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.
Like yesterday, this is mostly a direct painting without a preliminary drawing. I did put in a few lines to designate the chimney as well as the general location of the flowers. But it was just that, a few lines, nothing to tell me where every petal or leaf was. I find that this approach works best for me when trying to do an array of flowers like this. You want the mind to fill in the blanks, giving the viewer just enough information to get the idea of the flowers you’re painting.
Bougainvilleas grown in wild abandon in San Miguel and all of Mexico for as far as I can tell. They are in great profusion during the rainy season, and I find their brilliance almost unimaginable against the bright blue sky. It truly is azur, no other word for it, and certainly not the kind of blue I ever see in the north. The light that makes these colors possible is indescribable.
I sometimes like to paint directly without preliminary drawing. It forces me to work more quickly without thinking so much and to be looser in my technique. I always have to kind of steel myself for possible failure, but I’ve done some of these before so I’ve gotten more used to flying without a net. With a packed schedule today I didn’t have a lot of time for fussing and so when I chose my photo I decided I just needed to do it, be damned.
The result is today’s painting and a fair effort, if I do say so myself. The guy with the bass would have been nicer a bit to the right so that everything was in the picture, but that’s what happens when you go at it as I did today. You commit with the brush and deal with whatever comes. That meant that my bass player lost a bit of his instrument. The figures in the back are believable though I’m still working to improve that kind of figured work. Background people are really hard to do convincingly and at the same time look fluid and natural. Still workin’ on it.
The two guys in the foreground are street musicians in a little town not far from San Miguel. The one on the right has an accordian, though you really can’t see much of it. People freely play on the street for a little money, ride buses with their guitars to serenade the passengers, and then there’s the ever present mariachis. You come to expect a little background music with your day in Mexico.
A lot of people ask us what San Miguel is like during the summer. Here it is in August during our first trip in 2004. A late afternoon shower was arriving from the west over the Sierra Madres on the horizon. We had this incredible view from our apartment rooftop terrace which took in not only the views to the west but a fabulous 360 degree panorama. I remember watching this storm approach and being awe struck by the beauty, the intensity of colors, and the power displayed before our eyes.
Each day during the rainy season, which starts in June, the rains move in in late afternoon and roll across the sky, bathing the land with a brief shower or two, watering the plants, trees, and crops so that everything is green and in bloom. It’s the lush time of year, and the colors explode. Summer is magic in San Miguel. And after the rains come the cool breezes and the fresh smell after a shower. Those skies full of drama and color are one of the things I miss from up here.
After more than 700 years the Moors were finally left cornered in Granada, Spain, once having ruled all of the Iberian peninsula and much of western Europe. Their stronghold was the magnificent Alhambra, a castle and fortress on the grandest scale. It remains today as one of the wonders of architecture in the world. We had the privilege of visiting it on our trip through Spain. This is an outside wall with flowering trees at the base. The whole of the Alhambra is so vast that one tiny perspective like this is like viewing one crevice of the Grand Canyon. You simply have to go to really appreciate it. There is ornate room upon room, sprawling through what must be dozens of acres. And there is a summer home higher in the hills just to the east of the main complex, where the rulers spent the hotter months in the coolness of the mountain breezes and shade.
In 1492 Queen Isabella and her husband, King Ferdinand, decreed Spain to be Christian, forcing the Islamic rulers out and those not of the faith to convert or be expelled. There’s a poignancy among the grandeur that is Alhambra, made sharper knowing of the vibrant culture that the Moors brought to Iberia and the educational and academic advancements that resulted. All this was swept away in an instant, causing a religious diaspora of Jews and Muslims alike, ushering Spain into the beginning of what would be a darker, less open period that included religious persecution and the likes of the Spanish Inquisition.
While we were building our casita in Alcocer outside of San Miguel we rented a place that was part of a large house with a fantastic yard and lots of flowers. We felt like lords of the manor, it was so stately in appearance. Roses climbed the property wall, different ones constantly blooming. The ones just inside the main gate were showy red beauties that I kept my eye on to see their latest production. One morning when we’d not been there too long I took a series of photos of the roses to capture how the rain droplets they’d collected shown like jewels on the their petals.
For some reason the red on my screen isn’t quite matching the painting in real life, no matter my attempts to color correct. Reds are tricky and my computer makes this a little dull. But I love all those droplets everywhere, the rose just out of the shower.
We took so many great pictures from our Amelia Island trip that I can’t seem to let go of it quite yet. I’ve let them languish for so long with the idea that I’d paint them “some day.” This surely is the perfect opportunity.
That final day was so atmospheric. The clouds rolled in and threatened rain. We drove to Jacksonville and then along the coast north. This is the harbor at one of the little towns, though I’ve long forgotten the name. These boats sat brooding at anchor, waiting for developments. The caution buoy seems to say it all.
The clouds were stacked up across to the horizon the second day we were at Amelia Island. I can even now remember the stillness and the quiet in spite of the wind. We were awash in grasses of honeys, greens, grays, and lavenders, bending wave upon wave making their own current in the morning air. The herons and egrets kept watch with us, though they for their breakfast and we for our soul. A person gets hungry for this kind of magnificence.
I’m making progress on my commission and this afforded another quick study to do in under an hour. This is an exercise in muted colors and a limited palate of about 5 colors all working together to create one harmonious composition.
Assisi is an easy day trip from Perugia where we’d chosen to stay in central Italy after leaving Florence. So we took the train there to pay homage to the patron saint of animals, St. Francis. Because of his favor among Catholics and others the city is filled with tourists, there to walk the streets that he did and see the Assisi Cathedral where he first preached.
I wasn’t at my best the day we made our trip so my feelings about it are somewhat dampered because of that. I remember a lot of kitschy souvenirs everywhere and tours parading about. But I had to admit that it was a quaint little town, nonetheless, filled with history. There were also more peaceful places like the little deli we found for lunch — some bread, cheese, and oranges — and the nearby park bench to rest and eat. And then just before climbing on the bus to take us down the hill to the train, we found this cavernous alley, deep in shadows and mystery beyond that corner in the back. And it will remain a mystery for now as I was anxious to be back at our hostel in Perugia for a quiet dinner and evening.