Just back from a wonderful rejuvenating 2 weeks in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico. We stay in Old Town, far from the tequila-guzzling all-inclusives in the high rise Hotel District. We’ve been a few times before but we don’t get to come south every year. Our friendly Travel agents Elite Travel got us hooked on the very comfortable, homey and central Playa Los Arcos, a family oriented hotel right on the beach and just up from the central square in Old Town. This year there is a smart new landmark pier, above, built just south of the hotel. It services the fishing boats and water taxis to Yelapa.
Not one to miss a sketching opportunity, I started painting on the airplane down. I did these two little "paintings" with my finger on Dennis' iPhone 6 with Brushes app. Man, that app is a wonderful paintbox in a pocket!!! Try it!
The trip got off to a rocky start when I realized I had forgotten my small shoulder bag with my Moleskin sketchbook and travel tin on the plane. A few quick calls turned up nothing… poop! Happily the next day I got an email from Jorge who had found my bag which had my email inside. I guess he worked for Air Transat but never did find out. He drove around with the bag in his car for a couple of says before he had time to drop it off at the hotel. Happy day! I told him to be sure to ask them at the front desk for the gift for him. A very smart looking bottle of tequila was his reward for the return of my art bag.
At the PV airport we had (mistakenly) stopped to chat with guys at the desk on our way through to the taxi stand. We let ourselves get roped into going to visit the big resort Garza Blanca the next morning, reassured countless times that it was not a TIME SHARE. We paid 200 pesos (about $20 USA) for a taxi ride to our hotel and a gift of a nice bottle of tequila with our absolute promise to go for breakfast and a visit to this big new resort south of the the city. Well, we realized it must be a fishing expedition of some kind and cancelled our visit SO their bottle of tequila was the perfect gift for Signor Jorge who said he would certainly enjoy it. Too funny!
Most days began with a stroll off to find some breakfast and do our first sketches of the day over breakfast of plata de frutas and café descafinado. A Page in the Sun cafe was one favorite spot with lots of interesting people to sketch. This cafe has been around a long time but moved to this much larger and better location last year to make room for the heaving walls of second hand books aimed at the international visitors from many countries.
I picked up my next stack of 6 French novels which I admittedly read a bit more slowly than English novels so they’ll keep me going for quite some time. I’ve switched to reading only in French for 2 years now and it’s sure keeping my brain peppy… as if it needs that!!
Travel sketching, also called urban sketching is another thing that keeps me sharp. Drawing on the hop, whether the subject is people or architecture, the ever moving natural daylight is a sharp taskmaster. Works must be completed before the subject leaves the scene or the sun shifts so much that a completely new set of shapes, shadows and textures appears.
I travel with a water-color Moleskin sketchbook, a couple of permanent pens, white and black waxy China markers, 2 plastic water pens and a tiny travel water-color paintbox with 20 colors in it. If you’d like to make your own travel tin, read about making this one.
Sometimes I work more realistically and sometimes in a more cartoonish manner depending on the subject and maybe how much time I have to capture the scene or situation.
When we have the chance to have a full painting session, I bring along my folding canvas camp stool, a couple of foamcore sheets which act as my little easel or desktop. I pin 3oo pound paper (or whatever I have) onto the foamcore, sketch in directly (no pencil) with ink or waxy China marker in black and maybe add some white highlights with the white China marker. I set out my paintboxes and water bucket as space allows, taking full advantage of any benches beside me to spread out if at all possible. I always pick a spot in the shade and hide under my wide-brimmed hat. Paintings are almost always completed in an hour or so, built up in layers as quickly as possible to capture the live scene in front of me, quite a different state of mind than studio work which can be left and returned to at any time. When I am painting I am trying to capture the light and mass and attitude of the scene that has captured my eye. Working from direct observation may not have the polish or composition that studio work benefits from. It’s less about the perfectly finished end product and is such good training for the eye and skills. Really looking teaches you how to really see.
Dennis enjoyed his day so much that he went back the following Sunday for a watercolor class. I saw him off on the bus at 8:30 am, caught up with my art blogging then headed up over the bridge to work on larger sheets of a paper with more time. I had SUCH a productive day out!!! Quite exhausting but so exhilarating!
My first was of a colorful villa and street scene up in the hills above the cathedral.
A quick pitstop and Starbucks coffee (and free wifi) then this cathedral scene next. I found a great stone bench and spread out, starting as the church service ended and the audience flooded out but way too fast to try to capture. As soon as I sat down, a little family slid in beside me, a man and his wife and their two children and small dog. The man was an artist himself and we shared pictures of out works from our mobile phones. He works in a very realistic manner and got a lot out of watching my plein air process, with my distinct style and color approach, let alone the way I use resist and my several small paintboxes and water pens. I work with just one large Japanese brush which offers a big mop and a nice sharp pointy tip. I work with quite a lot of water and have to slap out the water from my brush and suck up the water drops as they form, fanning the page with another sheet in order to work up to the next layer and avoid the dreaded mud of working too wet and having it all bleed together.
Phew, quite pleased with these two so far today! Back to Starbucks on the corner for another ice coffee, and pottie break in comfortable air conditioned chairs, nice! I sketched the young family sitting directly opposite me and as they were all very involved with their own tasks, they had no idea I was drawing them at all!!! So funny as they were just across the coffee table from me! Eventually I showed them the sketch and they were quite delighted and amused. Thanks Bella, Victoria and Cesar.
My last stop before grinding to a halt was in the colorful lobby of Hotel Yasmin, just around the corner from Los Arcos. The lobby is utterly charming, filled with folk art and colorful seating. Most places welcome the self-contained watercolor artist or urban sketcher. As long as you’re being quiet, respectful and not taking up a paying spot in a commercial enterprise, artists are welcome. The staff kept wandering over to watch as the piece advanced and were delighted when I emailed the finished result to them to post on their facebook page.
Big day! Three paintings and one sketch, pooped!! Dragged my tired bones home at 6:40 pm after setting out at 9:45 am, a long but great day.
As we were in PV for 2 weeks this time, the pressure to see everything and do everything was much less than on previous trips when we’ve usually only stayed for a week. We had time to do the South Side Art Shuffle gallery walk on a Wednesday evening and then the Saturday evening ArtWalk in the historical centre. Both are very worthwhile, with more walking in the historic area but very doable. Read more about Puerto Vallarta ArtWalks here.
A few doors up the street were very dangerou$$ jewelry and fashion boutique$$, Ca$$andra Shaw, and others. If you’re looking for unique designer jewelry with some bold attitude, look no farther, here it is. As I prefer to make my own assembled concoctions and certainly do not travel with anything more expensive than about $40, it’s not too hard for me to avoid the tasty temptations presented but I think YOU should buy some.
We try to balance a busy day with a quieter day with some down time, catching up with napping, email, blogging and beach and pool time. After all, someone's gotta do it...
Another lovely painting location was Casa Fantasia, a small nine room B&B hotel with a very good courtyard restaurant. The homey hotel is filled with folk art and antiques and we were welcomed to come and paint the next day. Dennis settled himself in the busy courtyard with a whole array of umbrellas and details, quite an ambitious subject but he did very well.
I was drawn to the inside stairwell leading up to a few guest rooms upstairs. I took many photographs but only had time for one painting, again taking about one hour as I perched on my little stool on the stair landing. Hotel guests squeezed past me on their way up for siesta as I busily tried to capture something on paper. I was not quite as satisfied with the whole but liked parts of this piece. The night manager behind the desk is a very accomplished artist himself, creating the painted birds and trees in the bar and the very elegant double portrait on the original owners on the stairwell.
Another good painting spot was Los Mercados, above, interesting architecture with some small metal cafe chairs, an easy spot to spend time with a coffee, something nice to eat and your paintbox and sweetiepie.
Marina Vallarta and it’s large imposing lighthouse. My stool was just a few meters from very large iguana who sunned himself and kept a beady eye on my on the boardwalk above him. They were so well camouflaged they were hard to see with the eye and even harder to see through the camera lens!
Super delicious BBQ chicken!! All in all, a very good trip. A good balance of beach, pool, keeping up with FigurativeArtist work on my Macbook, did 35 sketches, 5 Brushes sketches on the iPhone, 6 larger watercolor paintings. Even had time to sleep off a cold bug which knocked me down a peg or two for a few days. We certainly don't just lie around drinking Margaritas... but they are very nice, too!
Dennis's breakthrough sketch when he's really letting go of control and letting the pen and hand find their own way, good job Dennis!!
Urban sketching at breakfast, lunch or coffee time...
Of course we ate simple but excellent grilled fish and prawns on the beach. Most days lunch was 2 fresh ceviche fish tacos from the little taco stand under the bridge on the beach, wonderful!
We visited two artists home studios. Mexican naive painter Jose Marca and American Lee Chapman, below, who paints in an imaginative Mexican folkloric manner. Two very different artists, homes and artworks. Read about studio visits to Jose Marca and Lee Chapman.
On the morning we went for our business meeting with Claire, Dennis dressed in his one pair of trousers but as he buckled his (only) belt, the poor tired old belt just exploded in his hands and he had to wear his beach shorts instead. The guy is a super light packer… for better for worse… She thought it was completely normal... for a Puerto Vallarta tourist... LOL!
On our final morning on our way back from a quick breakfast we chatted up another obvious pair of plein air artists. The folding stools, backpacks and folding painting boxes were a complete give-away. Only a few words were exchanged when we realized that we were speaking with Nell Witteman, whose one day watercolor class we had enjoyed in Penticton last September on our first ever trip to the Okanagan. She is down with another artist pal, Angie McIntosh who runs a plein air sketching & painting group down here. Gee, too bad we hadn’t heard of them last week, it would have been fun to join them on a jaunt. Apparently there’s also life drawing at ArtVallarta just up from us at Los Arcos but we just didn’t make it there. Now you know about these two groups so don’t miss out if you’re coming down and looking for art connections down here.
I chased a lady down the street to admire her lovely hand painted cotton dress. She gave me directions to Sucesos Boutique, a super boutique with very original and appealing clothes. The yardage is painted in a very loose washy manner on soft cotton fabrics, with acrylic textile paints and finished to be completely washable. Very appealing and inspiring.
I have to say after 2 weeks, vendor fatigue did set in. We do end up buying a few things from the beach vendors each trip but their numbers are quite relentless. Happily they do not persist after you wave them off and decline their wares. This time we bought some painted ceramics to liven up our summer deck with some Mexican attitude. Happily everything fit into our suitcases and we didn’t even have to unzip their expansion sections!
The first time we came to PV was on our sailboat in January 1999 after making our way down from BC with our 2 boys, aged 11 and 13 at the time. Read more about our Mexican sailing adventure. The next time I came down was on a quick one week trip to break up the grey BC winter. I was so busy at work at Kidzsmart that I barely wanted to come down at all, just couldn’t see the point. It took me 3 days to unwind and see the (literal) light. Puerto Vallarta is a lovely destination for some winter sun. Whether you choose an all inclusive in the hotel zone or something way out in Nuevo Vallarta or something more homey in Old Town, PV has lots to offer and is statistically a very safe place to visit.
The beach is quite safe and easy to swim in. There are cultural events many evenings with folkloric ballet companies of adults and children, wandering musicians and lots of good things to eat. There are many possibilities of more adventurous things to do like zip-lining, parachute flying, surfing etc.
On our final evening we enjoyed a Corona at the nearby Cuates & Cuatas bar and watched as a large humpback whale surfaced just about 10 meters in front of this boat, above, which had gone out slowly and respectfully to what watch. Magical...
I won’t be buying a time share or a condo anytime soon (although they’re probably a very good deal!) but we’ll be back sometime… maybe next year.