make it, they were so tiny, there eyes all pussy and way too young to be separated from their mom. I took them in and fed them kitten formula, rubbed their bellies and even made them burp. Amazingly, two of the three recovered quickly and would climb up in my pants as soon as I entered the bathroom where they had there temporary lodging, to protect them from the rest of my rather unsympathetic canine and feline household. The third kitten was in such a bad shape that I actually prayed for it to die quickly and stop suffering. I clearly needed help and got it from Angela Kerslake who brought me in contact with Emily and Luis.
Now I’m happy to report that all three kittens are happy and healthy critters! Emily and Luis did an amazing job. It was such a joy to paint at the sanctuary and see the once pathetic creatures playing around with their peers.
Painting was fun and not without help! Nacho, the cutest orange/white cat on Earth (I hope my cat Leo isn’t reading this) was up on the ladder with me most of the time. He also got a bit painted himself today, but that will wear off. Monkey actually helped me with some brush strokes and Number 1 made his contribution by eating my lunch (very kindly replaced by Luis, thank you!). What a fun job! Thank you PAAWS, for the assignment and for what you do for cats and dogs in Guatemala!
I LOVE Nacho!!! (Even if he couldn't care less...)

Monkey helping out


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Matisse on the Slope of a Guatemalan Volcano

The 8 panels (1.2 x 1.2m each) that will decorate the fence

Nestled on the slopes of the Acatenango volcano, amidst stunning views of lush mountains and even the faraway coastline, lays the rather nondescript town of Acatenango. Or so they say, because during the five days we spent there painting a daycare centre, the town was covered in a thick mist, only to be replaced by regular heavy rain showers. The daycare centre is aptly called Las Nubes (The Clouds) and that’s about all we saw of the environment. No better place to bring some colour!
The daycare centre caters to about 50 children from the poorest families in town, mostly working at the local coffee farms. The little ones learn through games and crafts, the older ones receive help with their homework and they all enjoy their daily healthy lunch.

The building the centre is housed at could definitely use a lift. Besides a bit of colour, there were a lot of maintenances and improvements to be done. So we asked the Dutch foundation Colour4Kids for help and were very happy that our proposal for the mural and improvements was approved! 
About two weeks ago the work started. An unused shower was transformed into an extra bathroom so the kids don’t have to line up anymore. Some doors will be replaced, extra lights are being installed and the ugly zinc laminas that formed the division between the daycare centre and the house next door have been replaced by a proper fence. As we speak, the patio is being leveled out so the kids won’t fall into holes and gutters. Leaks have been mended, door posts have been repaired and many more small and bigger nuisances have been fixed.

On Monday September 25th we started painting. For once I didn’t have a fixed design, only the theme was set, the colourful cutouts by French artist Henri Matisse. As a little girl I was enthralled by the bright colours and imaginative shapes of Matisse’s art, a love that has only grown stronger over the years. I chose this theme for the daycare centre because the shapes and colours are uplifting, happy and open to imagination for children in any culture. It also easily transformed the rather shabby building in a light, modern and happy space for the children.
The result...
In five days we painted the long corridor, the hallway, two classrooms and 8 panels that will decorate the fence. There was no way I could have done it all by myself, so I was very grateful for the terrific team I had at my disposal. The entire staff of the daycare centre helped painting, including the cook! (The centre was closed for three days so we could work without the kids present). Many thanks to Ann, Anabella, Chrystel, Reina, Noelia and José! More help came from Belgian volunteers Mauro and Linsy and from Miguel Raymundo who not only drove us back and forth every day, but also helped painting.

Five long days later we were DONE! The children arrived on Friday afternoon and were thrilled with the result. It was party time, so of course there was cake and lemonade. It was also the moment I explained the children a bit about Henri Matisse and handed over an activity book I made based on Matisse’s designs that turns the paint job into a truly interactive mural. The book incites the children to learn colours (in English too), to fantasize about the different figures, to count, write, paint and draw. On Friday the kids were drawing and they all showed me their work, stating that they are artists too. I like to think that Matisse would have been proud!
Book presentation
It’s been a tough week, but the result is a true transformation that has made the staff and kids of Las Nubes very happy, and that’s what we do it for!

Thanks again to my fellow painters for a job well done and of course to Colour4Kids for so generously sponsoring this terrific project. 
A big thanks to Colour4Kids from Ann Wijns and Carin Steen!

Saturday, August 19, 2017

A Classroom Transformed

The kindergarten in San Bartolomé Becerra has been transformed! It was a tough one because it had to be done before the 25th anniversary of the school on August 18th and the weather wasn’t collaborating. On Friday last week Debby Pate and I started out okay with a blue sky and barely a cloud, but before noon the downpour started and we were soaked all the way through.
Monday brought threatening skies but it didn’t rain till 3.15pm, so at least we got some work done. Tuesday and Wednesday were perfect, weather-wise, but I didn’t paint because I had promised to help with the Unidos para los Animales spay/neuter clinic I my neighbourhood.
Debby almost finished priming.
Back to work on Thursday and determined to finish, but that was a bit optimistic even though the weather gods were with us. But at least we got the two walls visible from the schoolyard done, so it looked great for the celebration. We had gotten an invitation to participate in the anniversary celebrations (Mass at the Merced church starting at 8am, then the typical “celebration” at the school, involving many speeches, acknowledgments and election of Miss Congeniality, Miss Sport, this year’s Queen and so on) but I reclined and decided to go paint the third and last wall instead. I thought that that way I would get out of the obligation, but I was mistaken. I was called on stage to receive a diploma in acknowledgement for the mural. A nice gesture, just a little awkward standing there on stage in my painting clothes while everyone else was dressed up to the nines.

After the speeches, fireworks, songs and even more speeches, the celebration was over and soon the school was deserted while I was still working on the Beluga Whale. Not that I was neglected: they left me with a huge piece of cake, juice and many, many thanks.
A few hours later, just when the sun was setting in a cloudless sky, I was able to declare the work done.  

Well, almost done. Next week or so I’ll visit the school during the morning assembly and talk to the students about one of marine fauna’s major threat: The plastic bag! Unfortunately we have plenty of those in San Bartolo, scattered all over the empty lots and streets. I hope I can convince at least a few kids to be more aware about the problem and change their attitude. 

This mural would not have been possible without the invaluable support of some very generous sponsors. One needs to be named in specific, Brooke Campbell, who made a donation with the request to dedicate the mural to Christine Archibald, an extraordinary young woman from a small town near hers in Canada, who died in the recent London attacks. Of course I would, I’m all for transmitting positive, constructive messages of love, peace and respect and make this world a more beautiful place. But it was heartbreaking to realise that while I was painting this mural, yet another hateful attack took place. How deeply saddening.

Anyway, the kindergarten kids and staff of the San Bartolomé Becerra school are over the moon with their “new” classroom and that’s what we do it for. More art, less hate.

Thank you so much for sponsoring:
Debby Pate, Judy Sadlier, Ana María Ackermans & Brooke Campbell, Tommy O’Donnell, Tessa de Goede and Sue Bohenstengel.

And of course a very special thanks to Debby Pate for helping out painting!


Thursday, August 3, 2017

Let’s bring the ocean to San Bartolo!!!

May the rain gods grant us a dry spell!

Every afternoon around 2pm the skies start rumbling and we can expect, well, basically anything. Sometimes the rain comes down so heavily, it looks like a solid water downpour. Other days the threatening thundering just results in a few drops that send everybody running for cover –and then: nothing…
I’m so glad that the mega mural in project in Chimachoy was done last year, during an unusual dry season. This year it wouldn’t have been possible.

But walls are waiting to be transformed and my fingers are itching!!! A brand new project came upon my way that I’d love to do, but it has to be soon…

The walls in question form the kindergarten in a public school in the village I live, on the outskirts of San Bartolo (officially called San Bartolomé Becerra), along the road to Ciudad Vieja, for those who know the area. The school caters to 175 students in the morning (kindergarten through grade 6) and a similar amount in the afternoon. The school is in reasonable good shape, except for the kindergarten… The walls are made of plaster panels with peeling paint in a colour that was once blue. When I showed the director some samples of my murals, she fell in love with an ocean scene I did a while back and said she’d love something like that. At first I thought it a bit of an odd theme, an ocean scene in the middle of San Bartolo, but then I figured it is actually quite nice. Few of the school’s students will ever see the ocean, let alone get to scuba dive, so instead of bringing the kids to the ocean, why not bringing the ocean to the kids??? And, unfortunately, the whole village of San Bartolo is littered with plastic bags. And plastic bags are also a major threat to marine fauna, so an ocean scene would be a could excuse to talk to the kids about the whole waste problem in our community…

So the first draft of the design is made, painting will be easy because I can paint in between showers if necessary (because of the short travel distance) and the staff would LOVE to have this mural on the wall before August 18, when they celebrate the 25th anniversary of the school.

So what I am waiting for? Donations!!! I’ll paint for free, I just need money for materials and a small fee for my assistant. The surface is pretty rough and the plaster will suck up paint, even if I prime it 2 or 3 times, so I estimate I’ll need about 10 gallons of paint and 2 gallons of primer for the total surface of 44m². So that comes down to Q3000 or $400, less than $10 per square meter!
Want to help transform this kindergarten? You can donate the entire amount (for which I’d be eternally grateful!) or you can donate a smaller amount. Any help is welcome!!!

You can donate through PayPal, using my email address (carinsteen at yahoo.com, in Euros or any other currency), a deposit in my Dutch bank account (email me for info) or in person if living in Antigua. Let’s bring the ocean to San Bartolo!!!

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Mural Project Dominican Republic

The mural in it entirety
If I’d have to describe the Dominican Republic in just one word, I’d say: loud. Not that Guatemala is an oasis of calm, but my, in the DR they have raised being loud to an art form! The most popular pastime seems to be driving around in a car, all windows open with a HUGE speaker on the backseat, carefully tucked in with the seatbelt (which I’ve never seen used on a human), vibrating distorted bachata or reggeaton. At a popular hangout spot on the boulevard I once saw no less than THREE cars parked next to each other, each competing for being the loudest while their occupants were standing nearby conversing. Or attempting to.
If people talk, it sounds like they’re at each other in a way that makes Italians sound like meek sheep. But that’s just the noise level. Nothing is happening. Which is what happens most of the time, a whole lot of doing nothing, preferably on the veranda you see in front of every house.
All in all it was quite a culture shock, going from the mountains of Guatemala with its humble indigenous people to the lively Caribbean town of Puerto Plata…
The school with upstairs 3 new classrooms built by Colour4Kids
How I happened to end up there is because of the connection with the Dutch foundation Colour4Kids.I’ve worked with this foundation twice before in mural projects in Progreso, Honduras and last year they funded part of the community mural I painted in Chimachoy, Guatemala. In Puerto Plata they built three extra classrooms to an elementary school and the mural was the cherry on the cake to finish this project. The project was initially scheduled for late November last year, but at the time we had to postpone the trip last minute because of the rains and flooding in the area.

The school is located in a lively middleclass neighbourhood of Puerto Plata. The building used to be a basketball court, but was converted into a school thanks to the effort of some mothers from the neighbourhood who got organized and whose president, Rosa, helped us with the logistics for this project. The front wall is an entire street block long and is very visible along a well travelled street, a perfect location for a community mural!

The theme was Children’s Rights, as determined months before we started the project in collaboration with Yudelka Morán, the director of the school. The idea was to have the children help paint but since it was logistically too complicated to have all 200 students involved, I designed colouring pages based on the mural design to be distributed among all students. There are six colouring pages in total, each depicting one of the six main figures/children’s rights and they fit together as if a jigsaw puzzle. Actually, each colouring page depicts much more than just one right. For example, the second scene of the mural refers to gender equality, but it can also be interpreted as a call against racial discrimination or any other form of inequity. That’s open to discussion.
Each student received one or more colouring pages which helps them to have a stronger connection with the mural and hopefully also be more aware about children’s rights (and obligations). 

Erik van Middendorp, of Colour4Kids had already been in the DR for two weeks when I arrived and one of the things he had arranged was to have the wall cleaned and primed. The weather forecast wasn’t good – it was actually pouring rain when I arrived- so the less time we would waste, the better. On May 1st, while the kids had a day off, Erik and I started drawing the grid and sketching in black.
The second day we added some colour and slowly the wall started to transform. We worked from background to foreground and from top to bottom. We outlined the bottom part, so we could have the kids help us colouring those parts, which happened on day 5. About twenty kids were picked out to help us paint and then the transformation was complete. The last two days were for touching up and details. And then, on Sunday May 7th, the work was done! The last thing I did was painting the light post in front of the mural in a cute polka dot pattern, because its ugliness stood out too much.

All in all I was very happy with a result. The Toucan acrylic paint that I had never worked with before was of excellent quality with nice, bright colours. The wall was even and smooth and our audience very supportive. The corner on the left happened to be the meeting point for the moto-taxistas, guys dressed in orange vests who drive you for 50 Pesos ($1) on the back of their bike to your destination. From that corner they loudly discuss the world, the mural included (very positively!)
The old man who lives with his kittens across the street was so moved with the mother I painted, embracing her child, and he kept telling me so. The lady from the corner across the street lent us her ladder and brought us our daily dose of sugary coffee. Rosa was there too the whole time, keeping an eye on everything from her chair in the shade and frequently telling Erik to work a little harder. Despite the heat and the noise level, the result was what I hoped for and the weather had collaborated beautifully. Ready for the next one!

With Yudelka, Erik and Rosa
The next two murals were painted at the side walls of a new school building in La Union, about a twenty minute drive from Puerto Plata. The school started by Roberto and Judith Terrero in a nearby slum that is mostly inhabited by Haitians. They soon had over 200 students cramped into a very inadequate space, but now have two school buildings and a kitchen built by the Samaritan Foundation. The school currently caters to 300 students, but can expand to 500.
Colegio Evangélico Asher, La Unión
The theme the director had asked for was the Dominican Republic’s history, but I felt rather uncomfortable with the choice. First because I hardly know anything about it, and interpretation of a nation’s history, especially with such a controversial past as this one’s, is a very delicate issue. Especially if most of your students are Haitians. It’s also visually not an easy task, so after some emails back and forth, we settled one mural about children’s rights, the other one a portrait of the Mirabal sisters.
Painting with kids and more kids!
Erik had become a well trained assistant by now, so we had both walls primed and gridded in no time. They were small too, only 3 x 2.75m, which might seem big enough but still is 8 times smaller than the previous mural. A piece of cake…
We started with the mural on children’s rights. I started sketching the girl while Erik started on the rectangles in the background. We later treated those with a dry bush in contrasting colours, to make them a bit more organic and dynamic, inspired by Eric Carle’s famous illustrations. The kids mostly wanted to know who the girl was. Some were convinced that it was Gladys’s cousin, the deaf mute girl that lived around the corner, but others said it was Tatiana from Grade 8. She was quickly summoned and I took a picture of her in front of the mural so you can judge for your self.
Actually, the design was based on the random picture of a girl I had found on the internet. I just wanted to use an image the kids could relate to. The fact that they recognized all kinds of friends and relatives in her means I succeeded. But when I explained that the girl actually represents all girls, or even all children and that I painted her purple on purpose, because black and white are not skin colours at all, they just looked at me blankly. The purple, okay, but the girl? Nah, that really is Tatiana!
Two days of painting and the mural was done. The kids received a colouring page of the design and I was ready for the next!

This one was a bit different in colour and tone. I started with the features of the women in the darkest shade and then added one lighter tone after the other.
The Mirabal sisters were easily recognized by all the children, but when I asked them why they were so famous and what they had achieved, not all of them were too sure.
Patria, Minerva and Maria Teresa (and their husbands) were all involved in the resistance against dictator Trujillo. The husbands were jailed and it was when the sisters came back from a visit on November 25th, 1960, that their car was stopped and the women clubbed to death by the secret police, most likely on Trujillo‘s direct orders.  
Ironically, the disgust and revulsion abut this deed made the resistance fiercer than ever and Trujillo was finally successfully assassinated on May 30th, 1961.
The sisters are now national heroines and nationwide acknowledged on murals, on monuments, on banknotes and souvenirs.
The quote on the mural is not by one of the Mirabal sisters, but an anonymous one I liked because of the reference to flying (their code name was “The Butterflies”) and, implicitly, education. It translates as: Your wings already exist. All you have to do is fly!

On the afternoon of the first day it all of a sudden started to rain. At last! Luckily, due to the high temperatures, most of the paint was already dry. Only Minerva’s cheekbones that I had just applied started to run and looked like bleak tears. But that was quickly fixed the next day.
The last day of painting was hot and humid, but it didn’t rain. Erik painted a LOT of butterflies while I focused on the faces and text. And then we were done! Mission accomplished, finally time for some sightseeing…

Friday, April 28, 2017

Dominican Republic Murals about to get started!

Stay tuned for the series of murals I'm about to paint in Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic!!!