A Last Sketch from Cuernavaca

A Last Sketch in Cuernavaca

A Last Sketch in Cuernavaca

I was sketching in a cafe off of Cuernavaca’s city square while my sisters were taking a salsa lesson. When they came to get me I was not quite ready to go. Although I told myself I would finish this later, I never did. You can see some of the quick pastel marks that I made to organize the sketch as I started, most of which would probably have been painted over or erased by the time I finished the sketch.

Sketching in a cafe off of Cuernavaca's Zocolo

Sketching in a cafe off of Cuernavaca’s Zocolo

One of my sisters took a photo of me holding up the sketch and it shows the greater context of where I was working.  How great is it to be serenaded by mariachis while sketching? (There was a large graduation celebration off to my right.)

With Students at CONALEP Plantel Temixco

With Students at CONALEP Plantel Temixco

As long as I am posting photos of myself, this second photo shows me explaining my process and materials to students at the CONALEP Plantel Temixco, where following my sister’s presentation earlier in the week, I gave a short explanation of daily sketching. I loved the enthusiasm of the students and got a kick out of answering their questions, showing them my small kit for sketching, and encouraging them to find time to draw.

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Zócalo de Cuernavaca

Zócalo de Cuernavaca by Sarah Sullivan

Zócalo de Cuernavaca


Although we are no longer in Cuernavaca, I still have a few sketches I would like to post, including this one of people enjoying the central square of Cuernavaca. This is an in-the-moment sketch, that is, a sketch where I just tried to record as much as I could of a complicated and dynamic scene.

I enjoyed sketching this group. The man on the right was reading something funny to the others from his device. At times they would laugh so hard that the waiters would go over to get in on the fun. I think I caught more of the look of listening than the look of laughing but this is a good memory of the cheerful crowds at the  Zócalo de Cuernavaca.

This is a pastel and gouache sketch on black paper. 

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Cooking Together at Rocio’s

Cooking Together at Rocio's by Sarah Sullivan

Cooking Together at Rocio’s


Rocio is one of our Spanish teachers and she offers a cooking class in her home. The participants go and buy the ingredients and then, under her supervision, make a Mexican meal. It was a wonderful opportunity but I found the opportunity to sketch the others even more appealing. It was fun to try to convey the chaos as the bunch of us alternated between completing tasks and talking.

I like the feel of people bustling around in this sketch. However, this is more of an assembled sketch than an accurate portrayal of a single moment. I had to capture most of the figures separately as no one stayed in the same place for long.  It was an entertaining evening and I have another partial sketch of this same scene that I may finish in the next few days. 

This is a pastel and gouache sketch on black paper. 

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Sheila Speaks to Students at CONALEP Plantel Temixco

Sheila Speaks to Students at CONALEP Plantel Temixco by Sarah Sullivan

Sheila Speaks to Students at CONALEP Plantel Temixco

My sister Sheila Polk gave a presentation to students at CONALEP Plantel Temixco, a technical high school near Cuernavaca, and I jumped at the chance to go along. Retired or not I still love going to schools and this one was awesome. They have a strong career prep program and it was a delight to talk with students about their studies and plans as we walked through the campus.

I was able to make a very sketchy sketch which captured the basics but did not do justice to the youth and attentiveness of the students or the composure of my sister speaking in Spanish to the 150 students in the auditorium. I took quite a few photos and plan to use them as reference for a second try at this subject. I hope to better convey my sister’s animated style and the intense and respectful expressions of the students.

This is a gouache and pastel sketch on black paper.

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Back to Cuernavaca’s Borda Garden

Back to Cuernavaca's Borda Garden by Sarah Sullivan

Back to Cuernavaca’s Borda Garden


Last week I sketched one of the reflecting pools in the Borda Garden in Cuernavaca and I had to go back again today for another sketch. The garden is the kind of place that calls you; it is tranquil, harmonious and full of possibility for sketching. Today I chose a less expansive scene of a small fountain, wall and plants to sketch. I focused on the different textures in the scene and used my brush to convey these by making many kinds of individual marks.

This is a pastel and gouache sketch on black paper. 

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Poolside Chat

Poolside Chat by Sarah Sullivan

Poolside Chat

My sisters are so much fun to sketch as they chat around the pool. I think I have now drawn my sisters and this small pool where we are staying in Cuernavaca from all four sides and am getting the hang of showing reflections in water in the process. 

Taking a photo of my sketches works best in natural daylight. However, this photo, like most of my other recent photos, was taken at night. The lighting is uneven in this house and it distorts some of the colors. For instance, the paper in the lower right hand corner should be black, not brown. I placed my sketchbook on top of a chair when I took the picture tonight and liked the way the edge of the chair made an irregular dark frame for the picture.

This is a pastel and gouache sketch on black paper. 

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At the Xochicalco Pyramids

At the Xochicalco Pyramids by Sarah Sullivan

At the Xochicalco Pyramids

We went to the Archaeological Monument of Xochicalco, which features the ruins of a huge commercial and religious center of the Olmeca-Xicallanca people. There is a museum and extensive excavated ruins of what once was a very large town constructed mostly of stone. Portions of the ruins are reconstructed and visitors are allowed to climb on these parts. The monument was filled with families and tour groups. My goal with this sketch was to communicate what an amazing place this is and the appreciation people seemed to feel for it.

This was a challenging composition and I drew it several times before I was somewhat satisfied. There were many people visiting the monument and at first I put in so many of them that the pyramid was overshadowed. Additionally, the now faded relief carvings on the side of the pyramids are important in signifying the importance of the site but when I painted them as they seemed, the pyramids were understated. Eventually I reduced the number of people and then both abstracted and emphasized the carvings and stones, and that seemed to communicate my feelings about Xochicalco better.

This is a pastel and gouache sketch on black paper. 

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Climbing up to Tepoztlan Pyramid

Climbing up to Tepoztlan Pyramid

Climbing up to Tepoztlan Pyramid

Tepoztlan is a small town near Cuernavaca with many attractions, including a gorgeous path up its rocky mountainside to the remains of an old Toltec pyramid. Today it was filled with families enjoying their Saturday by climbing up the mountain together. This sketch is from about half way up the mountain as I looked down at the steady stream of people scrambling up a particularly rocky section. I felt a sense of effort, peace, and pleasure from the climbers and wanted to capture that in this sketch.

This is a gouache and pastel sketch on black paper.

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In the Pool

In the Pool

In the Pool

I drew this the other day and then painted it tonight from a photo. I liked the reflections on the water and the way the rectangles of the pool, windows and building framed the figure. I wanted to capture the serenity of the moment. 

This is a gouache and pastel sketch on both sides of an 8 X 5 inch Moleskine sketch book with black pages.

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Cuernavaca Cathedral and the Guide

Cuernavaca Cathedral and the Guide by Sarah Sullivan

Cuernavaca Cathedral and the Guide

Another impressive sight in Cuernavaca is the cathedral, part of which was first built in the early 16th century. It has been added to and remodeled many times over in the five centuries since it then. We went by it one day and quickly realized that we wanted to know more about it than what we could read on our phones. We arranged for a tour guide and returned the following day. Our guide loved his subject and I was torn between listening to him and and sketching the scene. 
I turned my small sketch book and sketched from the guide at the bottom to the arch at the top, wanting to get at least a slice of the scene. 

This is a pastel and gouache sketch on both sides of an 8 X 5 Moleskine notebook with black pages.

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