Thursday, December 22, 2022

A Mural with Volcano View


Community mural in El Hato

I can’t complain about my “office”! This time I was working high up in the mountains above Antigua Guatemala, with a terrific view of the Fuego and Acatenango volcanoes. The village of El Hato is a far cry from the prosperous colonial town of Antigua. In El Hato, most people live in humble circumstances. Many of them grow flowers (mostly cala lilies, agapanthus and carnations) which they sell at the market of Antigua. The village just got a much-needed brand-new school building with plenty of blank walls. A perfect spot for a mural!

Community Mural in El Hato, Antigua Guatemala

About two weeks ago I went up to meet the director Patricia Toledo to hear about her ideas and have a look at walls. Initially her idea was to have a mural painted around the sports court, but unfortunately that wall was in a rough shape (lots of humidity) and would need lots of repairing without the guarantee it would hold up a mural. In the end we decided on a wall next to the director’s office, at the entrance of the school, quite visible from the road. A perfect spot! The wall is 7 meters long and 3 meters high, a nice size to work at. Theme? Something positive, something colourful and with the flowers they grow in the community. And, as a special request, could we paint the school’s emblem on the wall too? Well, why not.
Community Mural in El Hato, Antigua Guatemala

The whole project got delayed a bit because Covid finally caught up with me, but once recovered, Elio (AKA Henry) and I went up the hill and up the ladder. We didn’t involve any kids this time because of possible lingering Covid. The teachers had just started their holiday, so we had the place to ourselves.

The painting took a little longer than I had expected. Elio worked on the emblem, just needed me for the letters, that was all. Then he helped me with the background of geometric shapes that just take an awful long time to paint. Although the wall was brand new with a fresh coat of paint, it required no less than three layers to nicely cover up. Oh, and it was HOT! Freezing cold in the mornings, but as soon as the sun started peeking over the mountain, it was just blazingly hot with a blinding reflection on the white wall. But, a few days of hard work in and the mural was done…

Community Mural in El Hato, Antigua Guatemala

When I sent pictures of the result to the director, she said she loved the mural, but when would I finish the school’s crest? I was like: Excuse me? It’s already finished!

No, she said, it’s missing the school’s name!

Community Mural in El Hato, Antigua Guatemala

One of those facepalm moments. No one to blame but me… So soon I’ll make another trip up the hill… But, for now the work is done. I hope the kids like it too!

This mural was generously sponsored by Dutch Foundation Colour4Kids. (Thank you, Jos Ruijs!) Many thanks to Catherine for the ride and to David Dean for the contacts.

Community Mural in El Hato, Antigua Guatemala

Community Mural in El Hato, Antigua Guatemala

Community Mural in El Hato, Antigua Guatemala



Monday, December 5, 2022

A Jungle for Special Children


Community Mural San Martín Jilotepeque
Tepezcuintle (detail)

Sixty square meters, thirty children, twenty litres of paint, five long days and lots of jungle. That basically sums up the mural project in San Martín Jilotepeque.

It has been almost a year since I visited this school for children with special needs for the first time and met director Telma Calan. It’s thanks to her that children with all kinds of special needs receive education at a place where they are treated with love and respect. Not an easy feat because all her students have very different needs and range in age from four to twenty.

The school is located in the centre of the buzzling town of San Martín de Jilotepeque. It’s a bit of a concrete jungle there, with lots of traffic, stray dogs, dirt and noise. The children are from the town itself and its surrounding villages, many of them from low-income families. They’ll likely never go on a trip and are rarely surrounded by soothing nature. That’s why I decided to paint them a jungle in their schoolyard. To have a bit of green in their yard, even if it’s just paint, and of course plenty of animals.

Community Mural San Martín Jilotepeque
Of course, the children were going to be involved in the process. The problem was that I didn’t know them, so I had no idea about their abilities. With that in mind I made a design in which they could help paint the background on which we would add details later on.

The teachers had arranged for the children to come in small groups which worked out quite well. Dressed in old T-shirts we had brought for the occasion, the children happily grabbed brushes and rollers. Minutes later everything was pale blue, yellow and green, including the floor and the children’s faces. It was a lovely mess and the kids clearly had a lot of fun.
The next group of kids was a bit older and quickly finished the rest of the wall, even the highest parts. We could barely stop them from painting the rest of the wall which we need to keep blank for the children who’d come the next day.

Community Mural San Martín Jilotepeque
While the children painted their hearts out under Catherine’s supervision (some parts of the wall received no less than three generous layers of paint!), Elio (aka Henry) and I worked on plants and animals. I had planned to work from left to right, but upon arrival, the director told us they were having a graduation on Friday and planned to do it in front of the right side of the wall. So that’s where we started in order to have it ready for the grand finale.

Community Mural San Martín Jilotepeque
I made the mistake of cramming too many things in the first section of the wall which left us with barely enough time for the rest of the wall. It turned out that with this kind of design, five long days of painting were scarcely enough. To be honest, I would have liked to have painted more animals and specific plants, but alas, we could only stay so long. But since we are already making plans to paint the outside wall next year, I might be able to add a few critters then.

Community Mural San Martín Jilotepeque

The last day was a big one! It was the celebration of the end of the school year, the graduation of kindergarten and sixth grade students as well as the inauguration of the mural. The ceremony included the usual prayer, oath to the flag, national anthem and the official entrance of honour roll students. Very cute but a little bittersweet for the sixth graders who will now leave this special place in order to continue their education at a regular middle school.

I have never officially opened any of my murals in such a festive way! It was fun to cut the ribbon in front of all the students and their parents. Then it was time for a delicious lunch and afterwards a few more hours of painting for us. Night was falling when we packed up and headed back home to Antigua. Exhausted, stained, stinky and dirty, but quite happy.

Community Mural San Martín Jilotepeque

This mural is a true community project. Not just because it was designed for all the students, their parents and teachers of the school, but also because it would not have been possible without the help of a LOT of people.

In the first place, thanks to Elio Navarijo and Catherine Corry for joining me on this venture and working their butts off! Many thanks to director Telma Calan and staff of the school for receiving us so warmly and for providing labour for plastering the wall. Of course, may thanks too to all the students who helped paint. So much fun! A special thank-you to Cristy Velasco, our friend in San Martín Jilotepeque who introduced us to the school and who kept on spoiling us with delicious snacks. And many, many thanks to all the people who helped sponsoring this mural! The list is long and for privacy reasons I’ll just mention first names:
Peter, Fredy, Argi, Wendy, Katie, Pilar, Ria, Casey, Jeroen, Linda, Bonnie, Tamra, Indara, David, Cathy, Dana, Frank, Maureen, Kimberly, Ana María, Patricia, Judith, Jeff, Chris, Maite, Debra, Buddy, Christine, Shoshi, Suzanne, Rokus, Paulina, Judy, Liza and Catherine. Thank you all so much!

But it doesn’t end here!!! We have been asked to come back to paint the outside of the school… The wall already has a mural, quite cute in its own way, but my fingers are itching… I’m thinking social inclusion as a theme… Can’t wait till next year!

Community Mural San Martín Jilotepeque

Saturday, November 26, 2022

Community Mural Workshop


It’s certainly the most perfect spot for a workshop, the new Lead-up base in Finca la Azotea (Jocotenango, Guatemala). It’s an oasis of peace and soothing greens, especially after cycling through heavy traffic on the busy streets of Antigua. Fourteen adolescents got together for my workshop on how to create a community mural. Some are high-school students from Los Patojos with an interest in the arts, there were a few Lead-up champions and some who are already established artists themselves, such as Samuel, Chiripa and Denilson of Urban HeArT.

Although the workshop was on how to create a community mural, we left the artistic part aside and focused on what is maybe the hardest part: how to turn your mural project into a true collaborative work of art. We started with strategies to define the people who benefit from the project and their interests and/or issues within their community. Once the target group and their wishes are established, we can focus on the theme. A lot of the issues that will come up during this phase will be negative ones, such as violence, contamination, poverty, corruption or domestic abuse. If such an issue will be the theme of the mural, the challenge will be to turn it into a constructive and positive message, and translate that into a striking visual. Not an easy task!

Next on the agenda was to talk about how to deal with volunteer painters. As the leader of a mural project, you’re not only responsible for the creative process, but also in charge of coordinating the volunteers in a way that will make them feel involved and appreciated. We talked about what language (not) to use, how to be conscious of our body language and how to be inclusive. We specifically talked about how to work with children and how to secure their safety and wellbeing wile in our charge.

The last theme was on how to make a design that is of a high artistic quality but easy to implement with a large number of unexperienced volunteers. I shared some techniques I have used in the past that might be helpful to someone someday.

The workshop wasn’t al talk. In between each topic we did a little painting. The first assignment was to paint something beautiful (non-figuartive) on small pieces of paper. Quickly, so as not to over-think it. The next step was to repeat the same, but trying to paint something UGLY! This is much more difficult because we all have this natural tendency to create something beautiful.
Step three was to compare the “pretty” pictures with the “ugly” ones. It was quite obvious that the “pretty” pictures contained bright colours and clearly defined shapes. The “ugly” ones were much darker, no white coming through. More abstract and less figurative. There were definitely differences between the two piles of paintings, which, we might conclude, means there are some universal preferences, despite our different tastes and styles. Interestingly, the “ugly” paintings were done in a much freer style. Some were crumpled up, in some the paint was scratched with the back of a brush, others stamped, smudged or folded.
The last part was to divide the group in two and make a quick collage, using both the “pretty” and “ugly” paintings. The goal was to show how something “ugly” can be transformed into something beautiful and how to make a collective work of art making equal use of everybody’s input in a very short time with limited supplies. The final results were very different, but equally beautiful.

Next step is to do some real mural painting! In December I’ll paint no less than three murals with the youth of Urban HeArt in their neighbourhood Vista Hermosa, where we painted a mural at the entrance of the barrio, just a year ago. Looking forward for it!

A big thanks to all the participants of this workshop for their input; to Katie and Lead-up for the use of their wonderful space, to Denilson & Co of Urban HeART and of course to Dutch foundation Colour4Kids for sponsoring this workshop and the upcoming murals.

Monday, November 7, 2022

A Happy Hospital

Tessa de Goede

You don’t normally think of a hospital as a “happy place” but this one sure is. Clínica Los Tulipanes is located on the outskirts of Antigua Guatemala and caters solely to children with cleft lip or palate. Tessa de Goede, founder of the NGO Tess Unlimited that runs the clinic, made her dream come true by now having her own place where children receive the best care they can get. For years, Tessa brought in medical teams to do the surgeries on location, which was always complicated and rarely comfortable. Now the children receive surgery in a top of the bill location, as well as any other care they might need. Think a special milk program for new-borns, psychological consultations for the parents, speech therapy and dental care for the older children. Tessa managed to turn a clinical space into a warm home with lots of details that will most definitely bring a smile to anyone’s face.

I feel honoured to have been involved in the art design part of this project. The opening of the hospital was much delayed due to the pandemic, but that gave me all the time to paint cute animals (al with cleft lips!) in the recovery rooms. Earlier this year I painted some animals in the dental clinic, including an installation that hangs from the ceiling, depicting a hole in the ceiling that opens up to the sky. That and the butterflies that hang from it give the children something to look for while in the dentist chair.

Just last week I painted, on Tessa’s request and kindly sponsored by the Dutch foundation Podia4People, a large map of Guatemala. It’s actually a cork-board that will be used to pin down the hometown of each patient. Next to it a quetzal, the national bird of Guatemala. A perfect spot for selfies, of course!

It’s wonderful to have seen the clinic transform from a construction site into an buzzling beehive of activities. Dozens of children have already benefited from this happy place, and dozens more are on the waiting list.

Does that mean that my work is over? Thank goodness no! The next step is to build a temporary home for patients’ family. Tessa and team laid the first brick last week, so the work has begun. And contrary to the clinic, there are not so many healthy and safety regulations to take in account, so we can go as crazy as we want. Looking forward to it!

Many thanks to Colour4Kids and People4Podia for sponsoring!

Thursday, September 15, 2022

A Jungle in the Making


MuralArte Guate

We're half way there!!! The jungle scene for kids with special needs is in the making! But we still need to cover the cost of about 30 square meters! You can help out my sponsoring 1 square meter (approximately 10 square feet) for only /18! 
You can donate through the Go Fund Me page, or through Paypal (see the Donate button on this page). For more information, please see the previous post. Next update from Guatemala, I hope!

Or watch my sill video, with special effects and all:

Monday, August 8, 2022

Walls in Guatemala Looking for Sponsors


It's that time of the year again! 

Although it's still summer in my current part of the world and raining there where the other half of my heart belongs (Guatemala), I'm already planning for my upcoming trip to the Land of Eternal Spring. I’ll be there for a couple of months from November on and of course painting a few murals is on top of my list of things ro do. I have a few requests for community murals and while I'm willing to put in my time and expertise, I'm still looking for sponsors help cover the costs. 

One of the projects still looking for $$$ is this one…

When you think of Maya people, it is usually in the context of remote villages high in the
mountains or deep in the jungles of Guatemala. But most Maya nowadays live in cities. And not only in the capital, but in countless smaller towns, rarely visited by tourists. San Martín Jilotepeque is such a town and if you don't have a special reason to visit, you won't get easily get there. I've been there often enough because a friend of mine, Cristy Velasquez, runs a dog shelter there and I bring some donations whenever I can. (Or paint her some dogs, as you can see here…) Cristy takes care of hundreds of dogs on her own and it's a real uphill battle. As often as possible, she organizes a spay clinic to combat the overpopulation of stray dogs and cats. She runs these clinics from a nearby school building, which is how I learned about the existence of Escuelita de Educación Especial

This is a very special school. It currently has about 40 students who come here daily for their lessons, activities and therapy. All students have disabilities and require individual guidance. Ages range from 4 to 25, their disabilities from autism, ADHD, deafness to paralysis.

The school itself has a spacious courtyard. Perfect for a bit of play, but the walls are very bare. Because the students of this school rarely go out, let alone venture out in nature, the plan is to paint a jungle scene with a lot of fauna and flora on the entire wall (22 meters long and about 3 meters high). The painting will make the room appear larger and the greenery will have a calming effect on the students and will make them feel like they are no longer trapped in a concrete jungle.

Any donation towards this project goes towards:

• Materials (paint, brushes and other supplies)

• Material for plastering the wall (the plastering itself will be done by volunteers from San Martín Jilotepeque)

• Compensation for (local) assistant

• Travel costs to and from the destination, within Guatemala

• Accommodation during the painting process

This project is planned to be completed in November-December 2022.

If you are interested in contributing or have any questions, please let me know by email:

You can also donate through Go Fund me, clicking here.

Stay tuned for the next project in need of YOU, coming to you SOON!