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.

Saturday, October 8, 2016

Mother Teresa of Calcutta Painting

Mother Teresa of Calcutta and Calcuttan Baby (2016
watercolor with gold leaf on Arches 8" x 10" watercolor board
by jojo sabalvaro tan
Maria Teresa of Calcutta(d.1997) became a saint on September 4, 2016 joining a group of holy  men who were alive during my lifetime and became saints - Pope John XXIII (d.1963), Padre Pio Pietrelcina (d.1968), Jose Maria Escriva (d.1975)  and Pope John Paul II (d.2005). These individuals achieved a sort of celebrity when they were alive and they had made a big difference in people lives and even beliefs.

I decided to create a painting of Mother Teresa to celebrate her canonization. I wanted to depict her holding on to a child since it became her number one life mission to take care and shelter the poor and destitute children of Calcutta in India. I had to rely on the many photographs that were taken of her as reference for the painting. The one I adapted this painting from is from Getty Images  labeled ' Mother Teresa and the poor in Calcutta, India, October 1979.'

In the process of painting, I recited this prayer:

The Daily Prayer of Mother Teresa

Dear Jesus, help me to spread Thy fragrance everywhere I go. Flood my soul with Thy spirit and love. Penetrate and possess my whole being so utterly that all my life may only be a radiance of Thine. Shine through me and be so in me that every soul I come in contact with may feel Thy presence in my soul. Let them look up and see no longer me but only Jesus. Stay with me and then I shall begin to shine as you shine, so to shine as to be a light to others. Amen.

 The progression of the painting:

Applying background colors and basecoating.

Adding detail to the habit and baby

Added gold leaf to background,

Adding detail to Mother Teresa's face and hands.

For the biography of Mother Teresa, here is an excerpt from Britannica.com.

Mother Teresa, in full Saint Teresa of Calcutta, also called Saint Mother Teresa, original name Agnes Gonxha Bojaxhiu (baptized August 27, 1910, Skopje, Macedonia, Ottoman Empire [now in Republic of Macedonia]—died September 5, 1997, Calcutta [now Kolkata], India; canonized September 4, 2016) founder of the Order of the Missionaries of Charity, a Roman Catholic congregation of women dedicated to the poor, particularly to the destitute of India. She was the recipient of numerous honours, including the 1979 Nobel Prize for Peace
The daughter of an ethnic Albanian grocer, she went to Ireland in 1928 to join the Sisters of Loretto at the Institute of the Blessed Virgin Mary and sailed only six weeks later to India as a teacher. She taught for 17 years at the order’s school in Calcutta (Kolkata).
In 1946 Sister Teresa experienced her “call within a call,” which she considered divine inspiration to devote herself to caring for the sick and poor. She then moved into the slums she had observed while teaching. Municipal authorities, upon her petition, gave her a pilgrim hostel, near the sacred temple of Kali, where she founded her order in 1948. Sympathetic companions soon flocked to her aid. Dispensaries and outdoor schools were organized. Mother Teresa adopted Indian citizenship, and her Indian nuns all donned the sari as their habit. In 1950 her order received canonical sanction from Pope Pius XII, and in 1965 it became a pontifical congregation (subject only to the pope). In 1952 she established Nirmal Hriday (“Place for the Pure of Heart”), a hospice where the terminally ill could die with dignity. Her order also opened numerous centres serving the blind, the aged, and the disabled. Under Mother Teresa’s guidance, the Missionaries of Charity built a leper colony, called Shanti Nagar (“Town of Peace”), near Asansol, India.
In 1962 the Indian government awarded Mother Teresa the Padma Shri, one of its highest civilian honours, for her services to the people of India. She was summoned to Rome in 1968 to found a home there, staffed primarily with Indian nuns. In recognition of her apostolate, she was honoured on January 6, 1971, by Pope Paul, who awarded her the first Pope John XXIII Peace Prize. In 1979 she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her humanitarian work, and the following year the Indian government conferred on her the Bharat Ratna, the country’s highest honour.
In her later years Mother Teresa spoke out against divorce, contraception, and abortion. She also suffered ill health and had a heart attack in 1989. At the time of Mother Teresa’s death, her order included hundreds of centres in more than 90 countries with some 4,000 nuns and hundreds of thousands of lay workers. Within two years of her death, the process to declare her a saint was begun, and Pope John Paul II issued a special dispensation to expedite the process of canonization. She was beatified on October 19, 2003, reaching the ranks of the blessed in what was then the shortest time in the history of the church. She was canonized by Pope Francis I on September 4, 2016.
 "Spread love everywhere you go. Let no one ever come to you without leaving happier."
Mother Teresa

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

A Pilgrimage to Berrima Shrine

Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy, Penrose Park, NSW, Australia
Photo from: http://penrosepark.com.au/

While we were visiting family in Sydney, we received several invitations to visit the Berrima Shrine. We were finally able to go just a couple of days before we left. Located about 150 kilometers SW of Sydney, the drive there is pleasant, dotted with rolling hills, farmlands and eucalyptus trees. Catholics of different cultures and languages flock here. It is the melting pot of the Catholics in Sydney. The Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy was established in the mid 1970s in Penrose Park near Berrima. Here you will find Australia's only officially crowned icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Our Lady of Jasna Gora, also known as the Black Madonna. It was brought here from Poland in 1983 and is under the custodianship of the Pauline Fathers.

The Main Altar of the Church
The Crowned Icon of Our Lady of Jasna Gora

The area surrounding the church of Our Lady of Mercy has become a spiritual oasis for Catholics. Set in a typical Australian bush area are 43 chapels built by the different ethnic communities, featuring traditional architecture native to a particular country and dedicated to patron saints from these countries. Most of the chapels are the size of a small room with an altar, some offer seating, others a place to kneel, pray and contemplate. I particularly liked the Indian  Chapel with a life-size figure of Mother Teresa in prayer. For a virtual visit, here is a link to the International Shrines at Penrose Park - http://penrosepark.com.au/international_chapels/

Internatrional Chapels

The Chinese Chapel
The Vietnamese Madonna and Child
The Indonesian Chapel

When we were there, it was the feast day the Italian saint, San Gabriel  Dell'Addoralata also known as St. Gabriel of Our Lady of Sorrows, who was born in Assisi and is the patron saint of Abruzzi, Italy.  There were hundreds of Italians celebrating, enjoying food and music in large tents set up for the feast. The site is also a very popular place to visit on the 13th day of each month where a procession, rosary prayers and mass is held for the devotion to Our Lady of Fatima. The procession from the church, while saying the rosary, leads up to a grotto, at the edge of the bush,  built atop a hill to replicate where the original miracle of our Lady occurred in Fatima, Portugal. At the bottom of the hill to the right is a re-creation of the tomb of Christ, similar to what we saw in Jerusalem. You can also follow the Stations of the Cross through the bush.

Our Lady of Fatima Grotto

Of course, we did not miss stopping and praying at the shrine built through the efforts of the Filipinos of the greater Sydney area dedicated to the first Filipino saint,  San Lorenzo Ruiz and also to the second Filipino saint, San Pedro Calungsod.

San Lorenzo Ruiz

Saint Lorenzo Ruiz is a Filipino saint venerated in the Roman Catholic Church. A Chinese-Filipino, he became the country's protomartyr after his execution in Japan by the Tokugawa Shogunate during its persecution of Japanese Christians in the 17th century.
Born: 1600 · Binondo, Philippines
  • Died: Sep 29, 1637 · Nagasaki, Japan
  • Spouse: Rosario Ruiz
  • From Wikipedea

    Prayer to San Lorenzo Ruiz
    O San Lorenzo Ruiz we come to you with confidence as our kin and brother. You have undergone misfortunes and tremendous pains, help us in our trials and frustrations to firmly trust in God's loving Providence and Fatherly goodness. Obtain for us the graces we need, especially: (choose one) 1) Peace and Harmony in the World, 2) Perseverance in our priestly and missionary vocation, 3) Courage and Strength to resist temptations, 4) Generosity in doing God's will and in responding to our seminary formation, 5) other urgent, important and relevant intention may be expressed).
    San Lorenzo Ruiz, we pray for the needs of the Church, for our country, for the peace of the world, and for our particular needs.
    Saint Pedro Calungsod, also known as Peter Calungsod and Pedro Calonsor, was a Roman Catholic Filipino migrant, sacristan and missionary catechist who, along with the Spanish Jesuit missionary Diego Luis de San Vitores, suffered religious persecution and martyrdom in Guam for their missionary work in 1672.
    From Wikipedia

    Prayer to San Pedro Calungsod

    San Pedro Calungsod student, catechist,

    young migrant, missionary, faithful friend, martyr,

    you inspire us by your fidelity in time of adversity;
    by your courage in teaching the Faith in the midst of hostility;
    and by your love in shedding your blood for the sake of the Gospel.
    Make our prayers your own
    (Pause to mention your intentions)  
    and intercede for us before the throne of Mercy and Grace
    so that, as we experience the help of Heaven,
    we may be encouraged to live and proclaim the Gospel here on earth.Amen

    A pilgrimage here to the Shrine of Our Lady of Mercy, the international chapels, the Our Lady of Fatima Grotto and the Tomb of Christ is primarily a religious endeavor but it is also an act of recognition and understanding of different cultures connected spiritually and socially as one  celebrates being Catholic. Visiting the Shrine Of Our Lady of Mercy at Penrose Park is a testament that  different cultures, race, ethnicity and ages can come together in one faith .

    My husband and I in front of the Filipino Chapel
    We would like to express our heartfelt gratitude to Nani and Janet for taking us here. It was truly a very memorable day. By the way, if you get a chance to visit the shrine, try to allow time to visit the nearby historic town of Berrima and have some tea and scones at the Magpie CafĂ©.

    Saturday, May 7, 2016

    T'Boli Paintings

    Among the paintings I displayed for the Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Art Exhibition presented by the Chicago Public Library are four watercolors featuring the T'Bolis, one of the indigenous groups of the Philippines occupying Southern Cotabato in Mindanao Island. They are known for their colorful intricately woven costumes and material as well as elaborate ornamentations in their jewelry and headpieces. I wanted to feature these elements in my paintings.

    Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Art Exhibition Blog

    Here are the paintings;

    T'Boli Woman, 2016
    Watercolor on paper
    by jojo sabalvaro tan
    The T'Boli Woman watercolor painting was featured in my blog T'Boli Woman.
    Ano and iyong tadhana, anak? (What is your destiny, my child?) 2016
    Watercolor on paper
    by jojo sabalvaro tan
    With Ano ang iyong tadhana, anak ?, I wanted to make a statement about today's youth many of whom seem to place a lot more emphasis on the pursuit of leisure and beauty than their future.
    T'Boli Woman Musician 2016
    Watercolor  on paper
    by jojo sabalvaro tan
    This painting is of a T'Boli woman playing the hegelung, a wooden two-stringed lute. According to Wikipedia, 'the Tboli believed that they could learn to play the hegelung if they rubbed their fingers with an insect called a meglung and the leaves of the meglung vine because the names rhymed. They thought that rhyming names could help them acquire the skill to play the instrument.' This is one of my favorite T'Boli paintings since it exhibits the ornate costume and ornaments of the T'Boli woman.
    Ayoko!! (I don't want to!!!) 2016
    Watercolor on paper
    by jojo sabalvaro tan
    With this little T'Boli girl, I wanted to capture the petulance and irascibility of youth one can observe anywhere you are in the world.

    I do hope by painting the indigenous people of the Philippines, I am able to feature them to the world and help protect their art, culture and traditions.

    An Icon Painting of St. Peter Damian

    Icon of St. Peter Damian 2016
    Written by the hand of jojo sabalvaro tan
    Acrylic gouache on  9"x12" Aquabord

    I was inspired to write (paint) another icon after revisiting the St. Photios Greek Orthodox National Shrine in St. Augustine, Florida this year. It is truly a wonderful place to visit and a surprising find in the middle of the old part of St. Augustine.
    For the feast day (February 21) of St. Peter Damian, I wanted to offer our parish church, St. Peter Damian Catholic Church,  an icon of its patron saint  St. Peter Damian was  born in 1007 in Italy and one of his brothers took care of him when he was very young after his parents died. Another brother, the Archpriest of Ravenna, later took him under his wings and sent him off to many good schools. He became a professor. He later decided to give up teaching and devote his life to prayer and fasting with the Benedictines. He became an abbot, the cardinal-bishop of Ostia and a papal legate and was often  called upon by the Pope to work on peacemaking within the church. He loved the poor and zealously worked to save them. Dante Alighieri, recognizing him a predecessor of St. Francis of Assissi, placed him in one of the highest circles in his allegorical piece Paradiso.  He died on February 22, 1072. In1828,  St. Peter was declared a Doctor of the Church.

    This icon was painted on an Ampersand Aquabord panel with LeFrance and Bourgeois Goauche Tempera paints. I used egg yolks mixed with some water as the thinner and it lent a somewhat glossy finish to the dried paint. This is the first time I ever used egg yolks as a medium. I used watercolors to paint my icons and illuminated manuscripts before and this also the first time I used  gouache tempera. I liked using the goauche tempera as a medium for writing icons better because the colors turn out brighter and more solid as opposed to watercolors which are more transparent. I also think it might be the closest medium to what is used by real iconographers without having to grind my pigment or use already available ground natural pigments. Although I did not use the traditional icon writing techniques and materials, I tried my best to stick to the divine rules of icon painting.


    • Before starting work, make the sign of the Cross, pray in silence, and pardon your enemies.
    • Work with care on every detail of your icon, as if you were working in front of the Lord Himself.
    • During work, pray in order to strengthen yourself physically and spiritually; avoid all useless words, and keep silence.
    • Pray in particular to the Saint whose face you are painting.  Keep your mind from distractions, and the Saint will be close to you.
    • When you choose a color, stretch out your hands interiorly to the Lord and ask His counsel.
    • Do not be jealous of your neighbor's work; their success is your success too.
    • When your icon is finished, thank God that His Mercy granted you the grace to paint the Holy Images.
    • Have your icon blessed by putting it on the Holy Table (of your parish church).  Be the first to pray before it, before giving it to others.

    Never forget:

        • The joy of spreading icons throughout the world.
        • The joy of the work of icon writing.
        • The joy of giving the saint the possibility to shine through his/her icon.
        • The joy of being in union with the Saint whose face you are revealing.

          Saint Peter Damian is represented in art as a cardinal bearing a discipline in his hand; also sometimes he is depicted as a pilgrim holding a Papal Bull, to signify his many legations. I chose to depict St. Peter as a cardinal holding a Papal Bull. I wrote St. Peter Damian's name in Greek, the typical script used in icons. This icon has a bit more contemporary look than the traditional icons. I was inspired by the works of Serbian iconographer Todor Mitrovic whose work I saw in an article from the Orthodox Arts Journal (http://www.orthodoxartsjournal.org/interview-with-todor-mitrovic/).

          Icon by Todor Mitrovic
          On the margins of the St. Peter Damian icon, I have included the words of St. Peter Damian:
          For me, writing an icon is saying a prayer. Icons are meant to be the work of God rather than the work of man. I believe that all that the materials used to write an icon is provided by God and so are any artistic talent, skill, time and energy. It is our task to return God's gifts back to Him manifold and share them with others.

           “O Divine Lord of all that exists”
          Stages of Writing the St. Peter Damian Icon
          Sketching and basecoating
          Adding Details
          Completing Details
          I showed an iconographer I met at St. Photios  Greek Orthodox National Shrine in St. Augustine some photos on my phone of icons I painted and he said that I show real talent especially with no formal iconography training and using watercolors. He  suggested that I visit the Orthodox Churches in our area to see if they have someone that can provide me with formal training on traditional icon writing. He also suggested that I light a candle and play some sacred music to get into a meditative and prayerful spirit while painting.  I pray that someday I would be given the opportunity to receive formal training  in iconography especially with Aidan Hart in England who I consider one of the masters of the genre today. But first, I will start calling the Orthodox Churches in the area to find if there is someone in their community that teaches icon writing.

          Saturday, April 30, 2016

          The Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month Exhibition 2016

          Exhibition Flyer

          Earlier this year, I was contacted via email to submit an application and some samples of my work for consideration for an art exhibition to celebrate the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month in May 2016. The show is sponsored by the Chicago Public Library. I was reluctant to enter since I was still in Australia at the time and would be there for another three months so I would not have time to prepare. And then, there is always the underlying angst about my works not being good enough. I was encouraged to enter anyway and to my surprise my initial submission was accepted and I am going to be one of 11 artists that will be showing at the exhibition. The artwork  I submitted were those from my series of watercolors featuring the indigenous people of the Philippines, particularly those from the Cordillera Administrative Region in Northern Luzon which includes the Ifugaos and Kalingas.

          Here are samples of my watercolors submitted for consideration for the Asian American Pacific Islander Heritage Month Exhibition:

          I was very excited to be chosen to show at this art exhibition but I also quickly realized that I do not have enough works to display so I had some catch up painting to do. I also needed to see the amount of space I was allocated at the library to determine how much more watercolors I have to paint. Apparently, each artist was assigned to show at one of the public libraries in Chicago. I was designate to exhibit at the Sulzer Regional Library at the Lincoln Square neighborhood on the Northside of Chicago, the second largest and second busiest library in Chicago. The Harold Washington Library downtown is the largest and busiest. Thankfully, the wall space allocated was not that big and I only needed to augment my current paintings with just a few pieces.

          I decided that I would feature my paintings of the Kalingas and Ifugaos as well as the T'boli tribe from South Cotabato in Southern Mindanao in the exhibit. I am particularly fascinated by these indigenous groups because of the woven fabrics they use in their costumes. This is one of the aspects I tried to highlight in these collection of paintings.

          I had less than two months to prepare for the exhibition and between jet lag and bouts with various infections, I really needed to concentrate on painting. And, of course, there is that dreaded artist's block that creeps up when you are in a panic and on a deadline. There were days that no matter what I do, I can not think of what to paint or my paintings just turn out downright mediocre.

          I eventually got out of my doldrums and rallied. All the paintings are done and I just need to get them framed and matted. Here is a preview of some of the other paintings for the exhibition.

          Ano ang kahihinatnan mo, anak? (What will be your future, child?) -2016
          Watercolor on watercolor paper
          by jojo sabalvaro tan

          Tattooed Kalinga Mother and Child (2016)
          Watercolor on watercolor paper
          by jojo sabalvaro tan

          Installing the Igorot Exhibit
          The Igorot Exhibit

          The T'Boli Paintings Exhibit
          The T'Boli Paintings Exhibit

           Note: You will notice some glare in the photos. The paintings are behind locked glass cases.

          Here is the official news release on the exhibition from the Chicago Public Library:


          Hope to see you there.

          Thursday, April 7, 2016

          Icon of the Virgin Orans

          I am the handmaid of the Lord (2016)
          Watercolor on paper
          by jojo sabalvaro tan

          I painted this icon during a visit to Australia and  dedicate it to the Filipinos from the Campbletown area of New South Wales, Australia, especially the members of the Filipino Catholic Mass Committee and Choir, whose strong faith and Christian fellowship are a revelation and rarity. We are thankful to bask in their kindness, community and comradeship especially at a time of difficulty for our family. We will always be eternally grateful.

          This Madonna and Child painting was influenced by three main elements. The first one is the icon of the Virgin Orans or Our Lady of the Sign, an icon of the Virgin Mary that has been depicted since the 4th century. The Virgin Mary is portrayed facing the viewer directly with her arms raised towards heaven in a prayerful position and the image Jesus as a child shown in a round or oval opening upon her breast.

          Our Lady of the Sign (18th century, iconostasis of the Transfiguration church, Kizhi monastery, Karelia, Russia).
          From Wikipedia

          The second influence is a passage from the scriptures from  Isaiah 7:14
          Therefore the Lord Himself will give you a sign: Behold, a virgin will be with child and bear a son, and she will call His name Immanuel

          and Luke 1:38 during the Annunciation when the
          Mary said, “Behold, I am the handmaid of the Lord. May it be done to me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

          Fra Filippo Lippi's Annunciation

          I found this last passage to be a testament of an extreme act of faith, bravery and trust in God on the part of the Virgin Mary,  virtues we all try to aspire to but fail many times.

          The third influence is the work of Viennese artist Gustav Klimt (1862-1918) and his decorative ornamentation in his paintings. I tried to use the same type of ornamentation in this painting but a little less ostentatious.

          The Tree of Life by Gustav Klimt

          Wednesday, April 6, 2016

          Watercolor Travel Journal - Bali High -Part 2

          For being a small island (90 km at its widest and 50km lengthwise), Bali is very densely populated especially in the south, near the capital city of Denpasar. Traffic can sometimes feel like you are in NYC or Chicago at rush hour. We did not notice any public transportation though our guide told us there are public mini buses called Bemo  - if they were around, they may not be readily accessible. We did see loads of scooters, motorcycles and bicycles. The easiest way to get around is by taxi but the taxi drivers are notoriously dishonest. We made sure to use the Bluebird taxi company since they are said to be the most reliable. Be careful though in flagging down a cab on the street, many cab companies have copied Bluebird's colors and logo so you would mistake them for  the real Bluebird cab.

          Bali has maintained its Hindu religion since the 5th century but mixed it with Buddhism and local rituals resulting in a unique style of worship and ceremony. Ninety percent of the Balinese  practice this hybrid form of Hinduism. Ancestor worship is very important to the Balinese so each household has a sanggah or merajan  - a family temple (which is always located in the East) where they  venerate their ancestors and other deities. Anywhere in Bali, we saw these temples in varying sizes and all are well maintained with offerings given daily.
          Balinese woman offering flowers at sanggah
          From the watercolor sketches travel journal of jojo sabalvaro tan
          Feb 2016

          In the early morning hours, we found little beautiful pallets of plaited palm leaves that served as containers for the kanang-sari, the Balinese morning thanksgiving offerings to the gods, which include flowers, rice and incense, artfully and lovingly created daily. They are placed strategically all over the house, in stores and on the sidewalks and streets, a job usually relegated to a woman. They are so predominant in Bali that it can sometimes be difficult to walk around and avoid stepping on them.  I really love this practice of kanang-sari since it is so beautiful and feels so uniquely Balinese.

          Kanang-sari (morning offering) found on the pavement
          From the watercolor sketches travel journal of jojo sabalvaro tan
          Feb 2016
          There are many Hindu Temples in Bali referred to as Puras. We visited some of the ones that are considered the holiest places in Bali for their role in providing spiritual balance in Bali. There are village temples which are located in the center of town like the Batuan Temple  and also very  large family temples owned by Balinese royalty. The Puras are open air places of worship enclosed by a wall with a series of compounds connected by intricately decorated gates. Each compound has several towers, pavilions and shrines (merus). To enter most of these Puras, one has to wear a sarong and a sash which are normally available at the entrance for free or a small donation.

          Established in the 10th century, Pura Luhur Uluwatu, one of the key temples in Bali is situated on the tip of  a coral reef steep cliff about 262 ft. above sea level, overlooking impressive views of the Indian Ocean. The name comes from the word  'ulu' meaning head and 'watu' meaning stone. The temple complex is one of the largest we saw. Sacred monkeys, inhabiting the forest and temples, are found roaming the compound freely.

          Gate and shrine at Pura Luhur Uluwatu, Badung
          From the watercolor sketches travel journal of jojo sabalvaro tan
          Feb 2016

          Pura Taman Ayun in Mengwi village is a family temple built in 1634 by the Raja of Mengwi to honor the ancestors of the Raja Dynasty of Mengwi and other important gods. It is surrounded by broad canals and its layout and silhouette reminded us of Ankor Wat in Cambodia. Walking through a couple of gated courtyards, one ends up at the third courtyard, jaba jero, where the most important and holy shrines are found, including several merus up to 11 tiers high. This temple is listed on the UNESCO World Heritage Site list. It is my favorite Balinese temple because, to me, the impressive architecture appears to be the truest manifestation of Balinese culture.

          The Jaba Jero at Pura Taman Ayun , Mengwi
          From the watercolor sketches travel journal of jojo sabalvaro tan
          Feb 2016
          Located in Tabanan, Pura Tanah Lot is another of Bali's sea temples and one of the holiest. Our guide tells us it is the most visited site in all of Bali and once you are there you can see why. The placement of the temple is breathtaking due to its offshore location. The temple is propped on a rock with waves crashing constantly. During high tide, when the waves cross the causeway making it  impossible to cross to the temple, the rock is almost like a small island much like Mont Saint Michel in France. During low tide people can cross to view the rock base where the legendary sea snakes, who are believed to be protectors of the temple dwell. You can receive blessings from a priest who sprinkles you with holy water that comes  from a natural water spout. Surprisingly, this water is fresh despite its source being the salty sea waters.  If you have not done your souvenir shopping yet, this may be a spot for you to shop. Bring your best bargaining skills! The restaurants on the hill provide good respite, refreshments and magnificent views of the temple and the Indian Ocean, especially at sunset.
          Pura Tanah Lot, Tabanan
          From the watercolor sketches travel journal of jojo sabalvaro tan
          Feb 2016
          Today's Bali is said to be created for tourism. In the 1960's, the Indonesian government determined that the tourist revenues would be a great source of income for the country so they made sure Bali remained a picture of paradise. After decades of academic and travel writing and tourist promotion, the romantic image of Bali has become almost indisputable and has even seeped into Balinese consciousness.  The Balinese are charming, artistic, in harmony with nature, community-spirited, hospitable and proud of their island.
          Some Bali travel tips:
          • Get a local guide/driver. It is the safest and easiest way to get around Bali and not that expensive. Our guide Didi Suprapta was from a site called Withlocals and at the end of the trip, we ended up as friends. He also operates his own Bali tours company called Baliadventours
          • Wear a hat and sunblock. Being so close to the equator, Bali's sunlight is very intense.
          • When shopping- bargain! bargain! bargain! I was quoted 240,000 rupiah ($24) for a bag and I was able to bargain it down to 40,000 rupiah ($4)
          • Learn about the Balinese culture. Beaches pretty much look the same everywhere but Bali's culture is so unique and rich.
          • Be flexible when departing Bali. Flights are often cancelled or rescheduled due to volcanic ash or for any other reason, which may mean spending another night or two in Bali or sleeping on the floor at the airport. Our flight which was supposed to leave at 9pm kept getting delayed. We ended up departing 2am. We found it funny that airport and airline personnel went around all the gates looking for their passengers who may be asleep when the flight was ready to board.

          Like many who come to Bali, we left with a sigh of regret and for as long as we live, we will never forget. Terima kasih.

          Monday, April 4, 2016

          Watercolor Travel Journal - Bali HIgh - Part 1

          When my husband and I were in Australia this winter, we had to make a visa-run in order to avoid staying in Australia for more than 90 days straight. It was actually a no brainer that we would choose to go to Bali. It was inexpensive, a short plane ride from Sydney and we have never been there.  Plus, Bali has been on our bucket list for a long time now. Somehow, I have such an affinity for this enchanted  island which has been billed as 'the last paradise' and 'the morning of the world.'  I am not beckoned by the beaches nor the tropical climate. It is its rich cultural heritage and exotic artistry that calls me. Arriving at the brand new Denpasar Airport, we were surprised at how large and modern it is, with touches of traditional Bali found everywhere. We took a cab to our hotel in Seminyak and the hot, humid air assaulted us with the same force as its colors, smells and sounds. At the hotel, we were ensconced into our one bedroom villa with a tantalizingly cool private swimming pool. Bali must really inspire creativity since even being there for just a a few hours, I already started designing our own Bali-style villa.

          Because our stay was short (4 days and 3 nights), my husband and I decided that we would skip the beaches and concentrate on seeing Bali's cultural offerings. We hired a private guide/driver to take us around the main sites in the island as well as the 'real' Bali. Our first stop was a Barong Kris Dance presentation  in Batubalan. This is a play  about the fight between the good (the mythological animal Barong) and evil (Rangda) spirits. It was a good introduction to Balinese culture since you are able to appreciate the artistry in the costume and masks, Balinese dancing and gamelan orchestra music. At one point in the play, I got confused since the Prince was played by a woman. I asked our guide about it and he said that the Prince is a weakling so a woman had to depict the role.
          Gamelan Musician playing the drums
          From the watercolor travel sketchbook of jojo sabalvaro tan
          Feb 2016

          Balinese Dancer
          From the watercolor travel sketchbook of jojo sabalvaro tan
          Feb 2016
          After the play, we headed towards Batuan Temple.  On our way there, we passed by what seems like  endless gold and silver workshops in the village of Celuk, where gold and silver crafting is an art form. Here you will find intricately crafted jewelry. Before reaching the temple, we stopped  by a typical Balinese house. The entrance is barred by a low wall to avoid going straight into the property. This is supposedly to ward off any evil spirits. The walled-in property consist of several post, beam and lintel wood and stone buildings - a kitchen (always located on the south), a couple of family sleeping quarters (one appropriated for the head of the household), a family or community structure where celebrations and observances are held and the family temple.

          Typical Balinese Kitchen
          From the watercolor travel sketchbook of jojo sabalvaro tan
          February 2016

          The Batuan Temple was founded in 1020 AD and is probably the oldest existing temple in Bali. Batuan comes from the root word 'batu' meaning stone and is a nod to the community's megalithic tradition of using upright stones as a site of worship and meetings. The Batuan temple is filled with Balinese carved ornamentation in every building including scenes from the Ramayana epic which reminded us of the bas relief found at Angkor Wat in Cambodia, One thing we learned here is that the temple and all other temples as well as public spaces in Bali are mostly voluntarily cared for by the villagers..  It might have started years ago as a requirement but now the citizens (young and old) find this voluntary work as a natural and important part of their lives. It is seen as a civic duty and community affair.

          Ancient Stone Ornamentation at Batuan Temple
          From the watercolor travel sketchbook of jojo sabalvaro tan
          February 2016
          Ubud was our favorite town in Bali. It is filled with artisans and craftsmen,   the number of artists concentrated in one place is mind-boggling. Both sides of the road are filled with store after store featuring all manner of arts and crafts such as stone and wood sculptures, paintings, baskets and almost anything you can think of. I noticed there were a number of shops selling birdhouses. Our guide said this is the craft du jour. A few months ago, it was beaded jewelry and months before that something else. If you take away the shops, the real Bali is revealed. Verdant rice paddies, dense forests, steep ravines, farms and horticultural centers. And the weather is definitely more pleasant than in Denpasar or Seminyak. If we ever get a chance to come back, we will definitely stay in Ubud. One of the sites we visited is Ubud's Sacred Monkey Forest where long tailed monkeys roam free and are considered guardians of the temple. Just be careful with any food or loose items you are carrying as these cute little guys are quick to approach and grab them from you.

          A Family of Monkeys at Ubud Monkey Forest
          From the watercolor travel sketchbook of jojo sabalvaro tan
          February 2016
          We stopped for a coffee break in one of the many Kopi Luwak coffee places.  This coffee is produced from partly digested coffee cherries eaten and then defecated by the Asian palm civet, a process which is said to improve the flavor profiles of the coffee beans. We were shown the civets and the process of making luwak coffee then were treated to a taste test of the different coffee and tea flavors made with the luwak beans while seated overlooking  folks working in  the rice terraces of Ubud. Our guide told us that he likes to take his visitors trekking the rice fields, a popular adventure for tourist but even more popular is trekking the volcanoes of Bali. An idea for our next visit.

          Sampling Luwak Coffee and Tea
          From the watercolor travel sketchbook of jojo sabalvaro tan
          February 2016
          I cannot be in Bali and not see how Batik and Ikat fabrics are made. We visited the Bidabari Batik Shop in Tohpati, a village known for their Batik artists. There were artisans there that took you through the process of making wax-resist batiks and as well as working the ikat looms. While the batiks in the store are probably more expensive than outside Tohpati, you are guaranteed authentic made-in-Bali  fabric. In the age where most items you buy all over the world are made in China, Bali is a good place to shop for items made by local artisans.
          Balinese Artisan applying wax designs to cloth in preparation for the dyeing process
           From the watercolor travel sketchbook of jojo sabalvaro tan
          February 2016
          Next: Watercolor Travel Journal - Bali High -Part 2