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Getting Set Up

You’ll need some conditions for working, and it’s better to get them right from the beginning: a dedicated workplace, an etching press, heat, light and water, work surfaces and materials. You might be able to start out in a collective studio but, sooner or later, you’ll need a place of your own, even if it’s a garage or a garden shed. Creativity demands concentration, and you need to organize the studio to your own needs and standards of order and cleanliness. If you don’t have much money to invest, invest something else. Invest generosity. A gift of a beautiful print can start a chain reaction. Be generous with your time. Help other artists all you can. Don’t be stingy with your knowledge.

In our early years in Pinos Genil I used to give free painting lessons to kids in the village square and the garden of the old hydro-electric plant. The provincial cultural authority put up the materials, and I even got some mothers painting. That was in the late seventies and early eighties. My pupils were mostly eight-or-ten-year-old village kids. Today I’m old friends with most of the 50 and 60 year olds in town. An old friend in a small town is a rare luxury. A few years ago I was invited to pronounce the “pregón,” the ritual opening speech of the annual fiesta mayor, Pinos Genil’s most important fiesta of the year.

One way which enables you to survive is to swap your work, no money involved. My list is so long: I have exchanged my work for wonderful clothes, dentistry, years of attention from Granada’s most-prestigious gynecologist, a year’s dogfood for a family of Great Danes, a patchwork quilt, artisan pottery, handmade jewelry, original lamps, garden furniture, a magnolia tree, some beautiful handmade paper from the Paperki paper mill in the Spanish Basque country. When my friend, Luisa, closed her decorating business I exchanged two big paintings for a big sofa; some rugs from Taroudant, Morocco at the edge of the Sahara; some lovely lamps, beautiful hand-made curtains and tapestries. Start proposing swaps now. You will be pleasantly surprised. Boths gifts and barter will get your art out and about. You’ll be surprised to find how many people will be enchanted by the idea of doing business without money.

About Selling

My favorite place to sell my work is in my studio. It has a special allure. I’m not sure if it’s the exoticism of the etching press, the busy look or the smell of paints and solvents. It puts them in the mood. I like to sit them down on a chair facing a document chest full of prints in layers of drawers, and say to them, “See if there’s anything you like.” The drawers hold years of prints and proofs, large and small. If they purchase a few prints I make them a gift of another one. I can do that because I’m not paying any commissions. They’ll be back, often bringing along some friends. Studio sales are ideal, and you don’t have to frame anything or get in the car and drive anywhere.

My least-favorite way of selling prints is exhibiting. I’ve had some disappointing experiences. All veteran artists have. Sometimes, when we get together, we share stories. Many years ago, before my print lifetime, through some wonderful French friends, I got an invitation to exhibit in the municipal museum of Agen, in the south of France. I had all the arrangements fixed and we were invited to stay there with our friends, Olga and Touné. I had all the paintings nicely framed and securely packed and had made shipping arrangements with the biggest, most expensive transport agency in Spain, given the possibility of problems at the Spanish-French border. The shipment arrived at French customs a week before the scheduled opening and was turned back for the lack of a single document. I had bought my bus ticket for the following day. Exhibit cancelled.

You Can’t Live Without It

Obviously, there’s no way for an artist to avoid exhibiting, especially when he or she is starting out. But please be careful. I have come to the conclusion that the only thing you can do to avoid problems when you exhibit is to do your homework beforehand. Take the process seriously. Check out everything, Get references. Get it in writing. Even then you may sometimes bump into an unpleasant surprise. But you will have the satisfaction of knowing that you’ve done everything humanly possible.

At the end of the nineties my sales drooped a bit, but that coincided happily with a query from one of my friends, an art teacher in an International Bacalaureate (IB) school in Germany. She wanted to know if I could put together a one-week printmaking course for a dozen or so students from her art classes during Easter Week. That’s what got me into printmaking workshops, and at a propitious time. Happily, the studio that Mike built for me back in the eighties at the bottom of our garden was quite large, 50 square meters, so it admitted small groups. Though one time I had a group of 20 from The American School in Switzerland (TASIS) and managed it by habilitating space in my Gallinero artists’ cabin and calling in my two part-time assistants, María José and Carmen. Martyn, the head of the TASIS art department, and Frank, the photography teacher were also valuable help. The result was an inspiring setting for creative high-school art students who had never done any printmaking. My experiences with groups of European students, which all repeated over a series of years, have been extremely positive, due both to the personal qualities of the students, as well as their exceptional teachers.

Workshops to Afront the Crises

My work with students opened the door to workshops with artists. That turned out to be a life saver in the lean times ahead. I started with mostly Spanish non-printmaker artists. It was rewarding to see them getting into ink. Then, thanks to the websites Mike made for me and kept up, I started getting artists from abroad, first in small groups, then individually. It turns out that the most productive mode of launching or perfecting one’s printmaking is in one-on-one sessions with a master printmaker/teacher. That’s how I learned at the Rodríguez-Acosta Foundation in Granada. The workshop had a lot of members but I was the only one who attended every day. José García Lomas, “Pepe,” the wonderful printmaking maestro there, appreciated that loyalty and took me on as his protege. Everything I know about teaching printmaking, I owe to Pepe Lomas. His method can be summed up briefly. “Respect the taste and talent of the students. Let them follow their own stars.” I can’t remember how many nationalities have passed through my studio over the past four decades.

“Creativity” Covers More Ground Than You Think

Creativity is not just putting paint on canvas or scratching a copper plate. Creativity begets creativity and, once you get in the habit in your studio, it extends to other facets of your life. It becomes a lifestyle, and people who come here notice it. Virtually all the artists who stay in my Gallinero artists’ cabin comment that they sleep better. Serious printmaking is relaxing, but also tiring. The biggest commission I ever had was from a big Paris construction company. They wanted gifts for more than a hundred of their clients and employees. I made several different prints for them in order to keep the edition numbers down, assuring true limited editions. And I ordered some beautiful hand-made-paper, and envelopes in bright pastel colors, from my friends at Paperki. Beyond my most optimistic expectations, those atypical gifts were a big success and the company repeated the commission for two more years.

When Covid 19 shut down the world I went into shock for a while, but eventually decided I had to work my way out of it. So I produced a portfolio of my favorite recipes illustrated with prints. That was an extremely limited edition (limited to the amount of paper I had on hand) and it sold out in a couple of months. Then it occurred to me to convert it into a little book which, with the help of my wonderful printshop neighbor, Ricardo, was a big success. I’m currently working on etched VIP invitations to the inauguration of our village’s new Sierra Nevada Tram Museum. María del Mar, the new director there was one of the 10-year-old students in my village painting classes all those years ago.

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Go back to Part 1/2
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Though, As We All Know, the Best Commercial Is Non Commercial

In my last post I promised to dedicate the next one to selling your work. Then there wasn’t a “next one,” because I got swept up in a project to create images for our village’s new Sierra Nevada Tram Museum, located in our old tram station. The Sierra Nevada Tram was an ambitious project promoted by a Granada nobleman–el Duque de San Pedro de Galatino–to ferry clients up to his hotel/gambling saloon up on the mountain. It also provided transport for the people of several villages along the way, one of which was ours, Pinos Genil. The project–20.5 kilometers of tram line between Granada and El Charcón, at 1,500 meters of altitude, included 14 tunnels and 21 bridges, and was presented in August of 1919. Work began a year later and the first stage of the service–Granada-Canales–was inaugurated in 1925. By 1928 the line had reached the Maitena station, from which clients were carried the last stage of the trip up to the hotel by horse and carriage. The tram, which continued operating until 1973, never made a profit. It was finally terminated due to the construction of a giant new dam and reservoir that covered the tracks.

We arrived in Pinos Genil, where we have remained every since, in the fall of 1969 and made use of the delightful little yellow trams both for routine trips down to Granada and summer excursions up to El Charcón where it was cool and they had diverted the River Genil to create a chilly, melted-snow swimming pool. To give you an idea of what the old Spain was like, the couple of rustic restaurants on the tram’s trajectory permitted clients to take their own food and just buy drinks. Today that sounds like science fiction. Oh, I almost forgot, the town hall has very kindly offered me display space to sell my tram-related prints.

Pinos Genil’s Renovated Sierra Nevada Tram Station Museum

My Mixed-Media Images of the Original Trams

Back to Being Commercial

Let’s start with the foundation truth: too few printmakers are able to make a living from their artwork, and it’s not getting any easier. We’ve had the financial crisis of 2009, and for some of us that’s not over yet. Add to that a few more economic wobbles, a few wars, Covid 19, and the disloyal competition of people selling “giclee” reproductions-and calling them “prints,” when they’re just photocopies. What they aren’t is fine-art prints. But they could be sold profitably at a tenth of the price, and they have cut a wide swath through the fine-art-print market, our market. Print departments–and whole art departments–started closing down..

Being realistic, I suspect that printmakers will never again see prosperity like that of the old days. I’m referring to the 70’s-90’s. I fondly remember the first edition of Estampa, the Madrid Fine-Art-Print Fair at the Crystal Palace in Madrid’s Retiro Park in 1993. By the end of the second day of the five-day event I had sold everything I brought with me and had to phone Mike, at home in Granada, and ask him to empty all of the print drawers in my studio and rush all the prints to me in Madrid. Those were great times. There was a leak in the roof right above our stand. Did the management panic? No, they just rolled in a big, potted plant and placed it beneath the drip. It was beautiful, and we continued to sell prints.

That first edition of the fair was boycotted by the art galleries. I think they stayed home because they considered the lowly prints too cheap to make much profit on. But, when they saw the success of that first fair, they quickly awakened to the commercial possibilities there. Over the next few years they took over the running of the event, raised the prices of the stands, imposed mandatory minimum prices for the prints and generally started treating printmakers like merchandise. I wasn’t the only artist to abandon the fair after a few years. Though, it was great in the early days. I confess I miss them.

Selling Fine Art Prints in Troubled Times

So, with all the cards stacked against you, you want to try making your living selling your prints. It’s not impossible, but it’s far from easy. I think the first thing you have to get clear is the fact that you’re not just selling prints. You’re selling your humanity, culture, philosophy and lifestyle. The bottom line is, you’re selling all the best of yourself. If the retail business rests traditionally on three pillars: location, location, location… the fine-art-print business is based on three others: communication, communication, communication.

Luckily, we’re living in the age of Internet, the most powerful communications tool in human history. And, depending upon your level of Internet skills, it’s practically free, because you can do it yourself. Obviously, if you’re a digital native, it will be easier for you. If not, you’ll have to choose between learning to do it yourself or paying someone to do it for you. Happily there is a middle way which, I suspect, is the way many successful artists go. That is, have an expert design your website and prepare templates for your site and your blog. Then, all you have to do is fill in the blanks with fresh content in order to keep everything updated. There is still a bit of a learning curve but you can surf it if you’re constant. Your success or failure, of course, depends upon those three little words: “keep everything updated.”

The success of your online communications depends upon the professionalism of your site, what you communicate and how often. It’s not just about techniques, sizes, prices and shipping costs. It’s much more magical than that. You have to impart your enthusiasm, knowledge, secrets and “ilusión.” This is a Spanish word for which there is no English equivalent that I know of. It’s not about the illusion of a magician. It’s about hopeful enthusiasm and anticipation and the conviction to make things happen. It’s one of the threads that pulls us through life. Maybe I’m getting a bit airy-fairy here, but it’s true that you have to transmit to others your own enthusiasms, aspirations and commitment. That is to say, what you have to communicate is You.

Then There’s Your Work

Your work is the motor of your whole enterprise, and it helps if you have some innate talent. But, talent or not, your trail is the same: study, work, learn to see, do a lot of sketches, re-invent yourself with new ideas and new techniques. And you must work hard to get all the qualified feedback you can, have some studio exhibits, inviting friends, family and art lovers and previous clients who already have some of your work on their walls. Never give up, be positive and create what you see around you, this makes your work authentic and unique.

The most popular way of getting artwork before the public is, obviously, exhibiting. Which brings me to a confession. I don’t like exhibiting. And as soon as I could shake it off, I did. It’s one of the most dubious commercial propositions I can think of. To begin with, it’s a lottery, and most of the risk is placed on the artist. Of course, there are great galleries who work with artists for years and help them consolidate their careers. But they are the exception. My recommendation is to sell as much work as you can from your studio or via Internet or local commercial outlets and choose your exhibitions with great care.

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Part 2/2 coming soon
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Let’s Talk about the Kitchen

A printmaker isn’t just a printmaker, especially if she’s a woman. She’s often a wife, a mother, a cook and gardener, and more. She might even hold down a job. I have been all of those things and still am most of them. I have a pretty clear idea of what you’re going through, and I’ve got a few suggestions for smoothing your way. I’m going to concentrate on the kitchen this time. I love the kitchen. It’s creative work and at its best it can be fun, even therapeutic. But having to come up with two or three meals every day can be time consuming and tiresome.

My first important suggestion: make your family complicit in the kitchen. If your husband cooks, you’re already a step ahead. If not, teach him. The earlier you start, the better. I recommend the second day after the honeymoon or as close as you can get to that. Here in Spain you almost never find men in the kitchen, except to go for icecubes. There is one shining exception to that rule, the men from the Basque Country, who pride themselves on their cooking. They have dining societies, each with its own dining room and big kitchen where they take turns cooking. Sometimes they even invite their wives and girlfriends. We are friends with a mixed couple. She’s from Jerez de la Frontera (the heart of sherry country), where a man in the kitchen is considered a sissy unless he’s a cook. He is a recently-retired engineer from Bilbao in the Basque Country. These days he won’t let the Jerezana into his kitchen. To be invited to a meal at their house is an honor and a delight.

Hubby cooking.

How to Get the Family on Board

Getting the family up to speed in the kitchen isn’t limited to working with (or on) your husband. The kids are even more important, as there are more of them–if you’re lucky. They’re also important because they’re the ones who carry on the tradition. It’s fun and easy to get them involved in the kitchen when they’re little, letting them stir the pancake batter, knead the bread, or turn the left-over dough from the scones into little jam tarts. Make them know from the beginning that to participate in the joy of cooking they are required to take on the tasks of buying the ingredients and cleaning up. Regarding “cleaning up,” if you can afford it, a little help in the house does wonders for your artwork, even it’s just a couple of days a week. How do you justify this luxury? By taking printmaking seriously, doing professional-quality work and selling it! (I’ll talk a bit about this in a future post…)

My husband, Mike, and I have raised three children, two boys and a girl (who are now two men and a woman. The youngest one turns 50 next month.) They’re all good cooks and they all love cooking–and eating. One day, when the youngest one was about 13, and I was up to my neck preparing an exhibit, I said to him, “Tomorrow you’re going to make lunch. Look through this cookery book and find something you would like to make. Go down to the store and buy the ingredients, prepare the meal and call us when it’s ready.” He made a delicious chicken stew and never looked back. The summer he was 18 he worked in an excellent Chaine de Rotisseurs restaurant at a fine hotel in Hamburg, Germany. They wanted to keep him.

This is the place where I have to say “thank you” to all of our kids. I couldn’t have done it without them.

Our Culinary Debt to Spain

Now that I think about it, the cooking at our house owes a lot to the kitchen traditions of Andalusia, as the eight southernmost provinces of Spain are known. I must confess that we eat more olive oil, chickpeas, lentils and spicy blood sausage at our house than the entire population of your average town in Britain or North America. Spain, with its fabulous variety of fish, fruit and vegetables, is a great place for cooking and eating, which is centered around a hearty mid-day meal–el almuerzo. The heart of that lunch is often a big stewpot of meat or fish with lots of vegetables, legumes, herbs and spices. The Spanish call those stews, comida de cuchara, “spoon food” and they are addicted to it. The first thing any Spaniard demands, when he or she returns home from an extended trip abroad, is a plate of lentil stew. “¡Dáme un plato de lentejas!” Believe it or not, none of our kids, raised eating and making real food, will go near a fast-food restaurant.

The Cocina Económica

In the early seventies, when we renovated the stone farmhouse where we still live, Mike insisted that we have an old-fashioned coal/wood-burning kitchen range, the rough equivalent of an Aga range cooker in the UK. The owner at Granada’s only foundry said, “We used to make lots of those but they went out of fashion. Now we make mainly manhole covers. I think we threw out the molds for the cocinas económicas years ago.” Then he added, “Give me a couple of weeks and I’ll try to find enough loose pieces to make you a kitchen stove.” In the end he managed to make two, one for us and another for our builder. That stove, which we only light in winter, is an endless source of wellbeing. It improved the way we heat the kitchen, as well as upgrading our cooking. Mike always wanted an excuse to keep a stockpot on the boil, and now he had it.

Since then that stockpot has been the key to virtually everything we cook. Over the years we have refined the procedure for making the magic broth. For a long time we had a standing order with our butcher who would save us the nice fresh chicken carcasses after he removed the breasts, thighs and drumsticks. We would feed them to our dogs and cats. One day, Mike was chopping them up for the animals and it occurred to him to throw a couple of them into the stockpot. That quickly became the rule. That winter our lemon tree had a bumper crop and he started taking the odd bag of lemons to our friend, Sergio, for use in his bar in the village square. On one of those deliveries Sergio said, “Miguel, we sell a lot of ham (jamón serrano, a local delicacy) and we have a lot of meaty ham bones left over. Could you make use of some of them?” That was when our stockpot took the Great Leap Forward. We bought a large stainless-steel pan and started making enough stock to freeze. So we are never without.

Not only does a constant supply of rich chicken/ham stock improve everything we cook, it also makes the cooking faster and easier. Do you need a heavenly chicken noodle soup? Just put some stock on to boil and throw some pasta in it. Do you need something more substantial? Start with a liter or so of stock, add some pork ribs or any other meat you have on hand, then sauté some onions and garlic. You can add celery, thyme, parsley and bay leaf if you like. Let it boil for a while, then add potatoes and carrots. While they’re cooking, put together a quick green salad with a vinagrette dressing, and lunch is ready.

“Peas Porridge Hot” Cooking

If you increase the amounts a bit you can also resolve the next day’s meal. Just add some chopped spinach, cabbage or kale and, bingo, you’ve got another meal. Mike calls this “peas porridge hot” cooking, and it’s true. You can extend that stew for more days, though beyond three, it’s abusive. If you’re a vegetarian you can do the same thing. Just start with a rich vegetable stock and add legumes: beans, chickpeas, lentils and whatever else strikes your fancy.

The Spanish don’t eat much tinned food (except for tomate frito–fried tomato–a blight on their kitchens). To make chicken soup they start with chicken. To make a cazuela (a soupy seafood dish with noodles) they start with fish, clams, mussels and calamares pulled from the Mediterranean yesterday. Two of their absolutely finest soups–gazpacho and ajo blanco, for me both world-class cuisine–are made in a blender (originally a mortar and pestle) and served ice cold. Google the recipes next summer and make them. It’s easy. I think you will like them a lot.

Please forgive me if my kitchen suggestions sound like Greek to you. I arrived in Spain in the sixties and took to the place, its people and its cuisine like a duck to a goldfish pond. Maybe none of my well-intentioned advice will work for you in your circumstances. But maybe some of it will.

Before I go I want to mention something I have learned after dealing in my studio with printmakers from all over the world for four decades. The world is not made up solely of countries, at least for some of us, the lucky ones. There’s an additional “nationality” and it’s made up of all the printmakers in the world. A print artist from Slovenia is likely to have more in common with a printmaker from Mexico or Pakistan than she might with her next-door neighbor in Ljubljana. I’m not sure what we should call this phenomenon, a “sisterhood/brotherhood?” Whatever you choose to call it, I know it exists. I’ve experienced it over and over. Its a beautiful thing. And you’re a part of it.

Hasta luego,

Maureen

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Artists’ Sketchbooks Would Be of Interest to Their Psychiatrists

It’s logical. A sketchbook expresses the artist’s most intimate thoughts, feelings and concerns in the most candid, honest way. It’s a path directly into her head and heart. For me this second book (not in chronological order) records my fixation on Diva, the lovely chihuahua pup that our wonderful daughter in law, Puri, gave us three years ago. We’ve had a lot of pets over the years, but none of the dogs were as tiny as Diva–before we had mainly great danes and mastiffs–and that lent her a special attraction. That and her cranky, controlling character and loveable manners. Mike wonders how she manages to fit all that mischief and wisdom into a brain the size of an olive.

Here are the sketches:

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Christmas Open Studio

by Maureen Booth

It’s an Opportunity to Share Some Village Wine, Chat and See Some of My Work in the Place Where It Was Created

Any boy or girl who turns out to be an artist in life will never forget the first time he or she set foot in the studio of a professional. It’s something that stays with us for the rest of our lives. There is only one experience in an artistic life that inspires more awe: your own studio. Not a corner of the bedroom, nor a garage, nor a porch, but a proper studio with proper light and a door that locks. I was lucky on this count. It was 1966 and I had been living for a short time in Nerja, a village in the province of Málaga, Spain. That little town, in those days, was a dream for a girl from Manchester, UK. It was an authentic Mediterranean fishing village with cobbled streets, roman tiles and a friendly cop with a cap and truncheon. And sunshine beyond my wildest dreams.

There were also foreigners, but not many, and a good proporption of them were painters and writers and one etcher. That arty element gave a special character to the pueblo. It was like an artists’ colony that had sprouted naturally, like mushrooms in the woods, a place where nobody pronounced the phrase, “artists’ colony.” Those artists opened my eyes to a culture and a life that I would never have discovered without their influence.

In the exact center of the village was a big house with an enormous garden dotted with fruit trees. That plot of land was the envy of the village that was already foreseeing a brilliant future in tourism. It was the perfect place to site a luxurious block of flats. But the owner, Conchita Bueno, daughter of a distinguished local family, refused even to consider selling her orchard.

We first met one day when I was painting in the plaza. She paused in her mornintg “paseo” and expressed interest in what I was painting, adding, “So, you like painting on the street, do you?”

“Yes,” I replied, “Besides it’s my only choice. I don’t have a studio.”

“You don’t have a studio,” said Conchita, as if she were alarmed. “Come with me, daughter.” Conchita was like that.

She took me to that big house with fruit trees and led me up to the top floor. It was a spacious attic, one diaphanous wooden-floored space with a view over the orchard.

“Now you’ve got a studio,” said Conchita.

I protested, “You’re very kind, but I’m not sure I can afford such a splendid studio.”

Conchita replied, furrowing her brow as if impatient with me, “You’re not going to pay anything, daughter.”

That’s what Conchita, who didn’t have children, was like.

I Adapt My Studio to Printmaking

I worked for almost three years in that magnificent studio with a little kitchen and its own entrance from the street. I soon began to sell almost everything I painted–lots of local color–and to dream of living from my artwork. That sounded then like a fairy tale. Not quite. I just needed a dose of perseverence and little bit of madness. My next studio was a little stone goat shed on a rocky hillside above Pinos Genil, a village outside Granada. That was followed by a revamped chicken house, and finally a big well-lit studio that my husband Mike built for me. There I only painted until I was selected to study printmaking in the Rodríguez-Acosta Foundation in Granada (1977-80) under the tutelage of José García (Pepe) Lomas, a true master printmaker who left the south of Spain peppered with his disciples. A couple of years later the Foundation closed and I had the opportunity to buy one of their etching presses and all the tables and accessories necessary to convert my space into a fully-fledged printmaking studio. There, over the past 30-some years, I’ve received artists from around the world, to learn printmaking techniques with me.

My Invitation

It’s there that I propose to invite you one weekend during these Christmas holidays (which last 14 days in Spain). There we can sip a glass of village wine together, chat and have a look at some of my work, both paintings and prints. You’ll have the opportunity to discover some new work and some half-forgotten stuff lying in boxes and drawers for decades.

How would you feel about the weekend of December 17, 18 and 19? The address is: Ctra. Güéja Sierra 10, 18191 PINOS GENIL. You can best park in front of the big warehouse with the red and green facade just before arriving at our house. Then it’s a date? I would love that. Hours: mornings 11:00-14:00, afternoons 17:00-20:00. Phone: (34) 605 341 632.

P.S. It’s not easy to get lost, but if you do just ask for “la casa de la pintora.” Once someone got lost and stopped to ask their way. The reply was: “Oh, you’ve got the wrong village. The one you’re looking for is six kilometers down the hill and to the left.”

Photos by Mike Booth

(Follow this link to see a big display of photos. The text is in Spanish but the pictures are in English.)

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Sketchbook Nostalgia 1

Our granddaughter, Elisa, age about ten. She later
got a fine-art degree from the University of Granada.

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The Sketchbook Copy Project

For years my husband has been threatening to photograph the content of all my sketchbooks. But first we had to find them. One of the fringe benefits of the new shelves from heaven was that a lot of old sketch books turned up. Mike got inspired. He snatched the first book from the top of the pile and took it into his goat-shed studio. A couple of hours later I pay him a visit and he’s teetering on top of a ladder peering through a camera mounted on a copy stand. It turns out that, in order to photograph the larger books he has to raise the camera pretty high. I protest. He replies, “Don’t worry, it’s not dangerous once you get the hang of it.” This is why women live longer than men.

Mike’s intention is to photograph all the sketchbooks and post them here one by one. The photographs in this post are the result of his first trials.

Meanwhile, I get to talk a bit about the importance of sketching, whether in pencil, charcoal or watercolours. Your sketches are your roadmap, your compass, your storyboard, and you should not be without them. No, photographs won’t do. You need live drawings. I find it so distressing when art classes from excellent European schools come to my studio and I find the students copying images from the screens of their cellphones. This is a history clash. I’m way too old. They’re way too young. And there’s no middle ground.

This necessity to have sketches obliges you to make them. For that you have to be prepared at all times. The greatest images appear at the most unlikely–and inconvenient times. So I urge you to get in the habit of carrying a bag with your current sketchbook and pencils, and watercolours if you’re so inclined. At first it will feel cumbersome and conspicuous. Later it will become part of your person. And you will notice the boost it gives to your work. In this recent rediscovery of my sketchbooks I have more that once been tempted to sit down right then and there and turn a 20-year-old sketch into a brand new print.

I could go on and on, but I’ll leave you with the photographs. I’ll be posting more regularly–if my photographer doesn’t fall off the ladder.

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Shelves from Heaven

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A Fortuitous Find

Mike was on his morning walk the other day–in an elegant subdivision, as it has a mile-long uphill section–and discovered this metal shelving in a rubbish tip. It fit in the back of the car with a centimeter to spare on each side. He noticed, as he was loading it into the car, that it had an electrical cable with a plug on the end. He wondered why shelves need a plug.

When he got it home, down the steps(!) and installed in the studio he plugged it in. It lit up like a Christmas tree. It has a strip of LED lighting on the inside of the plastic strip on the front of each shelf. Of course, it was a display case. Now it’s a lovely, orderly space for the things in my studio which have always been hard to find: sketchbooks, special papers, pencils and paintbrushes… If you’re a printmaker you’ll know what I mean.

So, if your husband goes for morning runs/walks, suggest that he do it in an affluent neighborhood.

All the best,

Maureen

Text and photos by Mike Booth

An Interview with Pakistani Artist/Educator, Iram Wani

Iram teaches printmaking at the National College of Arts in Rawalpindi, an hour’s drive from her home in Pakistan’s capital, Islamabad. Last spring the school administrators, conscious of the health hazards and other inconveniences of working with nitric acid, commissioned Iram to search for a professional printmaking studio that used non-toxic techniques, to go there for a month and bring back, first hand, the secrets of not-toxic printmaking. Iram knew where to go.

Eight years ago, in the fall of 2013, she had spent two weeks working with Maureen in her studio in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains, outside Granada. Iram, asked how she happened to choose such a far-off place–there are a lot of printmaking workshops between Islamabad and Granada–replied: “I had heard about an English printmaker who did workshops in Spain, so I googled “printmaking courses Spain.” The first half dozen references were to “Maureen Booth, Pomegranate Editions, Granada.” (I later learned that “pomegranate” is “granada” in Spanish, so the city and its province are named after a local fruit.) After following the website for a few months I was impressed by the artists–from all over the world–who worked with Maureen. Also, Maureen spoke English. I had no knowledge of Spanish, but I did have a visa for Spain. That’s how I got here the first time.

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Iram’s work in Maureen’s studio was productive from day one.

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The following is just some of the work Iram produced when she was here.

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This interview took place on October 27, less than a week before Iram was to catch the plane home from the Málaga airport.

Q: What were you hoping to accomplish on this second visit, Iram?
A: I hoped to gain an intimate hands-on knowledge of the non-toxic procedures that Maureen uses in her work, both solarplate and liquid metal techniques.

Q: Did you manage during your stay to achieve any part of this very big assignment?
A: I think I have achieved far more. There’s so much to learn from Maureen. She’s a true “maestra” as they say in Spanish. I’m already thinking of coming back. Besides getting a grip on not-toxic techniques I wanted to experience the procedures and workflow of a well-run studio. I was impressed by Maureen’s insistence on an impeccably clean and well-ordered workspace. You can’t achieve perfect prints without those two factors. I also hoped to create a portfolio of creative non-toxic prints, something I could present to the administrators of the Institute as an example of what can be achieved without acid. And, if the work were to come out exceptional, I will also be exhibiting it. That will be an excellent way of fulfilling my ultimate goal: to introduce non-toxic printmaking in Pakistan.

Q: Were there things that surprised you on your second visit?
A: I think the main thing was just how much there is to learn. Maureen comes up with new secrets every day. I could have learned much more if I had had more time.

Q: You didn’t do any “tourist visits” to the city of Granada, and it’s only eight kilometers down the road. Do you miss that?
A: No, I don’t. Maybe next time…

Q: What do you consider your principal achievement in this month-long workshop.
A: I guess I could sum it up by saying, “truly living the life of an artist for one intense month.”

Q: Can you take that living-the-life-of-the-artist home with you?
A: I can try.

Q: Do you expect your work, and perhaps your life, to change when you get home?
A: It’s changed already. I’ve learned from the master how things should be done.

Q: Did Maureen’s Gallinero artist’s cabin with its big workspace, solitude and tranquility, contribute to your experience?
A: Yes, I was perfectly relaxed. It’s peaceful, truly an artist’s place. I can’t remember sleeping so deeply. Also, I have bad headaches at home. I don’t get them here at all.

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Maureen’s assistant, María José, came in a couple of days to help Iran and Maureen print up the plates Iram made during her stay. Diva only weighs 2.1 kilos (4.6 pounds) but she is always in the studio, supervising everything.

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You can see more of Iram’s visit to Granada on her Facebook page, with her own photographs, videos and commentary.

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This was an unexpected record turnout here for a book presentation on a weeknight.

It’s the Annual Cultural Week in our Village, the Ideal Time for the Presentation of My New Cookery Book

The release of my little bi-lingual, illustrated cookery book coincided with our pueblo’s annual cultural week, the ideal time to present a new book. If it floats here, who knows, it might float in the rest of the world. Presenting in your own village is a privilege and a challenge. Though you enjoy some pre-existing good will from your friends and neighbors, you don’t want to dilapidate those good vibrations by boring them with pretentiousness or long windedness. You want your story told with agility, grace and brevity.

Ideally you want to win over the folks in the plaza to art and good cooking, and if you can sell a few books, that’s OK, too. For that I asked María José, my assistant in the studio, and her daughter, Silvia to attend a table loaded with books for sale. The number they sold was a delightful surprise. Nobody expected an illustrated cookery book to be a best seller. Attendance looked sparce five minutes before the 9:00 pm starting time, but in those brief five minutes the plaza filled up.

The person I chose to present the book was Ángeles Mora, my dear longtime friend, a wonderful poet and person, who has won two national poetry prizes over the past decade. Ángeles is equally at home in an auditorium full of professors as in a village square, and was ideal for the job, warm and light footed, cultured and homespun. She even read one of her poems that verses on life, love and good eating. I want to translate the last stanza for you: “Apaga la ventana, amor, cierra la luz. Abre la boca.” (“Close the window, my love, put out the light. Open your mouth.”) Gabriel Gómez, our mayor, introduced her and carefully elaborated on her impressive curriculum. When Ángeles finished everybody was refreshed in the head and the heart, and ready for a cold beer. The Pinos Genil village center is the perfect place for that on a summer night.

We, along with a group of 20-some friends, were expecting one of the three bars with terraces on the plaza or the river’s edge to prepare one long table for all of us. But Covid precautions limited each table to just five persons, so we were spread out over five tables. No matter each one created its own fun and everybody stayed late and had a great time. Ours was the exclusively-women’s table where we told hilarious husband stories. Mike’s was the word table with a professor, a librarian, and a journalist. Eduardo, the journalist, came up with the best word of the night: “zorrocotroco.” A zorrocotroco is a hard-headed, inflexible person. He sounds like it, doesn’t he. There are no photos of the post-party. My photographer, with an excellent sense of priorities, dedicated himself to the friends, the beer and the funny words.

I doubt that I’ll have another book to present next summer, but who knows? It’s a lot of fun.

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(Como surgió este librito)

(Ver la versión española a continuación…)

It’s an Offspring

Maureen’s Kitchen / La Cocina de Maureen, my recent bilingual limited edition of recipes and hand-pulled, hand-colored prints was a response to a year and a half of semi-stagnation, something I suspect many of us have gone through. I was finally able to convince myself–with a little help from my friends–that the way out of the labyrinth was creative work. Get to work and make something beautiful. The edition was limited to 19 portfolios of 16 recipes and prints, because that was all the large sheets of hand-made etching paper I had left in my studio. That sounds ridiculous, but it’s the simple truth.

The invention worked too well. The edition sold out in three weeks. And I still had requests for more–but there weren’t any more. It was the brilliant idea of Ricardo Calvente, our neighbor and the owner of Granada’s finest print shop, la Imprenta del Arco, to publish the content of the portfolio as a book. Using digital technology and incorporating some images from my sketchbooks to add interest, he could print up however many books I required, as the need arose. These books have no fine-art pretensions but I am, nonetheless, delighted with the results.

The smaller format, the spiral binding and glossy paper, encourage the use of the book in the kitchen. On a kitchen counter the open book will lie flat, and if you spill something on it you can wipe it off with a damp cloth. And it can be sold for a fraction of the price of the limited edition portfolio. It’s not the same, of course, but it is an elegant solution to the problem at hand.

Es un descendiente

Maureen’s Kitchen / La Cocina de Maureen, mi reciente carpeta de edición limitada en inglés y español, de recetas y grabados tirados a mano, fue una respuesta a un año y medio de estancamiento/paralización, algo que sospecho que nos ha pasado a más de uno. Al final pude convencerme a mí misma–con la ayuda de mi familia y amigos–que la salida del labirinto pasaba por el trabajo creativo. Pónte a trabajar y haz algo bello. La edición se limitó a 19 portafolios de 16 recetas e imágenes cada uno, porque no me quedaban más hojas grandes de mi papel favorito de grabado. Sé que eso suena ridículo, pero es la pura verdad.

Al final, el invento funcionó demasiado bien. La edición se agotó en tres semanas. Me quedaban solicitudes de más portfolios, pero no quedaban más. Fue la genial idea de Ricardo Calvente, nuestro vecino y dueño de la mejor imprenta de Granada, la Imprenta del Arco, de publicar los contenidos del portfolio en un libro. Usando tecnología digital e incorporando unas imágenes de mis sketchbooks para añadir interés, él podía imprimir cuantos libros que yo necesitara, según surgía la necesidad. No puedo pretender que estos libritos sean “fine art”. Sin embargo, estoy encantada con los resultados.

El formato más pequeño, la encuadernación con espiral, y el papel brilliante, animan a usar el libro en la cocina. En una superficie de cocina el libro abierto se queda plano y si se ensucia, se puede limpiar con un trapo mojado. Y se puede vender por una fracción del precio de la edición limitada. Desde luego, no es lo mismo, pero no deja de ser una solución elegante al problema.

(Click to enlarge, haga clic para ampliar.)

How to Get your Copy of This Charming Little Book

I’m asking 15€ for the book. There are two ways to get it:

  1. If you’re within striking distance of Pinos Genil (eight kilometers from Granada on the old Sierra Nevada road), just drop by the studio and we’ll have a coffee or something and you can take your book home with you.
  2. If you can’t make it in person I’ll be happy to send it to you, and you’ll just have to pay the postage. Drop me an email (maureenluciabooth at gmail.com.) and we’ll discuss the arrangements.

Como hacerse de un ejemplar del libro

Pido 15€ por el librito. Hay dos formas de adquirirlo:

  1. Si puedes acudir a mi estudio en Pinos Genil (a ocho kilómetros de Granada en la carretera vieja de Sierra Nevada) puedes pasar por el estudio, nos tomamos un cafe u otra cosa, y puedes llevar tu libro personalmente.
  2. Si no puedes acudir al estudio, te lo enviaré por correo con mucho gusto. Tendrás que pagar el franqueo. Simplemente, envíame un email (maureenluciabooth arroba gmail.com) y concretaremos el pago y la entrega.

The Presentation

My dear friend, the Spanish poet, Ángeles Mora, will present the book in the Pinos Genil village square on August 4 at 9:00 p.m., during the Pinos Genil Culture Week. You are cordially invited.

La presentación

Mi querida amiga, la poeta de Rute (Cordoba), Ángeles Mora, presentará el libro en la plaza de Pinos Genil el día cuatro de agosto a las 21:00 horas, durante la Semana Cultural de Pinos Genil. Os invito cordialmente.

Thank you for following, commenting and sharing.
Gracias por seguir, comentar y compartir.

This project wouldn’t have been possible without the invaluable help of my
studio assistant, María José Braojos and her daughter, Silvia Romera Braojos,
as well as Ricardo Calvente Chacón, of the Del Arco Print Shop in Granada.
And, of course, Mike, my photographer, webmaster, and husband.

I Get By With a Little Help from My Friends

Much as I have tried over the past long year to stay positive, I confess it hasn’t always been easy and at times events have taken a toll on my morale. The pandemic took us all by surprise. Life was different and we suspected it would never be the same again, but first we had to survive the virus. (We have a friend who did die–briefly–and came back and told us about it.) We couldn’t see friends and family, which in Spain form the cornerstone of life on this planet. We couldn’t go out for a drink and tapas. Or drive down to the beach. Our life was reduced to a recurring supermarket-pharmacy-laundromat routine. Though, I shouldn’t complain too much. We were never without our inspiring riverside walking path, nor the loving company of Cuca, Diva, Bundy, Rosey and Susu, whom Mike refers to as “our little people.”

As I mentioned before, it was María José who inspired me to get back to work in a serious way. Let me tell a bit about her. She has become for me more of a daughter than a helper. We met 20 years ago when her husband, Juan Carlos Romera, was planning the production of a 38-minute short film called “Bive,” (“Live” in semi-literate Spanish). He needed a foreign woman artist for a story set in a fishing village in the Mediterranean province of Almería. As soon as he saw my studio he said, “You’re the one… and we’ll shoot the studio scenes in here.” María José was his assistant on Bive. Working on the film with Juan Carlos, María José, and his professional crew from Madrid was all new to me. It was hard work during a hot summer, but intensely interesting, and included some good fun. (You can see the complete film here on YouTube.) But I’m meandering again. What makes working with María José so gratifying is her limitless good humor, her sweet demeanor, her careful work, and her readiness to learn. She’s one of the most positive people I’ve ever known.

It Turned Out to Be a Healing Process

So we decided to start on the prints-and-recipes project. I prepared the originals on acetates and when they were all ready María José stepped in to help me burn the plates and pull the prints. That was our usual procedure. What was new in the process was the hand coloring (“illuminating” is the delightful traditional term) of all the prints, for which her help was invaluable. It was an extremely limited edition of 19 portfolios, but each one had 16 prints and they all had to be colored by hand. It was a demanding, meticulous job that required concentration to the exclusion of everything else. That exclusion included all forms of worry, anxiety, or stress.

A few days after we finished illuminating the prints and had wedded them with the introductory texts and the portfolios (which I made to measure myself), and sold the first few books, it occurred to me that I was feeling quite a bit better. People liked the portfolio. I was full of pride and optimism, and had some money jingling in my pocket. I even had some new projects fall into my lap, a couple of portraits and a big job for our village’s new Sierra Nevada tram museum. It seems I have been renewed by a combination of art, work, and loyal friends. I have always prided myself on being a working artist, and this is just one more proof of its miracles.

I wonder if this simple formula might not work for you, too.

P.S. There are still a few portfolios left. If you need one you can contact me via email: maureenluciabooth (at) gmail.com.

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Now Comes the Hard Part; What Will You Think?

Here you have it, a project that has been rambling round my head for years and finally got started three months ago when my assistant, María José, suggested, “We’re not doing much else, why don’t we start on your recipes-with-prints idea? Suddenly, getting up in the morning in the boring and confusing life under Covid controls began to have meaning. It’s true, happiness is a project.

The recipes are my own  personal favorites. Some of them I inherited from my mother and grandmother, some from friends and some of the best local dishes from our pueblo, Pinos Genil.  I have included some vegetarian dishes and some are my own  creative  experiments. I hope you will find them interesting.  This has been an inspiring learning experience for me and I’m happy to see the result.

Preparing an edition is, beyond the image making, a lot of work. The Spanish would say it’s a combination of “arte y artesanía.” Once you’ve refined your sketches and burned them onto plates, you’ve got all that printing to do by hand. Though this edition is a small one, with only 19 portfolios, each one has 16 prints. Add to that the hand coloring of all of them. Then there was the text. As it is impractical to handwrite the recipes in English and Spanish on plates, the answer was a print shop and all the complication that entails. For both of these problems I had extraordinary luck close at hand. They are named María José, my near-daughter whom you have already met, and our neighbor, Ricardo, who owns one of Granada’s most exquisite print shops, la Imprenta del Arco. I’m forever thankful for his patience with all my changes and his excellent criteria concerning my doubts. And I don’t want to forget María José’s lovely daughter, Silvia Romera Braojos, who did the translation into Spanish and the formatting of the text.

Young Old Friends

So each DIN-A4-sized recipe has Ricardo’s offset text on one side and my hand-pulled original print on the other. One of the advantages of living in the same place for 50 years is that you know whom you can rely on. And our pueblo, Pinos Genil, is a great place to live. I have an added advantage here. In the late 1970s I used to give painting lessons in the town square to all the children who were interested, and today I am privileged to have all of those children as 40-and-50-year-old friends.

I haven’t had much feedback yet, except for our old friend, the doctor/painter, Rafael Sánchez, who dropped by last night for one of his amusing visits. He saw the portfolio, said, “This is art on the outside and art on the inside,” and took one home with him. That was encouraging, Rafa, thank you.

As for how to enjoy/display/use these prints is up to the owner. You would have to have a pretty big kitchen to frame and hang 16 prints. You could leave the portfolio on a coffee table (along with a pair of white cotton gloves). Or enjoy figuring out your own creative solution. If you think you might like to have one of the 15 remaining portfolios (discounting one each for María José, Ricardo and me) you can email me at maureenluciabooth(at)gmail.com.

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We’re Approaching the Launch

It’s been an eventful month and we’re approaching the end of the Maureen’s Kitchen project, hand coloring the prints. It has been a lovely team experience. Ricardo, our neighbor from down the hill, has a print shop in Granada. He does wonderful work, including a recent exquisite book on our pueblo. I was concerned about printing the recipes (in English and Spanish) on textured etching paper but Ricardo said, “no problem” and they came out perfect. That text was on the left side of each DIN-A4 sheet (210 × 297 millimeters or 8.27 × 11.69 inches). On the right side of each paper my assistant, María José, and I hand printed the plates on the small etching press in my studio (which was given to me years ago by my dear friend, Mararo, and now use more than the big one). The result looks like a marriage made in heaven. (See Mike’s photos, below.) It only remains to make the portfolios and assemble them and decide on a cover design. I’ll let you know.

Here’s Some of the Finished Color Proofs

You Like Luxury? Try a Family of Little Birds Outside Your Kitchen Window

One of the most delightful things we discovered over the last month was a pair of tiny birds building a nest near the top of a small cypress tree outside our kitchen window. As the Gallinero, where we spend the winter (at 40 meters from our house) is on a steep hillside and the cypress grows on the downside, when we look out the kitchen window we’re looking at the top of the tree, where the birds are working just six or seven meters from the window. Not that we can see them building the nest, as that happens inside the dense branches of the tree. We just see them coming and going. They know what they’re doing.

We still don’t know for sure what class of birds they are. As close as we can get they look like the family of the European Black Caps or American Chicadees, most likely the 11 cm. Willow Warbler but maybe the Chiffchaff (called that because of their call: “chiff-chaff.”) I’ll post some pictures here of what we found on the Web and what their nest probably looks like inside that cypress.

How My Garden Grows

My miniature garden started out early this spring with eight or ten boxes. Suddenly it’s up past twenty. And Mike found a nest of lovely plastic boxes sitting outside a local supermarket last night, waiting for the bin man. So now my garden will soon be bigger. This is what the Spanish call “vicio,” and it takes a lot of different forms. It’s not that we don’t eat something from my garden almost every day. Whether it’s the lovely sweet peas, a few spinach leaves in a salad, some Swiss chard in a stew, or the latest surprise: big, bright red strawberries. What a thrill.

Our Grandson Claudio, Looking Like a Footballer at 14

I Hope This Spring is Being Kind to You

I have a suggestion for at least making it feel kinder. Instead of scheduling youself one long walk daily, try two short ones. It was something Dr. Salvatierra (“Save the Earth”), my arthritis specialist, suggested and it works, both physiologically and psychologically, though I’m not sure why. He recommends starting with 20 minutes each walk. See if it doesn’t work for you.

See you soon. Now I’ve got to go down and illuminate a few prints.

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If this picture looks contrived it’s because it is. That girl in the corner is a correspondent for Andalusian television who came to do an interview, and Mike thought it would be nice to put some of my sculptures in the foreground. The pomegranate tree outside my studio door was bearing beautiful ripe, colorful fruit, so why not include that, too? The Spanish would call a mess like this a menjunje or a batiburrillo. The Spanish have some wonderful words. P.S. “Granada” is Spanish for “pomegranate,” in case you were wondering.

Another Sort of Printing, Which Was Also Important(!)

This one-hour video about the birth of Gutenberg’s printing press is only marginally relevant, but we liked it so much, also for Stephen Fry, that I’m sharing it with you here. Just thinking about the effect that Gutenberg’s press and moveable type had on every aspect of life in the entire world makes one dizzy.

Spring Is in the Air

First come the almond blossoms, then the baby ducks in the river. I no longer have to cover my box plants at night, we use much less firewood. The light coming through the glass-pane doors in my studio is gayer and I essentially don’t have to turn the lights on. The animals (we call them the little people) are more active, almost as if they were coming out of hibernation. They do love to hibernate.

I had the second Covid Injection a few weeks ago, so I’m supposedly immune, but until Mike has his second shot in a couple of weeks, we won’t be out of the woods. We’re looking forward to making a big paella and having some friends over. Like the old days. Remember them?

The animals seem to have played a larger role in our lives over the past year. I suppose it’s because we’re living in closer quarters, with a normal-size bed in our Gallinero cabin. Our animals are well loved. You can tell just how well by how much we let them get away with. Ours–two dogs and three cats–get away with murder. Bundy, our young tom cat takes diabolical delight in pawing things off tables and workbenches. It’s usually not too serious, though. They eventurally turn up under a cupboard or a sofa within a couple of months. Cuca, our 14-year-old shi-tsu/grifon cross, was given to us by a friend when she was 10 months old because she resented him going to work. She is an excellent communicator. To inform him of her discontent she would jump up on his bed and pee on his pillow. He was so happy when we told him we’d take her off his hands.

Our animal history hasn’t always been so joyous. Once we gave a kitten to friends. We were happy to do it because they had two lovely children under the age of eight and we thought it would be good for them. The first thing the family did was to lock the kitten in the garage with sufficient kibble and water and took off for a two-week holiday. When they got back and saw how frantic he was they returned him to us. He was very happy to be home. And that wasn’t the only charming pussycat anecdote. Another friend asked for a cat to keep down the rats in his henhouse. So we gave him a half-grown kitten. A month or so later he wanted another one. So we gave him another one. When he came back for a third I said to him, “What are you doing with all those cats?· “Nothing,” he said nonchalantly, “the foxes eat them.” I won’t mention the names of the people involved. The Spanish say, “Se dice el pecado, no el pecador.” “You name the sin, not the sinner.”

Some of Our Animals Over the Years

The little boy with the big dogs is now a 48-year-old geology professor.

More Recent Photos, Fewer Animals

Remember the Cookery Portfolio?

I’ve decided to call it, Maureen’s Kitchen (in Spanish, La Cocina de Maureen). I’ve been working on the recipes and the plates for the prints. I think I’ve got them all ready, but I want to pull some proofs before I made the final decision. The proofs are so important. They can be printed in so many different ways and the decisions on those proofs can make or break a project. I’ll show you some here when I get something nice.

It Sounds Silly But…

Now that it no longer freezes at night my garden in boxes is growing by leaps and bounds. I’ve added a few more boxes and am looking for more space. Mike suggested under the roof overhang of the Gallinero, but I think it would get too much direct sun in the summertime. We have a strategy for the month of August. That’s our month for late nights (una delicia), early mornings, long siestas (more delight) and long drinks. The hard part is going to bed late and getting up early. But you soon get used to it. The long siesta helps.

The beauty of the box garden is that you can pick them up and put them in the shade when necessary. When I started out I was looking forward to just the fun of having little vegetable plants in boxes, like potted flowers. But it turns out that you can actually eat the crops. There are always some leaves you can snip off to brighten up a salad or a stew, and you can pretend that the tops of the red onions are chives. We’ve just started eating the peas raw. Sooo sweet. If you decide give a box garden a try I have a warning for you: You will get hooked. How do I know? At the place where I go to buy plants I coincide with other people who have box gardens and we swap stories enthusiastically. They’re hooked just like me.

An Homage to Spanish Medicine

I’ve just arrived home from my twice-a-year appointment with my reumatólogo–that’s an arthritis doctor. I’ve been visiting him for 12 or 15 years, so we’re old friends. He turned my life around from the first visit. Thanks to him I can live a virtually painless life doing what normal people do–except pole vaulting. Since we don’t pay doctors or hospitals in Spain, I like to show my appreciation with a little gift, so I take along an etching to my appointments. When we finished the consulta this morning and I was about to leave, he said, “You’re always giving me lovely gifts, Maureen. I’ve got something for you I think you and your husband might like,” and he goes to a cupboard and brings out a box that says, “Consejo Regulador de la Ribera del Duero,” Spain’s most prestigious wine region. Between one thing and another, I love going to the doctor.

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I Love My Sketchbook

But I Too Often Lose Sight of It

Sometimes I go weeks or even months without sketching, and I’m not sure why. Considering it seriously I think it comes down to three factors: distractions, just plain sloth and the Great Pandemic Excuse. I don’t have to tell you how many ways there are these days to be distracted. We are living in the Age of Distraction. That’s what came between the Iron Age and the Age of Extinction. Formerly, to be distracted you had to have a shower, change your clothes, get in the car an,d go out. You saw people and places, movies and shows, the beach, the library, the golf course and the tennis court, the gym, the birds and all the other creatures that creep and run, including your grandchildren. Nowadays there’s very little of that.

Big Communications has seen to it that, for a price, they can provide you with versions of almost all those things you used to do in person, without setting foot outside your house, And it’s a good thing they did. Where would we be during the Covid 19 lockdowns if they weren’t providing us with YouTube and Netflix and all the rest? Nevertheless, they’re still distractions and have to be managed as such. As for sloth, that’s easy. It comes automatically. I discovered a long time ago that the less you do, the less you can do. How do you break that chain? You do something, of course. Then, poco a poco, you do a little more. The handiest, easiest, healthiest and most rewarding thing to start with is walking. Mike used to be so annoying on the subject. He never let up. Finally I started walking with him. Then I started feeling better, with more spring in my step and in everything else. Now I badger him to go walking.

Is Your Essence in Your Sketchbooks?

Having been around art and artists for many years I have seen a lot of sketchbooks. I often find the work you see in them is better than–or at least different from–the stuff they frame and hang on the wall. Fresher, more daring, more fun, more portable… Mike loves my sketchbooks. He thinks I should publish a book of facsimile copies of the best images in them. That sounds like too much work, but I would consider posting some of them here. I wanted to know more about what painters and printmakers do with their sketchpads, so I googled “publishers of artists’ sketchbooks,” and there are a few of them. So, if the spirit moves you…

The site I found most fascinating belongs to a guy called Danny Gregory. He has a long and distinguished history as an advertising art director but some time ago he left advertising in order to dedicate himself to his own art and an online art school site. I found him very engaging. You might, too. Here’s a link to his self publishing site: from there you can find more material that you might find useful. Before I forget, here are some images Mike captured off my latest sketchbook:

How’s the Virus Treating You?

I hope you’re being careful and looking after yourself. The stakes are so high. We had a nice note today from Gina Miller, Ross Miller‘s wife. They live near Melbourne, Australia. She paints and he sculpts. Gina says they’re just coming out of a five-day lockdown but now everything’s OK as cases and deaths are back down to zero. What envy. How is it that some countries have the virus under control or virtually exterminated, and others have become giant mortuaries? The virus, itself, doesn’t play fair, either. It keeps moving the goalposts. Even so, there’s still room for optimism. I had the first Covid virus vaccine shot last Friday and had no unpleasant after effects. We shall see.

Aside from that, it’s business as usual here. Our big galas are every other Monday when we do a supermarket, laundromat, car wash commando raid. (Mike insists on the latter, says it maintains his mental stability. Boys!) María José, my helper, and her lovely daughter, Sylvia, were here today. We worked on the text for my upcoming portfolio of favorite recipes, illustrated with prints. (Before it was a portfolio it was going to be a book, but that started to look complicated. The portfolio has the advantage that you can add more recipes whenever you like.) We all had our best masks on, of course. We looked like bank robbers in a western movie. Mike made lunch. It smelled so good when I walked in the door. In the end it turned out to be a big tin of fabada asturiana, an Asturian bean stew. And there was a lovely green salad with it.

So, may your beans always smell great and your salad always be green. Take much care and I’ll see you next time. I’m looking forward to the time when I can say, “We had a great time last night with a lot of laughs with friends at our favorite fried-fish tapas bar! Come and join us.”

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Thanks for sharing.

Staying Sane in Hard Times Requires a Little Fun

The pandemic has been messing with our minds and bodies for almost a year now and, instead of getting better little by little it’s getting worse all of a sudden. What are we supposed to do? I suggest that our first priority be to stay alive, by taking advantage of all the pertinent survival measures. You know what they are. Just apply them rigorously to yourself and your loved ones. Here in Spain we’re entering into the “third phase,” which promises to be the most virulent.

What lauched the virus’s latest improvement at the end of last year was the sentimentalism of the Navidad familiar, the family Christmas. How many grandparents were sacrificed to those joyous holidays. That period of Christmas cheer and deadly danger are even more dangerous here, as the Spanish celebrate 14 days of Christmas, from December 24, when they have their Christmas dinner, till January 6, the Epifany, when the los Reyes Magos, Melchor, Gaspar and Baltazar (The Three Wise Men) bring the children’s gifts. All of which doesn’t make much sense since the kids don’t get their presents until the day before they go gack to school. Perhaps this explains the rising popularity of Papá Noel (Santa Klaus, Father Christmas) here. He delivers more than two weeks in advance.

What’s Next Then?

If you’re reading this you have probably gotten through the joyous season alive. What next? As I see it, what’s next depends largely on you. In the case of my husband, Mike and me it revolves around three things: a project (or more than one), a sense of humor and an appreciation of simple pleasures. And I almost forgot the fourth factor: a loving pet, even if it’s your husband. I’m lucky enough to have both, and they’re both capable of making me laugh and cry.

We each have our own projects. He writes and makes photographs, and also cuts firewood. I’m painting a couple of portraits and working on my favorite-recipes portfolio of prints. We share the housework. Mike does the ironing, says it’s like meditation. I’m so glad he feels that way. I’m still cultivatinge flowers and vegetables in boxes. I’ve always had lots of flowers in the garden and loved them, but these little pansies and lettuces, the tomatoes and kale plants, and the tiny little pea plants, are something different. For one thing they’re mostly up on tables and walls, so they’re closer and you don’t have to bend down to tend them–and appreciate them close up. In all it’s a lot of fun. If you don’t have a garden, you can still do it on your porch or window ledges. Just wait till you cut the first frilly leaves of kale to adorn the top of a bean stew. Then you’ll understand.

Necessary Diversions

Before I forget, I want to mention the joy of Internet. It’s getting a lot of bad press lately because of sinister interests taking unfair advantage of its wonders. Even so, I consider it a blessing for mankind, especially during stressful times. It enables us to maintain contact–immediate personal contact–with family and friends regardless of distance. That is so enriching. And, as you probably have some time on your hands, it permits you to renew your contacts with friends from the old days, or even find new friends whom you find charming on the Web. Not to mention Google and Wikipedia, which make everything instantly look-upable. Think about it for a minute. How did we ever live without these two miraculous research resources? They make us so much smarter. And let’s not forget You Tube and its endless music offerings, and its wonderful documentaries.

As I mentioned in a previous post, we also get a lot of fun from cooking. As we go shopping much less frequently we often find ourselves short of ingredients, so we have to improvise, You can substitute apples or kiwis for tomatoes in a salad just fine.That shortage of ingredients also inspires creative cooking. The results aren’t always fully successful but usually they are. We made a delightful discovery lately. The little woodstove in our kitchen has a shallow compartment at the top, under the lid, where we found we can roast squash, potatoes, sweet potatoes and, mmm, apples. The other day we roasted half a chicken with sage and onion stuffing. That wasn’t bad, either. Does all of this good cooking put on weight? Hmm, yes.

The Essential Medications–Walking, Laughing and Helping

We do get a bit of cabin fever. That’s where a sense of humor is essential. If you can still laugh you’re probably going to be OK. We also try to get in an hour’s walk every day. That’s good for everything that might be wrong with you. We’re lucky to have a lovely walking path along the river (Río Genil) that runs below our house, through the village and on to Granada.

Another thing that will brighten your days is helping people out. Everybody has needs these days and there’s always something you can contribute, even if it’s only a sympathetic ear. We’ve got a big lemon tree we planted outside the kitchen window many years ago and now it bears so many lemons during six months a year that there is no way we can use them all, even though I make tons of our grandchildren’s favorite pancake and toast topping: lemon cheese, or do you call it “lemon curd?” Mike picks the extra lemons from time to time, puts them in bags and drops them off at our neighbors’ doors. He also leaves them at the bars and restaurants in our village.

We have a lot of bars for the size of our little town (pop. 1,250) because it’s a popular place during most of the year for people from the city which is just 8 km. (5 miles) down the road. They come out for the cool on summer evenings and the hearty food in winter. This local tourism started a few decades ago when a forward-thinking (or lucky) mayor dropped some ducks in the river where it passes through the town square. Soon the granadinos started bringing their children out to feed them dry bread (the ducks, not the kids.) Once the families got here they discovered a local bar whose owner, Marina, served up a powerful plate of arroz caldoso, the local-style juicy paella. Now we have 8 or 10 bars and restaurants and they all serve something. Today our river is full of big, beautiful white geese.

It’s a Winter Holiday

Did I mention that in wintertime, when I seldom have artists coming, we move into my Gallinero artists’ cabin at the end of our garden? It’s a lot cozier than our old stone house and easier to heat. It’s also quieter and has better views from its little terrace. In a way staying here is like being on holiday. We like it a lot except for the normal-size bed which is a bit too small for Cuca, Diva and Bundy to fit in with us comfortably. It’s a constant battle for space. Never mind, whatever inconvenience they cause, they more they make up for it in laughs, especially the chihuahua, Diva, the 4.5-pound (2.1-kilo) tyrant of the house. All in all, no complaints.

So take the best possible care of yourselves, don’t forget to laugh and, if you like, send me the stories of your own projects and I’ll post them here. And don’t forget that you and I have something in common. We all belong to the ideal world of painters and printmakers, which is a unique space of wonderful people, just for us.

Big Spanish-style hugs and kisses from Maureen.

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