Taking Hand to Brush
Published May 27, 2008 - (Updated Dec 5, 2012)
Featured in Vallarta Lifestyles Magazine, Winter/Spring 2008 issue.
So, you're bending the elbow a bit, practicing the gentle art of Margaritaville on the beach when you decide to get more creative. Once it's time to dig your toes out of the sand, where can you find something for the soul? Surprisingly, many locals artists offer classes, for advanced students or even beginners. Check out the possibilities and find one more reason to stay in Puerto Vallarta or to come here more often for longer periods. You're sure to discover another world when you participate in your own creative experience.
One of the original art teachers of Puerto Vallarta, in 1980 Roberto Bermejo joined Javier Niño and the late Daniel Inchaúrregui to offer classes on Isla Rio Cuale as part of a state-sponsored program, which lasted about five years. Today, Roberto offers classes with two different focuses: one on the basics and techniques of painting, the other on creativity. Noting that the local educational system offers little in the way of artistic encouragement, he views art classes as a necessary alternative.
Thirty-five years ago, Evelyne Boren began showing her work downtown in Manuel Lepe’s gallery. Numerous students continue to attend her regular classes or visit her open studio in Sayulita on Wednesdays. Her color theory is that it takes grays to accentuate the brights. While Evelyne believes in working with a limited palette, preferably three colors, she says, “If you know what your work is going to look like, you can create it. Visualization is the crucial step to get there.”
In what became life changing, Meg Munro chose to take the watercolor route to happiness after classes with Lucille Shipley, among others. She currently offers ongoing weekly classes for continuing artists, while her annual two-week series in February allows for new students and beginners. Four years of instruction exclusively in watercolors have brought Meg to the realization that most people need encouragement and a safe space to create. “I prefer to meet people where they are, offering respect for their inner voice.”
While not currently teaching, Javier Niño was Vallarta’s first art teacher, truly instrumental in the lives and careers of many of the most successful artists in Puerto Vallarta and beyond. His early years were spent not only teaching on Isla Rio Cuale but also in organizing exhibitions with local artists both here and abroad. As he says today, “Now, people have such a broad range of choices for studying art locally, the alternatives are endless.”
Taking a series of classes with Lucille Shipley led Cassandra Shaw to offer children’s classes when Lucille decided that the kids were too much to handle. “I was terrified that the kids wouldn’t paint again and would go on to some other Saturday activity.” While Cassandra’s focus is on fast-drying acrylics, she encourages the use of other materials, such as pastels or pencil crayons. Weekly classes every Saturday keep her busy all year, except for annual summer breaks.
Lucille (Luley) Shipley came to Puerto Vallarta in 1977 with over two decades of training and background in the fine arts. With extensive experience in watercolor, ink drawings and pastels, she developed “sancrylics” as a new medium, combining sand with acrylics. When friends begged her to help them “learn” to paint, Lucille discovered that once they started they didn’t want to leave. Two books have grown out of her student workshops: “Bartholomew” by the late Bernice Starr, who is honored by a salon in her name at Los Mangos Library, and “El Niño de Vallarta,” written in Spanish by Guillermo Colin Sánchez, with illustrations by 12 of Lucille’s child students of that time. And every year since her first local exhibit in 1988 when Oro Verde first opened downtown, Lucille opens her home for a student show.
While she believes in studying the masters, calling her early shows “Old Masters and New Ideas,” her preferred media include oils and acrylics. Students are encouraged to express their own personal view of the work of an artist that attracts them. “When I see somebody improving, I get so excited. Sometimes I can’t sleep thinking about it. I find I learn from everybody as I’m working. There are students who take as many workshops as they can, with as many teachers as they can find. You learn all the time. I learn while I’m teaching. It’s the passion that comes with time when you really give attention to what you love to do.”
Believing that everyone has an innate artistic feeling and ability, Cherie Sibley co-founded a now-defunct art institute after studying with Lucille Shipley for a year and a half. Her art background and experience with people eventually moved Cherie to the front of the class, now with five years’ experience as a teacher. Giving private and scheduled classes to a maximum of 12 to 14 students in her own studio, she is busy all year. “I was always a fine artist, with a BFA in sculpture. Teaching provides me the opportunity to bring adults back to their creativity.” As people move to Puerto Vallarta to contemplate a more tranquil life, Cherie sees that they seek ways “to reconnect to that wonderful creative energy that flows through all of us. I’ve learned that you can say ‘no,’ and that it’s quality, not quantity, that counts. Older adults realize they have choices and they are much more willing to get rid of the BS in their life.” Her thrill in teaching is seeing that “light bulb go off in a student’s mind.” Trying to make the environment of creating art secure and non-judgmental, she believes that most often it’s “confidence that holds everyone back. I try to make the materials and methods fun and easy to use, so that the student enjoys the experience.” Best of all, Cherie acknowledges, “As a result of finding my passion for teaching, I have become a better artist. It has made me articulate my craft more clearly and advance my abilities as a painter extensively.”
Florida resident Peter Spataro has been coming to Vallarta for years and has offered on-location painting classes since last year. His three- to five-day intensive courses are designed for those who are ready to focus on color. “They never see the world the same way again,” he says. His training as a teacher in elementary school stands him in good stead, but it was his years teaching art in the Massachusetts Correctional system that changed his life.
Ireri Topete created the ongoing classes in painting at the Isla Rio Cuale over 15 years ago, after teaching a watercolor workshop as part of her community service for a scholarship that put her through art school in Guadalajara. “My dream is to form an institute in Puerto Vallarta offering serious art instruction from basics to intermediate to advanced levels.” Her artistic passion is funneled through ongoing projects in La Malagua, the award-winning artist cooperative.
After nearly three decades in the design business, a chance class Bill White took at the Seattle Academy of Fine Arts turned his life around. While he didn’t turn his back on the design community immediately, a couple of trips to Puerto Vallarta “opened up the possibility of new life choices that led me to a decision to move here and begin teaching about three years ago.” He teaches beginning classes with still life or advanced portrait classes.
While much more was discussed in the interviews with each of the above art teachers, this is by no means an exhaustive list but a representational one.
Classes at the Cuale Cultural Center (CCC) and More
Many of the classes offered at the CCC are in Spanish only. Visitors are encouraged to take the leap into instruction in Spanish to make it an entirely immersive experience. Not only will you never forget it, but you also will make new friends and perhaps find new ways to integrate into the local Mexican community.
Some of the offerings are:
- Introduction to painting
- Sculpture in clay
- Modeling in clay
- Printmaking and lithography
- Folk dance
- Painting for children
- Dance for children
- Drawing for children
- Latin American musical instruments
- Violin and cello
For more information and a current schedule, contact the center at (322) 223-0095 or stop by their office in the theater building on the east side of the Isla Rio Cuale. If you don’t see classes listed that you’re interested in, don’t hesitate to ask at the nearest art gallery. During the summer, Galería Córsica co-sponsors a month-long class by Maestro Agustín Castro López. Manuel Palos holds sculpture workshops at Casa Alexandra at least once a year. Cesar and Gaby Dominguez offer sculpture workshops through Claudia Lovera’s Galería Mata Ortiz in the spring, as does José Luis García. Sandra Leonard opens her Hacienda Mosaico for jewelry and mosaic workshops regularly.