Recently, while winter was wreaking havoc on the majority of North America, I was privileged to instruct a group of pastelists south of the United States border in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico. Artists are often in search of inspiration. Whether they work exclusively from life (en plein air), take reference materials back to their studios, or combine the two, the visual stimulation and sensory stimuli provided from these painting explorations expand their creative horizons and often lead to some of their best work. The trip to Mexico provided an opportunity for just this kind of creative exploration.
Every year, Condé Nast Traveler announces its Reader’s Choice Awards. In 2013, in the category of the world’s Top 25 Cities, San Miguel de Allende received first place. Located in central Mexico, in the state of Guanajuato, the hilltop city is blessed with a historical colonial core, pleasant climate, and thriving art scene. As Condé Nast Traveler reported, “The lack of street lights and billboards makes the region romantically and historically beautiful, and the city itself offers a traditional feeling of a small town in the heart of Mexico.”
Every detail of this Pastel Society of America-sponsored workshop was attended to under the direction of Phil Levine who owns “1 World Art Travel” (1worldarttravel.com) and the wonderful staff and owner of Casa de la Noche where we were situated. Old Mexico charm was evident at every turn of the facility, which once housed a bordello, and now entertains a beautiful studio/classroom space that opens onto a rooftop terrace. A short walk from the entrance was the town square with its Magnificent church. Within close proximity were numerous other courtyards and churches that provided ample space for us to work. Within an easy taxi ride were other locations that provided diverse subject matter.
Delighting in Local Flora: Fog greeted us on the morning we visited the botanical gardens to paint. Situated on a hilltop overlooking the city, the reservoir provided mysterious willow bush reflections. While familiar subject matter for many of us, the giant cactus that also inhabited the locale was not. Its intriguing textures provided a treat for many and some of our best paintings came from that location.
Overcoming Architectural Intimidation: Approximately six miles from the city is the village of Atotonilco. Situated in the heart of the village is the church known as El Santuario de Antonilco (a UNESCO World Heritage Site, along with San Miguel de Allende). It is referred to as the Sistine Chapel of the Americas and the architecture shows signs of Moorish influence. The frescos that adorn the interior are inspired. A constant theme throughout the workshop was the challenge of painting architecture, especially for those of us more suited to wide-open landscapes. We persevered, reminding ourselves that the core of any solid painting is a good compositional design of shapes, value structures and color relationships. By the end of the workshop—with the exception of some linear perspective issues—we had lost our architectural intimidation.
Witnessing Daily Life: Every day provided visual inspiration and cultural interaction: We painted through a funeral, a wedding, the filming of a novella, and numerous other daily life experiences—the people only adding to the experience. At one point we were mobbed by children as they were let out of school to greet their parents for lunch. The genuine wonder on their faces as they huddled right at the edge of our pastel palettes looking up at the paintings was worth the whole trip. Language was a barrier, but we all understood when an exuberant little boy proclaimed to his classmates, “Estos son los pasteles y que son hermosas!”
MORE RESOURCES FOR ARTISTS
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