Illustration Workshop with the Maestros


Today twenty Central American teachers are at El Cielo for the first of four design workshops. Today, we looked at several children's books (they will be making their own later in the summer), and at how the artist's had worked in different and varied styles. Like many adults some of the teachers are shy about their ability to draw --- though I think they have fewer reservations than most Norte Americanos I know!


One of the great books I shared was Faith Ringgold's Tar Beach, with illustrations similar to those that she used on her amazing and groundbreaking art quilt Tar Beach, made in 1988. The story combines autobiography and fictional narrative, and the pictures are delightful, as is the story. (Photo above from the Brooklyn Museum)

ANd here are my illustrators. Each teacher had to produce four versions of an illustration of an event from his or her childhood. THey worked in paper collage, magazine collage, ink and watercolor, crayon/oil pastel resist. We discussed their strongest style, what was most fun, most challenging. Next Friday we'll do a printmaking workshop that works with the same narrative images.



Fabulous Earth, Air and Water T-Shirts

This is an activity that's become a standard activity with the groups of Central American Youth Ambassadors who visit Alamo Colleges each year. We just wrapped up a week with 23 ambassadors from four countries, paired with 20 or so host kids from San Antonio's Legacy High School and the International School of the Americas (housed at Lee High School).

We start with some cutting and collage activities, then a little design seminar based on the Sensory Alphabet and then each participant cuts and pastes a logo design. The kids are in teams -- Earth, Air and Water -- serving as the "voices for the voiceless" for a short presentation that wraps up the activities each week. 

I wanted to share their designs and a little of the work-in-progress, because I think this design technique has some fine applications for coming up with art quilt designs, as well as screen print or stamp and stencil images.

The "warmup" design activities include learning how to cut notan designs, as you can see. But the kids often take the technique into new directions -- or use a different technique as they design their logo. After collecting each groups designs, I photographed them, ran each design through the "stamp" filter in Photoshop (that took out any variation in contrast and made each design a high contrast black-and-white image, even though my photos had shadows and backgrounds. Then I cropped and arranged the design images into an 8.5" by 11" design, printed it on the laser printer and made thermofaxes for each group to print in black on t-shirts. After printing, the kids colored their designs with fabric markers, and, later at the event, each autographed and wrote messages to each other.

Cutting designs.




Central American Youth Arrive Today

From the studio this morning, I travel to Selah, Bamberger Ranch, to help facilitate a workshop for youth ambassadors from Central America and South America. The kids, arriving here from Idaho (I think the weather will please) are participating in a three week program hosted by USAID and Georgetown University. After staying at the Ranch and participating in some media workshops, they will join Texas families for the rest of their stay. We'll be presenting work, thoughts, art and more on our themes related to leadership and entrepreneurship on Saturday at 3:00 p.m. at the Southwest School of Art.

Yesterday, I met the new group of SEED teachers -- Central American rural teachers here at Palo Alto College for a year of training. A wonderful team of spirited, strong women and men worked with me learning to lead and assist in some of the activities with the youth ambassadors. A team of ten will join us at the ranch and another team will assist in activities on the river and at the art school. If you'd like to follow along with some of the ongoing projects I do with these international programs, click over to the posterous blog at and subscribe for updates -- or just check in occasionally to see what's going on. 

Near (but not so near) Totonicapan, Guatemala

Sensory Alphabet Workshop in Juana’s School, October 7, 2010

Up the mountain looming over Totonicapán we traveled in our loaded van with Cesar, guided along the path by our CASS teacher Juana Ixcoy Leon (or as we knew her in San Antonio – Juanita). We started about 6:30 a.m. We traveled. And traveled. And traveled. First a paved two-lane highway, then a one-lane paved road, then a rock-paved road and across the river and up, finally, a dirt road to a corn-growing agricultural village bounded by strips of forest. We passed corn fields, vegetable and potato fields, small stockades of small horses and donkeys, pine forests – some with their lower branches stripped , evidence of the deforestation issues in this area. Past traditional clay-tiled and adobe walled homes and new “remesa” homes of concrete block. A patchwork of agriculture, forest, villages and people.

This is the trip Juana travels daily to and from Totonicapan where her family and she live – about an hour each way in the communal van that she and the other teachers at the school hire for the commute. (And then she returns home to work for 3 to 5 hours at an importing and exporting business as an office worker.) We laughed as she described each leg of the journey as “un otro canción, ” as roadways grew progressively rougher and switchback curves more frequent.   As we progressed up the divide and down to another set up mountain peaks we passed three  other communities and schools a bit closer to Totonicapan and a bit further down the mountain from her community of Rancho de Teja. “Just a little more,” she said each time, as if we might chicken out and demand to be taken back to the secure pleasures of the Hotel Totonicapan.

When we arrived, the school was in full celebration regalia, with parents and 200 children eagerly awaiting our arrival – all of the women and many of the girls dressed in the traditional traje and headwear of the region – a complex ikat weave of skirt and huilpil, with elaborately embroidered aprons.  All the boys and men wore “western” contemporary clothing. We talked with the school director, visited Juana’s and another teachers’ classroom (Juana’s was especially a delightfully rich environment for the primary students she teaches, with word walls and alphabets, number charts and pictures –evidence both of her training in the CASS program and of her extraordinary energy and dedication to her school and its Quiche community. She is a Quiche teacher, as were all the other staff, save the director. (A situation we found common in all the Guatemalan schools we visited.)

Juana and her fellow teachers had organized student presentations for us – folkloric dances, a poem read, the national anthems of both countries and blessings and gratitude expressed for our visit, on both sides. The children were wonderful, the dances touching, especially one that depicted the planting of the fields by the “men” and the visit by the “women” with lunch balanced on their heads – accompanied by the blessing scent of copal  carried by one of the very young and serious dancers. Another dance was the traditional dance of the elders – the viejos- with costumed children depicting old men and women in a formal procession and dance. This dance is one that our CASS teachers from Guatemala often share with students and school groups when they are in San Antonio. After the more than hour-long program we went to Juana’s room to set up our presentation – about a half hour with each grade doing a simple version of our Sensory Alphabet Workshop, starting with the youngest pre-primaria group (4-5 year olds). All of the children and parents here are Quiche speaking, and one of the schools’ primary tasks is to teach them Spanish, but since they are still learning, Juana and the country coordinator Florinda (who arrived shortly after we did) translated my Spanish into the local idiom.

The sixth grade girls (principally) were our helpers throughout the morning – and parents often stopped in to watch and enjoy when their children were working. The girl helpers kept us organized as they pinned up puppets, helped with the tile walls and helped keep materials in order.

It was a wild ride! A couple of dozen children made shape puppets with Julia and texture and color tiles with me – happily digging into a plethora of materials – a real treat for these kids. They seemed both material-starved and very careful and conserving with the tools and materials, including the markers, glue and recycled scraps of fabric, beans, colorful magazine pages, yarn and other materials we had trekked into the community. Outside on the playground, Art taught groups the Turtle game and other movement activities relating to the Sensory Alphabet, then worked with some of the older kids with magnifying “lookers” and had them draw the lines, shapes and forms they “collected”—the results were carefully rendered pictures of ordinary objects, a testimony to the children’s visual literacy.

At the end of our work session, I handed out four digital cameras (the $20 Polaroid 2 mp plastic cameras we brought to raffle later at the teacher workshop) and sent groups of kids to search for Sensory Alphabet photo images – we printed some of their images out later for Juana to return to the school. (See one of the photos below, more on the blog site).


After the workshop (ending about 2:30) we joined the teachers for a communal lunch of traditional vegetable and beef soup and banana-leaf-wrapped tamales. The meal had been prepared and was served by parents – another instance of gratitude and generosity from a community that wanted to share what it had with the visiting “teachers of their teacher.”

We then made the return trip, leaving the remaining art materials with the school, as well as a wonderful mural of texture, shape and color “tiles.” We left with much more – an immersion into this community that lives somewhere between its traditional roots and the “modern” world, a place where many of the parents (especially the men) spend several years working in the U.S. and sending money, dreams and desire for a better life back to their families at home. The traditions are honored, but the bigger and wider world is knocking on the door.

There's more about our educational conclusions and reflections on the What Can School Be? blog, link below:

For additional photos see the school blog at

Handmade Books by CASS Docentes


In case you've been wondering what all this teacher and school stuff has to do with art, here's an album of the kinds of work I do with the Central American teachers who study with the CASS scholarship program at Alamo Colleges. The teachers write stories from their personal experiences, then try out some design skills. I help them choose an illustration style to work with, and monitor the progress, provide critique and teach the simple bookbinding skills that hold the whole thing together. 

These are books from the 2008 class, and I am visiting some of these teachers on this trip.


Head over to the Escuela CASS What Can School Be? site for more pics of the teachers books, (The upload on that site is much better)