Painting on the path at the extraordinary Botanical Garden.

By Chris Ivers

Approximately 476 years ago a Friar Miguel established the town of San Miguel de Allende, and the rest is history! For an artist like me the history and architectural structures of this ancient town was eye candy.

At 6,234 feet above sea level, complete with cobblestone streets and uneven sidewalks, which for the most part were always uphill (or so it seemed to me at first), this adventure was a challenge in the first few days I was there to learn the terrain. I was the coordinator for Richard McKinley’s destination workshop with 15 other talented artists who came to paint this incredible part of central Mexico.

Wherever one would look there was a scene to paint. From the central square and the iconic church San Miguel Arcangel Parroquia to the many earthen-colored painted buildings and churches within the city limits, it was difficult to decide where to set up an easel! I quickly understood why artist flock to this region of the world . . . The light is like no other I have seen.

Steep uphill streets and sidewalks were everywhere.

The Mexican people are the happiest, most helpful, and most wonderful people I have met in a long time. And even though my Spanish was pretty much non-existent, the local merchants and residents were more than understanding of my inability to communicate well. They were also very lenient as to where us gringos set up our easels!

Celebrations in the main square were a regular occurrence. Large or small there was music and crowds of people who were enjoying life. From talented street musicians and oversized “Puppet People,” to food vendors and stage shows, the town was constantly vibrating with life.

The Central Square alive with activity almost every night.
“Puppet People” dancing through Central Square both day and night.

Painting in the Central Square was like trying to capture butterflies. Vendors would constantly move, onlookers would be watching over our shoulders, and children were always trying to sell us trinkets. At one point, when Richard was painting a demo in the Square one resident watched the demo from beginning to end. We found out that he was a musician and could totally relate to the creation that was evolving in front of his eyes. From the orchestration, crescendo, all the way through the finale, the musician, Eduardo, and Richard were soul mates. It was a wonderful experience to see these two share the same feelings through different art forms.

Richard and Eduardo after Richard’s demonstration.
With each turn there was another church. There are some 300+ churches in San Miguel.

Painting Outdoors in the Botanical Gardens
We also ventured outside of the city proper to visit and paint at a preserved botanical garden. This was a garden like no other that I was acquainted with because it was a garden of succulents! Cactus everywhere. These plants were huge and majestic, and they were very much fun to paint. Of course we were still trekking up and down a hill to reach a beautiful reservoir where some of the students painted. I chose to paint a path leading up the hill, which of course changed by the minute as the day progressed.

Students recording scenes of the day and painting at the Garden.

The Sistine Chapel of Mexico
Another location that was great to paint at was what we all referred to as the “White Church.” This incredible structure, built in 1748, is known for its frescos of the biblical and historical teachings of Fray Luis Felipe Neri de Alfaro, painted by A. Pocasangre. We painted in this little town for the entire day and enjoyed the local cuisine. The paintings in this church were amazing and truly showed the passion of the Mexican people, who used this building as a place of refuge during Mexico’s independence from Spain.

Jésus Nazareno de Atotonilco Sanctuary
Just a small sample of the beautiful artwork that covers every square inch of the church interior.

I guess I could carry on about how great this experience was for me, but I think this blog might be getting a bit too long. I would recommend to anyone considering a trip to this enchanting part of the world to jump in and enjoy the sights, sounds, cuisine, and especially the hospitality of the Mexican people. It is a place that I plan to return to.

A sculpture outside of one of the two Art Institutes in the city.

All I know is that I plan to learn how to speak a little more Spanish before I return!

¡Buenos Días!

About the author: Chris Ivers is a former member of the PSA Board of Governors and is the current Vice President of IAPS.

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