Mission Statement

This blog journals my quest of art, whether it is a piece of work that is inherent in nature or one created by artists known or unknown or that I created myself. During this search, I have come to appreciate the magnificence and generosity of God who in his infinite wisdom surrounded us with exquisiteness everyday...everywhere and inspired our human spirit to create beauty that feeds our bodies and souls. Come join me on my journey to find art through my travels and my own creative endeavors. Maraming salamat.

All rights to all posts and contents on this blog, including photos and artwork are reserved by jojo sabalvaro tan.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Late Circa 1960s Archive

Go-go girl by jojo sabalvaro Circa late 1960s
Watercolor and ink on paper

I was digging through old albums and came across a couple of paintings I did in the late 1960s. I was surprised to find my paintings in relatively good condition, the colors still as vibrant as the day I painted them. I recall using the Rotring Rapidograph Technical pen for the drawing (the black parts) and colored with either Prang or Sakura brand watercolors which were what was available at the time for art students. Nowadays, I choose artists grade watercolors for their colorfast and lightfast characteristics. But it goes to prove that inexpensive materials that we used as students in the 60s were of excellent quality. Was it the care and pride that was put into items manufactured then as opposed to now or was it that there were less synthetic additives to the paints then that gave them their staying power?

1960s girl by jojo sabalvaro circa late 1960s
Watercolor and ink on paper

These paintings featured the typical fashions of the time, the hipster mini skirt (that rose 3 inches above the knee) accessorized with a wide belt. The blouse snapped at the crotch to avoid riding up and exposing your tummy or backside. In the painting, I also showed fish net stockings, another accessory I often wore to minimize exposure of other body parts when I wore mini skirts. These days, the more exposure the better, almost nothing is left to the imagination.

I wore a similar dress and earrings as what Twiggy is modeling here
The paintings also feature the fashionable hairstyle of the day, long hair usually worn with bangs. Even the boys started wearing their hair long. I kept my hair short in a cut that was called the London Look, emulating the famous model of the time, Twiggy. My dresses were A- line or sleeveless shifts and if I wore pants, they were bell-bottomed or palazzos. We poured through Vogue and teen magazines to have the dresses featured custom made for us by our dressmakers. For make up, it would be the doe-eyed look where we utilized an eye pencil to deepen or add a crease to our eyelids and a pale lip color, another Twiggy signature look. I also wore huge sunglasses, one of the fashion statements of the day. And then, there was the white go-go boots. As you can tell, fashion in the 60s was pretty much influenced by the so-called British Invasion brought about by the popularity of the Beatles and other British bands and singers.

Hope this brings you back to the 1960s, one of the best decades in my life, if not the best. It was a time when everything was possible - a very happy and carefree time for me. How was the 1960s for you?

This post is dedicated to my far-out and groovy friend Daddie, who the Go-go girl the painting immortalizes. Happy Birthday, girl!!! Who loves ya!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Tagine Cooking

Every time I open a food magazine, it seems that there is always a feature on Moroccan cuisine and tagine cooking. The same is true, when you go to stores for the gourmet such as William Sonoma and Sur La Table. I've resisted the lure since I am not sure if I even like Moroccan cooking. I've only tasted Moroccan dishes a few times, the first time being on a trip to Tangiers many years ago. There, our fellow travelers and I shared chicken and couscous served in a humongous serving dish. We all ate from this dish in the typical Moroccan way, with our hands.

Mint tea maker among colorful Moroccan ceramic tile

We also partook of their very sweet mint tea. The room where we dined was beautifully decorated with colorful Moroccan tiles. Actually, I was excited to be dining in this particular restaurant since I had wanted to see and dine in it in person ever since I saw it featured in a travel poster when I was a young girl in the Philippines.

Colorful Spices

All colors and varieties of olives
On this particular trip, where I also first experienced riding a camel, we visited the Casbah and everyone in our group could not resist exchanging shouts of "Meet me at the Casbah", harking at the famous movie Casablanca. At the Casbah, we were met with a riot of color between the fabrics, costumes, spices, fresh vegetables, cookware and almost anything you can think of.

On a recent trip to St. Louis, Missouri, we had gone into a Williams Sonoma store and a hand-painted blue and white tagine cooking vessel made in Tunisia caught my eyes and I fell in love. I really wanted to buy it, more so for its intrinsic beauty than for practical purposes, like cooking. I held off, telling myself that I should do a little more research on tagines.
Tagine made in Tunisia from Williams-Sonoma
I found out that the word tagine refers to both the cooking vessel and the dish, a Moroccan stew, that is typically cooked in it. The vessel is normally made of heavy clay that may be glazed, painted or left as natural clay, but some are made of cast iron. These are utilitarian works of art, an example of form follows function. It is said that experts can tell exactly where a tagine came from and who made it just by the finishing on it. A tagine pot has two parts, a base unit, which is flat and circular with low sides, and a large conical and dome-shaped cover that rests inside the base ring during cooking. The cover is so designed to promote the return of all condensation to the bottom,

Tagines in Moroccan cuisine are slow-cooked dishes braised at low temperatures, resulting in tender meat with aromatic vegetables and sauce. Moroccan tagines often combine lamb or chicken with a medley of ingredients and seasonings.

Tagine spices and preserve lemons
Well, as if you could not predict the outcome, I went to a William-Sonoma store near my home and eventually purchased the Tunisian tagine that I fell in love with. I also purchased preserved lemons in a jar as well as tagine spices including the famous specialty spice blend mix, ras el hanout. After some lengthy curing of the vessel, which involved soaking in water for a few hours, coating in olive oil and heating (tempering) in the oven, the tagine was ready for its debut. I decided to make one of the most popular and typical Moroccan dishes, Chicken Tagine with Olives and Lemons. The resulting dish got rave reviews from the family (my willing guinea pigs and critics). I've since made several dishes in my tagine and now not only am I in love with my tagine cooking vessel. I am also in love with the Moroccan tagine cuisine. 

Here's the recipe that I used for my first tagine dish. You can really make this in any heavy pot such as the Le Creuset cast iron Dutch oven but, of course, you lose some of the drama and exotic flair you get and feel when cooking in an authentic tagine.

Williams-Sonoma Chicken Tagine with Olives and Lemons

1 chicken, about 3 lb.
2 Tbs. tagine spices (I used ras-el-hanout)
2 bay leavesl
4 garlic cloves, sliced
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste
2 small yellow onions, thinly sliced
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley,
 plus more for garnish
1⁄2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1⁄4 cup fresh lemon juice
4 Tbs extra virgin oil
6 preserved lemon wedges, rinsed and
 pulp removed, or peel of 1 lemon, cut into
1 cup green or black olives
Cooked couscous or basmati rice for serving
Cut the chicken into serving pieces: 2 legs, 2 thighs and 2 wings; cut each half-breast in half. Set aside.

In a small sauté pan over medium heat, toast the spices, stirring frequently, until fragrant, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a large bowl. Add the bay leaves, 2 Tbs. of the olive oil, the garlic, salt and pepper and whisk to combine. Add the chicken and stir to coat. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 3 hours.

Remove the chicken from the marinade and reserve the marinade.

In a tagine or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, warm the remaining 2 Tbs. oil until almost smoking. Working in batches, brown the chicken on all sides, 5 to 7 minutes total. Transfer to a plate.

Add the onions to the tagine and cook, stirring, until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and add the chicken, reserved marinade, the 1/2 cup parsley, cilantro, lemon juice, preserved lemon and olives.

Cover the tagine and cook until the chicken is tender and falling off the bone, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Discard the bay leaves. Garnish with parsley and serve the chicken directly from the tagine. Accompany with couscous. Serves 6

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Dr. Shari's Mission (Meme na, Anak) painting

Meme Na Anak, 2011
8"x10" watercolor on paper
Watercolor by jojo sabalvaro tan
Commissioned by Dr. Shari L. Sabalvaro

My cousin, a doctor in the Philippines made it her mission and advocacy to promote breastfeeding in the Philippines. she traveled North and South, East and West to every region in the Philippines to train mothers about the benefits and techniques of breastfeeding. She requested that I paint a mother breastfeeding to display in her office. This is the painting I created for her.

Many have asked me how long it takes me to paint a piece. This particular piece took me two days, from the time I laid pencil to paper and signed the work. It was done on Strathmore 140# weight watercolor paper using my medium of choice nowadays, watercolor. What took long, is the preparation prior to when I make a mark on the paper for the painting. I puzzled at whether the painting should be in the renaissance or medieval themes I am normally drawn to or try something different. In the end, I decided on a Filipino ethnic theme, an Ifugao mother breastfeeding her child. I looked through numerous breastfeeding photos on the Internet for inspiration.

On a side note, during my research I found out that many photos and artwork of women breastfeeding have been banned as obscene from some sites on the Internet, including Facebook, Just to avoid all the rigamarole and hoopla, I will not be sharing this particular blogpost on Facebook or any other social networking sites. I will share it with my friends via email. You are welcome to share this post with others, but please consult 'Prudence' first (trying to be funny here...ha..ha) so as not to offend some folks' sensibilities.

Finally, after several weeks of mulling, I was ready to sketch. I would have several ideas for paintings percolating in my brain for weeks or even years. I made several small sketches until I had one that I liked enough to use. On these sketches, I play with values and sometimes test out colors. I prepare a cartoon of my final drawing either on drawing paper, tracing paper or vellum. This cartoon will be the actual size of the painting. I tried painting this on Yupo, a synthetic paper made of 100% polypropylene, but was unsuccessful as I was unaccustomed to using this type of surface. So I restarted using watercolor paper.

I try to size my paintings to fit ready-made mats and frames, if possible. This saves money eventually, as you do not need to have custom mats and frames which tend to be costly.

From Wikipedea:
A cartoon (from the Italian "cartone" and Dutch word "karton", meaning strong, heavy paper or pasteboard) is a full-size drawing made on sturdy paper as a study or modello for a painting, stained glass or tapestry. Cartoons were typically used in the production of frescoes, to accurately link the component parts of the composition when painted on damp plaster over a series of days (giornate).Such cartoons often have pinpricks along the outlines of the design; a bag of soot was then patted or "pounced" over the cartoon, held against the wall to leave black dots on the plaster ("pouncing").

I remember employing this early method of transfer during my childhood in order to transfer embroidery designs unto cloth. Back then, instead of soot, we used starch tinted with a bluing agent. The blue pin pricks disappear in the first wash. These days, I transfer my drawing from the cartoon to the watercolor paper using Saran transfer paper and when done lightly it also disappears almost completely as you paint. I then make appropriate adjustments to the drawing itself prior to applying any paint.

I finished the baby on the first day and the mother, the next. When I first started painting, the first application of paint is the hardest as to me it foretells if a painting will be successful or not. But with time and practice, I came to realize that many mistakes turn into happy opportunities and sometimes is the one thing that makes the painting more interesting. For example, on my original sketch, the mother's left arm was exposed but as I was painting the mother's skin, I was unhappy with how it was turning out, so to avoid painting more skin, I decided to cover up the arm with a depiction of an Ifugao woven cloth. I think it made for a better composition and painting.

Hope you like it, Shari. Now, how do I get this to the Philippines?

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