Our time here in Mexico is drawing to a close. Two months has slipped by effortlessly, one day after the next. Cold nights have turned to cool and are trending to warmer. The air has become even drier as central Mexico heads into the zenith of its dry season. We will be home during those punishing months of April and May before the blessed rains start, God willing, in June.
But what a time these past two months have been! Construction on our outdoor sala and shower began in earnest back in January, soon after we arrived. We have finally been able to move to completion a project seven years in the making. Our dream of a modest place for more outdoor living, perfect here in year-round moderate temperatures, as well as a place for art workshops, morphed into something more elaborate with the added bonus of an outdoor shower space. But then things rarely turn out the way you plan.
One question we get is, Why an outdoor shower? Well, that was a dream since staying at a small hotel on the north shores of Bali back in 2005. Our modest room, that was more like a north woods cabin complete with high rafters and plank built-in closets on one side of the room, had a small bathroom with sink and toilet at the back with a door that opened to an enclosed area open to the sky. It’s “floor” was the ground covered in small river rock, and on the outside back wall of our room was a shower head with a squat stump of wood just below for you to stand on while you showered. In that little courtyard open to the sky there were a few tropical plants and overhead were trees and the blue tropical Pacific sky. Dave and I fell in love with it and vowed we’d make something similar some day if we had the chance. And so we do, and so we have built our own rendition.
During our time here in Alcocer I’ve completed a commission that I obtained back in November. This from a dear friend who has always admired my work. I enjoy doing commissions, but this one was special to create something as a treasure for my friend, something that she had envisioned from one of her many trips abroad.
I also have envisioned a new series which I will begin in earnest once we are back in Paducah. I’ve submitted a couple grants to assist with the series as it will be a long-term project which will need some outside backing. Wish me luck. Watch for previews as things progress.
I’ve managed to fall behind in this blog as usual. But Dave and I put our heads together today and decided to cast off with the old habits of sloth and take charge of our art once more. Nothing like a new year to bring out the resolution-making in all of us, though I’ve never put much stock in that.
In this case it makes a good deal of sense as looking back at this year just come to a close I find I have not nearly the accomplishments I would have liked. No one to blame but myself.
So, off we go. Page turned and heading down a new road.
This little painting was actually completed in the Fall but I’ve been so dilatory that it never got posted. A-hem. This must stop! But however belatedly, it is the first in a new series I got the idea for from a book I read some years ago, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. It made a very scant reference to a belief in Botswana that the first thing one sees upon entering heaven is white cows. The idea struck a cord such that I knew I had to paint it. And then later this past year it dawned on me from another reading reference about animals and myths that this could be a painting series.
I’m still feeling my way as to what the series is all about and what to include. For this initial painting I believe it speaks to me of a curiosity of my search for God. How do others define God and what do they see when they speak of heaven and the divine? White cows immediately brought to mind the Brahmans that we see in Mexico with their soulful eyes and graceful gate. Much larger than the Jersey or Herefords I’m used to from here in the States, they command a presence that I find quite singular and mystical. So I have painted them as my vision of those Botswanian cattle from on high.
I can think of so much worse to find awaiting me on the other side.
I’m hoping to get back to posting daily. This month I’ve had too many distractions, and heading into the holidays it threatens to only get worse. Today’s selection is from a reference photo I don’t really remember taking. But I seem to recognize the scene from a route we used to walk into centro in San Miguel that first six months we were there, along a back street that really was only wide enough for one car. There were several mesquites overhanging the street with their horizontal orientation. I like them immensely for their character of jutting branches and sense of age.
This is a “quick and dirty” study that I just breezed into, enjoying applying the alternate cool blues and warm burnt sienna to form the tree, my central figure. The wispy terminal branches were executed with a thin liner brush after using the side of my round to do some dry brush technique to show the density of those tiny twigs at branches’ ends.
I’ll be at Harrah’s in Metropolis again this Sunday for another bazaar, this time having to do with food and art. Last Sunday was their first Holiday Bazaar and attendance wasn’t where they wanted it so they invited us back for the coming Sunday when they hope to have more folks out for this “taste” event. Stop by to see my daily paintings, if you’re in the area, which is what I’ll have on hand for the event.
Mexico is all about foods with bold flavors and colors. Peppers of all kinds abound, from mild, such as the banana peppers, to screamingly hot, as in the habanero. Their colors are dark and brooding to lemony sublime. Along with the nopal cactus, peppers are the quintessential national vegetable, served in everything imaginable. Even sweeter things get a dash of chili pepper to add some spice.
Another staple in the Mexican diet is the mango. Probably the most common one is the yellow orange variety, smaller in stature than the bright red one we are more likely to see here in the north. These bright, sunny mangos turn a fabulous yellow gold at their peek, and you see people sucking out the fleshing through a hole bitten at one end while they squeeze from the other, not unlike squirting toothpaste from a tube.
The colors in this tableau almost sing from the page. Warmth at every turn and fold, mimicing the sweet pungency of the mangos and subtle flavors of the banana peppers. That purple crimson on the left? Dried peppers of some persuasion, perhaps pablano, perhaps another kind with a bit more potency. Whatever they may be, they bind the whole together in a mix of robust warm and cool saturated colorsÂ that is altogether Mexico.
We love Mexico during the Fall, especially at the end of October when they begin preparations for Day of the Dead. Offrendas begin to go up around town, commemorating deceased family and friends, and the flower vendors around the jardin, the town center, go into full swing. The vendors who sell dried flowers year-round now have a greater variety and more fresh-cut flowers. They especially like marigolds and cocks’ comb, two of the most traditional for the celebrations.
The flower vendors are one of the first people that you notice as you come into the jardin from the west side. They sit on low stools with buckets and buckets of flowers surrounding them and spend the time making intricate baskets filled with dried flowers. The colors and the tableau they create doing their work is unforgettable.
I’m still into cobalt blue today after my success yesterday. Again it turned out to be the right color to provide the sky with that certain brilliant blue, especially against the chartreuse of the cactus I had in mind. I can never remember their name but they’re one of my favorites in Mexico. You see them everywhere around San Miguel, and in their maturity they grow to majestic tree size. And like trees, their limbs are strong and woody to support all that weight. Little birds of various sorts like to hop among their branches looking for food and, no doubt, protection. The skin of the cactus is smooth but better watch out for those needles! They’re serious business.
This scene is from a Christmas day walk that Dave and i took in 2004 on our first 6 month trip to San Miguel. We climbed a hill across the bypass from our house and went hiking through the valley and over the hilltop. At the top were a scattering of houses and a long sloping pasture that reached to a hidden canyon far to the south. The pasture was filled with a variety of cacti and mesquite along with long dry wind-blown grass swaying in the afternoon breeze. We watched a kite hover determinedly overhead looking for some rodent for its Christmas dinner. Once we reached the canyon we found an outcropping of rugged rocks with brilliant yellow-green and red lichen, and out of it grew nopales, the Mexican’s favorite vegetable, and my favorite cactus.
I’ve wanted for so long to paint this but have never quite figured out what to do with my photo references to do it justice. Today I decided that rather than trying to provide a literal depiction I needed instead to use the elements that I focused on, combining them in a way to show the feel and the effect of all those brilliant colors playing together. The colors are outrageous, but that’s the Mexico way.
Last summer we had a pair of Carolina Wrens that frequented our flower gardens, especially in back of the house. This year I never saw them. Maybe I just wasn’t alert enough, but I sure did miss them. I even hung a small bird house made especially for wrens but none ever came nor did any other bird use it, for that matter. For a brief moment I thought it might be inhabited by paper wasps but that turned out not to be true.
We have some kind of wrens in San Miguel around our house there, which we see usually early in the morning or at dusk when they make their way around the rocks and our brick fence looking for bugs in the crevices. I’ve even had them perch momentarily on my kitchen windowsill, an act I consider to be of supreme order.
This little guy (and I assume it is a guy) we saw in the tropical foliage in Florida a couple years ago on a visit to Corkscrew Swamp. I’m sure I didn’t hear him, not being reliably able to hear birds with higher pitched voices, but we managed to spot him from his flitting about the big banana tree leaves. I think I’ve made him look a bit like a robin, but tomorrow I plan to do him in another pose, so I have a second chance of making him even more true to life. Even so, I like to think of this Springtime bird as the weather turns to Fall. Something to look forward to at the other end of Winter.
As you can see, I’m not done with chickens yet. This one is a funny little girl Dave and I saw in a back yard on one of our walks in San Miguel when we were exploring the city early during our time there. She seemed to be patrolling the back fence of her owners’ property, or maybe she just wanted to see beyond her little walled in world.Â From this pose she hopped onto the clothes line strung across at about the same height and became a tightrope walker. You may not be able to tell from the painting but she’s a special breed, though I don’t know what kind. She has a puffy little topknotch on her crown.
Birds in general are on my mind since I found this morning, with my studio window open, that I’m hearing them more clearly. A female cardinal got my attention with her clear ringing song as I read my morning email. She sounded like a bell to me, but when I looked out the window I saw her flitting among the sycamore branches. She’s more clear and different than I heard before.
The title is appropriate since I’m back at painting daily after a long absence of about three weeks. I’m happy to report that all went well with my surgery and I’m thrilled to have new processors on both ears. They’re working very well, but lots of work on my part is ahead to get my brain recognizing words and sounds from my left ear as well as my right ear which was implanted originally in 2000. With a CI it’s more your brain than anything that does the work since the ear is bypssed altogether.
I chose this image and started the drawing before I left for Chicago weeks ago. It’s been sitting unfinished on my drafting table all this time waiting my return both physically and mentally. This is a scene from our village of Alcocer during harvest time. Corn is a staple of Mexico, not only for grinding corn into meal for tortillas but also for the fodder that the stalks provide for feed for the animals during the long dry season when food in the pastures is scarce. The local farmers, like this elderly gentleman, take their donkeys to the corn fields and load them to overflowing with harvested stalks to be stored in their paddock. I admire both of their patience as seen in their unhurried gate and body language.
More images from Mexico, this time a familiar scene in the Fall going to Alcocer where our house is in Mexico. The 2.5 mile road starts at the bypass around San Miguel at the southeast corner of the city and gradually ascends to the village, curving through fields of grass and corn. It’s a typical cobblestone affair that you learn to drive about 30 miles per hour lest you jar your fillings loose. Speed tends to even out the bumpiness.Â Around October the farmers, our neighbors, harvest the corn and then make piles of fodder from the cornstalks that will eventually become food for their livestock during the winter months. It’s not the cold and snow they put up this larder for, but rather the long dry season which is just beginning at that time and that will last until mid-June.
I love these stacks dotting the Fall fields. Just like Monet’s haystacks they reflect the waning light as the sun recedes in the west, making a wonderful canvas of changing color. It’s an old fashioned scene that we don’t see in the states. The cones of cornstalks are painstakingly gathered and shaped by hand, groups of people arriving in the fields early in the morning and working through the day each day until everything is gathered. Then in the days ahead the farmers will load their mules and wagons with enormous loads from the stacks to transport to their property in preparation for the coming months. It’s like stepping back in time to see the Fall harvest.