Mayan Men Art Inspiration: From Photograph to Canvas


In 2016 I took a quick reference trip to finish a few art pieces for my then upcoming exhibit for my series, Fragments. I took advantage of going to one place I had never set foot in, Tikal.

I didn’t know if this would lead to something artistic, I just knew I needed to take it off my bucket list. When people hear that I’m from Guatemala, they always ask me about Tikal, and I was tired of not knowing what Tikal was all about.

Tikal is so many amazing things, I can’t really express it all here, read about it on my travel blog,


By now you know I am almost always with a camera in hand. Of course being in a majestic place like Tikal would guarantee a camera or two in hand. On the first day there, I came across them, the Mayan Men.

I just took the photograph, as you can tell from the photo above & below, not very good compositions. That means I wasn’t thinking long term, I was just snapping a photo of something I found interesting. Sometimes I do this as if they are my notes to read later.

That’s why I didn’t edit these photographs. I wanted to show you where they started. Each on a wall that has been repaired several times, and who knows how long these men have been on the wall.


After a few days in Tikal, reading about it and getting the informative tours you can’t help but be inspired by the history of the Mayan culture. The more I learned and some that I had to explain to my hubby who was just as fascinated I realized this was not just Mayan culture, but it each Guatemalan’s history. It’s part of my own story, it’s my country’s past.

So while still in Guatemala I was brainstorming what I was going to do with these two. I already knew I was pregnant so I had to really think about what techniques I could use. Originally I wanted to do a chemical transfer but after speaking to my former college professor, she told me to stay away from any kinds of chemicals while pregnant. There went my ideas of adding my love for printmaking to these two men.


Since I had to rethink my methods, I played with what I would and could do. That is how the Mayan Man I & II sketches came about. I really liked them, but were too simple, so more texture was added.

Sketch: Mayan Man I| 2016 | ORIGINAL SOLD | ©LESLIE M. GUZMÁN

Then after looking at both sketches together, I saw how great they looked as a diptych. Separate doesn’t do them justice. That is how I knew I would make them both in a larger format. I just didn’t know how or what I would do. I was also running short on time.

Sketch: Mayan Man II| 2016 | ORIGINAL SOLD | ©LESLIE M. GUZMÁN


I was very careful, used different mixes of paints and spray paint. I painted outside to make sure it was well ventilated. I even injured myself making these pieces. Nothing serious, just being pregnant and your second trimester is not the best time to be making big pieces of art.

They were a hit at the opening night and the duration of the exhibit, both of the sketches were sold and went to a good home. The larger pieces remained unsold, I was told by several people interested in them that they just couldn’t buy one or the other. It would have to be both of them. So I was right, they live on as a diptych.

Fast forward to this year, when I entered them in the Art League of FortBend Spring Show where the juror was Fran Ellisor. I was doubtful, I kept thinking people might not like them since they are so culturally connected. Hubby made me see they were more than just culture artworks but creations. Always the biggest fan.


I’m excited to share that the Mayan Men won first place in the Mixed Media category. I still can’t believe I almost did not enter them.

Leslie M. Guzmán is a Guatemalan artist best known for her creative explorations of world cultures. Her works capture the untold stories of people, objects and the places from which they come.

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