Never have I been so excited about being given a whole lot of mud (well, I probably have, but in the context of growing things… which I guess connects all these ideas).


Thanks to ceramicist Elsa Naveda as well as the serendipitous materials index curated in the education space at Museo Tamayo back in Mexico City who started my collection of earth samples

and of course, discovering that the various Oaxacan earth processed by Margarita De La Peña back in 2014 (and who had inspired this trip) were still available to use at the studio.

They are used in combination with a glutinous rice flour as a binder for Moku Hanga.


And after a couple of days grinding and sieving, I finally got to work…

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So, the first question before delving further into the colours, was how was I going to bind them to the page? I wanted to see what I could source from the local market, everyday ingredients that you find in the kitchen…or Mexican kitchen at least. We know that egg tempera paintings we found in Egyptian tombs and knowing the significance of Nopal in Mexico, known for its waterproofing quality for paints, Nopal pads were also on my shopping list.

Another culturally significant starch is of course maize flour since this is another indigenous species to this part of the world, having first been domesticated here some 10,000 years ago.

Señora Marce advised me on how to extract the “baba de nopal” (nopal dribble or slime), cutting it and massaging it before leaving it to exude.


Though since these binders also had to have a good consistency for screen printing I looked for other alternatives (nopal and egg had both been quite watery). Luckily there is such an appetite for DIY products that Drogueria Cosmopolitana has at least two shops in Mexico city for all your chemical ingredients, the kind of thing you have to look online for in the UK. So here I asked for all their natural gums and came away with Guar, Tragacanth, Xanthan and Gum Arabic.


Week One at La Ceiba Gráfica has been about gathering equipment and materials to begin setting up my temporary screen print studio. And as I have been given a space on the beautiful new mezzanine overlooking the new ‘Taller de papel’ (paper workshop) I could help my curiosity into a key material I use in my printing – paper.

And so, I have added another ‘string to my bow’ by learning to make various papers was a week-long papermaking course with Tomas, a German guy who has been living here in Mexico since 1982. The main paper they make here at La Ceiba is 100% cotton using towels and sheets from the hotel industry.

Per Anderson, who has an extraordinary mind for working out how to do things, designing the lithography presses and paper mills; gave me my first lesson in forming the sheets.

On the course this week we boiled up 3 fibres – jute coffee bags (of which there must be millions in the area known for producing the best coffee in Mexico), banana (not the peel, but young trunks) and a palm called ‘izote’ which I recognised as a house plant. They also grow Papyrus palm, which we used to weave paper (first cutting the stalks to the same height, stripping them of their outer skins, splitting them into lengths and soaking them for five days to get rid of the cellulose;). They’ll now sit in a book press for 5 days.

As one of the founders was trained in the Japanese woodcut technique of Moku Hanga, they also grow the Kozo plant which is processed in November when the sap is lower (though I think the plants are confused here in Mexico without as definite seasons!)

Thinking about how to use what I have learned when I get back

  • How to mill the fibres without the medieval looking machines?
  • While I could make a frame and mesh, how would I suction the water out so efficiently?
  • What curved surface could I use to help transfer the paper to the felt boards?

Back to my mission of setting up a screen printing workshop…

I have manged to source most bits and bobs, such as borrowing glass from their frame stock to use to sandwich my positives in exposure; a work light stand (with a lamp for 500w… so now I have 2, thanks to Mexico City’s Downtown with its streets of electrical lighting shops – you ask where to something and there’ll be a whole street of shops selling the same thing!)

I love the ethos here at La Ceiba – use any tools you find as long as you look after and return them, If you don’t have the commercial equipment – work out how to make it! They are so generous with their space, tools, materials and most importantly their knowledge and time.

And so, my light-tight (ish) Drying cabinet came into being lining the legs of a table with leftover old banner plastic and some sturdy black plastic from a cheerful man at Coatepec market.

Just before posting this I’ve been cracking on with the next bit – exposing the screens… using the power of the sun…

Today’s mains electricity power cut helped dare me to continue to experiment exposing screen in the daylight, despite the overcast day (and spatter of rain!) with to my surprise was successful and even more surprising was that the Azocol Z1 (kindly supplied to me by Screen Stretch Ltd) exposed well in just a couple of minutes – still to refine the different timings for different materials such as graphite, Indian ink, and printed acetates using the office laser printer).

While I’m using some sturdy foam (from the Bristol Scrapstore) also used for packing the screens, the glass isn’t quite thick/heavy enough to get good contact with the positive. It’s also bigger than the screen – maybe I need to get some 6mm panes cut to the size of the mesh… perhaps my next mission into Coatepec…

Another unexpected bonus of this week was meeting Per’s wife the ceramist Elsa Naveda who ever so kindly brought me s selection of earths, some from Oaxaca and a particularly red one from near where they live (in the hills between Coatepec and Xalapa). So my little collection of earth pigments grows… I can’t wait to get started grinding them and using the various natural binders I am hoping to experiment with.

And finally.. a bit of life at La Ceiba…


Thanks for friends and tutors putting me in touch with some great people and everyone I meet generously offering further contacts, I’ve been lucky to visit ad meet printers from various walks of life. Starting with La Buena Estrella, an artist-led space with an etching press and gallery space in what I’m discovering to be a lovely neighbourhood (shhh… don’t tell the hipsters!) in San Rafael. César has kindly offered me the space for an exhibition after my residency at La Ceiba – eeek! How exciting, if not a little daunting… let’s hope the experiments turn out well!Watch this space!

He suggests I contact Arturo Negrete, the master printer with a studio in Doctores/Obrera area (where I learn all the commercial supply shops are based). Taller 75° is down a small road and to my luck, just as I find the number, a taxi pulls up and out jumps a guy holding a screen… I must be in the right place. I am indeed. El Torro (the guy from the taxi) and Flacco (not so slim) and other kind and patient folk abide me watching them print and asking questions in my terrible Spanish.It’s great to get a perspective from the commercial end of the spectrum of studios and print jobs.  In fact, they even show me the ropes of printing with solvent-based inks.

Did you know the inks get warm after you’ve printed such a big edition? Ha! Tricked into my baptism of solvent-based screen printing!

My third visit is to TPT Grafica, set up in the 1970s by Martha Hellion & Jan Hendrix and run by master printer Pablo Torrealba. This is my taste of a real fine art screen printing studio who have specialised in large-scale screen printing and using various metallic leaf and inks.  The breadth of work is astonishing and I have great discussions with Pablo over halftone techniques.

I am completely honoured by my final Mexico City studio visit, this is to Martha’s studio itself. It’s always magic to see other artists’ studios, what inspiration they keep at arm’s reach, the books on their shelves – it’s where the magic happens.


One of those serendipitous moments while I was waiting to hear about possible dates for making a trip to learning about natural dyes and pigments here in Mexico, I’m just collecting my bag after going to an excellently curated show of Mexican crafts by Claudia Fernadez at Museo Tamayo, to my glee I see a sign for a two-day course in just that – Tintas Naturales  – natural pigments in the gallery’s education space – and told there is plenty of space, just turn up! Thank you universe!

Over the weekend we learn how to make dyes from yellow from Pericon (a dried flowering plant), red from grinding Cochnilla bugs that live on the nopal cactus and of course indigo (añil) for blue. We use a fibre from the maguey cactus called ‘ixtle’, wool and someone kindly gives me a bit of cotton canvas to do some shibori folding.

Alberto, who leading the workshop encouraged us to experiment and find out how different things like adding lime juice or bicarbonate soda effects the colours (cochineal mainly, and also to over-dye.

The educations space is a real find and is being run by Mariel whose family run a model making company, as she describes – making Mexico in miniature! We talk a lot about what things are made of – she’s interested in indexing materials and for the space has made a materials library encouraging visitors to feel and smell them.

Colour samples on the wall catch my eye – then I realise they’re just what I’m looking for – Earth samples, all different colours with labels of where they’re from!

Just being in Mexico has been such an inspiration in the use of colour. There is much more freedom of expression through colour and the combinations – pink yellow and blue houses. Big, bright and bold. Check out my Instagram for more pics…