How a holiday in Oaxaca turned into an art studio in a suitcase and the birth of an art experience
By Corrie McCluskey
When I took that first trip to Oaxaca thirteen years ago, I was seeking a transformative experience. I wanted to immerse myself in the culture, practice my Spanish, and investigate the artisan studios and galleries that Oaxaca is known for. After 20 years of doing medium format b&w photography, I was learning to do sketch journaling, and wanted meet and make connections with other like-minded creatives. Actually, it was more of a pilgrimage than a holiday.
I met Pedro Pacheco in a coffeeshop across from Labastida Plaza where he was selling his paintings. I was drawn to his naïve yet richly nuanced artworks, his use of symbols and talismans and the colorful indigenous stories he expressed. In Pedro I found a kindred wild, creative spirit.
I started coming regularly to Oaxaca to hang out with Pedro and make art, bringing just a handmade sketch journal, a portable watercolor painting kit and a fountain pen. But as my journey into mixed media and mark making progressed, I wanted to share the new materials and techniques with my art buddy. There isn’t the same variety and availability of art supplies and how-to workshops in Mexico, and it’s so important for artists to try new media, get outside their comfort zone, and grow. Pedro was more than willing.
So, I filled an extra suitcase for each Oaxaca trip with graphite, charcoal, pastels, India ink and natural pigments, encaustic materials, oil sticks, cold wax medium, Japanese papers, handmade brushes, and other mark making tools. So much for traveling light…I even dragged a hot box (for making encaustic monotypes) and a mat cutter through two airports!
I would set up a mini studio at my apartment so we could play with materials, try out new processes, swap ideas and just have fun. I was (and still am) blown away by Pedro’s creative freedom and fearlessness – he isn’t afraid of trying something totally new, making mistakes or a blank canvas, and he has developed a daily art practice that he’s fought long and hard for.
The idea evolved and we began a tradition of art adventures, traveling together to a new city, armed with the portable studio in a suitcase. We would use the art materials we brought with us: a basic painting & collage tool kit, a box of magazine clippings & pages from old books, scraps of fabric & paper, and torn fragments of painting experiments.
Now, on our adventures, we spend a few days holed up in a self-made pop-up studio in the corner of a hotel room, making mixed media pieces with collage, incorporating ephemera gathered on scavenger hunts from local flea markets and junktique stores. And when we need a break, we visit galleries, art museums and artist studios, and we visit every beautiful church in the vicinity.
On our most recent art adventure at New Years, we realized how cool it would be to share the mixed media art experience with other people. To show how you can take a studio in a suitcase to anywhere and make art. To share the adventure of experiencing the raw and real Mexico and make art in response to it. To go beyond a traditional art workshop and create a space for camaraderie, exploration, and expression. And to share the culture of a place that we both love dearly.
Thoroughly Oaxaca Art Experience 2: Mixed Media was born in that moment. And now you can come on an art adventure with us in 2023. Be warned though. This isn’t a spa holiday with an art class. It’s that same transformative, immersive, cultural art experience that I set out to find on my first trip to Oaxaca. Raw, real, expressive fun!
Corrie McCluskey (the workshop coordinator) is a visual artist from Northern California who was a b&w photographer for two decades. She transitioned into visual journaling, mail art, collage, bookbinding and making artist books. She now focuses on mixed media on paper: encaustic monotypes, painting with natural pigments & India ink, graphite, cold wax with oil pigment sticks. Creative journaling is a part of her art expression: it’s all about process and discovery – a container for ideas and working through life experiences. She is a “Guidess”-in-training for people who feel unqualified or too intimidated to express their creativity because they think they can’t “do art”. For 20 years, she was a workshop and event coordinator, and she loves to bring small groups of people together and facilitate an amazing workshop experience.