Saturday, October 9, 2010

At the Alhambra Palace

Posted by Maggie

On Thursday we spent the day at the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain. We had pre-arranged artists' passes, so we were able to wander where we wished and avoid the long lines and timed entries we would have had otherwise. In a previous year when our workshop group went to the Alhambra, we were able to paint, but apparently, they decided at that point to not allow easels to be set up again. (If you're interested, you can read about that painting day on the Pastel Journal blog.) So we packed our sketching materials and our cameras, and set off to see what we could see.

The Alhambra Palace perches on a hill overlooking Granada, which looks like an interesting city to visit in itself. Parts of the buildings date back to the 9th century, but it has been continually added to, expanded, revised and remodeled over the years. It was abandoned for a number of years and then further restorations began in the 19th century. At present the restoration of the Lion Court is under way, as it has been for some years. The lions and fountain were placed in their original position in the 14th century, but had deteriorated over time. The restoration has revealed many interesting things about the lion figures, and the ground beneath the fountain contained architectural remnants as well. The lions are now on display in a special room (where no photography was allowed). Once thought to be all alike, the restoration has revealed quite a few differences between them.

The intricate decorations of carvings and tile are fascinating, but do not obscure the underlying architectural structure. I love the arches and doorways, the reflecting pools and the palms and other foliage surrounding them. I like photographing some of these complex architectural elements, though I wouldn't try to paint them!

After we walked for some hours, we went to a wonderful little restaurant for lunch, then walked some more. It became quite a hot day/ we were all tired by the time the bus collected us and the ride back to the hotel was very quiet.

Time passes so quickly in these workshops. We are all trying to absorb as much as possible, and it goes by too fast. But the paintings, photographs and memories of Spain will stay with us for years to come.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Take me to the river

Posted by Maggie

Much of what we paint in Spain is architectural—whether it's the white walls and red rooftops of the pueblos blancos or bridges or other subjects. So it was a nice break to go out for a day in the campo, or countryside, and paint natural subjects.

The River Genal runs through the Genal Valley and Júzcar, and while it is not a large river, it has some very pretty spots. The place we went to paint also has ruins of an old tin factory, and while that's still an architectural subject, at least it's falling down stone walls and not white villages. In the area around the ruins are orange and lemon trees, and one tree with odd fruits that were finally identified as persimmon, though they didn't look like the persimmons we know at home.

In the morning I painted a demonstration on how to paint moving water and rocks, which was quite fun after all these days of painting buildings. The river was quite shadowed when I began, but as the day went on it got more and more light. It was cool in the morning but as soon as the sun hit, so did the flies. There's always some problem when you're painting outdoors—if it's not too hot or too windy, then there are probably bugs. Or, sometimes, you get them all. But if the painting comes out well, it's all worth it. Left, my demo, Rio Genal, 9x11, Pastelmat, ©Maggie Price.

What makes a plein air painting a success? Well, first of all, I try not to call them paintings, but rather field studies. Calling your work a field study removes the pressure of trying to create a finished, frameable painting, and lets you just get as much information about value, temperature, color and form as you can get before the light changes. And sometimes, if you're lucky, it's also a painting.

Late in the afternoon I took a few minutes for a really quick study. Working on a dark gray-black, I did this little study of the ruins in about 35 minutes. My goal was to get as much as possible about color and value onto the page in that short time, without worrying too much about composition or drawing. I wanted to keep it loose and free and imply more than state the form of the walls. I'm pretty happy with the resut, Ruins, 9x11, Pastelmat, ©Maggie Price.

It was a nice day and a nice change of pace. We went back to the hotel for an early night and preparation for a very early departure the next morning for our trip to Granada and the Alhambra Palace, the subject of the next blog in this series.


Posted by Maggie

Each year so far in our Spain workshop we've scheduled a night to go to Ronda for a flamenco performance. Some people don't like the late night and don't go, but most are excited about the chance to see a traditional performance. The group who've performed for the last few years that we've been here are no longer performing, so this year we went to see a different group. Like the other one, there were three "band" members, a drummer, guitarist and vocalist, but this one only had two female dancers and no male dancer.

Flamenco music is not what I had thought it would be, before I ever attended a performance. Our hotel host David describes it as the Spanish version of American country & western. The songs sound quite sad, but the beat is insistent and energizing. The energy level was important since the performance did not star until ten p.m., quite late for Americans and particularly those of us who had been up early to paint. 

Generally, the dancers change costumes for each dance. The whole performance lasts about an hour and a half, with a short break in the middle. I like the costumes—the group we used to see had traditional costumes for each dance, but this one had a more modern approach. Nevertheless, the dancers were very good.

Our chef at the Hotel, Ivan, is multi-talented. In addition to having trained at Cordon Bleu in London and being creative in the kitchen, he is a painter, working in a number of mediums. On the bus ride into Ronda, he mentioned that he had been taking flamenco lessons at the school run by one of the dancers. He's studied flamenco previously but the recent lessons have challenged him to do more. To his, and our, surprise, near the end of the performance, one of the dancers went off the stage, into the audience, and grabbed him by the hand and took him up onto the stage to dance with her. It was great fun to see "our" Ivan dance, and he's quite good. He danced with each of the women, but unfortunately my camera disk filled just after he began. I'm going to have to beg for photos from some of the other people there.

All in all it was an exciting evening and made it hard to go to sleep, what with the music and the sound of flamenco feet racing through my head. I am looking forward to a chance when I get home to paint them from memory and photos.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Painting in Alpandeire

Posted by Maggie

Today we went to another one of the pueblos blancos in the Genal Valley. Alpandeire is one of my favorite villages. It's sometimes called the "forgotten village," as it has not been modernized as much as some of the other white villages. You often see people riding or leading their horses through the village, and life has not changed much in the last few years, or perhaps dozens of years. The village is a little bigger than Júzcar, having a population of around 200. Today it was bustling as they prepared for a celebration of Fray Leopoldo which will happen tomorrow. It was also a market day, so there were tents with clothing for sale, and a clinic day, which meant the doctor was visiting.

We painted in spite of the unusual traffic and activity. My demo this morning was on aerial perspective and how to make tree-covered hillsides recede or come forward. It is a challenge to see the subtle variations between the mountain ranges and to paint them. To make it more complex, the farthest mountain had bare rock which was somewhat pink in the morning light. Two of the valley's white villages were in my composition, though they were quite some distance away. I am happy with the way the painting demonstrated the concepts I reviewed for the group. Left, White Villages, 9x11, pastelmat, ©Maggie Price.

By the time I finished the morning demonstration, the chill had turned to warmth and we began shedding layers. Most of the painters went to take photographs and explore the village, and I moved my easel a little to paint a closer subject of a white building, tile roof and chimney. I was not able to bring this piece to a point I really considered a finished painting, but it's a good color and value  field study. The tile roofs could use some more attention, but at this point I was in full sun and the light had changed. Left, Chiminea, 7x10, Pastelmat, ©Maggie Price.

We enjoyed a packed lunch and painted until 4 p.m., then headed back to Júzcar. On the way back the bus paused for us to take photos of the village from a good vantage point in the later afternoon light. I love the view of the village from this perspective; you get a good idea of its placement in the mountains. We're having an early dinner tonight and then heading into Ronda for a flamenco performance, which should give us all a chance to get some great photographs. I'll post some tomorrow.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Day in Ronda

Posted by Maggie

Today we took a day trip to Ronda, which is a larger village in Málaga Province. It is another white village, but has a population of about 40,000 people, which is huge compared to Júzcar with its current full-time residents of 140.

This morning we painted the bridge called El Puente Nuevo (the New Bridge) from a vantage point below the bridge. I love the bridge from this viewpoint. It is great to be up on the bridge looking down at the valley below, but for painting, there is nothing better than being in the field below. The huge rocky cliff face extends from both sides of the bridge, and I've painted compositions looking away from the bridge as well.

Drawing the bridge correctly and carefully is not easy when your time is limited. We had a little less than two hours at this location this morning, and the light was changing rapidly as the clouds moved across. I sketched the subject quickly, and then painted the sky and clouds as fast as I could before the formation changed. As I worked on the cliff formations and the bridge, I watched for the chance to catch the light as it hit specific areas, and incorporated it into the painting as I could. Eventually I had to just go with what I had in the way of light and shadow patterns, though, and not make any more changes. After just at an hour I finished my field study.

The class scattered across the field, and while most of them painted the bridge, some chose to paint the rock formations or the olive fields below. All too soon, the bus returned to pick us up, and we went up the narrow winding road to the village of Ronda. We found a wonderful tapas bar for lunch, and then explored the town, some people shopping and some hiking or finding subjects to photograph. After a while some of us stopped for a cup of coffee. It was a great day and it was enlightening and educational to see all the paintings after we returned to the hotel and set them out for our daily review.

It's challenging when you go to a new place and try to paint a totally unfamiliar subject and landscape. It forces you to really observe, to paint what you see since you don't necessarily know what everything  is. It pushes us out of your comfort zone of familiarity into something new, and hopefully that will energize our paintings long after we leave Spain and return home to paint familiar landscapes once more.

Left,  El Puente Nuevo, 9x7, Pastelmat, ©Maggie Price.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

First workshop day in Juzcar

Posted by Maggie

It is Sunday afternoon and we have just finished the first day of the workshop here in Júzcar, Málaga Province, Spain. We started the day with threats of rain, so stayed close to the hotel, but happily the rain never amounted to more than a few drops.

I gave a demonstration this morning, and then the painters scattered to various locations, mostly staying close in case the rain materialized. Hotel Bandolero has terraces and patios where people can spread out but still stay close to shelter. People painted throughout the morning, then took breaks for lunch or walks, and most went back to paint again in the afternoon. Painting the white buildings and red tiled roofs typical of the Genal Valley is not easy, and the changing light of the rapidly-moving clouds only complicates matters.

Nevertheless, every plein air painting is a learning experience, and each of the painters gained understanding of the subject as the day progressed. During the coming week, no doubt this subject will become more familiar and the paintings will improve, though in fact they were amazingly good for a first day.

After a little rest we will review the day's work, and then have another wonderful meal prepared by Chef Ivan. It's already a wonderful workshop.

Friday, October 1, 2010

A Day at the Alcazar

Posted by Maggie

We had a very full day yesterday. We began with a short river tour on the Guadalquivir, from which we could see many interesting buildings and bridges. Then we went back to the gardens at the Parque de Maria Luisa, as we had not seen nearly all of it the day before.

The park is a beautiful place, with a number of really interesting buildings on its outer edges, including the beautiful Plaza de Espana. Inside the park itself you would not know that you're in the middle of a busy city, as all you hear is the screeching of parrots and songs of other birds. We enjoyed exploring more of the park, and found some possible painting locations if we bring the group here next year.

After a late lunch we decided to go the the Palace of the Alcazar. We had explored the area outside the palace, and we thought it was not likely that we could take the group inside for painting, as there would probably be crowds and we might not be allowed to set up easels. Still, we thought it could be a good place for sketching, photography, and a good addition to the tour of Andalusia.

I had read that there were gardens connected to the Palace, but as always the photos and descriptions don't necessarily tell you what to expect. I actually enjoyed the gardens far more than the palace itself, as there was a wonderful combination of trees, bushes, palms, flowers and buildings. There were also fascinating arches and structures that weren't quite buildings but incorporated into the gardens in a way that could make wonderful compositions for painting. There were more colorful buildings and structures in the garden or visible from the garden, which could be really nice elements in a painting as well.

Some of the buildings in the Palace itself reminded me of the Alhambra Palace in Granada, where we took the group on our last Spain workshop and where we will go next week with the group. There were a lot of similarities in the architecture, but overall the Alcazar is not as crowded and not as large, so it would be possible for people to see more of it. I think it will work out well to change our itinerary for 2011 to have a day trip to Seville instead of to Granada. We'll have a shorter bus ride, and more time to explore and paint or sketch, and to see a little more of Andalusia.

By the time we left the Alcazar, we had walked for hours. We walked a little further to a restaurant that we had noticed on the other side of the river. The outdoor seating area was on the second floor terrace overlooking the water and with a view back towards the city. Because we arrived at the unfashionably early hour of 8 p.m., we were able to get a table right at the railing, and watched the sunset change the colors of the buildings and the lights beginning to reflect in the water. It was a perfect ending to a wonderful day.