Two things happened this summer that expanded my experience as an artist. The first is that I discovered an artist named James Gurney. He does amazing plen air sketches in gouache paint that just blow my mind.

The second thing that happened is I had the opportunity to spend ten days in Guatemala.

Aha! This would be a wonderful opportunity to experiment with Gurney’s approach to plen air. He uses gouache because it is an opaque watercolor. It is the best of both worlds. You can use it thin and transparent, like watercolor, AND you can lay it on thick and opaque, like acrylic and oil. It dries fast and cleans up with soap and water, with no odor. Perfect.

I showed Gurney’s videos to my Dad and asked if he could create the sketch easel that he invented. My Dad is so amazing, the next day he showed up at my house with it completed.

Below are the four plen air sketches I got to do in Guatemala. Each painting is only 5″ x 8″ and painted inside a sketchbook. Enjoy.

The Lutheran Center, Guatemala City

This is the roof of the main building at the Lutheran Center of the ILAG (Iglesia Luterana Augustana de Guatemala). Our St. Paul Area Synod partners with ILAG in the work they are doing with the indigenous people of Guatemala.

This sketch took about 1 hour.

Mario’s House, Maya Itza

I traveled 300 miles north to a small village called Maya Itza. It took us two days, 17 hours in a bus, traveling over dirt roads to get there. This is the house in which our team slept for two nights.

We took a siesta in the heat of the day, so I stole away across the street, under a shade shelter to paint this. It was 105 degrees with 90% humidity that day.

You can see that a little audience of fellow siesta-takers joined me by the end.

This sketch took about 1.5 hour.

The Main Street, Antigua

We spent our last two nights as tourists in Antigua. I got to slip away and get one sketch done each day we were there. This sketch is looking down the street, across from Central Park. They had the street blocked to auto traffic so the crowds could watch a street performer.

This sketch took about 1.5 hours.

We had a photographer on our team. He captured these two images. Check out the little girl in front. She thought he was looking at her. Priceless.

Cathedral Ruins, Antigua

Antigua was the first capital established by the Conquering Spanish Empire in the 1500s. The city was destroyed by an earthquake in 1773 and the capital was moved to Guatemala City in 1776. This pillar has been laying here for over 200 years.

This sketch took about 2 hours. Notice how far the shadow moved to the right while I was painting. That is the challenge of plen air.

The Arch and Volcano, Antigua

The Arch of St. Katerina was the place where young girls were cloistered and never seen again. The arch was built so they could cross the street without being seen. I love the contrast between the human construction in the foreground and the massive volcano engulfing it in the back.

This sketch took about 2 hours.

Another member of our team walked by while I was painting and snapped these shots.

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