Viernes Workshop 5

JJ: This was a momentous day. Jason and I had been sharing thoughts on how we would conduct the last workshop we would have together as a full group. There was the list of formalities for the day (lessons, project completion, and collective curation of work for the end-of-workshop exhibition), but paralleling these events was an undercurrent of complicated feelings coming on. At this point, every single artist in this group proved how much they deserved to continue on to the Canadian portion of the journey, but we knew we would only see three familiar faces in a few months time- it was an upsetting thought.

We wanted our last workshop to offer lots of things. We wanted to debrief, we wanted to give praise, we wanted to hear the honest truth about how we did as foreign educators, we wanted to know so many things that would probably never fit into the space of the day. I felt a looming sense of uneasiness but didn’t know how it would manifest itself. So I braced myself that morning and concentrated on acting normal.


Busy hands.


Semi-pro bookbinders.

Artists were introduced to a simple bookbinding project. We had an assortment of newspapers, magazines, brown paper, letter paper, photocopies, and old drawings to pull from in order to create the pages for these books. Not too many guidelines were in place. Embroidery thread and needles were provided, a demonstration was given, along with pictorial instructions. Suggestions and examples were shown, but at this point we knew everyone would be capable of creating an intriguing compilation reflective of the week’s work and thoughts.


Alejandra’s spiky book.


Muchos libros.


Muchos, muchos libros…

After a relaxed morning of assembling these books, everyone collected their works and were informed that we would be preparing the school exhibition space after lunch for a class art show. The artists were informed of this earlier on in the week, as not to surprise anyone. The exhibition would be installed, ready for a private view the following week with family and friends.


Groups organizing the artwork as it should be displayed on the wall.

When we met in the space, everyone was asked to select two works each to exhibit. This work was laid out all over the floor for everyone to review. Artists were quickly split into groups, designated a wall (mobile wall) to curate, and given the task of deciding what works they would like to hang together on their wall. This part was slow-going and made me and Jason nervous. Meanwhile, some people were designated the task of washing the walls because they were a little scuffed in spots. The afternoon seemed to be seeping away between our sweaty fingers. I was feeling confused as to why our group seemed to have lost the amazing momentum from our previous days. Did we work them too hard? Is it the end of the week fatigue? Was this uninteresting? Are they sick of my yammering in English or my bad angry sounding Spanish?- Vamos! Was this the unforeseen dilemma that my gut was forecasting earlier on? On top of the inconsistent pacing of the afternoon, many faced the challenge of hanging work with tape on walls that were still slick with soap residue! When we eventually ran out of tape, we had to call it a day- but not without a final debrief.


Nicholas with the last bit of precious tape.


To the left, to the left…


Laura Camila relieved to find the artwork is staying up!

Everyone placed chairs in a big circle in the exhibition room. We sat there with tired looks on our faces, eyes cast down, or looking around apprehensively. A table was set in the centre of the circle  piled with Canadian souvenirs from Jason. I had a bag full of Japanese envelopes, each containing knick-knacks and tiny paintings. Caro, Mara, Juli, Sebastian, and Ondrej joined us. We were all together for a final reflection. Everyone was posed with the question: What have you learned from this week that you think you will carry with you?


Beware: The circle of feelings


Sniff, sniffles…

I listened to each response carefully and with an open heart, as I’m sure Jason did also. It was an unimaginable joy to hear each individual’s perspective on the positive connections that they have made throughout our week together. This was a rare opportunity for me to hear and sense the profound transformative nature of art. This is not some ephemeral moment of simply tying aesthetics and emotiveness together into a messy, passionate lump. To paraphrase our session: Young voices were making deeply meaningful connections with the various opportunities that art can provide- time to reflect, to make mistakes, to not be punished or judged for said mistakes, to problem solve, to make decisions, take risks, to question convention, to not be apologetic for perspectives and expressions, to make connections, to communicate. A few tears were shed. We jumped around to shake off the tears. We were all going to miss one another.

After each artist shared their words, they were invited to take a gift from me and Jason- it would only be a tiny representation of our gratitude for everyone. The debrief went well-overtime due to translations being made for everyone in the room. People were texting parents to let them know we were running late. Then, a few students stood up and announced that they had something to share with us (J+J+O) in the artroom downstairs. We all made our way down and found the room decorated with streamers and balloons! Party!!! A cake, queso y arequipe, and empanadas awaited us on the paint splattered tables. Fizzy drinks were passed around and gifts were presented. Spanish language pop tunes blasted and everyone was dancing. Too awesome!!! That explained the weird disappearance of people during installation!


La fiesta!


Carolina and Jason cut a rug

The party eventually simmered down after learning some new dance moves: salsa, merengue, reggaeton, and cumbia. I now have Mayonesa and songs with Bailando! in the chorus perma-engrained into my brain. Nothing like capping off a pretty emo day with a sweet dance party. Hugs were plentiful, cheeks were kissed, warmth was all around and I continue to carry this warm ember with me as I write this.


Bailaaaaando! Jajaja!


Jueves Workshop 4



JJ: By now me, Jason, the Culturart team, and artists were becoming really well acquainted with one another and the morning routine. Jason and I felt trust growing stronger each day between all participants and a truly dynamic energy toward the process of art-making. We agreed before leaving Vancouver that there would likely be unknown factors in this unique cross-cultural circumstance, so we approached our lesson planning with a fundamental intent and an inclination towards working organically. When everyone was keenly focused on a particular activity, more time was given towards that and some other things were put on hold or thrown out the window. The self-directed work ethic and genuine interest shown by the artists allowed us all to really enjoy these moments of process-based flexibility.

We spent the first part of the morning further investigating the portrait collages from the previous day. Artists pushed themselves to use whatever drawing materials that were available to elaborate on the faces, personalities, and backgrounds featured in their works.



The next activity was based on observation and painting. Artists were asked to bring a stone to the art room after their 30 minute break. Upon returning they were asked to take a minute to become acquainted with their stone- getting to know every angle, the surface, the texture, the colour. I collected all the stones and shook them up in a box and rolled them out onto a table. Artists were asked to find their stone. Everyone did this with ease. This was an introduction to the concept of visual investigation of an object and how a lot of information can be harnessed from any subject matter.


A demo for basic colour theory and colour blending with paint was presented. Artists were asked to now merge the material application with the concept of observation and attention to detail. While creating a painting of the stone, artists were instructed to render the stone from at least six different angles and to be conscious of how the image would be composed- will stones be clustered, spread out, will scale be negotiated? Colours did not have to be realistic, but honesty to the form of the stone was important to convey. Our first official foray into wet media kept everyone busy.




Miércoles Workshop 3

JJ: Oh the face. How some people dread confronting the thing they see everyday and how others simply love it! From Canada to Colombia, no matter where I find myself in the world I can safely find a handful of teens who love nothing more than to draw big ol’ eyes. They just love emphasizing those eyelash-lined windows into the soul! Tiny pupils and bushy lashes? Starry doe eyes with a dew drop tear? You want them, they’ve got them (in graphite and ball point pen). I’ve been guilty of this too back in the day.

Contour drawing.

I love drawing faces and teaching portraiture. There are so many ways to create the proportions for the human face, but I always go to the fail-safe method of bisecting an oval vertically and dividing it into thirds horizontally. I know it’s elementary, but kids from 6-18 get it and do wonders with that formula, so I don’t mess with it.


When we introduced the theme of Wednesday’s workshop, we were met with predictable nervousness, so we quickly sliced through the tension by demonstrating contour drawing. Jason and I sat face to face using graphite and paper to  create continuous line contour drawing. We pushed tables together and evened out the stools on either sides of the tables to ensure everyone would have someone directly seated in front of them to draw. We timed the drawings from two minutes to one minute to 30 seconds. Artists were asked to raise their hands as soon as time was up.


Hands up, pencils down!



Nicole automatically raises her hands when Jessica looms around.

The challenge that followed, was to draw a blind contour drawing of the person in front of them. Artists were asked to swap stools after each drawing to ensure we all had a variety of faces to work with. This activity was met with much humour and success.

Next we used these skills of observation and looseness to apply to a larger charcoal and chalk portrait. Artists were grouped together at tables of 4-8 (space was limited). Everyone starts off drawing the face of the person in front of them, being attentive to as much detail as possible within 3 minutes. Once the time is up, one side of the table trades places, so that each person now has a new face in front of them. They begin to draw this new face on top of their existing portrait. The concept is to layer these new features over and over, so that by the end of the exercise the artist then must pull out a new face from the culmination of the features provided.


20150311_111153 Remember to look up!



Creating art can be such a personal experience, this sort of exercise demonstrates a rare opportunity for dialogue to occur between artists. Ephemerality and non-preciousness also ties into the theme of working together by being generous with sharing ideas and being receptive to one another’s creative nature. These were very much the core intentions within the creation of our series of workshops.

We were very conscious and sensitive about the difficult task the artists would face at the end of their time together- the process of choosing 3 out of the 27 to represent their group in Canada. By designing workshops that would privilege collaborative efforts, we hoped to eliminate feelings of competition or hierarchy. We wanted to help facilitate bonding and trust amongst the group, so when the time came to nominate the representatives, everyone could collectively celebrate the choices made without feeling sadness nor regret.




Jason introduced one last activity in our portraiture workshop- using collage to create a face. We encouraged students to reuse their contour drawings by cutting and pasting facial features and linework. We gathered unused drawings and photocopied them, blowing up some of the drawings to 300%, so artists could play with scale and repetition.



When noon rolled around, we had to stop and clean up and take a well-deserved lunch break in the school cafeteria. This was always an exciting time for me and Jason to see what sort of Colombian specialty would be served by the hardworking kitchen crew! Papas? Frijoles y arroz? Plantanos? Ensalada con aguacate for sure. I was happy to have my vegetarian meals while everyone else enjoyed their carne. I always looked forward to loading up my lunch tray and heading to a shared table to rest in the large bright cafeteria. I knew we would have to fuel up before heading out to Tuna Alta for the afternoon.


The view from Tuna Alta.


In the Tuna Alta barrio.

Today, Ondrej (mi amigo) served as an additional helping hand in the community space. He arrived the day before from Vancouver and was eager to get to work! He helped Carolina set up scaffolding in the courtyard while Jason and I were teaching in the morning. Today we would fill the plastic bottle planters and begin hanging them up with zap-straps to the fence. We were excited to see “Viviendo un sueño” light up the fence with it’s leafy, colourful presence.


Carolina and the artists. Elliot, a teacher at Liceo Boston, also came to volunteer today.


Of course things are more easily said than done. Artists were split into teams to either put holes into bottle caps (to be beaded into a pictorial design for the fence), creating the planters, watering plants, punching holes and threading straps into the bottles, or strapping the bottles to the fence. The installation process proved the trickiest. Space between bottles needed to be negotiated as well as the size and format of the bottle. We weren’t able to finish the installation process, but a lot of headway was made in the tedious task of making holes in caps and bottles and creating the planters. Artists continue to practice their english asking me as many things as possible such as, “How elastic are you?” Another productive day!


Jason figuring out the placement of the letters.


Leaving the space after a long day. Hasta luego!


Lunes Workshop 1

Jessica: This will be another text heavy post, as I was too excited and busy during our first workshop to take any photos.

Monday, May 9th at 8am, Jason and I found ourselves standing in an art room in Bogotá surrounded by 27 young artists- the first day embarking on a series of workshops that have been in the works for a long time. Accompanying us was Maria Gabriela who serves as the Culturart Exchange project coordinator, our translator, and Colombian fruit aficionado! We spent some time with introductions. In the past, I have found it helpful to learn names by hearing the story behind the naming. Turns out, we had lots of repeated names, many hyphenated names, and second names that were used to prevent confusion between any first names that were shared- remembering names soon became my personal goal during this trip!

The theme of workshop 1 was mapping. We wanted to establish the value of process, observation, investigation of surrounding environs, material consciousness, and how these contexts inform the act of drawing. We began by asking the artists to explore the property of the Liceo Boston School, home to the Culturart Exchange program. The space is vast- it includes sections for primary, intermediate, and secondary classrooms, regular school facilities (eg. gym and cafeteria), many open green spaces, and it also an equestrian facilities for quite a number of horses. The task was to map the property of the school, interpreting the spatial relationship between major structures and pathways throughout the grounds. The challenge was to record as much information as possible within 25 minutes.

Initially the activity was met with uncertainty by some. It was a daunting task and it took time for artists to warm up to performing quick gestural sketches and fast-paced exploration of the grounds. I had to scare people off from sitting on the steps in front of the art room, waving off soft slow, unobservant line work. Little did the artists know we were running an art bootcamp!

When we reconvened, everyone was asked to direct Jason in creating a single map that all artists could all agree on. There was minor contention about location and scale of buildings and paths but it got done!


Next, artists were introduced to key elements of art and design that would be used not only for the following activity, but would also serve as the foundation for other workshops to come. We went over image development strategies and application of mark-making techniques that participants would have to apply in the next stage of the lesson.


The map was divided into 6 sections. Groups were formed and assigned a section. Each group was responsible for investigating the space thoroughly, being sensitive to such things as the textures, patterns, and shadows of their environment. They (group A) would have to create 10 prompts based on their location and exchange this list with another group (group B). Group B would have to visit and explore group A’s location to answer and record group A’s list of requests. Prompts might include: Find a geometrical shadow and render it with charcoal, Above your head there is a rough wooden surface- create a rubbing of this texture. This was an art-based scavenger hunt of sorts.


Groups returned with their findings at half past 12. We collected the work, congratulated everyone on their hard work and their receptive attitudes, and sent them off to a well-deserved lunch. Based on the time constraints and demanding activities we knew this group of artists were going to be a formidable crew determined to put their minds, hearts, and hands to work! Vamos!


Martes Workshop 2

Woo hoo! Photos!

We started the second workshop day sharing images gathered from Monday’s visual scavenger hunt. Groups read their prompts and presented their findings.


Artists then timidly entered the art room to find all the tables and chairs moved to the perimeter of the space, revealing a paper covered floor. Everyone tried to tip-toe along the edges careful not to step on the paper. This was predictable. No matter where the studio is or how old the artists are, everyone is intimidated by big empty expanses of paper.


Artists were invited to take their shoes and socks off, but if they must, must, must hide the ungodly sight of their toes (!) they could keep their shoes on. Jason and I were barefoot of course. We began a series of exercises that required we “take a line for a walk.” We did this by drawing with pastels taped to the end of paintbrushes, created patterns with our feet, brought awareness to our gestures and speed, and made marks with string dipped in ink. I think we got everyone to convert to barefooting it at least halfway through.



After a break, we returned to cut up areas of the paper with interesting marks. Each artist had to respond to the existing quality of line and marks on their paper by pulling out the imagery within. Some found figures, others carried on with lines and accentuated abstract forms.





Jason introduced a further extension to the marked paper by including collage. Artists explored layering, use of rough versus straight edges of paper, and incorporated a variety of media.


Again, lots was accomplished by the end of the lesson. I had never encountered a group that was so fully engrossed in their work, absolutely immersing themselves in the act of making- with or without shoes on.


Tuna Alta Visit

Jason:  Saturday, May 7th, the first full, non sleepy day in Bogota.  Jessica and I met for breakfast in the main house and had our first introduction to the foodstuff that would forever change our lives.  The glorious, wonderful arepa!! Everyday we inhaled these wonderful ground maize treats.  I genuinely think I could eat them every day and live a happy, full life.

Today Jessica and I were invited to go to the Tuna Alta site where the students had begun an ‘intervention’; a reclamation of an underused or under-utilized public space.  In this case, the space is a community centre with a large outdoor space that has been used mainly for storage, and much of it had been grown over or mis-used.

We all met outside the house.  It was a bit awkward, I felt.  I had seen photos and videos of these students.  I had heard stories about them ( all good!).  In a sense Jessica and I knew them.  Now we just had to get to know them in person!  We walked the 10 minute route to the site, past the myriad of wandering dogs and an amazing view of the city below.  When we got inside the community centre, we got to work right away.


Andres Felipe Perez getting ready to work


On the way to the site…


…almost there

We spent the next couple of hours helping the students create objects that would later become a larger art project for the site ( stay tuned!).  We melted holes into bottle caps and moved bricks.  (The activity I was most effective at was having my skin burnt.  It was an overcast day but the 7 minutes of direct sunlight was enough to scald my poor doughy , unprepared skin. Live and learn.)   We bonded through physical labour, through our sweat and hard work.  The language barrier was apparent, yes, but we could sense an ease with each other as the day progressed.


Preparing the work to come..

I’m glad we had this day together.  It really helped us bond and get a feel for each other outside the classroom.  Having a common goal is helpful in developing a sense of community spirit. By the time we walked together back to the school, we had a foundation on which to build the trust needed to establish a constructive and creative class.  And trust was definitely needed for the projects we had lined up for them!…


Jessica: Jason and I left Vancouver, Canada to Bogotá, Colombia on March 5th, 2015. We endured complicated flights that involved one too many countries and resulted in the disappearance of luggage. Despite the lack of sleep we wanted to jump right into the Culturart Exchange Program. We waited months for this moment, no reason to hold back now. Saturday morning, I stumbled down a stone path to greet the participants and realized weeks of Spanish lessons had leaked out my brain upon landing in Colombia. It was a subdued introduction, but I was optimistic that I’d get to know all 27 young artists soon enough.


Carolina, the project’s artistic advisor, directed us to carry bags of pop bottles, tools, and food up the hill to Tuna Alta. We made our way down streets that were riddled with pot holes and dogs until we got to the community space that the team has been reclaiming. The space includes a large communal room, a back room with a sink, and two washrooms. The back door leads to a large concrete courtyard where participants have been trying to make sense of all the leftover bricks, rocks, sand, scrap metal, and wood. These items were in organized piles, in hopes of being sold off to neighbours who might need the materials for personal use. The goal is to use imagination and art to revive this space for community use.

This Saturday, the task was to prepare the pop bottles for use as planters. The planters would then be installed onto the wire fence in the courtyard following a design that everyone could agree on. The artists provided plans that included the text, “Viviendo un sueño,”- which too would be written with the pop bottle planters. The voting process was quick and we set off to work from the morning until the late afternoon, cutting, puncturing, cleaning, and painting bottles and lids. Throughout the day, I was bombarded with curiosity and learned a lot about regional music and dance. We finished the day off by moving many bricks. There is no better way to get to know people than to do some good, old manual labour. We could tell the young team would be solid and formidable for our first class on Monday.

We were a bit foggy and were not prepared to take photos on our first day which is why this post is text heavy. Expect more images to come!

Jason: I’m actually going to step back a day, Jessica.  After the difficult flight(s) into Bogota, we had a had nice mid-day nap to regain our composure and sanity.  Both Jessica and I stayed on the grounds of the Liceo Boston school itself, and after milling about attempting to gain our bearings, we were invited to a dinner in the main kitchen of the hacienda. The cooks were making Lomo al trapo, and it looked like an interesting cooking technique so I asked to help. The long and short of the recipe is this: marinate beef tenderloin in wine and beer,soak a towel or cloth in beer, lay a quarter inch of salt on the entire surface of the cloth, place tenderloin in the centre, wrap it in twine, and then PUT IT IN A FIRE IN A FIREPLACE. You then pull it out and crack open the charred mess in 24 minutes to lovely meat. Fire is exciting. And making dinner in a fireplace is a good time.

Helping prepare the Lomo al trapo

Helping prepare the Lomo al trapo

Into the fire!

Into the fire!

Carving through the charred husk

Carving through the charred husk

People came by the house,and soon there was a dozen people in the living room,all eating and being merry. The room was friendly and warm and inviting, just what we needed. We felt at home and at peace.  But further plans were in store for us.

We went for a walk up the hill into Tuna Alta, near the space Jessica described above.  We were soon in a room where they play tejo, a traditional game where you throw heavy metal stones (tejos) at a a clay pitch.  And if you hit it just so, THINGS EXPLODE.  That’s right, explode.  The game is kind of like curling, in that you lob heavy things at other heavy things and drink beer, but in this case the stone literally makes an explosion. There are small targets (mechas) imbedded in the clay filled with gunpowder. This is a real game, and the world is better for it.  We picked teams.  Jessica was picked second to last.  I was picked last. Dead last. The boy inside me cried a little.

But I did fairly well, in that everyone was telling me I was doing well. Maybe they were just being nice.  Jessica took a big chunk out of a wall. That was pretty sweet. The place was loud and boisterous and full of life.  With the dinner and the tejo, we had a wonderful first day.  The memories of our flight fiascos were fading fast….