Saturday, May 30, 2009

Artist Workshops

Summer is almost here, and we are packing our bags for a European getaway inspired by what we fondly refer to as our “Summer 2008 Workshop Circuit”. Last June, we packed up Sean’s painting easel and supplies along with our then four-month-old, Gaia, and departed from our home in San Francisco and headed south on the Pacific Coast Highway to the quiet beach town of Encinitas in Southern California. The destination was The Watts Atelier of the Arts where Sean attended a 3-day portrait drawing workshop followed by a consecutive 3-day portrait painting workshop instructed by Jeff Watts. The workshops were filled with intense model studies, insightful critiques, and overall generous instruction by Jeff Watts who has the gift of being able to verbally articulate his methods and techniques while masterfully demonstrating in charcoal or oil. It was quickly discovered that Sean and Jeff share a unique rare convergence of admired artists – specifically Nikolai Fechin, one of Russia’s most important portrait painters of the 20th Century.


In following this great inspiration of past and present artists, we headed east through the desert heat to
The Taos Art Museum
which is housed in the former home and atelier of Nikolai Fechin. While the collection, of over 300 works of art, is worth the journey to remote Taos, we were headed there for another reason: The Taos Art Museum was hosting a special exhibit titled “Two Nikolai’s”. Nikolai Fechin alongside Nikolai Blokhin, a young Russian master of our era who is inspired by his native born Fechin. This was a 3-day drawing workshop, over the 4th of July weekend, in Nikolai Fechin’s North lit atelier adjacent the Fechin House. (Yes, my husband was in pure bliss!) While Nikolai Blokhin is an instructor at the prestigious St. Petersburg Academy of Art in Russia, this was the first time he agreed to hold a drawing workshop in the United States. Blokhin conducted this workshop by masterfully drawing in charcoal with an occasional verbal explanation through a translator provided by the Downey Gallery where Blokhin is represented in Santa Fe. Drawing is a universal art, and Blokhin has the remarkable ability of bringing his figures to life and mixing everyday beauty with whimsical artistic themes such as ballerinas, gypsies, Native Americans, and fortune tellers.

After a few weeks back at home, the workshop circuit picked back up in August, with our now 6-month old Gaia, we traveled to Philadelphia where Sean attended a two-week Advanced Portrait Painting Workshop at the
Studio Incamminati with Nelson Shanks
. The artistic highlight of this workshop was working with the light and shadow, then refining form and shape and finally interpreting and opening ones eyes to color. I believe Sean will never see color the same way again! The highlight of the two weeks occurred one special evening when Nelson painted his wife Leona Shanks in front of a packed audience who knew they were witnessing a moment which would live on well beyond that warm evening in Philadelphia.



Nearing the end of the summer, we squeezed in one last, could not pass up, 3-day workshop with Jeremy Lipking at the Watts Atelier. Lipking’s brushwork is impressive, and he is also a mutual admirer of Anders Zorn, John Singer Sargent and Joaquin Sorolla among other late nineteenth century painterly realists. This was a perfect conclusion to a great summer.

So 2008 will fondly be remembered as a year filled with artistic pleasures, and we could not wait to continue this trend into 2009. We are leaving for Spain in two weeks, where Jeff Watts will each be conducting a week-long workshop at the
Bravura Academy
in the Andalusian village of Arcos de la Frontera. Sean has always dreamed of painting figures in the wonderful tradition of Sorolla, Zorn and Sargent, and Gaia and I will explore the beautiful village of Arcos and the 13 rural acres of the Cortijo Mesa de la Plata hotel.

Micaiah Hardison, the brilliant mind behind Bravura Academy, has arranged this retreat workshop filled with a week of exciting events. He strives to inspire students and instructors with an authentic Andalusian experience amidst the magical landscapes steeped in history. We are all looking forward to discovering this land that has been deemed a place “between reality and dream”. However, before we arrive in Arcos, Micaiah has arranged, with the Hispanic Society of America, a private showing of Sorolla’s work at the Prado on June 15th. We will be attending this once in a lifetime event and are beyond thrilled to be spending time in one of our favorite cities, Madrid. Our bags will soon be packed, and the camera will be in overdrive capturing what I know will be an extraordinary trip to Spain.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Costa Verde - Sayulita, Mexico

Photos by Sean Patrick McArdle

During our recent trip to Sayulita, we visited the Costa Verde International School. (Now that we have a little girl, searching for the ideal school has become a top priority.) I had heard great things about Costa Verde, Mexico's first "green" school, and since we were in town, it was a 'must-do' on our travel agenda. We didn't schedule any formal tours or make an appointment to visit, so on our way to the beach, we stopped by and was greeted by a very helpful lady who was more than happy to take us on an impromptu tour of the school. Upon entering the school yard surrounded by cute little white buildings/classrooms, lush tropical gardens, play areas, an open-aired faculty break room, vegetable garden with compost pile, art area and yoga/dance pavilion, I felt as if I had been transported to academic heaven!

Costa Verde enrolls preschool and elementary aged kids. Each classroom is filled with girls and boys from all over the world, and the lessons are taught in English and Spanish as well as additional teaching time devoted to the development of the child's second language. There is a strong focus on the importance and responsibility of embracing the environment and practicing sustainable methods of living. For example, math is taught by measuring vegetables in the school garden or counting the number of trees saved by using recycled paper. Costa Verde is an accredited private school and blends the standard grade level curriculum found in all other schools with ecology, multiculturalism, technology and creative arts. They teach the whole child using a very active, hands-on approach and stimulate the individual interests/talents of each student.

While there for 20 minutes, we witnessed preschoolers gathering around in a circle as their music teacher arrived with her guitar, a dentist coming to talk to the kindergarten class about dental hygiene, first graders tending the vegetable garden, second graders enjoying a yoga class, third graders working on their art work of pottery for an upcoming school fundraiser, fourth graders discussing geography, and fifth graders eating what seemed to be a delicious lunch under the outdoor pavilion. The teachers seemed happy and enthusiastic about being there (not to mention the intentional small student to teacher ratio). It was a harmonious blend of cultures from all over the world. Costa Verde has the perfect formula for a school - every aspect of a child is nurtured and taught in a joyful and peaceful environment with a strong commitment to diversity, sustainability, and culture. In my opinion, Costa Verde will be a leader in making a difference in this world.

For more information about Sayulita, please visit my SF Getaways Examiner column here.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

No Ordinary Love

"Love does not consist of gazing at each other,

but in looking together in the same direction."

~ Antoine de Saint-Exupery

You are my dream come true, the force that pushes me to greater heights, the happiness in each day, the love of my life.

Thank you for 8 years of marital bliss ~ Happy Anniversary.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

The Bee's Knees


This captivating photo is of my very dear friend, Davide, and the inaugural release of his bees. On April 18th, he received 10,000 Italian bees and one queen. The queen has her own separate little matchbox house inside the larger box. It took the 10,000 bees about 6 days to get to know her, and feed her, and then they were all set in their relationship (sweet, isn't it?). April through October, she will lay 600-1000 eggs per day. The bees are thriving and loving their new 'home'. So much so that Davide, the magnificent bee keeper, has had to double the size of the hive to give them room to grow! The honey has yet to be harvested, but I know it will be exceptional in taste and quality. There is no doubt, these are the happiest bees on Earth! With Davide's incredible kindness, gentle manner, and glorious outdoor space (vegetable and flower gardens - their favorite plant being the borage), these bees will remain in a constant state of euphoria.

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Happy Mama's Day

Photo by Sean Patrick McArdle

5 Reasons I Love Being a Mama:

  1. the infectious laughter over silly things
  2. being the recipient of unconditional love
  3. seeing the world through innocent and non-cynical eyes
  4. realizing the slow pace of baby steps is far more enjoyable than the fast
    pace I had once been accustomed to
  5. hearing the word MAMA through sweet rose-bud lips

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Flower Girl

Photo by Sean Patrick McArdle

This stunning photo of my adorable daughter, Gaia Miette, was taken by her very talented father, Sean Patrick McArdle. He has such an artistic eye and captures beauty in all its wondrous forms. I am so happy he is finally pursuing this incredible talent and look forward to watching his portfolio grow. Luckily, he gave me exclusive rights to these exquisite shots!

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