Saturday, July 30, 2016

Community Mural in Chimachoy Week IV: Church and Birds

One more panel done, right in front of the church, with religion as a theme as requested by the community. Whereas the rest of the world deals with clashes between Hillary and Trump supporters; Muslims and Christians; Pokémon seekers and haters; Chimachoy is simply and evenly divided between Catholics and Evangelicals. So both had to be represented on the panel. Catholicism is no problem, of course, with its abundant symbols and imagery, but how do you depict Evangelicalism? Even their churches don’t really look like churches. So after long discussions with teachers and students, we decided on a Bible, although that can also refer to Catholicism, of course. But if anyone asks, the left side is “Evangelical”, the right is “Catholic” with the Maria from the church and in the middle the silhouette of the (yes, Catholic) church, as symbol for religion in general. Done!

The next panel is right at the corner and holds a plaque that mentions the sponsors who helped built the elementary school. There’s not really a central park in Chimachoy, but this is the biggest open space in town where people can get together, so a good spot for some civic symbols the Central Americans are so fond of. Before I moved here, I didn’t even know that things as a “National Animal” or “National Tree” existed. In the case of Guatemala, the national flower is the Monja Blanca orchid (dutifully painted last week on the Nature Panel) and the national bird is the quetzal. But rather than painting all these symbols together, I decided to paint a pair of lifelike quetzals, bigger than life, overlooking the main area. Approved by passersby.

It was a rather uneventful few days despite bitter cold and an occasional rain shower. I had little help from the students because one day they were out early and the other day there was no school at all. But that was okay, tons of details I had to deal with by myself anyway and I made good process. The only interruption was by a rather insistent old man I had never seen before and that while I think I know everybody  in Chimachoy by now. Rubber boots, wasted shirt about five sizes to big and an old-fashioned transistor radio hanging around his neck. He asked me if I could give him a few gallons of paint. (No.)
Whether I’m a Christian or Evangelical.
Being a little cranky, sweating on Maria’s face that didn’t turn out the way I wanted and having heard that question a zillion times already, I answered: “Neither.”
“But you have to embrace our Saviour!”
I answered that you could embrace Christ without being Christian or Evangelical, but apparently that was the wrong answer. Old Man said he would come back to read me some verses from the Bible. Hurray.

He did come back, but this time to ask where he could buy the paints I use. I explained him while he carefully wrote down the directions in a notebook. On the East of West side of the street? House number? Sigh…

Ten minutes later he came back and told me he wanted to use the paint to make a small portrait of his grandfather, because he had learned to paint when he was in high school, a long, long time ago. I told him he didn’t need gallons of paint to make a small portrait.
Could I paint the portrait for him? For free?
No. No and no. As much as I’m for stimulating people to appreciate the arts, after finishing this mural, I’m done with freebies in Chimachoy for now.
Well, how much would I charge?
I answered $50, ridiculously little but I knew it would be way over his head and hopefully would blow him off, leaving me in peace to paint.
It did for a little while, but soon he was back carrying a big sack.
“Do you want to buy cauliflower?”
“No thanks.”
“Why not?”
“Because I don’t like cauliflower.”
“Well that’s weird…”

After that he only came back one more time with his sack, this time asking if I could keep an eye on his cauliflower while he went on an errand. Yes, that I could do.
I guarded the cauliflower with my life but when Old Man came back, he picked up his sack and left, without even saying thank you or goodbye. And that was the last I saw of Old man, thank goodness…

So far 17 panels are painted (out of 26), 44 meter in total, with 12 designs. A whole street long! Next week we’ll turn around the corner for the last bit. Can we do 21 meters in just two days? With tons of help from the students, I bet we can!
(And if not I’ll be begging on my knees for more donations towards transportations, so let’s hope the weather Gods will be with us…)

Yet again, a big THANK YOU to following sponsors: The Pollination Project, Coulor4Kids Foundation, Uno Más Foundation, Diane Morton, Tessa de Goede, Willem Meijnckens, Evert-jan Velzing, Rosan Breman, Ineke en Jan de Smidt, Brenda Montoya…

Friday, July 22, 2016

Week III of Mural Painting in Chimachoy

Good to be back in Chimachoy after a break of a week due to bad weather and a sick doggie at home. I don’t think there’s anything more fun in this world than painting a huge outdoor wall! It’s not always easy and definitely tiresome, especially when you’re constantly surrounded by kids with there endless questions.

“What are you doing?”
“What does it look like I’m doing?”
“What are you painting?”
“What does it look like I’m painting?”
“A bird…”
“Indeed…. So why are you asking?”

After the third day of painting I decided to a apply new set of rules: You can ask me anything, but I’ll only answer GOOD, intelligent questions…
It worked, in a way. The next set of questions was:

“Are you Catholic or Evangelical?”
“How many kids do you have?”
“What is your husband doing?”
Right. How do I explain that I practice yoga and meditation instead of attending church; I live all by myself and have no kids BY CHOICE; but have instead two dogs and two cats I happen to spend more on than on myself???

But as long as the kids don’t touch the mural (“Look! The paint is still wet!!!”- before wiping their stained finger off on the wall…) I bear with them because after all, they’re cute as hell.

Less intrusive than the kids are the adults who stand behind me watching me work and have conversations about me as if I can’t hear them. Usually about who I’m painting, often about the fact that I’m a very good painter (thanks!) and sometimes a more in-depth conversation about the techniques I use and why. For the second time these days I heard the director of the elementary school explain someone that the panel that depicts a woman in the mist is pained in a technique that’s called claroscuro. No, it’s not, quite the opposite, as my adult students should know by now, but who cares.

Anyway, it was fun again, besides a rain shower here and there and today the constant threat of  rumbling skies, but luckily no rain. I got quite a lot done, the kids were a great help and more than half is done now. Yeahaaaah!!!!

As the project is running a little longer than planned, more trips to Chimachoy are needed, so more donations for transportation are very welcome. For $40 you get a whole 10-hour day of painting…. (A bargain since the artist humbly decided to do this job for free). Thank you dear friend Brenda Montoya for your contribution!

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

In-door Walls Looking for Sponsors!!!

Although the community mural in Chimachoy is not yet finished, I’m already looking for sponsors for near-future projects. Especially now that the weather is not really collaborating (it seems that the rainy season finally made its entrance for real), it would be nice to have sponsorships lined up for a few smaller indoor murals. And options there are plenty! On top of the wish list are three murals for the Brillo deSol Educational Centre. This incredible project near Antigua Guatemala offers personalized education to all kinds of special needs kids. I already painted a mural in the stairway and one of kittens for the Gatitos first-graders, but now the older kids want murals too. The “Universe” kids (Grade 1) asked specifically for a mural of Vincent van Gogh’s Starry Night. Way cool! The kids from El Bosque want a jungle, obviously; and then there’s the oldest group of kids called Los Científicos (The Scientists) for which I’m sure we can come up with some nice imagery. Those murals measure approximately 4 x 2.5 meters and only cost $250 a piece, which is just $25 per square meter! We’re looking for sponsors for an entire mural, but partial donations are welcome too.

Near the Acatenango volcano, we’re looking for sponsors for the Las Nubes Daycare and After School Learning Centre. This project is a bit more ambitious. It will be inspired by Matisse’s cut-outs and include the entire patio of the centre. The staff will receive an activity book based on the mural with games and assignments which makes the mural much more than decoration, but an interactive educational tool too. This project costs $750 in its entirety, but again, partial donations are welcome too.

And for the Community Mural in Chimachoy we can also use some more donations! The project is getting a bit out of hand, which means more days of painting and that means $40 per day for transportation in pick-up truck (the bus is no option since it leaves Chimachoy at noon). The director of the elementary school asked for a donation for materials to cover the dirt sidewalk in front of the mural with cement, in order to protect it, so there’s that too. So, any donation will be MUCH appreciated.

And why would you want to sponsor (part of) a mural? Because it’s FUN! It brightens up the community or school, it will make people proud of their surroundings and it is a short-term project with a permanent and high impact result. So donate today and make a bit of a difference in the most colourful way! :)

You can donate through PayPal using the button on this page or a deposit (please email for account details).

Thanks for reading this! Donating and sharing are appreciated!

Saturday, July 9, 2016

An Audience of Kids and Cows

What I love about mural painting is that you never quite know what to expect. Planning and preparation are important, but often plans change along the way. The community mural in Chimachoy is no exception. Initially my idea was to prepare all the designs and then paint during a full week with all 65 high school students under the supervision of a team of volunteer artists. But that turned out to be a logistic nightmare, because how to plan dates for painting if you don’t know when the volunteers will be available, how much paint will be needed, if transportation can be arranged and then, of course, the weather…  So instead I decided to go up there twice a week, paint as much as possible with a few volunteer students and take things as they come. A good thing too, because it turns out that the high school students are not available in the afternoons (they have other responsibilities and many of them live in remote villages surrounding Chimachoy). I’m also going to need waaaay more time than just a week for painting. So far we’ve done a third of the entire wall in four days, so go figure. That is actually a major problem, because there’s no budget for extra trips, so things need to be speeded up.

Initially I was planning on painting a different image on each of the 26 panels. So that’s 26 different murals. What the heck was I thinking??? After the first four murals I decided to merge panels (makes sense, since some are the same height anyway) and make two big murals instead of four small ones for the first part of the wall. It feels a bit like cheating but it is way faster and I like the result of working on a bigger scale. It’s also easier to put the students to work because there’s less detail to paint. 

So last Thursday we started the new approach. The students were great drawing the grid (they really got the hang of it) and another tremendous help was the presence of Alex Barnica, a painter and muralist who did a great job painting the corn panel. It was again freezing cold in the morning and crazy hot in the afternoon, but fortunately enough, no rain! Yet again we were constantly surrounded by kids, cows, horses laden with all kinds of stuff and locals walking by wishing us a polite buenos días, even when passing us twenty times a day. After two long days of painting, seven murals are now completed. Here they are:
Embroidery 2.27 x 1.74m
This design is based on an embroidered huipil the women wear here. In the end I’ll paint “Welcome to Chimachoy” over it in three languages (Spanish, English and Maya Kaqchikel).

Domestic Animals 2.33 x 1.86m
Domestic Animals is the theme of this one and the greatest compliment I could ever get was from a cow that passed by, looking up at his painted peer and mooing loudly. Some sixth graders were less impressed and told me I forgot to paint its tail and eyes.

Transportation 2.32 x 1.82m
La Parrameña! This is the one bus (from Parramos, hence the name) that leaves Chimachoy at noon and one of the kids’ favourite murals. Drawn and mostly painted by Jessica Hoult who was so kind to accompany me last week. The bus driver likes it too… A truck driver asked me if I could paint his truck too. Since it was an ugly thing, his truck, nah….

Playtime 2.28 x 1.91m
Playtime, depicting Allison and Brian, two of the school’s students. Brian was glowing with pride and about twenty other kids now want to be on the wall too.

Corn 4.79 x 2m
 According to mythology, the Maya people were created out of corn and it is still their main source of food. Depicted here are four different colours of corn that represent the different peoples of the world as well as the cardinal points (yellow/ South; Red/ East; white/ North; black/ West). Beautifully painted by Alex Barnica, for which a big thanks!

Education I 4.23 x 2.1m
This mural is right next to the entrance of the school, so it made sense to use education as a theme. Depicted are to sixth graders (Danilo and..???) and a computer, just to give it a contemporary touch. Swirling around are numbers and letters of the alphabet and already the kids have invented the game who can find all letters of the alphabet first.

Education II 2.28 x 2.52m
 At the other side of the entrance used to be the name of the school. Here again, with a girl holding a piece of paper. I didn’t know the name of the girl, but as soon as the first paint strokes went up, I heard: “It’s Jackie!!!” from all passers-by, so I must have painted a liking portrait.

And that was it for this week!
Yet again, a big THANK YOU to Alex Barnica, the students who helped out and the following sponsors: The Pollination Project, Coulor4Kids Foundation, Uno Más Foundation, Diane Morton, Tessa de Goede, Willem Meijnckens, Evert-jan Velzing, Rosan Breman, Ineke en Jan de Smidt…

For more pictures, please visit our page on Facebook.
And yes, donations are still very much appreciated!

Saturday, July 2, 2016

Transforming a Town

The Community Mural Project in Chimachoy has taken off! Finally, because the project started well over a year and a half ago when I first spotted the wall and the itching started… Then the fundraising (not the easiest part!); the logistics with various community members; prepping the workshops for the kids; conducting those workshops in which we picked and discussed the themes; and then sorting through dozens if not hundreds of the kids’ drawings and pictures in order to finally be able to make the designs. Oh, and then there was the wall repair and plastering, done by the parents, as well as having the students translate the names of the different sub-themes in Maya Kaqchikel. So when the first brushstroke went on the wall last Thursday, many an hour had already gone into it. But somehow, painting that first panel made the project so much more real.

Last Thursday, twenty-six high school students learned how to copy a design on a wall by using a grid. I used an exercise in which they had to copy a small image of a super hero onto a bigger sheet and as always, this was a big hit. (If you ever need a few quiet hours with a bunch of adolescents, let them copy super heroes, success guaranteed!)
We had started the morning priming the first eight panels of the mural (out of twenty-six). By the time the kids finished their drawing and the three designated photographers of the day were done documenting a few more themes, we were ready for drawing grids on the wall with chalk. This actual work was less exciting than copying a super hero, but the kids did a good job nonetheless. In the meantime I had started sketching and there was just enough time before school was out to have a few students helping me paint. 

Clouds gathered soon after lunch and covered the town of Chimachoy in a thick mist while the temperature dropped considerably. Twice I had to take shelter from the rain but I managed to finish the first panel. It had been a productive 10-hour workday. But still, only one panel done and twenty-five to go…

On Friday I came back with reinforcement. I had asked my fiend Jessica Hoult to join me, not just for fun company, but also because she’s good at painting and amazing with kids. Just before we left at 6.45am I sent her a message to dress warmly. And a good thing too.  We left a gorgeous sunny Antigua, but the higher we got the mistier. When we arrived in Chimachoy, visibility was about three meters. Getting out of the car brought an immediate chill to our bones, despite four layers of clothing. Strange to be freezing our butts off in a tropical country in July and oh how we wished we had brought gloves! But how uplifting to see, despite the thick mist, the colours of that first panel really standing out and smiling our way.

Cold or not, the sixth graders did show up as promised, even though they officially had the day off. We quickly put them to work, priming the rest of the wall. The further down the wall they went, the higher the panels, but a few sawhorses did the trick. Like monkeys the kids where up and over the wall and in less than two hours the rest of it, all 45 meters long, was primed!
Then the kids went around town with Jessica to take more pictures expressing the various sub-themes of the mural, all representing their own culture. In the meantime I started sketching so afterwards the painting could get started.

Around noon the clouds started lifting and the freezing cold made way for a fierce sun and an incredible rise in temperature. Shedding layer after layer and getting sunburned in the process, the next three panels quickly took shape. We occasionally got sniffed at by a passing cow, peed at by a curious dog, but otherwise the afternoon was uneventful and productive, even though we didn’t entirely finish the last two panels. But at least all the workshops are done with; all the visual material needed is in the house, so now we can focus on the painting. Next week we’ll continue!

Thanks so much to all our sponsors, the kids, the teachers, the friendly guy on a horse who brought us bags of water (yes, water comes in bags around here) and of course the fabulous Jessica Hoult!