Painters at Painter’s, Campbell River

Every year art aficionados gather at Painters Lodge in Campbell River on Vancouver Island to rub shoulders with local artists. This year, the 21st year of the Painters at Painter’s art extravaganza, saw yours truly and seven of the Turkish Ten converge on Campbell River for this event.

The Lodge is very nice, situated on several waterfront acres facing Quadra Island, with gorgeous gardens (and flowers blooming several weeks ahead of schedule – global climate change, anyone?) and several buildings worth of rooms. Another nice feature is the pool, a real sun trap on what turned out to be a fabulous hot summery weekend.

Lidia was kind enough to invite us over for drinks and nibblies to her waterfront room on Friday night and we convened at Kathy’s home on the hill overlooking the ocean on Saturday night. While the art work on display at Painter’s was mostly not of interest to me, I did appreciate the skill evidenced and some of the technical info dispensed at the various workshops.

The weekend consisted of presentations, demonstrations, and panel discussions by painters, mostly local and mostly associated with the Federation of Canadian Artists, held in several different venues around the grounds. First up, in the big tent on the tennis courts, was “Face to Face”.

Four artists demonstrated their varying approaches to portrait painting, with fellow artist Rick McDiarmid the willing model and Andy Wooldridge the MC. Kiff Holland opted for pastel, while David Goatley & Catherine Moffat used oil paints and Alan Wylie acrylic. The tent was very well set up, with two large screens on either side of the stage displaying close-ups of the paintings as they progressed.

It was very interesting to see how each artist began the project. It was obvious watching David that here was a man who does this for a living. He very quickly drew out and blocked in the bust of his subject, using swift and sure brush strokes.

Catherine was more tentative and worked from the outside of the face in with light, grey strokes.

Kiff’s pastel portrait began with what looked to be a not very promising sketch of the model’s features but soon resolved into something finely realised. From my vantage point it was not possible to see much of what Alan was doing.

Master of ceremonies Andy Wooldridge was both amusing and informative as he commented on the proceedings and answered questions from the audience. In fact, the commentary seemed to me like that heard while watching a snooker championship or a poker game.

That this event continues to get such a large audience every year is testament to the abilities of these folks to engage onlookers in their process.

Up next was Country Mouse, City Mouse, an account of the careers and studios of Nanaimo artists Grant Leier and Nixie Barton, whose work I do enjoy.

Nixie works in encaustic, executing semi-abstract images of flowers and patterns. Grant’s work is unabashedly decorative, highly detailed and colourful; his intent is to give pleasure and that obviously works for the many people who buy his paintings.

Ten of us convened for the famous brunch in the main building and consumed quantities of seafood, roast lamb, salad, roasted veggies, and a vast array of sweets – fabulous.

The afternoon saw several of us poolside, baking in the heat and dipping in the water, after checking out a few minutes of Keith Hiscock’s still life demo and before a panel discussion with six of the artists moderated by Nicholas Pearce.

Since I have heard, and participated in, these sorts of discussions about art more times than I can count, their conclusions didn’t particularly grip me. However, the rest of the audience seemed to appreciate what these artists had to say and gave them a warm round of applause. It must be very satisfying for these folks to have such an enthusiastic following of art lovers.

On Sunday morning three of us took the water taxi across to the April Point resort and had a stroll around the grounds, with a nice view of the islands and mountains of the coast, before another fabulous feast, after which we rolled back down the highway and onto the ferry.

In the waters around April Point orange sea urchins are very plentiful, but very few starfish, only a couple of ten-armed orange seastars clinging to the rocks.

See more photos here  Painters at Painter’s.

Turkey Art Adventure Sept 27 to Oct 10, 2015

I am really excited to have been asked to lead a small group tour to Turkey this Fall with Finisterra Travel. See the itinerary here.

See my blog posts here for my 2014 painting trip to Turkey here.

Read about my month as artist in residence at the Babayan Art House, Ibrahimpasa, Turkey in March 2009 on the blog here.

Read about my month as artist in residence at the Gumusluk Academy on the Bodrum peninsula in Turkey for May 2009 here.

Some of my favourite things …

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A few of my favourite Puerto Vallarta sights: colourful balloons on street food stands, this one on Insurgentes at Basillio Badillo,

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the bougainvillea bushes on Olas Altas and Basillio Badillo, day and night,

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the gorgeous, gigantic trees in Lazaro Cardenas Park,

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skulls and skeletons,

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street art,

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Art VallArta, the fantastic art studio run by the fabulous Nathalie Herling in which I created these two masks, with the great help of Mexican maestro Froylan Hernandez, worn below by Patricia Gawle and Nathalie. In the foreground you can see some of the works made by Patricia, a ceramic artist who has a studio and gallery in the old town on Basillio Badillo.

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I hope to add more colour to El Diablo at home, perhaps a brilliant red and some shiny green for the teeth.

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Amazingly, these pieces made it home intact. Ty did a wonderful job of packing them in styrofoam and several layers of bubble wrap. Below are pictures of the vessels that Froylan created.

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The red tagine is not completed yet; Froylan is going to add highlights in darker colours with probably a couple more layers of glaze.

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Puerto Vallarta finito

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I am seated on the balcony of suite #13 at the Estancia San Carlos, a small 24 room apartment hotel 2 blocks from Los Muertos beach on Constitucion. We decided to move to a place with a pool for our last five days, just to see whether we really needed it. It’s nice to have the pool, and the courtyard is very pleasant, with two gigantic palm trees, lots of other vegetation, and the two levels of rooms arranged around it. Our place is huge, on the SW top corner, with two balconies, one facing the courtyard and the other the street, a busy one on which the buses run day and night. It has two bedrooms, a bathroom and a large kitchen and seating area. It would be fabulous except that the furniture is so uncomfortable that after sitting on it for half an hour, we can’t feel our butts any longer. But I love its light and airy space.

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My two masks have been completed and are cooling down in the kiln as I write. As you can see from these pictures, I was very excited to see them emerge from the bisque firing under the watchful eyes of Nathalie and Froylan. I spent several hours yesterday glazing both of them and am very curious to see how they will turn out. This morning Ty and I spent a bit of time wandering the streets of old town looking for bubble wrap to pack them in for the trip home tomorrow.

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This town is really beautiful and the weather has mostly been fantastic; we have had a tiny bit of rain and a couple of cloudy days but other than that, El Sol shone.

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We spent a bit of time on Playa Camarones at Mango Beach Bar, a restful change from Playa Los Muertos in our neck of the woods. The beach here is wide and long and not nearly as heavily populated as in the old town. I like to watch all the characters on the beach and in the water; these folks, all seven of them, had piled onto a banana boat and, about a minute into the ride, were dumped off into the water and had to wait to be retrieved since apparently none of them could swim well enough, even with life jackets, to make it to the beach.

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Ah, los colores de Mexico! I’m not ready to leave yet but manyana the plane will whisk us away. Adios!

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San Sebastian del Oeste, Jalisco, Mexico

Originally settled in 1605, San Sebastian del Oeste is a secluded 17th century mining town which reached its peak of prosperity in the 1700s, when over 30,000 people inhabited the area. Over the years, the town’s population fluctuated wildly as gold and silver were mined intermittently between the 1600’s and the 1930’s; it now has around 600 permanent residents. Located at the foot of the Western Sierra Madre in West Jalisco, San Sebastian del Oeste, designated one of Mexico’s Magical Towns, is an hour and a half drive into the hills along winding country roads from Puerto Vallarta. The town is located in a pine forest and the air is crisp and clear.

By 1785 there were 10 gold and silver reduction haciendas and almost 30 mines in the area; the town became a city in 1812 and reached its peak in 1830. The mines stopped working during the 1910 revolution and the foreign companies moved elsewhere. The last mine stopped working in 1921. (http://www.puertovallarta.net/what_to_do/san-sebastian-del-oeste-mexico.php)

“The mines were, in part, responsible for the start of Puerto Vallarta. Then know as Las Peñas and consisting of just a few huts at the mouth of the Rio Cuale, it was used to supply the mines with salt which was taken by mules up to San Sebastian and other mines in the High Sierras and used in the smelting process. The silver and gold from the mines was sent, again by mule train, through Guadalajara and Mexico City to Veracruz, where it was sent, once a year, to Spain” (from PV Insider website).

Our driver picked us up from our casa at 10 am for our trip up to San Sebastian, and, after passing many mountain bikers panting slowly up the hills,

we stopped for breakfast at a local family restaurant in tiny Estancia to sample home-made quesadillas cooked on a fire in front of us.

Our next stop, just outside the town, was the Hacienda Jalisco, “built 225 years ago by the Spanish to hold and guard the returns of the myriads of mines of San Sebastian, in preparation for shipments to Spain”, as their website explains.

Now a guesthouse, the hacienda has a small museum of artifacts from its mining days on the first floor, as well as old photos of Elizabeth Taylor and John Huston, the luminaries whose presence here in the 1960s really kicked off Puerto Vallarta and the surrounding area as a tourist haven.

We strolled around the premises, snuck a look at one of the guest bedrooms, a high-ceilinged room with wooden ceilings and a big stone fireplace, and saw the aquaduct system and the remains of smelting chimneys still standing on the edge of the property.

Avocado trees, bougainvillea, and coffee are all grown here. There is no electricity, evenings are lit by oil lamps and candles, and there’s no telephone, life as it was in the Colonial era.

From the hacienda we made our way into the small town, currently in the process of being modernised, much to the chagrin of the older inhabitants, who are not interested in change.

Innovations such as a new entrance gate, newly paved sidewalks, new brick walls, and an entirely renovated town square, are evidence of the money the Mexican government is putting into its Pueblos Magicos program, designed to encourage and capitalise on tourism.

We had a look at the Hotel del Puente, purchased some churros pastry at a local bakery, then drove up to a local raicilla distillery.

Raicilla, home-grown moonshine, sort of a cross between scotch and tequila, is made from the agave plant, which distillers harvest from the surrounding hills and then process in what is essentially a small home alcohol still, consisting of clay ovens, big blue plastic barrels, copper pipes, and hoses.

Nothing was being cooked this day but I could smell the remnants of previous batches in the air. Home distilleries such as these have to be careful to pour off the first litre of distilled alcohol, since it is pure ethanol and will blind the drinker. Provided that the distiller only makes a certain small amount, this home production is legal.

Back in town, we sampled a draught of raicilla at the only cantina in town, located at one corner of the town square and full of local guys quaffing shrimp micheladas who had ridden in on bicycles and motorcycles.

From there we checked out the town church, the Town Hall with its still-functioning jail and graffiti-scratched walls, a jewelry shop with work by local artisans, and then had some delicious fajitas at a Mexican restaurant around the corner.

Full of fajitas, we then drove to the Quinta Mary coffee plantation, another former hacienda restored to a shadow of its former glory,

with two beautiful African blue parrots in a gigantic metal cage snacking on sunflower seeds,

and finally to the local cemetery, where colourful graves and a gigantic bougainvillea bush rest quietly on a hillside to the accompaniment of cattle lowing in the shade.

The experience of being in this town was a strange one. In a way it felt more like Switzerland than Mexico, with the cool temperatures, the mountains and the white of the buildings against the green hills.

For a town of 600 permanent residents, it has an quite a few restaurants and hotels, testaments to the increasing number of tourists who make their way here on day trips and overnighters. Like that strange Greek island I went to off the coast of Turkey, Castellorizo, this place, too, feels like a stage set, on which people are wandering about waiting for something to happen, something that is just around the corner but that actually never seems to arrive.

See more photos here.

Moroccan Cooking in Mexico

Ty and I joined Nathalie and eight other food lovers to create a wonderful Moroccan dinner, led by clay-cooking Maestra Nathalie, in the kitchen high in the sky above the Art Vallarta studio. Photo below by Debbie Berlin.

Here’s the description from Nathalie’s website:

Food is Art when prepared with heart and soul. We will explore every aspect of la comida international. Down to the vessel it is prepared in, selection of ingredients, how the sauce is stirred and the moments of presentation & enjoyment.

Cooking Classes and Events will be held in an handcrafted Mexican tile ART Kitchen in the Romantic Zone. Puerto Vallarta on the 8th Floor of the San Franciscan complex over looking the fabulous Bay of Vallarta. 213 Calle Pilitas, Emiliano Zapata, half a block off Olas Altas in the heart of the Romantic Zone.

Holy Mole Moroccan Cooking Class – The Menu:

Pomegranate Mint Cocktail

Moroccan Meatballs with dipping sauce

Chicken Almond Bastilla


Dried salted tomatoes, olives, preserved lemons and vegetable fish Tagine

Traditional Vegetable Tagine with Lamb Merguez Sausage and Ras El Hanout spice

Preserved Lemons and Pomegranate Molasses

Rose water and spices steamed couscous grain

Traditional Yogurt Cake, orange blossom ice cream with fruits (Photo below by Debbie Berlin)

Wine, Mint Tea and Coffee

Each of us contributed to making the dinner, from slicing the tomatoes, to grilling the meatballs and chicken, to preparing the fillo pastry, to slicing the fish and preparing the shrimp, to grinding the spices with mortar and pestle.

While we worked the multi-talented Froylan Hernandez serenaded us on his guitar.

All the dishes were cooked on the gas stove-top in clay vessels, including a beautiful tagine made by Froylan, topped with a delightful little ceramic blowfish.

After everything was prepared and cooked, we sat down to dinner on Nathalie’s delightful terrace overlooking Banderas Bay to enjoy the fruits of our labours – fantastic!

See more here.

For more info about Art Vallarta click here.

More Art Walkin’

Artists Austin Young and David Burns from Los Angeles are in PV to work on a collaborative art project entitled Fallen Fruit. The project is designed for people to reimagine their communities as “fruitful places”: “to collectively re-imagine the function of public participation and urban space, and to explore the meaning of community through creating and sharing new and abundant resources. Fruit Trees! Share your fruit! Change the world!”, as their write-up describes it.

We participated, along with dozens of others, in helping to create a Fruit Magazine in one night in the garden of the Oficina de Proyectos Culturales; it is entitled “¡Estás Como Mango!” and features collage images of fruit-inspired art and original texts and images about fruit and the history of Puerto Vallarta. Contributors were asked to bring photographs, stories, poems, drawings, recipes, and other visual material that connects with the subject of fruit in Vallarta.

When we arrived, several white tables and chairs were set up and people were already in the throes of creation to the inspirational sound of jazz music. Each table was decorated with a centrepiece of fruit and art supplies, including piles of magazines and advertisements to be used as collage material.

Ty enthusiastically jumped in to create a “fruit taxi” from the material provided, while my piece featured female figures, many with fruit heads. Fun! For more information on this project, click here. For information about the OPC Cultural Centre, click here.

After completing our offering, we visited some of the Art Walk galleries that we had not made it to last time, including the Mata Ortiz Ceramic Gallery (incredibly delicate and detailed small vessels)

and the Loft Galeria,

as well as a majolica shop selling many multi-coloured and costly ceramic vessels.

Our walk home to us back along the Malecon, where we saw a pirate ship floating on the bay, several sellers of spray can paintings, many crepe vendors, and the colourful lights of the boardwalk bars and restaurants.

Back in the ‘hood, and feeling a hankering for grilled shrimp, we wound our way through the streets to El Brujo, a restaurant well-reviewed on Trip Advisor, to sample some seafood.

The grilled shrimp was tasty, the octopus, not so much.

See more pics here and here.

Ceramics and other Fun in the Sun

While I wait for El Diablo to be dry enough to fire and glaze, I am working on a new creation.  This piece began life as an alien with three eyeballs and five tentacles, inspired by the octopus piece Froylan is helping Andy build.

First El Maestro threw a pot on the wheel which then became the rock on which the octopus sits. Then he and Andy crafted a hollow head for the beast and eight curling tentacles which I greatly admired.

I decided that my alien, too, would have curling tentacles; however, I didn’t have the skill to create as beautiful ones as those on the octopus.

The first two smaller tentacles I adhered in place of eyebrows, while three others were attached below the nose. These ended up looked like moustache whiskers. A further larger couple I initially intended to attach below the mouth but, upon further thought, I decided against it.

After asking me whether my creation was a predator or a vegetarian – vegetarian – Froylan had an idea for the mouth, based on a trumpet fish he’d seen while diving. He crafted me a very nice small mouthpiece on the wheel; subsequently, we decided that one of the smaller tentacles would be best placed coming out of the mouth for feeding purposes.

As I continued to work on the piece, it mutated from an alien into the Vegetarian Sea Santa you see here. The shape of the mask suggested a beard, so I carved wiggly lines into the clay to indicate wavy hair.

Scales were cut into the cheeks and algae into the area around the forehead; if I had time, I’d probably have made the algae hair more three dimensional by attaching separate fronds and leaves. Given that there’s not much time left to complete the piece, that will have to wait for another opportunity.

The other night Ty and I made our way down to the Sea Monkey beach bar to watch the pelicans swim and wait for the sunset.

While there we enjoyed watching a pair of golden long-haired dachshunds play on the sand, running and digging holes.

Other than that, we have drunk cups of coffee at various outdoor cafes – Caffe del Mar, also an art gallery containing the ceramic work of Rodo Padillo and the paintings of Angie McIntosh –  is a good one,

as is A Page in the Sun, a combo bookstore and coffee shop,

played a few games of pool at the Crowbar in our neighbourhood, run by a woman from Chilliwack,

had a few lunches at Mi Cafe, a fantastic spot around the corner from us,

and spent Sunday evening at a potluck film fest put on by Nathalie at Art VallARTa, watching Birdman and Gone Girl, while sampling some spicy chili, pasta salad (made by me from scratch), pizza, and lots of baked goodies – fun!

I really love the colourful streets here, with fabrics of many colours and stripes, beautiful flowers, and vibrantly painted cement buildings.

See more here and here.

From Boca to Colomitos

Ty and I decided to spend the day in Boca de Tomatlan, about 30 minutes by bus south of Puerto Vallarta, a small fishing village which is the jumping off point for water taxis to points further south not accessible by road. After a busy, full bus ride of folks who mostly got off in Mismaloya, we were deposited on the highway near Boca and walked down the cement staircase to the town, accompanied by the sounds of the grader and workers fixing the road into town, obviously from having been washed out in the recent torrential rain storm. Noisy! And hot!

The town itself is unremarkable, a small burg of a few stores, some cement houses, a couple of rental apartments, and lots of baying dogs. The folks you see walking away behind Ty we later saw in Puerto Vallarta with several dogs which they take around every day as volunteer dog walkers for a rescue organisation.

Boca is located on a lovely small bay at the mouth of the Horcones river, in which lots of water taxis and other boats are parked. We saw some beautiful tiny white wading birds with very long legs hunting fish.

Although we hadn’t really planned on it when we set out this morning, we decided to hike around the point to the next beach over, since the noise of the working machinery was unappealing.

I had researched the hike from Boca to Las Animas, a beach further down the coast about halfway between Boca and Yelapa, and we had mused about doing it. Today’s walk, though, was spur of the moment.

After wading across the waterway, we found the trail on the far side of the bay and clambered up onto a cement walkway that passed along beside the houses and rental casitas of the far side of the bay.

Some of the houses along here are enormous, white-painted, and many-leveled, with beautiful flowers. We passed a gigantic Banyan-like tree with a huge canopy of branches and several cement terraces with diving platforms.

The trail then became a bit steep as we climbed up and up into the forest and skirted around the headland. Up along the ridge are several abandoned houses whose shells have been picked clean, possibly by vagrants.

After reaching the top we then carefully made our way down the far side of the ridge to a lovely small, secluded beach called Colomitos.

We were drawn like moths to light by the sign advertising “Beach Club” along the rocky cliff side. However, when we got there, the host told us the place was reservation only and that it was full. No room at the inn for these travellers and no beer to be had at the bar. We could, however, do take out. I bought 2 beers and asked for a bag of ice which the barkeep gave us. Apparently, there are three seatings a day at this place and folks are ferried over by water taxi from Boca. If we had wanted to take a boat back, we could have done so for 50 pesos each.

Once down on the beach and settled into a little patch of shade next to the rocks, I asked a few folks already there about the difficulty of the remainder of the hike to Las Animas and we decided that it was not for us this day – perhaps mas tarde.

We enjoyed our beers and the visit of a gigantic black Great Dane named Wilson. After an hour or so, we decided against the boat back and trudged our way back to Boca along the trail again. Then walk back was significantly easier than coming, with the exception of the steep hike back up the hill from the beach.

Being thirsty and a bit tired, we plopped ourselves down on Boca’s beach under an umbrella and toasted the afternoon with coronas and french fries before grabbing the bus back again. Good Times!

See a few more pics here.

More info about this hike and other beaches in the area surrounding PV here.

More info about Boca itself and the surrounding area here.

Centro Art Walking

Here I am wearing the approved art opening outfit, on the foot bridge over the Rio Cuale on the way to Angeline Kyba’s art studio opening in Gringo Gultch. Her place is the last house on the street that runs right along the river and has a commanding view out over the town and mountains south of it.

There are many beautiful houses, and especially beautiful bougainvilleas, in this part of the world.

The studio is accessed up a fairly long, steep set of stairs to the top floor. Below is a photo of the artist.

After spending a bit of time inhaling the ambience, we headed back down the road to Centro for the Wednesday night Art Walk in the area past the main Cathedral.

I really love photographing the Cathedral, but its odd location makes it difficult. Unlike other cities here, in which the main Cathedrals are situated in expansive plazas, PV’s is off on a side street in a position that hides it from being seen in its totality.

We passed an interesting looking restaurant/ bar on the way and so stopped in for a glass of vino on the balcony. Florio’s is its name and it also has a lovely little brightly-decorated patio in the back.

Our first stop, just around the corner, is a new artists collective gallery operated by a woman from Vancouver, Nina I think is her name. I really like the painted wood free-standing devils and masks from Oaxaca made of wood and boar’s bristles. Fabulous! Now that I am a ceramicist (ha!) (not), I can really appreciate the skill that it takes to make these pieces.

Galeria Corsica, billed as containing “museum quality fine art”, was next on the route. This place, on several levels, occupies the former house of a famous old-time Puerto Vallarta artist.

It has a lovely sculpture courtyard, which looked beautiful in the light of the early evening.

Kitty-corner to the Corsica is the Galeria des Artistes (at least I think that’s the name), which had an interesting juxtaposition of abstract steel sculpture and semi-surrealist painting.

Ty always manages to find a good place to sit while indulging me in my art fetish.

One of the galleries that I find most interesting is the Galerie Omar Alonso; it often has good installation and contemporary sculpture.

This night they were setting up the work of Ireri Topete, the printmaking maestra I met last year. She runs the studio on Isla Cuale. Her beautiful mixed media works on paper deal with the environment and the sea and sky scapes of Puerto Vallarta.

Galerie Whitlow features the work of Michael Whitlow, a realist painter of still lifes.

Calle Aldama was partially blocked off for a piano recital by local teenagers, presided over by the ubiquitous skeletons found around here.

The Pacifico was one of the more crowded spaces, possibly because the drinks and nibblies are more lavish here than in some places.

This puppy dog, exhausted from a strenuous art day, could barely move to acknowledge visitors.

See more here. More information about the art walk can be found here.