Sunday, April 24, 2016

What is Watercolor Journaling?

"Watercolor Journaling" is using watercolor sketches to tell a story either by themselves or in addition to written text.  It is my favorite way to capture my travel memories on the spot as they happen.  I have been doing this all over the world for 16 years.

Sitting in a shady spot sketching in my journal I notice the details; the thickness of the stone walls around a doorway, the small statue of the Virgin Mary carved into a tiny alcove on the side of a wall, and the worn surface of the cobblestones in the street.  

I hear conversations in a foreign tongue I do not understand but the tone of the voices sound happy and the people smile as they walk by me.  Sometimes they stop and look at my sketch and we communicate in a mashed up version of their language and mine with gestures and smiles thrown in.  In some countries, like Portugal, the locals speak English better than I do!

I even notice the odors; the scent of lavender blooming in the field behind me, the scent of garlic as someone prepares lunch, and the salty smell of the sea on the breeze.

I feel sorry for the packs of tourists that rush by snapping photos and selfies with no idea what they are really seeing.  Artists like me experience our surroundings and soak it all in.  We are not tourists.  We are participants.

Watercolor Journaling on the beach at Alvor, Portugal.
And here is my little watercolor sketch of that beach.

My Watercolor Journals are created with a watercolor field kit and permanent ink pens in a bound watercolor journal.   I create pages as I go.  Here are some examples of pages from my travel journals.  I hope they will inspire you to try this on your next trip.

Some pages are done on the fly,

Paris June 17, 2015 an afternoon hanging in the Marais neighborhood.

Some pages are finished paintings,

"Colorful Collioure"  France

Some pages have a story and a painting,

The window above where Van Gogh stood to paint "Cafe Terrace at Night"
on Place du Forum, Arles France

Some pages are carefully designed,

Lagos, Portugal the home town of Henry the Navigator  2016

Some pages are created as a "montage" of several images

"Gaudi Shapes" Barcelona, Spain, 2011

and sometimes I play with style to make a point.

Havana is falling down!  Cuba, 2014

OK, I hope you are inspired to try Watercolor Journaling on your next trip.  Or, join me on a Watercolor Journaling Workshop where I will teach my tricks and my tour guides will spoil you with a fabulous trip.

In a couple of weeks I am off to France to teach a workshop in Watercolor Journaling for French Escapade a small group tour company.  This workshop is full, but you can join me for a workshop I will be teaching October 6 - 12, 2016 in Italy on the shores of Lake Como for Tuscana Americana small group tour company.  For details about the Lake Como workshop check out  To learn about French Escapade's trips the website is

More images of my Travel Sketches and paintings are on my website

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

"I can't believe this is happening and I am here" Cuba, December 17, 2014

I returned to Cuba in December 2014 on a Photography Workshop led by Photographer Lorne ResnickWhat follows is quoted from my journal written exactly as I wrote it on December 17.

in a small village near Trinadad, Cuba

We are on the bus leaving the festival to have lunch:  Lorne looks at his Cuban cell phone, stares at it, and then screams "Holy Shit!"

Magdalia's iPhone rings, she answers, then with a look of disbelief she says to Lorne "Allan Gross is free!  The Cuban 3 are free!", then speaks rapid Spanish into her phone.  Lorne shouts to all of us "Sven just texted me, Allan Gross and the Cuban 3 are free!  Obama and Fidel have agreed!"  He shouts "Holy Shit!" again as he stares at the text messages coming in, "We have diplomatic relations, Obama is speaking at noon".  A cheer goes up in the bus, we cannot believe it.

5 minutes later we pull up to the restaurant, we race inside, and spot a small TV over the bar.  The owner is greeting us, the musicians are playing but we all rush to the TV screen which has Obama's face on it but a translator is speaking Spanish.  We motion to the musicians, "stop playing, its OK, come see the TV"!

A lady runs up and hugs me and says something in Spanish, the look on her face is pure joy and I start to cry.  We hug and watch the TV together and she keeps saying the same thing over and over, I keep saying "I can't believe this is happening and I am here!"  The bartender tells me she is saying "I can't believe it, I can't believe it!" 

The speech goes on and everyone, Cubans and Americans, all listen intently.  Magdalia and the bartender translate quietly for those of us standing closest to them, a cheer goes up as Obama announces the resumption of diplomatic relations.

I remember my camera an try taking photos but I can't get the picture of Obama in the tiny TV and all of us in the photo at the same time.  I shoot for the face of Obama on the TV and hope the Spanish subtitles will be readable in my picture.
We are hungry so when the speech ends we move to the buffet table and the Cubans go about their jobs of serving our lunch.  Seeing them working when they probably want to be celebrating bothers me.  After coffee is served Tamara suggests that we take up a collection and buy all the Cubans a bottle of the really good rum.  It is done.

CJ goes to the bar and gets a tray with empty glasses, Tamara speaks Spanish and asks them to all stop working, come out of the kitchen, the gift shop and the bar.  CJ makes his rounds with the tray of glasses and Tamara follows with a large bottle of the very good 25 year old rum.  The Cuban's faces glow, some look astonished.
The bartender speaks in English and thanks us for the rum and celebration and says what we are all thinking, "We can't believe that we Cubans are standing here with you Americans at such an important moment in the history of our two countries." 

Monday, March 10, 2014

CUBA continued…art


IMG_8588 Jan 13 me at Fuster's


I sit on a “dog” and my friend snaps a photo.   I am at the home and studio of Cuban artist Jose Fuster.   This prolific artist takes a little from Gaudi a little from Picasso, mixes it with Cuban color and the result is a home, studio and half the neighborhood covered in mosaic tiled sculptures. 


IMG_8580 Jan 13 Jose Fuster's home and studio


Jose Fuster’s pool in front of his home.   His assistant who is busy selling tiles and paintings to members of our group proudly states that Jose does not work for the government. 


IMG_8589 Jan 13 view from the top


I climb to the top of the studio to get a photo of the entire complex and the art that spills out into the neighborhood.   Some of his neighbors like his work and have invited him to create his whimsical sculptures in their yards too.  I think I would like to have this guy as my neighbor.


Jose Fuster art cropped


I spend time after dinner trying to capture the whimsy of this artist’s work in my sketch book.


art museum

The Museo Nacional de Bellas Artes (National Museum of Fine Arts) has a comprehensive Coleccion de Arte Cubano on three floors.    The lobby shows off this mural, installations and sculpture by contemporary Cuban artists which I photograph and explore while we wait for our Museum guide to find us.   I know I will not be able to photograph the exhibits inside the museum.


IMG_9084 Fine Arts Museum coffee pot installation


This is my favorite of all the art in the lobby.  Look closely, this is a little “fort” built of coffee pots.  The Cubans love their coffee and it is really good!


IMG_9085 Fine Arts Museum coffe pots up close


Coffee pot close up.


IMG_9091 Fine Arts Museum bug sculpture in lobby


A big bug sculpture climbs the lobby wall.


I am sad that we have only a short amount of time here and hope that our guide will concentrate our time in the 20th century art.   He does.  And he really knows his stuff!  Very funny and flamboyant he brings the art to life and tells the stories of the artists that created it.   Most of the art that I love was created pre-revolution, in the 1910 – 1950 era.  I am happy to see women artists well represented.


IMG_8186 copy


Love this very contemporary bronze sculpture in Old Havana central square.


IMG_8162 Jan 12 ministry building Che


Then of course there is this portrait of Che on the side of a government building.  It lights up at night.


IMG_8238 Cuba is tradition


Tradition has it that if you rub the finger of this bronze statue you will have good luck, see how shiny it is.


IMG_8232 Jan 12 art deco glass


Walking done the street we hear beautiful music coming from the doorway of an old hotel, we peak in and spy this fabulous example of art deco over the reception desk.


IMG_8214 art


This painting was in a hotel lobby, no idea who the artist was.


IMG_8219 art


Cuba has been a communist country for so long that you just do not see commercial art anywhere.  This poster was on the wall in the historic bar where Benny More and the Buena Vista Social Club performed.  Probably due to its historical value it survives today.


IMG_8211 art


This sculpture hangs on the wall of the same bar it is very similar to the huge one of Che on the multi-story government building mentioned earlier.


IMG_8781 art and JOLYNN


Jolynn and the wonderful example of street mural art we found.


IMG_8686 art


This wonderful bronze sculpture of a naked lady riding a rooster and carrying a large fork must have a fun story behind it…but I have no idea what the story is.  If you know, please add a comment to this post and let us all in on the secret.


IMG_9448 art


A Cuban Artist at his studio in Trinadad.  Love his choice of colors for the building, I bet his paintings are colorful too.


IMG_9191 art


This show of wonderful photography was hung in a very creative way.  I assume there was no money for framing so the photos were simply printed on paper that is 3” wider on all sides making it appear as if they were matted and then hung with clothes pins on clothes lines that were strong across the large room in the Cienfuegos Museum. 


IMG_9483 art


Bronze sculpture seem to be very popular in Cuba, I wonder if the artists work directly for the state as employees or if these works are commissioned by the state and the artists work on their own in between commissions. 


IMG_9491 art


This lovely piece was on the corner of a nicely restored building in the center of the pretty little town of Sancti Spiritus where we stayed in a lovely small hotel called “Hotel Plaza”.


I plan to return to Cuba in December on a photography workshop led by well known travel photographer Lorne Resnick.  I hope to have more time to seek out Cuban art on that trip.

CUBA continued…Santeria



IMG_8565 Santeria neighborhood


We turn onto a street and I see this extremely colorful mural on the top floor of a 4 story building.

This must be the Santeria neighborhood.


IMG_8430 Jan 13 Santeria neighborhood


We visit a Santeria house.  The Santeria religion is a system of beliefs that merges the Yoruba religion (which was brought to the New World by enslaved West Africans sent to the Caribbean to work on sugar plantations) with Roman Catholic and Native American traditions.  These Africans carried with them various religious customs, including a trance for communicating with their ancestors and deities, animal sacrifice and sacred drumming and dance.


The drumming starts and the first dancer leaps onto the floor


IMG_8497 Jan 13 trickster jumps


The jester-like figure moves at a frantic pace, leaping, whirling, stamping all to the pace of the drums.  She jokes with her audience, grabs hats, pulls people into dance and seems to love every minute of it.   Watching her bare feet pound the stones makes my feet hurt!


IMG_8538 Jan 13 male rhumba dancer


The trickster takes his turn to dance.


IMG_8547 Jan 13 Joan dancing rhumba


He grabs Joan and she gives it her all!


IMG_8502 Santeria girl 72


This stunning young girl swirls her skirts like the ocean…I hope my camera catches an image of her that I can paint this evening. 


Santeria Dancer


Suffering from “Watercolor Withdrawal” I decide to paint from the photos I took today instead of going out to a night club with my friends to hear a great Cuban band.

Thursday, February 13, 2014

CUBA continues…the legendary Hotel Nacional


Our home in Havana is the legendary the Hotel Nacional. 

I love 1930’s architecture and I read that this building has elements of art deco and Hispanic-Moorish in the interior.  It was built designed and built in only 14 months by the American firms McKim, Mead @ White and Purdy and Henderson Co.   From the outside it reminds me of The Breakers in Florida, which was built in the same era.  I can’t wait to explore…

IMG_8601 Jan 13 hotel Nacional plaque


It is cocktail hour and my friends are over their in those wicker chairs.  They tell me the Cuban beer is good, I hope so because there seems to be only two brands to choose from. 


The lobby shows the influence of the 1930’s…love the design’s on the ceiling beams. 

The hotel like everything else is owned by the Cuban government, but it was designed and built by Americans so it still stands strong.   The Cubans have worked hard to restore and maintain this building, and they consider it a 5 star hotel.  Since I don’t stay in 5 star hotels, I would not know. 

I just love that they respect the history of the place and have not ruined its look and feel in the process of making it modern. 

I see people sitting on the floor in the hall using their laptops under a router with an HP logo on it.  They say that is the only way they could get the signal and it is dial up speed.  I’m skipping it, I am on vacation and I prefer to live like its 1930 here! 

IMG_9098 who slept in what room

The “Who Slept Here” or the “Who Slept Where” sign that sits on the front desk of Hotel National shows a mix of celebrities dating back to the 1930’s.   Here are just a few of my faves on the list…Frank Sinatra, Ava Gardner, Mickey Mantle, Buster Keaton, Tyrone Power, Errol Flynn, John Wayne, Marlene Dietrich, Gary cooper, Marlon Brando, and Earnest Hemingway.  In 1946 Winston Churchill stayed in the Republica Suite.  And of course most famously, in December 1946 the Hotel Nacional hosted an infamous mob summit run by Lucky Luciano and Meyer Lansky and attend by Santo Trafficante, Jr., Frank Costello, Albert Anastasia, Vito Genovese and others.  Francis Ford Coppola memorably dramatized the conference in his file The Godfather Part Two.   I don’t see my room number on this sign.  Maybe it is just as well as there might be ghosts…

IMG_8953 view from my room city and sea

View from my room on the 7th floor of the Hotel Nacional.  Note the traffic…


Walking out into the garden I turn to take this photo, and then walk on toward the sea.  That is when I discover this…



Well this is different!  Not every hotel has this in the garden!