Creative Adventures

Oaxaca Art Retreat

It all still seems like a dream. Spending ten days in the cultural wonderland of Oaxaca was like going down an artisan rabbit hole.

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It all began when a friend notified me that there was an opening in Tracy Verdugo's Paint Mojo Art Retreat in Oaxaca. This was a bit of a miracle since her retreats sell out in 24 hours. I've taken two workshops with Tracy in Dallas, so I knew in a heartbeat that somehow, someway, I must go. As it turned out, myself and three dear friends ended up going on this remarkable journey together.

Tracy demonstrating                                                                                                                                                                         

Tracy demonstrating                                                                                                                                                                         

My alibrijes inspired jaguar and mark making

My alibrijes inspired jaguar and mark making

In case this is the first time you’ve ever heard of Oaxaca, you might be wondering how in the heck do you pronounce it. Let me help you out: WAH-ha-ka.

My group of friends from Texas plus two new friends.

My group of friends from Texas plus two new friends.

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We spent our days painting interspersed with meanderings through the cobblestone streets filled with colorful Spanish Colonial architecture. Dining at exquisite rooftop restaurants and exploring the artisan markets soon became second nature.

Taking a breather from one’s familiar environment and daily routine is one of the gifts of attending an art retreat, especially in a foreign country. Absorbing the sights, sensations, flora, colors, art, and handicrafts of Oaxaca spilled into our artwork. Tracy offers the perfect balance of allowing artistic freedom within her skillful guidance. All types of paintings emerged over the next few days from women with baskets on their heads to donkeys to expressive mark making to mermaids.

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Oaxaca is known for their meticulously hand-painted wooden figures known as the alebrijes. One of our excursions was to San Martin Tilcajete where the alebrijes are made. It was fascinating to learn that the alebrijes represent one’s animal spirit guardian based on one’s birthday. I found out mine was a monkey. From natural dyes, to wood carving to painting by hand, it was fascinating to see the whole process. A jaguar alebrijes found its way into one of my paintings.

Alebrijes

Alebrijes

After I returned home, I found out that the Abuelita character from the movie “Coco” was inspired by the Aunt of one of the owners of San Martin Tilcajete. I actually saw her in person and took a photo of her.

Aunt Estella aka Abuelita

Aunt Estella aka Abuelita

Oaxaca is a paradise for weavers and textile lovers. Even though I’m not a weaver, I was captivated by to learn about this ancient craft. Artisan villages are located close to Oaxaca City and make a splendid day trip.  Casa El Encanto, Teotitlan del Valle is known for its textiles, especially rugs, which are woven on hand-operated looms, from wool obtained from local sheep. These textile artisans work to preserve the use of plant and insect dyes.

Back Strap Weaving

Back Strap Weaving

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Yarns made from natural dyes for rug weaving

Yarns made from natural dyes for rug weaving

A smaller group of us hired a private driver to take us to the UNESCO archaeological ruins in Mitla, then to the natural infinity pools that fall off a cliff at Hierve El Agua. We also stopped to see the widest tree in the world, El Arbol del Tule inside the gated churchyard in the picturesque town of Santa Maria del Tule.

Archaeological ruins in Mitla and Hierve El Agua 

Archaeological ruins in Mitla and Hierve El Agua 

Back in Oaxaca City, the tours at The Ethnobotanical Garden focus on the cultural history of the region and are offered at certain times on certain days. I highly recommend going.

The Ethnobotanical Garden

The Ethnobotanical Garden

Oaxaca is also a culinary mecca. A Mezcal margarita is a must.  I especially loved the rooftop restaurants. Here are some of my favorites:

Casa Oaxaca has a fabulous view of Santo Domingo.

Tres Bistro has a terrific view of the Zocalo.

Vieja Lira is a chamring Italian restaurant. I ate their twice.

Los Danzantes doesn’t have a rooftop, but it has a lovely open courtyard setting.

Los Danzantes

Los Danzantes

Los Pilares Hotel is fantastic. I loved this place. A charming married couple own this beautiful place and you can tell they put their heart and soul into making your stay there a wonderful experience. I especially loved the rooftop restaurant and pool area.

Los Pilares Hotel

Los Pilares Hotel

Tracy Verdugo offers workshops and retreats around the world. I know she will come back to Oaxaca one day, meanwhile your can check out her retreats in Bali and Europe. tracyverdugo.com

This Oaxaca experience has deeply influenced me. The images that I saw there are spontaneously popping up in my artwork. I’ve even chosen to make my experience of Oaxaca the inspiration for my next art show scheduled for September 21-23 at The Cove in McKinney, Texas. Hope to see you there!

Photo Credits: Silky Hart, Anya Oram and Tracy Verdugo.

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Own Your Colors

Last month I took one of the best online class ever from Melinda Cootsana. She is an excellent teacher who gives detailed feedback. The class I took was Own Your Colors Part 2. Nope, I didn't take Part 1 which she said wasn't required.

I'll share a few of my assignments. So many of these ideas were brand new to me.

I wasn't that familiar with the phenomenon of color relativity. It extraordinary how the same color can look completely different given the colors that surround it. Here is my attempt at giving this a try. 

The top two photos are the same turquoise green. The bottom two are the same yellow green. 

The top two photos are the same turquoise green. The bottom two are the same yellow green. 

Cool light with warm shadows and its counterpart, warm light with cool shadows was a brand new exercise for me. 

I also learned about bringing reflective color into the shadow.

I also learned about bringing reflective color into the shadow.

Painting a self portrait with a Zorn color palette was a quite challenging! The Zorn color palette ( Cadmium Red Light, Payne's Grey and Yellow Ochre) are colors I usually wouldn't gravitate toward. That is precisely why this assignment was so good for me to try. This is my very first self portrait!

Yep, this looks like a first attempt at a self portrait. 

Yep, this looks like a first attempt at a self portrait. 

Using mostly neutrals with thimbleful of a primary color opened my eyes to how the brighter colors pop when contrasted against muted colors. I knew this idea theoretically, but this exercise brought it home for me.

Painting of Birth of Venus by Caz Love. A site specific art installation at Elephant Butte Lake.

Painting of Birth of Venus by Caz Love. A site specific art installation at Elephant Butte Lake.

I highly recommend this class. I'm in love with Melinda's figurative art so I'll be taking her Abstracting the Figure online class coming right up in September!

New Mexico Dreamscapes

I'm delighted to announce the details of my first Solo Art Exhibition. Here is a sneak peek at two of my paintings from New Mexico Dreamscapes

Road Trippin'

Road Trippin'

New Mexico. It is impossible to describe, but easy to feel. This collection of paintings is a record of my month-long artist residency at Elephant Butte Lake in Southern New Mexico. It reveals what I saw, heard and felt there. It is a transcript in colors and shapes of my deep conversation I had with that mystical landscape.

My art show runs from June 10 - 30, 2017 at The Martin Place, 1799 N. Graves St., McKinney, Texas  75069. 

My opening reception is June 10 from 6 PM to 9 PM. I will give a short artist talk at 7:30 PM.

Red Hills

Red Hills

Hope to see you there!

Conversation with the Landscape: My Artist Residency

Recently, I spent a month at the Elephant Butte Lake Artist Residency. I’ve heard about artist residencies, and I was eager to experience one. The theme of this residency was Conversation with the Landscape. This rural desert landscape and I had lots of say to each other!

Elephant Butte Lake

Elephant Butte Lake

 It was a big adventure to be sure. The first week I felt like a kid at camp – I was somewhere brand new, not knowing anyone and yes, I was homesick that first week but by the end of my four-week stay, I shed tears of happiness and appreciation for my amazing experience.

Strolling through Bosque del Apache Wildlife Reserve

Strolling through Bosque del Apache Wildlife Reserve

Although I’ve spent tons of time in northern New Mexico when I was younger, this was my first time to explore southern New Mexico. We all had our own casita overlooking Elephant Butte Lake which was usually full of vintage houseboats. We had no TV; cell phone service was very sketchy, but we did have Wi-Fi.

Casitas for the Artists

Casitas for the Artists

Houseboats on Elephant Butte Lake

Houseboats on Elephant Butte Lake

The nearest town was Truth or Consequences or T or C as the locals refer to it. It is a funky town known for its natural hot springs and its long name. My favorite spring was the Riverbend Hot Springs formerly a bait shop but now a relaxing spa overlooking the picturesque Rio Grande River.

Truth or Consequences, NM

Truth or Consequences, NM

View of the Rio Grande from Riverbend Hot Springs

View of the Rio Grande from Riverbend Hot Springs

This residency was self-directed. I was on my own. I could do whatever I wanted. No instructions. No critiques. It was like how I imagine Heaven being.

There were eleven of us from all over the country representing a variety of art forms including a documentary film maker, a potter, a paper maker, a photographer and visual artists.

We had a big space for our communal art studio. At times the studio was buzzing with activity. While other times I would enjoy the peacefulness of being the only one there. I enjoyed seeing what everyone else was working on. I tried to absorb as much as I could from the other artists. I was constantly asking questions. What brand of paint is that? Where did you get that brush? How did you do that?

One corner of our Art Studio

One corner of our Art Studio

We gathered each Monday morning to go over what was planned for the week. On Friday afternoon, we gathered again for HAPPY HOUR which involved lots of salsa and beer tasting.

We went on weekly excursions including trips to Las Cruces, Mesilla, Pueblo Ruins at Abo, Hatch and the ghost towns of Chloride and Monticello. I had two favorite places: the bird sanctuary at Bosque del Apache and the Gila Cliff Dwelling which was majestic and mystical. It was a long gorgeous drive through the mountains aptly named the Trail of the Mountain Spirits. I could feel every one of them.

I had many encounters with deers. This one is at Bosque del Apache.

I had many encounters with deers. This one is at Bosque del Apache.

Trail of the Mountain Spirits

Trail of the Mountain Spirits

Gila Cliff Dwellings

Gila Cliff Dwellings

We artist were good at balancing our work time and play time. For fun we would have a potluck, watch a film, go for a soak, or make a run to Casa Taco. The best brisket taco in the world can be had at this place. Seriously! Everyone was respectful and understood when you just needed to chill in your casita by yourself.

In this remote and isolated creative sanctuary, I found myself craving time to be with the land rather than in the studio. I marveled at the wide-open expanse and how the ever-shifting light constantly changed the colors on the lake.

Patio outside our Art Studio overlooking Elephant Butte Lake

Patio outside our Art Studio overlooking Elephant Butte Lake

 I did lots of creative thinking and soul reflection while hiking. My creative practice shifted from creating finished work to keeping a sketchbook of ideas and impressions. I wanted to listen and absorb all that the land had to offer. It was a time to learn and be. The studio work would just have to wait.

In my next journal post, I’ll share some pages from my New Mexico Sketchbook and thoughts about my creative process.

Backyard Sketchbook

I have a confession to make. I’ve always wanted to keep a daily sketchbook, but was never able to do it. What got me over the hump was an online class taught by the very talented Scottish artist, Jemma Derbyshire. I have finally met with some satisfying success.

Quick warm-up sketch

Quick warm-up sketch

Charcoal sketch

Charcoal sketch

Learning to see through observational drawings, value studies, color studies and explorative mixed media pieces with a playful and inquisitive spirit was the main objective in keeping a sketchbook. The expectation was to create a daily habit, even if for just 10 minutes a day.

Arbitrary color study of my pond in oil pastels

Arbitrary color study of my pond in oil pastels

Enlarging one of the color studies

Enlarging one of the color studies

I chose my backyard as the subject for my first sketchbook. I chose this theme because I have an emotional connection to it. I’m also inspired by the variety of shapes, colors and light at different times of the day, even when the Texas heat makes it unbearable to be outside.

Many of the pages were collaged first with pieces of paper to break the surface.

Trying out a new color palette

Trying out a new color palette

Some of the sketches were further developed on large sheets of papers. At first I found this intimidating. Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn’t. By cropping a drawing that wasn’t quite working made it suddenly work! I also discovered that changing the color palette can make a dramatic difference. I discovered a few tricks that help me become a better artist.

This oil pastel sketch was a section from another sketch that I enlarged

This oil pastel sketch was a section from another sketch that I enlarged

I cropped the sketch of the Flowers into two sketches with works much better

I cropped the sketch of the Flowers into two sketches with works much better

Original colors of a sketch that I cropped to make it work better

Original colors of a sketch that I cropped to make it work better

Sketching the same scene in different colors

Sketching the same scene in different colors

Cropping the scene to make the composition work

Cropping the scene to make the composition work

Now, I intend to paint a new series called In My Own Backyard. I owe this to the inspiration I got from keeping my sketchbook.

 

Welcome to My Journal

Hi! I enjoy the camaraderie that artists create online. I enjoy taking online classes, participating in Facebook art groups and following blogs written by artists. These online experiences have enriched my own artistic exploration, providing me with loads of encouragement and insight.

Often, I am filled with deep appreciation for artists who have been so generous in sharing their challenges, struggles, inspirations, processes and techniques. 

I aim to follow suit.

Cheers!