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How Are Made

  Copal Tree Most woodcarvers use wood from the Copal tree. [Right photo] Copal (also known as Copalillo) belongs to the Bursera genus and is found primarily within the warm regions of Oaxaca. Chacho, [Narciso's nickname] uses wood from the female trees because has few knots, is soft and easy to carve when it is first cut. Once it is dry, it becomes light, hard, and easy to sand smooth.

The wood is often treated with chemicals to kill any egg or larvae that may be present. Alternately, cedar can be used if the customer wants it.

  Carving Copal Wood Pieces of wood are carved using machetes and knives. Most of Chicho's carvings are created from a single-piece of wood as it is considered of higher quality than those assembled from multiple pieces.

One example of his fine work is the right photo showing a beautiful piece after the carving is done.

The piece is sanded carefully until the texture is smooth and soft. There is no glue or "repairs" on the piece as it lowers the quality. So before carving the piece the artist must have in mind the shape of the alebrije that he wants to make. There is no catalog or design to copy, every piece is unique.

  Painting the main color Finished pieces are hand-painted with professional acrylic paint. Acrylics paint doesn't fade as natural aniline dyes do.

The first step for painting alebrijes is to apply the main or body color. Sometimes it needs many coats of paint to get a perfect finish. Usually the main color is dark so the additional bright colors can be distinguished.

Once the body is painted, it will be colored with colorful patters of dots and/or lines.

  Adding dots and lines for color Depending the type of the alebrije, it is painted with several patters. Most of the time, tiny dots of bright colors are used to cover the entire creature.

The left photo shows an example about the extensive work to cover the piece with tiny dots and lines. This piece is not finished yet, it shows the several steps of painting:

  • First, The body is painted with two or three coats.
  • Ears and eyes are carefully painted.
  • The body is covered with short and tiny black lines.
  • Each black line is painted with a white tiny dot.
  • Each tiny white dot is painted with a tiny yellow dot.

  •   Detail of work. At the right photo, you can see the detail of the work. Hundred of tiny lines and dots are made in a square inch.

    There is no room for error, at this point the artist can't just erase a mistake and continue. Each dot are placed exactly in one spot and it is repeated hundred of times to cover the entire alebrije.

    When you buy an alebrije, keep in mind that the quality of painting alebrijes is defined by:

  • Tiny regular dots, not huge ones and small ones.
  • All dots must be exactly the same color; not fading dots that shows only a few bright dots.
  • Random, not 'chaotic' patterns. The separation of dots or lines must be regular and well defined. The closer the dots can get without touching each other, the better quality of the work.

  •   Alebrije Man Tiger Snake Once the painting is done, a fine piece of art is created.

    Please click at the right link "Contact Me" to contact the artist about his work.

    [This text was written by José Pino on his recent trip to Oaxaca, it doesn't represent Narciso's opinion.]

    Narciso González' Alebrijes
    Images and design property of Narciso González (c) 2009
    Arrazola, Xoxo
    Oaxaca, México.
    Phone: (+52) 951 517 2165
    Website by Jose Pino © 2007