Travel, Adventure and Creativity, Anyone?
As a painter, a teacher of painting and a lover of travel I’m always looking for new places to take my students to and explore the world in paint. The most recent art workshop adventure I led was in November 2019 at Casa Buena Art Retreat on the Pacific coast of Mexico.
Casa Buena was created by Jane (a painter herself) and her husband Dallas (a professional photographer), both from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. Jane realized the potential of their place on the ocean and several years ago created this art retreat. Here, just a couple of hours north of Puerto Vallarta in a rich unspoiled agricultural region – life slows down.
I had been to Puerto Vallarta before, but not far up the coastal countryside where I was about to go. Jane and Dallas’ hospitality, along with their warm and friendly local staff make this experience unforgettable. I was met by Jane a couple of days before the workshop so I could visit the retreat, explore the area and plan my workshop’s painting locations.
Just being driven up the coast for the two hour drive, stopping for an amazing lunch on the beach had me hooked. Every field of “what’s growing there?”, every roadside market selling their local wares “what are those?” had me hanging my head out of the van’s window as if I were the family dog.
There, easing into the Mexican rural seaside life, I explored the local fishing villages, capturing sketches of the fishermen and their colourful boats. This was going to be a wonderful experience for everyone!
Mexico’s Revolution Day Parade
As Jane & I embarked on this little road trip, we didn’t realize that this day was Mexico’s Revolution day, an annual national holiday. Driving along the two lane roads through tiny towns, we suddenly hit a roadblock. Gridlocked on the side of the road, we were treated to a wonderful local parade. Mariachi bands punctuated the excitement with their song, formations of children danced, dressed in their finery and cowboys (caballeros) proudly trotted by on their horses.
What an unexpected treat to be a part of this special event!
Two days later we drove back to Puerto Vallarta to meet my group of students. Arriving at the hotel to meet everyone and begin our collective adventure, Jane and I already had a great story to tell.
First Night on the Town in Puerto Vallarta
As we all gathered on our first evening together, we dined in town on the boardwalk. Our rooftop restaurant provided a view of the pink sunset as we drank margaritas and got to know one another. After dinner Jane led us on an “artwalk” touring the best of the contemporary art galleries in town. A wonderful beginning to what would be a memorable adventure.
The next day on our drive up the coast to the Casa, our first stop was at the famous outdoor market “La Penita”. This was the biggest and best shopping opportunity for everyone to purchase handmade Mexican goods, such as woven blankets, silver jewellery and fine leather work. Our last stop on the way was a long leisurely lunch on the beach with a chance to dip our toes in the ocean.
Settling in at Casa Buena
Arriving at Casa Buena later that afternoon, everyone settled into their new rooms, and then made their way to the main living room for orientation. First a tour of the lush tropical gardens, next the studio (a large covered hacienda style terrace) and lastly the pool and it’s palapa (the location for our daily happy hour).
As evening fell, we had a welcoming authentic Mexican dinner while we sat around the great dining table sipping wine and discussing the next day’s first “painting day”.
Camaraderie and laughter continued into the night.
There were four full days of art instruction with one day in between for a day trip and a rest from our easels. Each studio morning started with a fun exercise to get everyone warmed up, then a short painting demonstration by me to illustrate the lesson of the day.
“Sheree is a patient & knowledgable instructor with a great sense of humour.”
From there, we set up in the garden to paint, or laid out a simple still life on a table in front of our easels.
Sound like hard work?
Well, imagine yourself in paradise waking up to the sound of the waves crashing on the beach below.
What would your first instinct be?
- To grab your coffee and wander down to the pool for a swim?
- To see what choices your hostess has for you for breakfast?
- Or to have a swim, a coffee, and breakfast before heading into the gardens with your sketchbook in hand?
These morning thoughts and decisions are the simple ideas that begin and shape your days as an artist at Casa Buena.
The Pool and The Ocean View (A Favourite Place)
Mid week we took a fun day trip away from our easels. We were taken on a boat ride upriver through a mangrove swamp to see the local flora and fauna…crocodiles, herons, and an amazing array of birdlife. We stopped at the local swimming hole (guaranteed safe from crocodiles) on the way back to cool off.
That same day, we toured the Old Fort in San Blas with an incredible view of the sprawling city and it’s coast. There we met a group of bikers (a Mexican motorcycle club from Guadalajara) who agreed to let us take a photo of them with some of us. Local culture was everywhere inviting us into their world.
Our third event of the day was another great lunch on a famous surfing beach. Fortunately the waves were tame at this time of year, offering some of us a chance to swim.
Our Final Painting Day Together
Our last evening together at the Casa was a festive celebration with a candle lit buffet on the terrace, lots of wine and dancing, and a final moonlight swim.
This workshop was a great success with eight very happy students. We each collected a wealth of fond memories, photos and paintings from our experience, as well as new friends.
For me, this experience was truly a special one.
“To be able to spend a week with 8 other creative women who share the same love of painting was a wonderful treat! I really enjoyed visiting those beautiful beaches, local markets & fishing villages all in sunny warm coastal Mexico”.
My next workshop at Casa Buena, which was fully booked, was to be on March 18th, 2020 but when Friday, March 13th declared the pandemic and restricted all non- essential travel outside of Canada, we postponed this workshop to February 2021. It was a shame, as some students were coming from Quebec, Vermont and California for this!
There are two new retreats planned with me in February/March 2021.
Fingers crossed we can all travel by then…