We have been looking at ways to turn our passion into profit by creating a business that is so enjoyable we’ll never want to retire. Our focus is on Ecuador because this is where we know, and this is where we live.

One of the great points of Ecuador is the high quality artisans. Ecuador runs on a guild system created by the Europeans back in the 1600s so work is unique and of such high quality it’s not available anywhere else in the world. Yet prices are extremely low.

Many countries have plenty of local crafts for sale, products made by the local economy that seem fun when you are shopping there, but upon return seem totally out of place. You ask, “Why did I buy that?” and the handicrafts gather dust in some closet.

Ecuador has artists…real ones that are incredibly good. World class. The best. I brag not!

Take for example, one of our neighbors at El Meson, a well know artist here, Diana Carrasco, who creates among other things incredible Faberge eggs, horses and wonderful Santos (religious statues) from wood.

Our man in Ecuador describes Diane’s work. “Diana prides herself on the strict quality process that each and every piece passes through. Each piece is unique and laboriously hand crafted.

“First the products are carved in wood and the process begins with selecting the correct wood. Diana only works with wood that has been approved for harvesting by the Ecuadorian Ministry of Environment. The two woods she works with are naranjillo, a local wood, and cedar. Diana’s workers select the highest grade wood that doesn’t have any knots or ‘core.’ Knots tend to separate after three months. Because it is impossible to see internal knots Diana never sells any work that has not aged three months.

“Next, the basic shape is cut and an outline of the piece carved. For example a horse shape or human figure etc. Then the piece is sculpted and given a basic polish. At this point a second control is made – to check on proportion.

“Before the human and religious figures and horses are passed to the sanding stage, the front of the head that depicts the face is cut off. Two holes for the eyes are carved out of the facial portion. Transparent glass is melted into the holes. Then the face is glued back. The eyes are painted and certainly look realistic.

“After the piece has been carved it passes to the sanding ‘department’ where they use up to 80 different grades of sandpaper! A substance, locally is called “tisa” (gesso) and which is made up of calcium carbonate, plaster and water mixed together is brushed over the sculpture and then left to dry. The piece can not be artificially dried in a kiln or oven as that would likely split the wood. It has to dry in the natural atmospheric conditions. This means that the sculptures dry according to the climatic conditions at the time. When the weather is cold or rainy they take longer to dry. At this point the wood is covered in the white tisa. After it is dried it is sanded down.

“This coating sanding process is repeated eight times! This is called the ‘first hand’. The mixture of calcium carbonate:plaster:water is at a ratio of 40:30:30. After this the process is repeated ANOTHER six times, the ‘second hand’, using a more dilute tisa.

“This is an extremely lengthy process but goes a long way to obtain the incredibly fine finish that one feels when handling any of Diana’s works.

“The third quality control inspection is made at this stage.

“The next stage is called ‘encarnardo’ (fleshed) – The human figures are given skin tones where appropriate; the face, hands, feet, and occasionally the body. Oil paint is applied only to figures of humans or angels. As a special order, Diana’s artists are able to replicate the technique used by the Quito School of Art. This was the school of art established by the Spanish conquistadors. The techniques have just about been kept alive over the generations in Ecuador because of the Guild System, a system of apprenticeship that has served within the artisan community. Angels and human figures carved by the ancient sculptors 3-400 years ago were typified by a shiny finish to the skin. This was achieved by rubbing the oil paint very carefully and skillfully with a dried sheep’s bladder. Diana’s artists do this too, although it has to be said they don’t much like doing it because it is extremely time-consuming. Nethertheless a fantastic replica of timeless art is achieved using this ancient technique.

“Following the painting of the skin, gold leaf is applied to the areas of the sculpture which show gold design. Typically this design looks as if it has been etched or painted on to the sculpture with the finest of fine touches. There is good reason for this. The process is as follows: First a sticky substance called ‘bol’ based on gum is brushed over the area where gold design will appear. The surface of the bol is wet with a cloth and then using a very fine brush, typically made from bison hair, gold leaf is brushed over the wet ‘bol’ and adheres to the surface. Then a small tool which is made of a handle like a paintbrush but instead of the brush has a stone made of agate, is used to polish and rub the gold leaf so that it is worked into the bol base and smoothes out any crinkles in the leaf.

“Up until this point the process is the same for nearly all of the products produced by Diana’s workshop; eggs, tops, animal figure, jewelry boxes, religious icons. All are carved and a trademark of Diana’s design is the filigree gold design that imparts a strong sense of fantasy to the majority of her work. At this point there is another quality control inspection to insure that the gold leaf has been correctly applied.

“After this, all the sculptures are oil painted in a process known as ‘matiza’ which is best translated as blend. The colors of the piece are painted on the parts which have gold, that’s to say over the gold, and also on the surfaces which will only show regular colors. Different types of oil paints are used and again; the drying time depends on the type of paint and the climatic conditions. At this point, if additional oil painting is needed to depict fine details, for example, small flowers or details of butterflies or humming-birds, then it is painted over the base colors.

“Then the next stage is to reveal the gold leaf. In other words, the artists show detail in gold that is at the same relief level as the oil colors by revealing the gold leaf. Using a tool called a ‘chonta’, something like a scalple, they scratch away the oil colors to reveal the gold leaf underneath. This requires an extremely fine eye for detail and the ability to hold the concept of the final design in the ‘mind’s eye’ as slowly the artist scrapes away all the oil around the finished patterns. At this point a further check is done. Now the piece is being examined for harmony – … “Are all the colors and the design in harmony?”

“As you can see from photos of the different pieces, some of the gold design is at a raised relief. That’s to say a millimeter or two above the surface of the oil colors and other gold work. To create this raised gold relief another paste is used that has the consistency of toothpaste. It’s made mixing in ocher and then passed through the mesh of a fine cloth so that once on the other side it has a far finer texture. The paste is painted on to the sculpture on the relevant spots. The paste has to dry naturally and this takes between 3-10 days according to climatic conditions and the consistency of the paste.

“Only the artisans know when the paste is ready and they judge solely on how the paste feels to touch – years of experience are called into play. This is crucial because when the paste reaches the precise level of dryness required, gold leaf is laid over the sculpture and pressure is applied to the parts where the paste is and the gold leaf sticks. The rest of the gold leaf doesn’t stick and is brushed away and wasted. This process is completed until the correct relief is achieved. This process is known as ‘estofado’ which refers to the fine dressing of the sculpture – similar to the final touches made to the dress of Spanish nobles as they were dressed by their servants in times gone by.

“Many of the pieces are adorned with semi-precious stones. A small hole is carved out and the stones are glued into place. These stones include, but are not limited to, rubies, zircons and garnets.

“Finally, the finishing touches are applied where needed. Eyes are painted, lips, hair and eyebrows too. These are not done at the beginning because it would be easy for these areas to become dirty during the other processes.

“A final quality control check is made. It is not unknown for horses hooves to be missing gold trim – but these sculptures never make it on sale – they are returned to be finished correctly before returning to take their rightful place amongst the treasures on sale in Diana’s showroom.”

This goes beyond craft. During each course at El Meson we visit Diana’s home and place where she displays her work. A number of our delegates now export her art.

Diana’s work is just one small example of the high quality products found in Ecuador. See below some pictures of Diana’s work.

Our July Super Thinking – Super Spanish course in Ecuador is now totally full! Enjoy Ecuador and the sun! See real estate for sale. Inspect the great markets as you learn about global investing and business this November. For details go to http://www.garyascott.com/catalog/ibezecuador.html

Until next message, may you always “have” even in a “have not” world!

Gary

Is inflation getting to you? Enjoy the hot summer in cool Ecuador for just $875. See garyascott.com/catalog/ec_monthly_hometel.html

Or take a week’s R & R. See garyascott.com/catalog/elmeson.html