The Art of the Retablo

I have a passion for old religious pieces – large gesso or chalkware saint sculptures, old wood santos, nichos or retablos that represent folklore … There is something romantic about those pieces. Religious art has evolved since human started making art, till’ this day, and will continue to do so. One thing that I notice is how the expression on the faces of sculptures have change over the years – from a reverent and languid appeal to a more “normal” or “joyful” state.  Here is a picture of an antique italian chalkware statue of the Holy Family dating from the early 1900’s versus a contemporary statue depicting the same characters.

Antique sculpture of the Holy Family Antique sculpture of the Holy Family

Contemporary statue

Contemporary statue

If you notice the facial expressions, on the later sculpture the characters are looking up, almost in a happy state or “hello” demeanor, while in the older statue, the figures seem more solemn, reverent, and almost sad, or peaceful. There are many differences between these two statues, including the lack of detail of the base, feet, and clothing … .

One of the items that I love to recreate is the old retablo, an art that almost disappeared at one time. Retablos are supposed to be made of wood, hand painted, and with a rustic appeal, almost as if the artist worked with the “few materials at hand” reminiscent of the traditions of the populace, the people of faith who made them. Here is one of my Retablos or Nichos (niche) of the Virgin of Guadalupe. I created this sculpture using a variety of mixed materials. I am working on a few other retablos, and designs (I know, I should be writing – but sometimes I need a little break to recharge my batteries). In each of my religious sculptures, I hide a small gemstone, in this case,  a tiny opal. Can you spot it? You might need to use the zoom feature. Here is the photo.

Virgin of Guadalupe Retablo

Virgin of Guadalupe Retablo

Here is a closer look.

Guadalupe Virgin by Maria Antonia Diaz

Guadalupe Virgin by Maria Antonia Diaz

I enjoy making these. You can find more information about this piece at my online store – where I let go and just create.

In addition to retablos, another lost art is the one of the “Wood Santos” or “Santos de Palo” that is part of many Latin America cultures, as well as European folklore. You can see the same old vs. contemporary features in these. The old santos had live detail, as if the artist or devoted revered the piece while crafting it. Today pieces lack that, almost looking faceless, with no expression, or a cold demeanor. But these are the pieces that are mass-marketed that look like that. I’ve  seen some European artists who sculpt santos, many life-size, and their art becomes almost alive, rich in detail, even the rustic pieces that are simpler. But these artists are very proud of what they do, and put much soul in each piece.  A mass-marketed piece is produced with the purpose of creating volume, not art. However, I have to say that some mass-marketed pieces, the very old ones, had much detail, the molds were carefully made. With the pass of time, the attention to detail in these molds became less important, I guess, giving way to quantity/volume.

Next time you come across an older sculpture, take a good look at it and see how each little crevice tells a story.

Watercolors Friday – Artistic Pirate

As part of today’s celebration, I have a treat for you, a visual treat that is.  We are celebrating the art of CGPirate, a blog that will blow your senses. There is something mesmerizing about the artist’s work, as well as captivating, intriguing, and well, awesome. The art that you will find here is full of the unexpected, and I love that.

One of my favorite pieces on the blog is this one called Where is the Boat, and you can see it here . Oddly, the absent of color dominates this one, compared to other work on the website that explodes with color. I love many of the artist’s pieces; his work is full of energy, color, and “suspended movement,” because I have no other phrase to describe it.

I invite you to check out CGPirate for a CG visual feast. It is truly wonderful. Enjoy!

Happy Watercolors Friday!

Don’t Undervalue Your Art

Mass-produced hamburgers.

Mass-produced hamburgers. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Would you sell your soul for a penny?  I think most of us would answer NO to that question.  To me, Art comes from the soul, whether it is a novel, a painting, a handmade piece.  When an artist creates a piece, he/she pours soul into it.  I wrote artist, because there is a difference between someone making something for commercial purposes, mass-produced, rushed, or repetitive, and someone who pours his/her soul into creating something.  I can see this in the self-publishing industry, were writers are taking advantage of the boom, and writing quantity, many times, priced very low, hoping to get momentum and creating a stream of constant flow of income.  There is nothing wrong with that, if that is what someone wants to do; however, when you love the craft and pour your soul into it, most likely, quantity will not matter.

That is the difference between product and art, the soul’s passion that goes into it.  Of course, eventually, an art piece/novel becomes a product in the market and will generate income, however, for the artist, the rewards go deeper than that.  It is the satisfaction of presenting art to the public, knowing that it is a part of him/her and has been crafted in due time – when it is ready and perfect enough in his/her eyes, to be released.

A hobby can be easily commercialized, mass-produced if you want; art is beyond that, bigger than money, however of value, extending from the inner self of the artist and going as far as it can reach the souls of others, and therefore, not disposable, but becoming immortal in the souls of those who appreciate it.

Ask yourself, am I an artist or a production leader?



I have been in the painting mood and decided to try art this morning.  The rule, to paint whatever came to mind.  One of the paintings is called “I want an iPhone”  and was probably inspired by today’s news.  The other painting, might have been as well.  Here are pictures of both.

“I want an iPhone”  watercolor

“Not a Paintball Game”  watercolor


Here are a few, which I painted at the beginning of the week.


“Moonlight Dreams”  another watercolor inspired by my companion of 20 years – Misty.

I think I was thinking of her when I painted these too – “Tis’ a Hallow Night” and “Sweet Dreams are Made of Mice” although I was looking at Piewackett when I painted the second one.


“Tis’ a Hallow Night”  watercolor and pen



“Sweet Dreams are Made of Mice”  watercolor and pen


This one just came to me, “The Grass is Greener”

“The Grass is Greener” watercolor and pen


I decided to paint the farmhouse as we discovered it, the first time – a dilapidated old giant with foliage growing all over, broken windows, doors, steps, concrete, and a no trespassing sign.  I will hang this painting in the living room once we complete the restoration.

“Old Giant” watercolor


And of course, I found the best way to stretch a watercolor painting.  Here it is.

How to stretch a watercolor “the cat method.”  Muni Mu doing her duties as painting stretcher.

  1. Slightly, wet the back of the dry painting.
  2. Place a towel underneath, a mat, and place a cat on top.  The weight and heat will do the job.

Some of my paintings are available at The Owl, Book and Candle



The Ageless Artist

Sketch of W. Somerset Maugham.

Image via Wikipedia

This morning I read a post on Facebook that quoted someone – “… no artist should be allowed to live after he’s 40.  By then a man has done his best work, all he does after that is repetition.” Of Human Bondage,” W. Somerset Maugham.

My reply to the quote itself was,  “Those are such foolish words, inspiration and art are ageless.”

If that was true possibly half or more of the greatest works in history would have not come to be.  Art and Inspiration are ageless, simply because they come from within, from the heart, the soul, and the deepest crevices of our spirit.  The artist inside you is ageless and ready to create when the need and instinct to create makes it inevitable for Art to be born.  Whether artists realize it or not, their art comes from their deepest desire to become creators themselves, and from the spiritual connection between their humanity and their soul.  When you create a piece, there is more than the aging carcass at work; the shell is just the instrument to make art real, art relies on the artist to become, but it is.  Many artists may have the same idea, but it is expressed in different ways and takes its unique form; therefore, becoming art.  In that sense, the artist is ageless.