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.

Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Paper Mosaic - If I forget you, O Jerusalem

If I Forget You, O Jerusalem
Paper Mosaic
by jojo sabalvaro-tan 2014

After our Holy Land pilgrimage, I wanted to create an artwork commemorating both Israel and Jordan. Inspired by the many mosaics found in Jordan and Israel, most of them from the Byzantine period, I came up with the idea of making a piece depicting the old city of Jerusalem and utilizing the art of mosaic. In this post, I wanted to share my daily progress on this project and some of my processes.

Day 1 - Preliminary Sketch

This is the preliminary drawing on my sketch pad which I originally titled 'Jerusalem on My Mind.'. It depicts a woman who could not get Jerusalem out of her head . I added the word 'Peace" or Shalom in Hebrew on her forehead as a prayer for The Old City of Jerusalem which has been the source of conflict between nations for hundreds of years now and where peace is always tenuous. The drawing sat for a few days while I pondered on how to execute the project.

Day 2 - The Cartoon

After deciding that the project is a go, the image was re-sketched  on tracing paper. This is referred to as a cartoon. I made sure that the finished project will fit into a standard mat board opening.

Day 3 - Transferring the Cartoon unto the Mat Board

For transferring,  wax-free transfer paper was used. It comes in several colors and I used the color that will show up on the mat board.   The tracing lines were gone over with  a pen, details  tweaked and more adjustments made to the sketch on the board.

Day 4 - Starting the Mosaic

On the fourth day,the eye section, the lips, cheeks and some of the nose were completed. The paper tesserae used for the mosaic were individually cut out of glossy magazine pages.

Day 5 - Mosaic work on the Jerusalem Scene

I completed the walls and started on some of the buildings in Jerusalem. The picture also shows some of my basic supplies, magazine pages cut into tiny paper tesserae (in the dish) used for the mosaic, the brush used to apply the paste as well as the awl used to precisely place each mosaic piece. It took an average of 10-12 seconds to apply each tesserae. 

Day 6 -  More Jerusalem Scene

I have pretty much completed the buildings and started working on the hills surrounding Jerusalem.This was the most time consuming part of the project since I was working with really tiny paper tesserae and had to look for particular colors in the magazine to use for each building.

Day 7 - Still More Jerusalem Scene

Today, the mosaic work on the Jerusalem scene is done. I am particularly happy with the way the sky turned out.

Day 8 -  Hair and Face

I can see the light at the end of the tunnel, I am now on the face. I tore out a number of pages with faces from magazines to determine what flesh color to use. The first one I applied was too pasty, so each tesserae piece previously applied had to be plucked out from the board. Then I started over with a combination of a number mosaic pieces of different skin colors employing them randomly; it worked out better. For a more realistic depiction of the hair, a solid color was not used in lieu of a color that contained highlights and shading.

Day 9 - The Face 

The face is finally completed.  While developing and working on this project, I decided to changed the title to 'If I Forget You, O Jerusalem', a passage from Psalm 137:5, which I felt was more fitting. 


Day 10 - The Background

 It took me a long time to decide on a background color. I was originally set on a metallic gold which is what is often used in Byzantium mosaics that are not applied on a floor. Gray, blue and red were also prime candidates. I settled on white which for me represents the predominant color of the stone work in the Holy Land.


Day 11 - The Completed Mosaic

I still have to seal the mosaic with Mod Podge to secure all the tiny paper pieces.  Almost 3600  pieces of paper mosaic tesserae were used.  The piece measures 10.5" x 13.5".

If I Forget You, O Jerusalem
Paper Mosaic
by jojo sabalvaro-tan 2014

 Psalm 137:5

New International Version (NIV)

5 If I forget you, Jerusalem,
    may my right hand forget its skill

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Watercolor Travel Journal -Sketches from Jordan

On a recent trip to the Holy Land, we added Jordan to our itinerary. Jordan is a beautiful country bordered by Israel, Syria, the Palestine Territories, Iraq and Saudi Arabia. It's terrain is very similar to Israel and Palestine with which it shares the River Jordan and the Dead Sea. The history is also quite similar.

As has been my habit of late, I keep a watercolor journal of our trips as a remembrance.  I find that doing so keeps the memories fresh and more vivid.

I also posted three blogs about our experiences in Jordan:

(Click on link to visit)
A Journey to Jordan Part 1 - Jerash and Amman
A Journey to Jordan Part 2 - Petra
A Journey to Jordan Part 3 - Madaba and Mount Nebo

I start by sketching in pencil. I normally like to do this while I am at a site but this time our travel and sightseeing is so fast paced, so I just took pictures of what I might want to include in my journal and sketched from the reference photos. After I was satisfied with the pencil sketch, I went over it with a waterproof, fade proof fine point pen. My favorite is the Micron .05 but I also like to use the Pitt XS. I then erased all the pencil sketch with a kneaded eraser. For this sketchbook, I used a 7" x 10" spiral bound Strathmore watercolor field book. It had a sheet of paper in between which I also used for sketching. I like the spiral bound because it lies flat. I normally use the Arches Carnet de Voyage spiral bound watercolor journal but I could not find it anymore. I think I may make my own journals so I can use my favorite watercolor paper. After the pen sketch, I was ready to apply my watercolors. This time I used Schimenke  and Daniel Smith watercolors. I found it a little bit daunting  to paint my Jordan subjects because most of the subject is stone work and desert, so with some of the paintings I took some artistic license with the colors.

Here are some sketches inspired by the places we visited:


Sketches of Jerash Archaeological Site

Pen sketch

One of the structures at the crossroads of the Cardo where travelers would place images of gods to pray for thanksgiving and protection

The Temple of Zeus

A Bedouin taking a cigarette break  at one of the niches at the Amphitheater

One of the backdrop niches at the Amphitheater

The completed journal page for Jerash

Sketch of Amman

A view of the Amman from Citadel Hill



Sketches of Petra

First View of the Treasury from the Siq
El Khazneh or The Treasury, one of the most beautiful structures in Petra. For more details on this structure please click on The Treasury  link
Pen sketch of camel riders with the Royal Tombs in the background

The completed sketch. These are camels for hire that takes you around the site. In the background, carved on the mountain side is the Urn tomb.

Pen sketch of view of Royal Tombs from Colonnaded Street
Completed sketch. From left to right is the Urn Tomb, Corinthian Tomb and the Palace Tomb.



Sketches of Madaba

St. George Greek Orthodox Church where the Madaba Map is located. The Madaba Map is a fascinating mosaic made in the 6th century that represents the bibilical land from Egypt to Lebanon. It decorated the pavement of a Byzantine Church  in Madaba.

Madaba Mosaic Artist  at work. I really enjoyed all the mosaics we saw, particularly the ones from the Byzantine period,; so much so that I will try to find a class where I can learn more about Byzantine mosaics and maybe how it is done.


Sketches of  Mount Nebo

The Brazen Serpent Sculpture representing the cross, Moses' staff and the bronze serpent found on top of Mount Nebo.
"And The Lord said to Moses, "Make a fiery serpent, and set it on a pole; and every one who is bitten, when he sees it, shall live." So Moses made a bronze serpent, and set it on a pole; and if a serpent bit any man, he would look at the bronze serpent and live." (Numbers 21:4-9 RSV)

Bedouin shepherd with his flock
The above picture brings to mind this Psalm

~Psalms 23:1-6~
The LORD is my Shepherd, I shall not  want. He makes me lie down in green pastures, He leads me beside quiet waters, He restores my soul. He guides me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life, And I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever. Amen.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

A Journey through Jordan Part 3 - Madaba and Mount Nebo

This is our last day in Jordan. Later, we will be crossing back to Israel via the Israel/Jordan Border at King Hussein's Bridge. And then, in the early morning, we fly back to the US via Brussels. But first, we get to see more of Jordan.


Our first stop is at Madaba or in ancient times Medeba, hometown of our guide Omar. It is known for its profusion of Mosaics from the Byzantine period, hence its nickname  City of Mosaics. Dating back to the Middle Bronze Age, Madaba is mentioned in the Bible twice. It was ruled by the Roman and Byzantine empires and the Umayyad Caliphate. It had a Christian community that dates back to 451AD.


Our first stop was the visitor's center of Madaba.

From there we walked towards St. George Greek Orthodox Church. On our way, we passed through the main market area of Madaba which sells items for tourists and the local people.

Business District of Madaba



The first mosaics were uncovered by chance as new Christian settlers were building their dwellings using stones from old monuments. Their priests, guided the inhabitants of the importance of the mosaics and made sure they were properly cared for and preserved.

One of the most important and fascinating finds was the Map of Madaba mosaic, its remains now inside on the floor of St. George Greek Orthodox Church.


St. George Greek Orthodox Church exterior

The Church Interior. Where the people are standing is the location of the mosaic map.


 Rediscovered in 1896 with the guiding force of Father Guiseppe Manfredi who is credited for his passion for the mosaics found in Madaba. The Madaba Map, made up of over two million pieces of tiles, shows the pilgrim route to Jerusalem during the 6 AD and depicts villages and towns in Palestine and the Nile Delta. the Dead Sea, Sea of Tiberias (Galilee) plus landmarks in the Holy City (Jerusalem) such as The Cardo and the Holy Sepulchre.  Today, only a patchy 1/3 of the map survived.

A section of the map. On the lower right hand is the walled city of Jerusalem.





St. George Church also has a vast collection of Icons and other mosaics.

Mosaics at the St. George Church

 An Icon depicting the crucifixion

A miraculous picture of  the Blessed Virgin Mary can be found in a chapel below the church.


Many other mosaics were found in the other five Byzantine Churches there including the Church of the Virgin and Apostles. Archeological excavations still continue in Madaba and additional historical treasures are still being uncovered and more knowledge gleaned about the people that populated Madaba in the past.  Currently, many in Madaba have studied mosaic art and it has become a primary business in the area.
Mosaic crafter working on a mosaic that will take at least 6 months to complete
One of the mosaic products for sale

Mount Nebo

The 3,300 ft. high mountain about 6 miles outside of Madaba is a sacred and important Christian pilgrim site because this is from where Moses saw the Promised Land before he died.

Then Moses climbed Mount Nebo from the plains of Moab to the top of Pisgah, across from Jericho. There the Lord showed him the whole land.... Then the Lord said to him, "This is the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob when I said, 'I will give it to your descendents.' I have let you see it with your eyes, but you will not cross over into it."

And Moses the servant of the Lord died there in Moab, as the Lord had said. He buried him in Moab, in the valley opposite Beth Peor, but to this day no one knows where his grave is. --Deuteronomy 34:1-6

When the Franciscans led excavations here they found remains of an early church with Byzantine mosaics, a hint that this site has been a place of veneration in the past. Today, a church stands as a memorial to Moses and to protect the remains of the old Byzantine church and the precious mosaics under its roof. The site also houses a Franciscan monastery.


Sculpture to commemorate Pope John Paul II pilgrimage to Mount Nebo



Olive Tree planted by John Paul II on his visit to Mount Nebo

Memorial Church of Moses


Brazen Serpent Sculpture depicting Moses's staff and the bronze serpent and a cross

The distances of Pilgrim sites from Mount Nebo


At the Mount Nebo Archeological Museum

Mosaics found in the area


The Moses Memorial


During our descent from Mount Nebo, due to conditions in a particular area of the mountain, we encountered the zero gravity  phenomena, where the van was able to float weightlessly, or more correctly, seemingly drive itself with the engines off.  Very freaky. We then stopped for photo op at a large Bedouin encampment on the mountain side and got a close up look at the ever present Bedouin shepherds and their flock..

Bedouin encampment

Bedouin Herd



After that we were taken to the border where Omar took care of all the formalities when we were at the Jordanian side. We did not have to disembark from the van and he was even able to request that the van would take us across to Israel without having to deal with unloading our luggage and transferring to a shuttle. The Israeli border was more of a chaotic situation than when we were left Israel for Jordan. Lines were long, there was no apparent direction or process and most of the border personnel were not particularly friendly. We were all pretty flustered. I suppose this is all necessary to protect Israel's borders and their visitors as well. We only wish someone would have told us what to expect and gave us an idea of what to do.

We have now officially abdicated our thrones as King and Queen of the 'Has-No-Might' kingdom. Ma’a salama (Goodbye) Jordan, we truly enjoyed our visit.