Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Weekend Get-Away, Los Poblanos

Weekend getaway! This time at Los Poblanos Historic Inn and Organic Farm--really just a hop, skip, and a jump away from where my husband and I live, but different enough from our living room to provide a much-needed respite. 

Situated on a leafy, semi-rural road, the farm dates back to 1934 and is famous for its lavender fields as well as its many lavender-based products. I love lavender anyway, but the Los Poblanos variety has a unique (to me, at any rate) scent that borders on another of my favorites, anise, and after years of driving past the entrance it was a thrill to get to stay right there on the premises.

Not that it was easy to get there, mind you. Thanks to the endless road works currently plaguing Albuquerque, the alternate route we chose to travel down was blocked by a massive SWAT situation, then yet another road was blocked because a driver had passed out in the middle of the street, and then after several more twists and turns we got lost. Lost in our very own neighborhood! Finally and after what felt like the very worst of Mr. Toad's Wild Ride, it was a huge relief to get out of the car and be greeted by this gorgeous guardian to our casita:

Other than the peacocks, our main reason for choosing the inn was for its farm-fresh menu with plenty of vegetarian offerings. Starting with a champagne lavender cocktail, my entree consisted of what I can best describe as a New Mexican vegetable pot pie. It was delicious with just the right touch of green chile, crispy tortilla strips, and buttery parsnips. Paired with a New Zealand Pinot Noir, rosemary bread rolls, and peach and lavender gelato for dessert, I ate every bite without an ounce of guilt.

Our vintage-style room was cozy and cute with high wooden ceilings, a spacious bath and even a kitchen area. The marshmallow-soft mattress was a bit too soft--several times I woke up during the night thinking I was being smothered by clouds, but the sheets were heavenly, so silky soft that I soon fell back to sleep, no problem. My only true complaint about the room was that the TV didn't work. And, believe me, I know how shallow that sounds. But my husband and I had our hearts set on watching the Melbourne Grand Prix, the first Formula One race of the season, and we couldn't get the darn thing to work . The hotel staff tried to help, but technology eluded us all and we had to give up, remotes in hand and that weird "I don't know what to do now" look on our faces. Oh, well. Fortunately we had the recorder set back at home, but it was disappointing to miss out on that initial viewing of what was a very good race. (We did see it later at home.)

Not to be deterred, we got the excellent fireplace going and I settled onto the couch to read my latest find, yet another of my beloved Phyllis Whitney novels, The Stone Bull, this one from 1977. To my mind, Whitney is THE master of Gothic romantic suspense, and nothing could have been better for a stormy night snuggled up in one of the hotel's dressing gowns while listening to the peacocks' shrill cries battling over the wind.

The next morning after bathing and shampooing in as many lavender gels as possible, we had a small but nice breakfast before we went exploring and came across one of the greenhouses:

 And more scenic views:

Including this little courtyard:

Followed by a trip to the Farm shop:

Naturally I had to get some lavender lotion, as well as some pinon incense (which smells exactly like the firewood provided for our room), and surprise, surprise: a Palomino Blackwing pencil, something I've heard about for years but never purchased. Apparently these pencils were the top choice of back-in-the-day Hollywood script writers, animators, and musical directors and were considered superior to any other writing instrument of the time. The logo printed on the pencil claims it will work with "Half the pressure, twice the speed." Sounds good to me. Right now I can't decide whether I want to use it for writing, drawing, or just looking pretty on my desk. Whatever, all I know is I'll have to order at least a dozen so I can start making some decent sketches of Mr. Peacock in all his glory:

Tip of the Day: You don't have to travel far to go on a vacation; sometimes just up the road is good enough. Best of all, new settings, sounds, meals, and experiences can go into your next manuscript or sketchbook without enduring hours of travel or jet lag. Whoever said "there's no place like home," got it right--being a tourist in your own town has all the benefits of "Half the pressure, twice the speed!"

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Seeing with a New Perspective

How's everybody been? I've got spring allergies and zero energy for anything other than reading. The best I can do right now is say I got out of bed. I could blame some of these ailments for ruining my last outing with Urban Sketchers, but the truth is I had a lousy time because I could not, could not, get a grip on something that has plagued me my entire creative life: I can't draw perspective.

Perspective has always been a difficult subject for me. In theory I understand the concept: horizon lines, vanishing points, objects getting smaller and smaller the farther away they are from the viewer, but I've never been able to get it to work. I've even taken entire classes on the subject, but to no avail. Maybe it's something to do with a lack of hand-eye coordination, or a rogue gene that doesn't allow me to comprehend angles. Whatever it is, it's made me both dread and hate the topic, which is completely contrary to my desire to draw buildings and urban landscapes, especially when I travel.

The situation zoomed into sharp focus when I went to the Albuquerque History Museum with my urban sketching group. No matter how hard I tried, I could not capture the scene I wanted to draw: an early New Mexico pioneer wagon installed in a room full of saddles, vintage clothing, maps and other memorabilia. The wagon attracted me the minute I saw it draped with fur pelts, Navajo blankets, and carrying a load of clay and iron cooking pots.  I thought it would make a great picture using graphite and colored pencils--the only mediums we were allowed to bring inside the museum. Except when I sat down to sketch, I couldn't place the wheels, the axle, the sideboards, the seat, the frame or those fuzzy bunny furs anywhere close to where they should be. Over and over again I drew in the lines, erased them when they didn't meet where they were supposed to, and then repeated the process until I gave up and sulked all the way to the coffee bar. In other words, I had a very bad perspective on just about everything.

When I got home I knew I had to get help--anything to finally learn. After some intensive Googling and checking out reviews on YouTube, I bought Matthew Brehm's Drawing Perspective. With any luck, it's going to change my entire perspective about perspective and please, please, make it fun

So far, I'm impressed with what the book has to offer. If there's such a thing as a good book that will teach me "how to see and how to understand" I think this will be the one. The chapters are arranged in a logical order of 1-point, 2-point, and multiple-point perspective, as well as up, down, curvilinear (didn't even know that one existed) and everything in between. The watercolor and pen-and-ink illustrations are gorgeous, the instructions are clear, and there's a series of practice grids and fill-in-the-blank exercises at the back of the book. I'm feeling hopeful.

I plan to start working with the book this weekend, and then try bringing it to work with me to use during lunch. At the same time, I'm following the author's advice that I start looking at the world around me in search of those vanishing points and parallel lines. 

I'm excited to begin my foray into the world of straight lines and realistic architecture, but I'm also a little conflicted: a part of me doesn't want to get too perfect. After all, I'm not applying to architectural college; I just don't want my urban landscapes to be overly droopy, or to imply that I'm too lazy to learn a valuable technique and skill. Similar to my approach to writing, I want to know the rules so that I can eventually, and when necessary, break them: if I want wonky buildings and unconventional characters to live in them, I want to paint and write them on purpose! After all, a bit of whimsy can often be just the thing to make any creative work your very own.

Tip of the Day: To go along with my new course of study, I've been collecting my favorite resource: magazine cut-outs. This time I've gone in search of urban landscapes from every viewpoint I can find. I'm building up (no pun intended) a pretty good library of photos, and I think they'll be super helpful as I work my way through Brehm's book. They're also going to serve double-duty as great writing prompts. Whether you're writing, painting, or designing jewelry, nothing beats a good photo-reference file.