Puerto Vallarta!

Thanks so much to Jill for generously hosting us in Vancouver! After a not-too-bad but loonnnnngggg day flying from YVR (up at 2:30 am for the taxi to the airport) through Mexico City to Vancouver, we arrived at the hacienda in Puerto Vallarta. We are staying at the Hotel Posada Lily, corner of Basillio Badillo and Olas Altas, the epicentre of Old Town tourism, until Feb 25, in the same room as last year, number 20. Slightly unfortunately, and surprisingly to me, there is construction right across the street at the Hotel Los Arcos. They are adding a wing that is another story or two higher than the original hotel, somewhat impacting the charm of this location.

However, in the early mornings and evenings, when the banging and grinding has stopped, the place is pleasant. Below is the view from our front balcony, out over the elementary school (may they never tear it down!) and the Lazaro Cardenas Park, zumba-central here in Old Town.

Our room has a small kitchenette and we cook lots and eat out on the balcony overlooking the activity below. On any given night we are treated to Aztec dancers, guys doing acrobatic tricks, young boys singing La Bamba (out of tune), the donut man, chess players, drunken tourists trying to cross the street, muscle cars with blaring Latin music, and huge crowds lined up, for some unknown reason since tacos are everywhere here, at the taco stand du jour across the street … the whole panoply of Puerto Vallarta life.

Maggie has joined us for the first month and is in room 19 next door; we have taken over the top floor of the Lily.

One of the first couple of nights we headed out to grab some pesos from the bank near the Church of Guadalupe, with its gorgeous silver crown lit up at night glowing in the dark, and to sample some shrimp tacos from Ty’s favourite taco stand near the Municipal Market.

Luckily, the tacos are still great and we savoured the street-side feast.

One of the great things about this location is its closeness to the Malecon, the seafront boardwalk that stretches from Old Town out to 5th of Diciembre; we walk it every second day, enjoying the scene; everyone from vendors to dog-walkers to joggers to cyclists to segway riders is out and about in the morning. As usual, Ty is accosted by folks trying to sell him pipes and other assorted smoking paraphernalia (pssst Mr Whiskers, how about some weed?) Volunteers are adding more beautiful mosaics to the grandstand area of the Park.

Pro tip: the best place to get a great cup of coffee is in Old Town at Page in the Sun. We stopped further down the Malecon at an Italian Coffee shop right on the Boardwalk where Ty was given a cup of dark brown liquid that looked like coffee but had zero coffee taste (the grounds had obviously been run through about 5 times before his cup, leaving nothing of coffee for him – weird). My cappuccino was ok, though. (First world problems!)

Also down here for two months are Pam, Cec, and Beatrice, in residence at Selva Romantica, a lovely condo complex quite near our place, where we have been treated to delicious dinners a couple of times.

Each evening around 9 there is a short burst of fireworks which we were able to see from their balcony, looking north.

Another sunny morning, another stroll along the Malecon. Below is part of Isla Cuale, the green oasis of art and culture in Puerto Vallarta.

Below is a photo of my favourite Malecon sculpture; I don’t know the name of the artist but every year we enjoy sitting on these bronze creatures’ laps. Each body has a different selection of animal extremities which I find very amusing.

I love how areas of the bronze have been rubbed golden by the thousands of hands and bottoms that have enjoyed these sculptured beings.

The Mexicans seem to love Surrealism, in art, literature, and film. These creatures remind me a bit of the monster with eyeballs in his hands in the film Pan’s Labyrinth from a while back.

Puerto Vallarta’s art scene is still lively, with new murals springing up around the city. The one below, on the Isla Cuale, is still one of my favourites. Every Friday afternoon expats and tourists play social bridge at the International Friendship Club, whose headquarters are above the HSBC across the river from the Isla Cuale. Maggie and I gave it a whirl, along with about a hundred other people at a forest of white plastic tables set out in the building’s interior and courtyard.

Although I had not played at all while up in FSJ, I wasn’t too bad, albeit rusty. I seem to have forgotten some of the finer details of the bidding, though, but Maggie did not get too exercised about my incompetence.

Below is the courtyard of the Centre; one side is occupied by the Friendship Club, the other by the University of Guadalajara.

Having worked up a thirst with our afternoon of cards, Ty met us and we headed over to the Island for a drink at one of our favourite watering holes, the Brazzas Cafe.

After a few tasty margaritas at the bar, we rolled over to Marisco Cisneros for their fantastic seafood soup.

Friday nights in Old Town see the local Folkloric Ballet company dancing in the Lazaro Cardenas Park to lively Latin music, featuring dances and costumes from several of the nearby States.

We finished that evening by meeting Beatrice for music at the Mole de Jovita cafe, listening to singer and guitarist Neiri.

A nice find was the Bar La Playa right next to the Saturday market; sitting there sipping a cold one, we chatted to several people we knew passing by after visiting the Market.

Having had the Los Lirios Seafood restaurant recommended to them, Pam, Cec, and Beatrice invited us to join them for dinner. A small family-run place which does not take reservations, the restaurant was packed when we arrived. The one hour wait was worth it, though – our seafood burritas were huge and stuffed with hot, spicy shrimp – yum!

Puerto Vallarta is packed to the rafters this season. People have told us that they have never seen the place so full. The hotels are full and if you do not get to the beach by 10, a lounger is not to be had.

So naturally Ty and I were up and out the door early, to be the first people on the beach at Swell Beach Bar, one of our fave haunts on the Playa de los Muertos. Ty is getting into the swing of retirement, project-managing his consumption of cervesas in the most optimum manner.

Sunday is the day when all the local families come down to the beach with all their kids and gear, playing volleyball and frolicking in the water.

And Sunday night is the night for dancing at the main square with the Municipal Band, attracting both locals and tourists. The couple below have probably been dancing together for 40 years and they move together like magic.

I popped into Art Vallarta to see what was up there and to check out my friend Angie’s Pillars of Painting class in the centre’s downstairs painting studio. All four of the students were painting up a storm and seemed very happy with what they were able to produce in only 3 days.

Some of the works from the Women and Men Paint Women show were still up in the Centre’s Gallery, a beautiful, colourful space.

A new clay maestro from North Carolina, Rob, is in residence teaching ceramics and creating a clay portrait bust for the upcoming Magical Mar show featuring works about water and the ocean. The exhibition will feature one of my films, Awash, and paintings, ceramics, textile installations, and sculpture by local and international artists.

Veronica is also there, teaching watercolours to an eager crowd of beginners.

And Carol Anne offers acrylic pour painting, painting on silk, and fused glass classes weekly during the high season. The place was alive with creative buzz.

Lest you think that I’m doing nothing but drink beer and lie on the beach, here are some photos to show that I am easing into the art-making down here as part of the Puerto Vallarta Plein Air Painters, a group of people who head out into the streets every week to paint the local scene.

Every week the group paints at a different location; today’s was the back streets of Gringo Gultch, made famous by the lovebirds Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton who canoodled here in the 60s while making The Night of the Iguana, the film that brought the world to PV.

This is the spot I chose to paint, first sitting on stone steps but then chased off by a constant stream of ants and a very affectionate cat who insisted on rubbing against me and all my gear. He also walked across my paint palette, leading Angie and I to franticly try rubbing all the turquoise paint off his four paws. We later learned his name is Pasquale; he is the cat of a local singer here, Sylvie.

There are quite a few street cats here who look to be in pretty good shape; the one below watched me balefully, definitely not as friendly as Pasquale.

I did the first layer of a street scene that I wasn’t particularly enamoured of, but will see how it looks after adding more colour, lights, and darks.

Here is Angie in the middle of working on her piece; she ended up staying there almost all day to finish it. As you can see, she has all the requisite gear for painting outside, including the umbrella.

See more photos here.

Clay Cooking in the Art Kitchen, Puerto Vallarta

The gang of six on the way to Art Vallarta.

Diego, Frida, and her monkey welcomed us to the Mexican-Morrocan cooking class at Art Vallarta last Wednesday evening. Hosted by the wonderful Nathalie, the class is held in the Art Kitchen penthouse of the San Franciscan condo complex in Old Town Puerto Vallarta, in the air above Art Vallarta.

The artist-painted chair backs are a new addition to the terrace dining table this year and they are gorgeous, as are the beautiful handmade textile place-mats.

Nathalie, dressed in colourful Frida-inspired clothing and apron, greeted us with refreshing blended drinks of tequila, cilantro, and pineapple juice (so much for my swearing off tequila …).

The first order of business was removing the pistils from a bowl of zucchini flowers to be used in a crepe dish.

Next, Janet was deputised to wash the banana leaves for a clay-cooked fish dish, while Maggie stoked the fire in the chimenea, in which the fish was to be cooked.

In addition to the raw clay platters Nathalie had pre-prepared, looking like enormous peanut butter cookies, the dish required a sauce of passion plant seeds from her enormous flowers, lots of cilantro, red onion, and cream.

This is the passion plant flower; it is at least four times as big as the ones I grow on my deck.

After patting out the clay and covering it with a banana leaf, we added a chunk of red snapper, drenched it with sauce, sealed it up in a banana leaf, and wrapped the entire package in clay, being sure that the clay had no holes.

Nathalie was pleased with our creations.

While we made the clay fish pockets, Brook whipped up the batter for the crepes in a large clay dish.

Once the chimenea was hot enough, Nathalie inserted the clay fish pockets deep into its belly, finding room for all nine pieces.

For the main dish, Nathalie had marinated chicken thighs and placed them in the bottom of one of Froylan’s whimsical clay tagines.

Building up the dish into a pyramid of food, we added prunes, red onion, herika sauce,

carrots, zucchini, garbanzo beans, potatoes, lots and lots of cilantro,

pomegranate seeds,

and covered the whole enormous pile with cabbage leaves at the end. The tagine is simply placed on a stove top element and left to cook for an hour or so; since the food that requires the most time to cook is placed on the bottom and that which requires the least at the top, all of it is ready to go at the same time.

The zucchini flowers were rolled into the crepes with a mild white cheese and covered in a roasted tomato sauce.

It was a bit tricky getting all of the clay pockets out of the chimenea’s belly.

Unfortunately, two of the pockets exploded while cooking but mine survived intact.

Once seated at the dining table, we each took turns whacking the clay with wooden mallets to reveal the fish inside.

My favourite dishes were the spicy cold avocado soup and the crepe.

This is what the crepe, when cooked, looked like. I really love the unusual ingredients and unique ways in which Nathalie’s recipes are prepared and cooked – her class is highly recommended!

And here’s the tagine dish. Thanks to Nathalie for a wonderful cooking class and great evening on her terrace!

See more pics here. For more info on the Art Kitchen, go here.

 

Plein Air at Los Muertos

Four of the six amigas decided to do plein air painting on the beach at Los Muertos today. Instead of Adrian Rojas, the usual teacher who is out of town, we had Quetzal Cocoatl instead, who arrived at Art Vallarta with a big smile.

After paying our dues and buying canvases, we rolled down the hill will all our supplies to set up shop under the palapas at the Tropicana hotel.

We were each given a portable easel, selection of acrylic paints and brushes, and the guidance of Quetzal for the morning. It took a few moments to decide where to set up our easels for the most optimum subject matter. I decided to face north towards the pier.

Quetzal sketched out a beach scene of umbrellas and chairs for Barb to paint, while Janet, Maggie and I opted for landscapes, and Kathy decided to do a portrait of Maggie.

A group of French Canadian men from Montreal came by to see what we were up to and spent quite a bit of time admiring our work. As you can see here, I began by sketching out the motif in yellow ochre and started to block in non-naturalistic colours.

Maggie’s first landscape started off well with a beautiful cloudy sky the colour of her shirt.

My piece progressed more or less slowly, since I got a little bored with the subject long before it was actually done.

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Barb’s piece came along nicely, and Quetzal embarked on a portrait of Maggie painting.

Kathy blocked in the background colours around Maggie’s figure.

Janet decided to go for a more naturalistic approach, using blues and greys for her beachscape.

After completing the landscape of Conchas Chinas, Maggie began a new figurative piece we called “The Pink Man”, a portrait of the seated man in front of her.

Everyone continued to work away assiduously on their respective paintings, adding colour and detail.

Below is the actual pink man, a very suntanned French Canadian from Montreal.

I was beginning to like my painting more as I added more pinks, purple, and lilacs to the foreground.

Somehow, the pink man became aware that he was the subject of a portrait image and he, along with his posse, strolled over to check it out.

Happily, the pink man decided that he had to have the canvas as a souvenir of his vacation and a deal was made; he walked off with a MM original, to the delight of all.

Whereapon, Maggie decided to buy the portrait that Quetzal had painted of her, once again to the delight of all.

In these photos, my piece looks a bit washed out – it’s more vibrant in the flesh, so to speak.

All in all, a most successful day of art-making – huzzah! See more photos here. See some of Quetzal’s work here.

Art in Puerto Vallarta – Ole!

Greetings from beautiful Puerto Vallarta! We are here to enjoy some sun and sea and to do some artwork at the fantastic Art Vallarta studio in Old Town. Here we are at the door of Art Vallarta, with Frida mural by local artists Tony Collantez and Quetzal Cuatl.

In the facility is a great show of Valentine’s Day-themed and Frida Kahlo-based artwork curated by Nathalie Herling, featuring art by 40 international and local artists, and other pieces, including paintings, pottery, and murals.

All the work is so colourful and fills the space with energy and joy. Nathalie showed us around as we waited for the watercolour course to begin.

On display are several clay tagines by my clay maestro Froylan Hernandez, very whimsical animalistic pots.

Nathalie is converting the building’s gym into a painting studio; already oil and acrylic classes are taking place here.

This piece is a take-off on the famous Pre-Raphaelite painting of the Lady of Shalott by JM Waterhouse, featuring Frida in the lead role.

Here’s a picture of me wearing one of Nathalie’s Easter bonnets.

Local artist Veronica Rangel is the watercolour teacher and the four of us had her all to ourselves.

She started us off on a exercise in which we painted a seaside scene, using washes and masking.

The classes include paints, brushes, and paper and each of us were given a palette with the same selection of colours to create our landscape image.

I was moderately happy with my work, until, in a frenzy of impatience, I ripped the masking tape off my edges and tore a strip off the paper.

As you can see, Barb and Kathy were pretty happy with their creations.

As well as the landscape exercise, Veronica also showed us a staining technique, which Janet demonstrates below.

Below is my second attempt at the landscape. It looks like a rogue waterspout. Barb decided for her second attempt that she would try a volcano.

Here we are at the end of the class, three hours of fun, and very happy with our productions. Veronica is very lovely and a patient teacher.

See more photos here.

For more info on Art Vallarta, click here.

If it’s Wednesday night in PV, the Centro Art Walk is the place to be; the five of us grabbed a cab from Amapas that whisked us first to the bank to withdraw some needed cash, then to the first stop on the art trail, the Colektika Galeria of contemporary Mexican folk art.

I hadn’t been to this gallery before – it is huge with many rooms and a courtyard out back, run by a guy originally from Toronto who came here to study Spanish.

They have some really fabulous stuff, like this painted wood unicorn, and the skulls below with objects atop. I love these.

The Gallery also has a small section of old artifacts in a glass case, presided over by a grinning skeleton.

Galeria Corsica was next on the tour; here Barb and Maggie are admiring the large impasto portraits.

This gallery, too, has a lovely outdoor sculpture court.

Janet tried out her swimming stroke …

I really love these photographs of figures with faces caked in mud and other organic materials.

My favourite gallery for really contemporary art is the Galeria Omar Alonso, kitty corner from the Cafe des Artistes. Right now it has some fabulous white clay sculptures, as well as knitted wire and chain pieces.

This figure, made from clay, looked like it was constructed from hundreds of white golf tees. The piece below comprises wooden chains dropping from the ceiling to touch a mirror on the floor, making it look as though they drop away to infinity.

Fabulous!

La Pulga Gallery didn’t have much going on, but it has a beautiful outdoor space where we stopped to enjoy some pretty good white wine.

Galeria des Artistes, right next door, has some interesting paintings of male figures in lucha libre masks.

One of the most interesting spaces we visited was the Starving Artist Studio Gallery, started by Rodolfo Blanco, seen below, a really nice guy who chatted to us about the place and his projects.

See more pictures here.

We finished the evening with some tasty nibbles at Florio’s on via Galeana, just off the end of the Malecon, an Italian-Argentinean pizza place with an artsy vibe. Good Times!

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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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.

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.

El Diablo Rises

Another day, another beautiful walk to Art VallARTa to continue my work on El Diablo.

The devil was covered in a plastic bag overnight to be kept flexible for further operations this morning. The first order of business was to add a protruding chin to the face, using a separate piece of clay which was then massaged into the correct shape.

I cut lines into the forehead to prepare the surface for eyebrows. After rolling out two small amounts of clay to the correct size, the eyebrows were attached and Froyland helped me to shape and mold them.

We added lines to indicate the brow and wrinkles between the eyes.

El Maestro seems to have been pleased so far!

The next step was to affix the horns; first small holes had to be pierced in the temples of the mask, then the horns attached with slip.

Froyland demonstrated how to attach the horns, holding the mask so that it would not crack as the heavy material was added. I also added cheekbones.

So far, so good. Froyland is working on a couple of vessels featuring imaginary undersea creatures.

As we were working, others continued with their projects, scarves and silk paintings and glazing ceramics.

Since the devil is a master of the art of temptation, Froyland thought that he needed a cigarette …

Small towers of clay were placed under the horns to support them as I worked on the finishing details of El Diablo’s face.

 

The Devil is in the Details: The Evolution of El Diablo at Art VallARTa

I am so happy that Art VallARTa  studio in the Old Town is fully functional now and doing so well. Monday Ty and I went for a visit and Nathalie showed me around what is now a well-equipped large studio and gallery space.

The theatre is also well set up with cushions and blankets for the weekly life drawing sessions held there. The 2nd annual Romance in the Romantic Zone exhibition of art on the theme of love drew four hundred people to its opening night, offering, in addition to framed two dimensional pieces, ceramic and glass wear, and a gigantic wall mural of a heart, a tunnel of love installation through which visitors walked to gain entry to the show – fantastic! wish I could have been there. Nathalie’s piece is the Love Roulette wheel below.

On Monday a large group of folks were painting water colours in one part of the space while a few others worked on clay projects in the high-ceiling multi-media area.

I have decided to take a ceramics course offered by Froyland Hermandez, a Mexican clay maestro, and attended the first class today. Froyland is a very experienced artist who is very patient with newcomers to the medium.

He is able to explain all aspects of the technique clearly and is very patient, particularly with people like me who are not the best students. I have tried wheel-throwing before, and while I really enjoyed Charmian Nimmo’s class, realised soon that it was not for me, given that I don’t really have the arm and shoulder strength necessary to centre and raise the clay higher than about two inches off the wheel. Makes for a rather limited repertoire of objects that can be made, essentially small candy bowls. Although I did make one bowl that I was quite happy with, the only one that did not have walls that were way too thick and heavy.

I decided instead to try hand-building since I am interested in sculpture and particularly like masks. Froyland showed me how to wedge and prepare the clay correctly and how to roll it out like dough ready to be used. After deciding that I wanted to make a mask, Froyland prepared an armature of bubble wrap and tape around which we placed my rolled out piece of clay.

From this humble beginning the mask grew and took shape. After scoring the surface to indicate where the facial features would go, El Diablo, the devil, was begun by pressing indentations for the eyes and mouth, being careful not to press too hard so as to break or crack the clay’s surface.

For the eyes, I rolled two balls of clay which were placed into the indentations, then scored the surface around each eyeball to accommodate the bits of clay that would form the eyelids. These pieces were rolled out and placed above and below the eyeballs then massaged and stroked with wooden tools to create what eventually looked like a pretty decent set of eyeballs.

Next I created a free-standing nose from a separate lump of clay which was kept flexible by being covered with plastic. Two tusks and several teeth followed, each made by rolling out a cone of clay, first using my hands and then the surface of the table.

This process was trickier that I thought it would be; some of the teeth rolled out too long and thin, while others were too big and thick. Getting a few teeth the right size took quite a bit of time, as did getting the two tusks the right dimensions and curvature. These were carefully placed in the mouth indentation so I could get an idea of what the finished mouth would look like. Having decided that they were good, I then scored the bottom of each tooth, and the area of surface on which each would sit, and attached them with slip, very liquid clay.

I was very excited about the horns. These were made with cones of clay rolled out, like the tusks, first with my hands and then on the table top. Froyland and I had a bit of discussion about what kinds of horns would be appropriate. I didn’t really care but he thought bull’s horns would be best so I took his advice.

He believes that, when working on an object from nature, such as a face, one should look at the details of the face, or, in this case, the horns, to see what they are actually like, rather than simply making something up that doesn’t necessary correspond with the actual “thing”. So the horns took a bit of work to get the right dimensions and curvature. Froyland cautioned me not to put the horns on too quickly because they’re heavy and might crack the piece. I am looking forward to completing the mask tomorrow.

While I was crafting El Diablo, Kelly, a former air traffic controller from the States, was working on a wheel-thrown lidded vessel, on top of which she planned to affix a snail and two sea turtles.

To my right Rosemary, from Lethbridge, painted glaze on her projects, a head with small legs on top, and a mask, for her synchronised swimmer grand-daughter.

At another table several others worked with Carol Ann on silk-painting, a process that also looked very interesting. Some of those folks wore beautiful fused glass bracelets made at another workshop with Carol Ann.

Below, El Diablo so far!

After a hard several hours slaving over my clay piece, I met Ty down by the pier and we spent a very pleasant few hours under a palapa at the beach, including a refreshing dip in the ocean, the first one this year. Had the best guacamole and chips with hot salsa ever at the Mahi Mahi Beach bar with excellent service – highly recommended.

See more photos here.