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Mexico: Learning and Growing and Headed in Two Directions at the Same Time

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(Part 1 of my recap of a week in the Boca de Tamatlan artist retreat)

The heat must have gotten to me — or was it the cold?

Whichever it was, I blinked my eyes and was painting wild abstract watercolors in a tiny and completely charming fishing village in Mexico with a fabulous maestro I had never heard of before but should have.

Winter is beautiful — really, it is. The weather cannot be controlled, so we’d better embrace it. Still, looking out my studio window on one of the coldest Februarys on record, I snapped. Due to some work commitments, my sweetie was not able to take time off, so I started Googling artist retreats somewhere warm and sunny. Before I knew it, I was booked to take off in ten days to Casa de Los Artistas.

I can only say it was not a disappointment. In fact, I urge you to book your time there next year. I sure hope to.

The place felt like a fantasy. Lush, tropical river valley spilling into the Pacific with little boats, dogs and frolicking children sprinkled about. Throw in some Ranchero music and the sound of waves crashing and you have the idea.

The best part, the jewel, is the artist retreat in this paradise. All art, all the time — or almost. My maestro for the week was Sterling Edwards. Though I had not heard of him before (which is not a surprise, as I am not a watercolorist and he is), he was, simply put, a true maestro in every sense of the word. His work, I can say with confidence, is brilliant. (Don’t take my word for it: Look him up!)

abstract3815-3I was so happy he was a giving and open teacher. But watercolor? Me? I hadn’t studied watercolor since college — a very long time ago — and I quickly abandoned it for oil color, then acrylic. Still, something in me said it would be good for me, stretch me and expand upon the discipline that I had returned to in while studying in Florence last September.

And it did. Also, as an artist, I want to remain open and not fall into any boxes or comfort zones.

The first thing that happened was that I was humbled. My skills from all these many years as an acrylic painter were not translating to watercolors. Perseverance really is so crucial in art, as in life, and I did keep at it.

Sterling is a wild watercolorist. Disciplined? Yes, but his freedom kinda blew my mind; he got really abstract and reminded me of how important it is to simplify. It is the essence that matters, not every detail of a given scene. Then he went full-on abstract.

abstract3815-5I want to be an abstract painter when I grow up. It just hasn’t happened for me. As I have written before, abstract painting is HARD. Your kid cannot do that. The reason it is hard is that there is no information in front of you. When I draw, it is so relaxing. I have a photo in front of me and I copy it. Usually sitting down with a cup of tea. I don’t have to make anything up. It’s right in front of me. But abstract is all about your imagination. It is also deeply personal. It’s about getting everything inside of you outside of you.

My art in recent months has been heading more in a direction of realism. Now, as a painter that values keeping a painting VERY painterly (as opposed to wanting it to look like a photo), it might be a stretch to use the term “realism,” but I have been drawing more with my paint and tightening up a bit. I promised myself this would help me when it was time to go abstract and it will, it has. The more you can automatically use your skills, the better they are all around. Practice, practice, practice! So I find myself headed in two different directions at once. Tightening up, drawing and abstracting. Wheeeeee, it’s good to be a artist!

Stay tuned on this journey, as I’ll be writing more about the Casa and painting. This is only Part 1.

As always share your own experiences or comments below. I love hearing from you all.

Florence, Day 16: Can I Get Any Sympathy? Anyone?

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But really, I’m not seeking sympathy at all. The truth is, none is needed. Though I’m full to the brim with information and tired in the bones, I am as happy as a clam here.

Today was my first day with my new teacher, Francesca, and she could not be more lovely. I’m so happy and filled with all the things I love, it’s as if I’m levitating. Still, it’s only 6:20 p.m. as I type this, and, without question, I’m in for the night. One has to pace all this wonderful with plenty of rest and a good book. (Currently reading the second book in the “Outlander” series and loving it!)

Francesca is more relaxed than some in Florence about all of the art “rules.” She is, after all, a painter. Also, she is Florentine and her work is beautiful like a photo. But she does not want to make me her, she says; you have to honor you, do what you like, in the way you like. So here I am, coming up against myself. Art and the making of great art is, after all, like life: Get out of your own way and let it happen. It’s about letting go of fear and trusting the process.

If I am here to learn — and I am — I must try new things. But (said using my hands like any good Italian), I long for my comfort zone. It’s like running with good shoes and shorts and a tank top on a hot summer day versus running with weights on your wrists and ankles in heavy sweats. One is more comfortable; the other might train you better. So here I am with the weights on and sweats, um, sweating it out so to speak.

I like Francesca and she has ideas to challenge me more, so I anticipate more sweat. Stay tuned “As the World Turns” or, OK, I really don’t have anything that dramatic, just some personal growth here. That is, after all, what I came for!