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August 2, 2011

The Craft of Water Color

This diary entry summarizes the Aegean Center for the Fine Arts 2011 Summer Course: The Craft of Watercolor which I attended from July 10th - July 24th; it will be mirrored on the Aegean Center's official blog.

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Image Source: Library of Congress

As Paros is an island, you've got to take a boat. I didn't immediately realize the significance of this until I was on board the ferry and motoring away from the hazy landmass of Athens. Out in the middle of the Aegean--long, long before the sea appeared to me as brushstroke washes of ultramarine blue and viridian green--I felt as though I was not only traveling but emigrating.

Surely I knew what I had signed up for: I wasn't leaving an impoverished, famine stricken land carrying all my portable property for a chance at a better life on Paros. I was vacationing from New York City to learn how to paint. Yet, there was a palpably different feeling to this trip.

Our incredible professor (and my friend of some years from Minnesota), Jun-Pierre Shiozawa, collected us individually from the ferry port as we arrived. We were taken to our quarters, a small set of apartments only 200 paces from the sea. I was shown the café in town were we would receive our free student meals. I was shown where to shop for our own groceries. I was shown where to walk to reach the classroom. I was even taught the particularities of the Greek toilet. These basic instructions heightened my sense of emigration. I wouldn't only be taught how to paint, I would be shown how to live.

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During our first classroom session we had received an outline detailing our expected arrival time for each day, the topic to be covered during the day's class, and the start time and subject of the evening lecture. Still, many details were omitted--would we paint indoors or on excursion? If we are going out, Where are we going? What will we be painting? Can we choose what to paint? The intentional vagary bothered some of our fellow students. Answers to these questions were occasionally demanded. I was exhilarated.

Each day unfolded magnificently. Early in the morning we had time to do as we pleased. I would wake early to take a dip in the sea, sketch or paint, and take a walk to town for a fresh baked spanikopita or Greek yogurt with honey. Classroom time was dynamic. Jun-Pierre would instruct on a topic of focus and provide a variety of hands-on exercises. For example, on the class period focusing on color Jun had us create a variety of color wheels using a particular color family and using a variety of wet and dry brush techniques. After creating these wheels he had us wash over them with various colors to understand their effects. We would break from one in the afternoon until four-thirty. We could do whatever we wanted during the break. Many of us chose to eat lunch at our designated cafe, Cafe ???????? (Distrato). Some of us would then swim, shop, or nap. Often for the resumption of class we would take an excursion to someplace on the island such as a superlatively beautiful hillside, monastery, or windmill overlooking sea and rock where we would practice applying the day's classroom instruction. In the evening there was often an optional lecture offered by a professor at the Aegean Center. Night would mean dinner on our own, perhaps a final night swim under moonlight and then sleep. Sleep! The kind of sleep that comes quickly to those who are satisfied, exhausted, and content to be lulled by soft breezes and the sound of the sea.

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After our second week of studying, exploring, and tasting something wonderful happened. We were more relaxed, our personalities had settled in to one another. I gathered the distinct sense that it became less about what we expected from the class and more about being able to absorb everything we were being offered. Our work reflected this. Our conversations and deportment reflected this. We had a rhythm and a little livelihood on Paros, no matter how transitory. Rather sadly, following our student show it was time to leave.

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We came by boat and we left by boat. New York and the old life was calling. It was time to strip myself of my Greek sandals and my responsibly cultivated tan to once again return to pushing my plow through fields of ones and zeros. And after so much! I had eaten incredible locally grown food. I had mastered zigzagging from shadow to shadow in order to avoid the summer sun. I had learned how to draw, to paint, to see. Now, it was time to return. I may not always have fresh urchin roe, but I'm forever changed. I know because I did not merely visit, I had emigrated--even if it was only temporary.

The ferry approaches on the horizon. Hot people queue haphazardly in bunches, luggage awkwardly in tow. Up until the last moments there are kind words, embraces, and well wishing. It is unlike air travel: the airline security acting as a hermetic seal between your destination and airport-land and all airport-lands connected by flying tubes of recycled air. With air travel you enter on one side of the tube and come out uncomfortably on the other. This produces an illusion that destinations belong to differing neighborhoods within a grand scale world-metropolis. Objects seem closer than they appear. Traveling by boat is different. Up on the deck of the boat you can see the land and your loved ones standing there, all getting smaller and receding slowly into the distance. They recede just as slowly as the thought, wouldn't it be great if I could stay forever?

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