December 9, 2014
• THE DECISION
• ARRIVAL and FINDING AN APARTMENT
• SETTING UP MY STUDIO
• ART SUPPLIES
• I’M PAINTING AGAIN
(Note: Titles are clickable)
When I got back to Nebraska in late March after a 1-month stay in Puerto Vallarta, I was looking forward to getting back into my studio and painting. I was not looking forward to the weather, which remained winterlike for another six weeks after my return. Ugh. I was not a happy camper.
But summer did eventually arrive, and with it my growing realization that I now knew where I was going to go next. I had been in Lincoln for over 2 years, through my mother’s passing, boyfriend dramas with my sister, and getting closer to my father than we had ever been before—not to mention huge growth as a painter—and I felt like I’d done what I had come to do. It was time to move on, and I got clearer and clearer that where I wanted to go was back to Puerto Vallarta.
I’ve always dreamed of living full-time in Brazil. Unfortunately, as a U.S. citizen, short of marrying a Brazilian, I didn’t have a legal way that I could stay there for more than 3 months out of any given year. But Mexico was doable. Plus it’s a few thousand miles closer to Lincoln (where I will keep my studio and my inventory) and these days, it’s a much more affordable place to live than Brazil.
It was late May or early June when it finally crystallized for me and I made the decision on Mexico, and from then on it was all about getting everything set for that to happen. I renewed my passport (many months early, but just being safe) and I began working on my Spanish language skills. I also began training my assistant to do additional tasks I would need someone to handle while I was out of the country. Everything was coming together nicely.
I had a big Moving to Mexico sale a few weeks before my departure and my collectors really went for it and bought a lot of my art. That made the whole moving process MUCH easier.
Then, just when I was starting to relax—
On a Sunday evening, with just a little over a week left before my departure for Mexico, my assistant had an emotional meltdown and decided she could no longer work with me. This was after over a year of what I had thought was a great relationship, and I liked her a lot. But she was keeping a lot of stuff hidden from me—and from herself, I think—and she finally imploded. Her communication issues even extended to the way she quit, which was to stop answering my emails and phone calls.
After trying my best to get into communication with her all evening on Sunday, and then again the next morning, I realized this was obviously unworkable, and it was time to move on. I had exactly one week left before my move to Mexico. That morning I started looking for a new assistant, someone bright, capable and competent enough that I could train them for a week and leave feeling that things were in good hands.
Believe it or not—and this is so often the way my life goes in these past few years—I found her in a matter of hours. I had met Nicole through friends the previous weekend and it turned out she was looking for something part-time. Previous entrepreneurial experience, a pleasant and unflappable demeanor, and the fact that we got along well, made her an appealing choice. So approximately 18 hours elapsed between the beginning of my previous assistant’s meltdown and the hiring of my new assistant.
Over the next week of training her, it became clear I had chosen well. At this writing Nicole is still doing a great job of being my hands and eyes in Lincoln while I’m living in Puerto Vallarta.
ARRIVAL AND APARTMENT-HUNTING
I arrived in Puerto Vallarta on October 28, 2014. My plan was to stay in the Vallarta Sun Hostel (where I spent a month this past winter) until I could find a suitable living and painting space. I knew I could stay there comfortably and cheaply until I found an apartment.
The “Zona Romantica” area of Puerto Vallarta, which is more formally known as the Colonia Emiliano Zapata, is where the hostel is located, and where I wanted to live. I like it for a lot of reasons: its proximity to the beaches, its charm and quaintness, the vitality of the street life, and the fact that it’s the center of gay nightlife in Puerto Vallarta.
I was looking for something inexpensive (I had hoped for around $500 a month), not too far from the beaches and nightife, and big enough that I would have both living space and space for painting.
I figured it would take me a couple of weeks, hopefully not more, to find an apartment.
I was wrong.
It took me less than 24 hours.
There’s a little weekly classifieds called Mano a Mano which has everything for Puerto Vallarta—jobs, places for rent or sale, cars, furniture, whatever people want to sell and other people are looking for. I bought a copy for 5 pesos and my friend Marco, who manages the hostel, helped me find some available apartments in the area. He helped me even more: since I didn’t yet have a local phone, and my Spanish is still not that great, he called some of these places for me.
It took only 3 calls to find something promising, and that same morning, just hours after I’d arrived in Puerto Vallarta, I went to check out my first apartment. The landlord was a sixtyish man named Felipe who was very friendly and down to earth. The apartment was on the second floor of a 4-story building. It was on a side street located very close to everything without being smack in the middle of the noisy part of it. It seemed perfect for my needs.
The rent was 4500 pesos a month. At current rate of exchange, that was $375 in U.S. dollars. The price was definitely right. And I liked the apartment.
My only hesitation was: should I jump on the first place I look at? I really should see what else is out there, I thought. So I started investigating other places by phone, with Marco’s help. But Marco, who knows the pulse of the town, told me that I had arrived just in time to get a decent place before all the snowbirds arrive and places get snapped up and rental prices go up. I told him about the place and he said I should go for it. I trusted his judgment, and the more I thought about it, the more I liked the place. Plus I liked Felipe, and he had told me he’d be happy to help me change anything in the place that didn’t work for me. I decided to trust my gut feeling and rent the apartment in spite of the fact that it was the only one I had actually looked at.
(See how good I’m getting at trusting myself?)
It took only another day to get everything squared away with Felipe and pay the rent and get the keys. At that point I was ready to take on the next challenge: getting the place set up so I could work and paint in it.
As I mentioned earlier, I still didn’t have a local phone. It took a few days and lots of phone calls, and some help from my nephew Jordan who works at Sprint, but I finally managed to get Sprint to turn off my service and unlock my iPhone. Once the phone was unlocked, it was just a matter of going to one of the several mobile-phone shops right near my apartment to get a Mexico SIM card. Getting the SIM card, having it installed, and getting a Mexico phone number took only a few minutes and cost me about US$25. I can buy minutes at any OXXO store (the Mexican 7-11—there’s one on every corner). Now I have a local phone and I can use the maps on my iPhone here. And my monthly phone bill is around $15, instead of $50. Fantastic!
SETTING UP MY STUDIO
In my previous studio I had found a great easel setup. Since I paint on unstretched canvas, I use sheets of Homasote (a soundproofing material that has some of the qualities of “bulletin-board” materials) attached flush to the wall. Then I just stretch the square of canvas on the Homasote with pushpins.
Unfortunately they don’t seem to have heard of Homasote in Puerto Vallarta. But I spent some time at the PV Home Depot, and with the help of the staff, found a passable alternative: Drywall (tabla roca in Mexico). Drywall that has paper glued to it to cover the gesso actually works fine; it’s easy to push a tack or pushpin into it, and it stays in place sufficiently to hold the corners of a tightly stretched piece of canvas. The price for 2 4’x8′ sheets of drywall plus delivery to my apartment: about US$35.
The next step was to find a way to attach the drywall sheets to the wall. I had an idea for a bracket at the top, which was all that was needed because the drywall can just be pushed up against the wall and will stay solidly in place as long as there’s something on top to keep it from falling away from the wall. My landlord Felipe (a gem of a guy!) spent several hours constructing four brackets and attaching them to the wall for me. I now have two sheets of drywall standing securely against one wall of the back of my bedroom. My studio is taking shape.
Every gay person (and some straight ones) know that LIGHTING IS EVERYTHING! It’s especially true when you’re putting together a painting studio. I have found cheap clamp-on lamps are just what I need in my Nebraska studio, since they’re inexpensive so you can buy a lot of them, and you can clamp them on anywhere. Finding a simple clamp-on lamp in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, however, was not as easy as I thought it would be. After a couple of weeks of looking, I finally found them in the local Office Depot. So I bought several and then, with Felipe’s help, put brackets up on either side of the drywall ‘easels.’ Now I have a place to clamp the lights on, and I’m ready to paint!
Oh wait, I thought I was ready to paint. But it turns out the art supplies I bought here in Mexico are not so great. Evidently the Mexican government protects the local industries in this area, so they only sell made-in-Mexico artists’ supplies at the stores. They have this disposable palette which, as soon as you put some acrylic paint on it, it starts soaking in, and when you try to mix something on it with a palette knife, the paper wrinkles and tears and—well, basically it’s useless. I looked at the single art-supplies store here in PV and it’s all they had. I also looked at the art-supplies store I found in Guadalajara, and they also only carry that one brand. So no useable disposable palettes anywhere.
So I’ve had to get creative. At the local “Everything for 25 pesos” store I bought a $2 rectangular mirror which is about the same size as a palette. Guess what—it works! It’s not great, but it will do for now, until I come back after Christmas, and I’ll bring a couple of disposable palettes in my luggage.
Finding acrylic paints has also been a challenge. The single PV art-supply store has a limited selection, and the paints come in very small tubes and they’re expensive. But just by chance, i found a little store a few blocks from where i live where the guy (Antonio) makes his own acrylic paints and sells them! I was a little dubious, but he claims it’s better quality than the stuff you buy in tubes here. So i bought some and tried it and it seems to be fine. Better yet, it’s liquid so i can paint sloppy without having to have liquid medium. Even better, he will mix colors to order, and his paints are really inexpensive! A small jar sells for 20 pesos, which is about $1.50. the jar is not that small–it’s a really good deal.
So at the 25-peso store, they have these ketchup-type squeeze bottles with a cap on the nozzle. They’re ridiculously cheap, so i bought a bunch of them and I’ve been pouring Antonio’s paints into them. So now I’ve got a line of squeeze bottles and i just grab what i need, squirt some onto the palette and start mixing. It’s actually the best setup i’ve ever had for squeezing paint onto my palette!
I’M PAINTING AGAIN!
Finally, 3 weeks after arriving in PV, I started painting. I did several paintings over a 2-week period and nothing really great happened. But that’s typical. It’s a new environment and I hadn’t painted for several weeks. It took a few tries before my confidence kicked in again. Finally, 1 month after arriving in Puerto Vallarta, I had my breakthrough—a Dominican Republic landscape where I really let go and let the paint have its way, and found that lovely painting energy again. And finally, I’m painting in Mexico!