Do You Know Eugenia Louis?

On Friday, I hung a Mexican folk art painting in my kitchen. As usual when I see that particular painting - not the one below, by the way -, I admired all the tiny symbolic details of that village scene. Suddenly, the name of a Mexican painter, Eugenia Louis, popped into my mind, and I decided to google her.


After much patience, I located a poor photo of a painting of hers that has been sold.

A further search unearthed this other painting:

Click to enlarge.
It was a listing on Etsy, described as a print from 1984. The style was undeniable, and the location unmistakable:  San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, where I lived from 1987 to 2003.

That's where I met Eugenia Louis.

She was already a fixture there, a very popular painter. Her paintings, prints and postcards sold like hotcakes. 

We got along really well and became quite good friends. 

At one point she opened her own gallery, and after she had seen a student exhibition at Instituto Allende, where I was showing some of my ceramics, she invited me to display my pieces in it. She put quite a high price on them, which flattered me a lot.

Here we are, a group of her friends, in her gallery. I don't remember what the occasion was: the opening of the gallery perhaps? She's the tiny lady with the big smile on the right. I am the woman in the pink smock in the centre. The lantern on the table was one of my ceramics pieces. 

You can see how elegant she was, always dressed to the nines, in beautiful garments. If I remember correctly, she used to sew them herself.

The photo is dated 1994. Shortly after that, she moved to Patzcuaro, Michoacan. Very far from San Miguel. I visited her there in December 1995, and that was the last time I saw her.

But I'm getting ahead of myself.

After locating the Etsy listing, I wrote the seller and asked him if he was interested in some information about his painting. I thought it might help flesh out his description.

He wrote back quickly and positively, so I sent him this description:
The painting represents the town of San Miguel de Allende, in central Mexico. I lived there from 1987 to 2003; I met Eugenia Louis very early on and she was already a fixture there. We became friends, sharing many a cappuccino in a local café.  
Eugenia was proud of being a self-taught artist; in spite of being a prolific painter, her work was so popular that she had to make prints of everything.  
For anyone who has lived there, it's very easy to recognize San Miguel in the painting because all the symbols are there: a painter working on her canvas, a rooster on a rooftop, the donkeys loaded with leaf mold (a compost used for growing plants), the popsicle cart, and especially the many domes, including the pink stone cathedral (upper right).  
Eugenia moved to Patzcuaro (in the state of Michoacan) around 1994; I visited her there in December 1995 and that was the last time I saw her. I do not know whether she is still alive - she was older than I and I'm 76 so it wouldn't be surprising if she had passed away. 
San Miguel is a very popular tourist destination (as well as a retirement haven for foreigners) so there is a lot of information about it on the web.
We exchanged a few more emails, and then I received this message from the seller:
Now, since I know the story, and actually I’m about to retire, and was thinking and researching St Miguel area, I don’t think I want to sell it
Greetings from Seattle  
I suddenly remembered that I probably had a photo of her, and found the above one -- the only one in fact, which is very surprising since I used to take tons of photos back then. So I sent it to him, and that prompted the following from him:
Thank you very much Gina 
I’m pulling her picture from the website now 
Stay in touch
His last sentence refers to the fact that I am making some enquiries among the few friends I have left in San Miguel, to try and find out if she is still alive, and if so, where is she?

But there's one thing that no one will be able to explain to me: Why is she so totally absent from the Web?

I will continue looking for her...

* * * * * * * *

P.S. My next post will be about the painting I mentioned at the beginning.


Christmas Cards 2017 - Part 2

The finished cards. Top ones are double, bottom ones single.

Yes, my lettering is amateurish, I'm just not good at that but I'm brave and I do it anyway. At least, give me credit for matching the message to the colours of the illustrations...  Some day I will take a calligraphy class, I promise!

I like how the envelopes turned out.

I save nice boxes for reusing. This box was particularly pretty with its pink/magenta bottom. I covered the top with the same wrapping paper from the dollar store. The paper matches the bottom perfectly.

I make cookies every year, to give away as presents. The box will be perfect for that.


Christmas Cards 2017, Part 1

I've been wondering if I should talk about my new creative passion, bookbinding, here.

I probably will, because one of my main projects is a sort of portfolio of my favourite watercolours, or parts thereof, in the form of a handmade book.

For years I've been collecting every piece I've painted, even though sometimes only a small section of it is satisfactory. Well, I don't know where I got the idea, but why not just cut those sections away and dispose of the rest?

I decided to test this idea this year in the making of my holiday greeting cards.

Here's how I proceeded.

First, I created a viewfinder of the size that I needed.

I then cut out the chosen sections.

Separately, I had used a watercolour sketchpad to make some cards, and some wrapping paper from the dollar store to create some custom envelopes.

For the envelopes, I used the design I learned at a conference I attended this summer, which took place at Au Papier Japonais, in Montreal. I found a video on YouTube too:

After adjusting the measurements to the size of my cards, I made a template on card stock and just traced it on the back of the wrapping paper.


Goodbye Sketchwalk

This summer I joined the Fredericton (NB) Urban Sketchers. I could only attend the summer meets because I live an hour away and can't drive after dark, which excludes all the months with short days.

Yesterday was my last visit of the year, and perhaps of all time, because I'm in the process of moving to Montreal. I will miss them, they're nice people.

While the other members settled on a building to sketch, I went looking for something more to my taste. After having a go at some very complicated sculptural details inside the cathedral, I decided to do some blind contour drawings*. I was inspired by the old Mexican sketchbook I was using, where I found some life models I had done in it about 20 years ago. Then I remembered a video I saw a few days ago of the famous Lapin of Barcelona, who said his warming up exercises included doing some blind contours of peoples' faces.

Looks like a van, doesn't it?

Cathedral side entrance

Giant maple tree

No comment necessary, I think!

I realize I was not following the rules of "real" urban sketching, but my idea was to have fun, and I did.


* Wikipedia entry for blind contour drawing:


The Christmas Card Project, Part 2

This is the finished card. (See Part I here.)

New Directions

I've had a lot of fun on classes these last few months.

These days I'm doing a six-week creativity class called "Creative Bootcamp", taught by Lisa Congdon, one of my favourite artists and instructors.

This week - the 2nd in the series - the assignment consisted of making our own coloured paper, then using it in a collage.

Painting the paper took a whole day! I used some full-size sheets of multimedia paper cut into four. That inexpensive paper took the washes really well -- I must replenish my supply.

And instead of being boring, covering sheets and sheets with those pretty watercolours was strangely satisfying. I loved the resulting textures. (If you click on the pictures you can see what I mean.)

After making the set, I had to choose only six colours for my project.

This is the "paper rainbow" that I produced:

These are the paints that I used (clockwise beginning with the violet):

  • Amethyst Genuine (Daniel Smith)
  • Prussian Blue (Holbein)
  • Cobalt Teal Blue (Daniel Smith)*
  • Cobalt Teal Blue - more dilute (Daniel Smith)*
  • Prussian Blue with various additions to make dark green (Holbein etc.)*
  • Viridian (Winsor & Newton)
  • Sap Green (M. Graham) plus Aureolin (Winsor & Newton)*
  • Aureolin (Winsor & Newton)
  • Cadmium Yellow Deep  (Da Vinci)*
  • Cadmium Yellow Deep - less dilute (Da Vinci)*
  • Brown Madder (Winsor & Newton)
  • Cadmium Scarlet - one thin coat and one thick coat (Winsor & Newton)*
  • Rose Madder (Holbein)*
  • Rose Madder Genuine (Winsor & Newton)
  • Off to the side: Payne's Grey (Maimeri)

Colours with an asterisk are the ones I used for the assignment. 

Using only those papers, I made this collage:

As I wrote in my description in the course Gallery, next time I will spend more time planning the different layers, but for a first real collage painting, I am rather satisfied about how it came out. I believe I achieved a good composition and colour balance, which were the main items to look out for.

Now I look forward to the next lesson!


The Christmas Card Project, Part I

It's been at least three years since I gave up my subscription to Jackie Lawson's elegant Ecards. At $14 (Canadian) per year, the three or four cards I was sending had become kind of expensive.

Nowadays, most of my personal contacts are content to send and receive holiday greetings by email, and the only paper cards I get are from places I buy stuff from.

It was the fact that my cousin Nicole still bothers not only to send cards, but to make them herself that made me realize it was time to revive my mother's legacy. Every year she would buy plain cards and envelopes, and paint Christmas cards with red and green ink. The ink bottles had a glass stick which served as a pen, and she would draw green holly leaves with red berries, christmas trees with red balls and other simple Holiday themes.

I admired the swift confidence with which she would create the holly leaves. Up to the left, down to the right, and up the centre for a vein. Three leaves, of different sizes. Three red berries. It was quite magical to me! Then she would write "Joyeux Noël et Bonne Année". Sometimes she would put some glue on parts of the drawing and sprinkle glitter on it. I never tired of watching her.

As is my nature, my own Christmas card project was far more complicated than that. First, I searched Creativebug for a class on card making and wouldn't you know it, they had one. Of course, they also had a class on making envelopes.

I watched both (I have a monthly membership), and took something from each one.

1. My first consideration was the envelopes. No card envelopes around here - the nearest city is an hour away -, and my vast supply of materials had no paper large enough to make my own. That left only letter-size envelopes from the dollar store, of which I had an ample supply.

Luckily, I had learned from Courtney Cerruti's class that you can make a lining for your envelopes.

2. The cards were going to be flat, of a size that fit inside those envelopes. I had just the perfect paper: some bargain 300-lb watercolour paper I purchased years ago. It's so bad for painting that Curry's don't carry it any more. (300 lbs is the thickest watercolour paper made. It's very stiff. And when I say "bargain", I'm not kidding. The good stuff costs over $20 per sheet; this was around $5.)

3. I decided to use a vintage photo or image from the internet. I downloaded a dozen images that I liked, and finally settled on this one:

I wanted to follow Courtney's suggestion of glueing it to coloured paper to create a frame, and settled on the blue of the harlequin doll. In fact, blue was going to be my theme for the whole project.

I turned the studio inside out, but no, I did not have any paper of that colour, so I had to make my own. (Didn't I tell you that I like to make things complicated?)

I happened to have exactly the right kind of paper for the job: some Strathmore Aquarius paper. It's thin, yet it doesn't buckle if you wet it. Pretty neat! I just covered a couple of sheets with Prussian blue, using the largest brush I own. The result was a somewhat irregular coverage, which gave it just the right look.

4. After counting the number of people I wanted to send it to -- 25 or so -- I realized I needed a tutorial on how to create a repeat pattern with Photoshop, and I found the perfect one:

Short, and to the point. I created this letter-size sheet, and printed it three times:

5. Finding a font that I liked and could reproduce by hand was another matter. I searched and searched and finally decided on a variation of the same old one. I have no idea what it is or where I got it, but it's the kind of font that makes me smile.

I fiddled around a bit and came up with the layout on the left.

6. Another consideration was the kind of pen I would use to write on that weird textured paper. Not all pens can take the roughness, and not all inks are waterproof. This test was pretty conclusive: even though the writing looks a bit wobbly due to the texture, and the paper's high absorbency, the Sharpie was the best fit for the job.(It does bleed right after you use it, but becomes waterproof with time.)

7. It took far more time and experimenting to find the right brush for painting the single snowflake on each card. I tried about a dozen, and the only one that would hold enough paint for a whole snowflake, and had a point fine enough for the lines, was my No. 8 Escoda Perla Joseph Zbukvic that I bought in Barcelona, where they are manufactured, in 2012. According to this review, I couldn't have made a better choice.

8. The next step was to produce a sheet of snowflakes to print out for making the envelope linings. A small detail which I hoped the card recipients would appreciate, though if they did notice it they would probably think the envelopes came like that instead of being painstakinly hand-lined one by one.

I painted an 11 x 14" page of different snowflakes, dots and so on, then I scanned a section of it for the linings, and printed 12 copies -- I needed half a page per envelope.

At this point, I was ready to mass-produce my very own Christmas cards.