Painting Adventure in Spain
by Heather Bruno-Sears

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Nestled in the rolling hills and valleys surrounding the city of Barcelona, Spain... Overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, sits a historic 15th century monastery... Sant Jeroni de la Murtra or Saint Jerome of the Myrtle. The original manor house corner stones date back to 1411.  The expansive manorial estate was a magnificent setting for the monastic community to develop. Through these doors walked Christopher Columbus, to meet with the Catholic King in 1493 after his second voyage to the Americas. The reunion was described as 'joyous, prosperous, and exciting' when Columbus reunited with King Ferdinand V and Queen Isabella to detail his discoveries and adventures of the 'New World' The monastery was an ideal architectural solution which allowed the monks to perform their sacred tasks apart from the distraction of laymen and servants...the construction of Sant Jeroni de la Murtra continued for over 400 years. It took nearly 100 years to complete the beautiful open galleries and ornamental arcades of the cloister, surrounding the central garden courtyard. Sant Jeroni de la Murtra had a powerful allegiance to the Catholic King and Queen of Spain... The beautiful sanctuary was home of the Jerome order of monks, who led an austere life of study, silence, and solitude. Through contemplative study and active ministry, the Jerome monks possessed tremendous influence...and served as council for the King's court. Sant Jeroni de la Murtra served as an ideal summer retreat to host royalty and dignitaries. Royalty, noblemen, bishops, and other wealthy, powerful patrons sponsored the cloister evident by the myriad of crests, meaningful medallions, and portraits carved in stone throughout the open arcade gallery. Many of the monks had a hand in creating the artwork and architectural detailing - in keeping with the royal gallery standards. The cloister garden contains many varieties of fruit trees, herbs and flowers...lovingly tended to by the 83 year old gardener, Vicente. As Heather discovered.... Sant Jeroni de la Murtra is a truly fascinating sacred place; seeped in history and culture... an oasis for anyone with an appreciation of art, architecture and antiquities to visit. To defend against pirates and invaders in the early 1500's, the Monks built a tower of defense with walls over two meters thick.  It was originally accessed by ladder, which was pulled up to secure the fortified annex. The bell tower was constructed by the Jerome monk order in the 1530's. To this tolls every half hour on the hour from 7:00 am until 11:00 pm. A reflecting pool and fountain in the courtyard is a picturesque, placid place to contemplate. An old fountain now serves as a niche for a beautiful vignette. Crypt burial chambers are located throughout the grounds of Sant Jeroni de la Murtra. The annex of St. Sebastian, located within the monastery, is dedicated in honor of the many monks who died during the plague. In addition to the monks, several crypts hold the remains and relics of Bishops and important families who supported Sant Jeroni de la Murtra. A crypt at the entrance of the original gothic chapel... which was raided and burnt to ruins during the Spanish civil war in the 1930's. Charred ruins hint at what must have been beautiful ornament and hand-wrought decor within the chapel. The monks left Sant Jeroni de la Murtra after the chapel was burned down. The abandoned monastery was bought by an artist, whose family still own it.   Father Jaume, a Catholic priest who is also an art historian, currently oversees the daily running of it. Passing the outside wall en route to arriving for a week long painting retreat... felt like a pilgrimage for an artist's creative spirit! A wing of Sant Jeroni is dedicated to visiting artists, who room in the original monk cells. A view from the artist's bedroom balconies... The monastery courtyard is beautiful.  Birds chirp and sing incessantly amidst the tolling tower bells. Steps leading to the artist quarters and studio...worn with timeless character. A stairwell vignette of old Spanish tile and pottery with white-washed walls bathed in shifting sunlight. Up another flight.... passing yet another beautiful and poignant vignette niche. The artist's rooms overlooked either the Mediterranean Sea and surrounding countryside...or chapel ruins and inner courtyard. Daniel, a gentleman who lives and works at Sant Jeroni de la Murtra, served as a guide to explore the grounds. With our host, Lori LeMare, Daniel explained that the monastery welcomes people of all faiths to visit...and many different artistic groups. In keeping with it's tradition, the monastery continues to serve as a sacred place to honor silence and solitude.  Ideal for creative contemplation... Artist and Instructor, Lori LeMare, holds an annual figure painting retreat at San Jeroni de la Murtra.  Heather, and fellow artists, were very pleased to join her for the 2013 class.  The group portrait is flanked by the original manor house corner stones. A large painting donated to Sant Jeroni depicts Christopher Columbus meeting with the King and Queen of Spain, who funded his explorations. Sant Jeroni de la Murtra also contains a museum and gallery dedicated to the history of Catalonia. A peek inside the King's chamber at Sant Jeroni de la Murtra...the pew where Felip II used to attend mass in the 1500's A carved wood detail from the King's armoire... The King's bed detailing includes a carved wood footboard depicting the voyage of Christopher Columbus. The King's bedroom chamber at San Jeroni de la Murtra, where he enjoyed summer retreats... and attended Catholic mass. The Fundacio Catalunya museum housed superb old world back to the 1400's. This map was drawn on stretched hide, with fascinating detail from the exploration and conquistador era. The old maps depict a political and ideological explanation of the world at that point in history... Fascinating detailed descriptions of the familiar "old world" compared to the recently discovered "new world". Gothic chamber music played live during the original era at Sant Jeroni de la Murtra. As a professional decorative artist, Heather truly appreciates the hand-wrought detailing on a chapel ceiling, where Father Jaume currently hosts Mass. Beautiful gothic relics... The original 15th century wine cellar barrels... An old grape press used during the day, when Sant Jeroni de la Murtra had a vineyard.  The monastery made its own wine and bread. A stairwell to Father Jaume and monastery staff private quarters... Welcome to Sant Jeroni de la Murtra...via an entrance foyer to the monastery. Father Jaume and his staff share this beautiful Living room.  The fireplace features antique Spanish tile and pottery. A 2nd story cloister foyer, leading to.... the beautiful veranda where Father Jaume and staff share their garden and market fresh home-made meals. Cloister veranda leading to the wing where Father Jaume and his staff reside.  They manage, tend to upkeep and the daily tasks of the monastery. On average, 15 - 30 Jerome monks resided at Sant Jeroni de la Murtra to study, work and worship. The monastery has a rich heritage of important spiritual, social, and political connections. Today, it has become a retreat for creative spirit and a cultural sanctuary for the arts. Sant Jeroni de la Murtra is a very special place, set in harmony with nature... Heather had always admired the work of fellow artist, Lori LeMare.  Lori's annual figure painting retreat at San Jeroni de la Murtra was a perfect opportunity to form friendships and master new techniques. The monastery strived to be a self-sufficient community, and still has a large garden orchard overlooking the Mediterranean Sea.  The garden provided much of the delicious rustic fare the artists ate during their stay. A life-long equestrian, Heather shares a special connection with Spartacus - the gray dapple stallion who lives in the garden corral, and is used to plow fields. His pasture mate Luna, provides goat's milk for cheese...they love to snack on sliced apples and sweet apricots from the garden. Ricard, who lives at the monastery, is in charge of the garden, orchards, and animals.  He works hard to nurture the produce, and leads a mentoring program to teach sustainable agriculture. Daily, the artists savored a 2:00 PM siesta lunch and 9:00 PM light dinner of delicious, fresh rustic fare prepared by the Latin men who reside at the Monastery. So delicious!!!  Black beans and rice, fresh vegetables from the garden, yucca, and fried eggs from the Monastary's chicken flock.  A market fresh way of life... The artists gather fresh herbs and produce from the Monastery garden, while Spartacus whinnies for an apricot treat. The chicken flock which provides fresh, free range eggs. The garden is expansive, well organized, groomed and irrigated to provide a wide variety of delicious organic produce. The artist's common kitchen and dining area provided an expansive view of the defense tower, gardens and garden gate - where ripe produce is being harvested for market. A private, peaceful wing with ample natural light and white-washed walls serves as the visiting artist's studio space. Canadian visual and performance artist, Lori LeMare; happy to provide instruction and helpful techniques for the visiting artists to create a large scale figure painting study. Each artist is provided a space within the studio wing to set up an easel and supplies... First day in the studio; reviewing subject matter, canvas prep work, and approach to painting techniques with Lori LeMare. Heather and carte-blanche canvas...brainstorming a meaningful faux finish background and figurative image to paint. The view from Heather's studio space...cloister courtyard, gardens, and a natural mediterranean lichen patina on the old ceramic roof tile. Heather opted for a crackled venetian plaster and gesso base-coat, aiming for the feel of a fresco painting.  She was also very interested in and inspired by the layer upon layer sense of time and naturally distressed finishes seen all throughout Sant Jeroni de la Murtra. Heather decided to layer faux upon faux finishes in keeping with her career, and inspiration found at San Jeroni.  On top of the crackle base-coat, she applied iron oxide paint. Loving the natural ambient light, and listening to the birds chirping in the cloister courtyard while creating the painting. A Modern Masters patina solution spritzed over the iron oxide base paint helps create a crackled rust faux finish.  Heather is very pleased with the results.  Intent to create a layered, aged and interesting effect...which reminds her of the chipped, cracked, multi-colored old ceilings along the cloister archway. Michelle brainstorming her painting... Heather is known in the Central New York Finger Lakes region for creating exquisite ornamental faux finishes.   Working in the day lit studio, she uses Modello decorative masking patterns to layer a finish that would make a great feature wall effect. Lori spent time with each artist to discuss their process and painting techniques...offering insightful advice and constructive criticism.  Pictured with Heather Kent, who teaches at Humber College in Canada...having an extensive background in theater set and stage prop design. After the Modello was applied to mask off areas for ornamental contrast, Heather applied a Modern Masters reactive metallic gold paint. A copper salt patina solution was spritzed over the reactive gold paint...and immediately began to chemically activate. Removing the Modello revealed what Heather had hoped for; an ornamental antique metal patina layered over a rust patina...layered over crackled plaster.  Wrought with character and interesting nuances. Enjoying the creative process... Heather was charmed by the salamander motif in the ornament she chose to use.  Aside from being architecturally incorporated into a wall vent design at San Jeroni de la Murtra - it symbolizes renewal, regeneration, rebirth and growth. Day after day, the paintings continued to unfold and evolve towards a finished work of art - the studios hummed with inspiration and creative spirit. Heather chose to paint a figure inspired by "Girl Leaning on a Window-sill" circa 1645 by the great Dutch master painter, Rembrandt (1606 - 1669).  In part, because it shared a striking resemblance to Heather's mother, Debbie Sears, when she was a child. Lori working character into her copper patina background. Michelle tracing a classic Greek cameo for her figurative influence... Anna Rittens, Lori's lovely daughter, chose the traditional method of sketching an inspirational image to scale on the canvas. Lori describes the nuances of shading and depth, essential to the art of figure painting. With inspirational image handy for reference; Heather lays out a chalk grid to scale the work to the desired size on canvas. Heather situates where she would like to place the figure on the faux background, and works on sketching it to a scale. The artists worked all week in their studio spaces, and in the plien-air temperate and sunny cloister. The artists passed through this arched doorway all week...between studio space, painting in the cloister, gathering in the shared kitchen for meals, exploring, and retreating to their monk cells for siesta and solitude. Hundreds of years later, the Dutch painter Rembrandt continues to inspire... Plien air painting in the cloister in quiet contemplation, and good company. Lori works with Heather to master challenging aspects of portrait painting like creating realistic eyes, nose, mouth, hands and hair...accomplished primarily with shading techniques. Heather was delighted, and thought it poignant, when Bill called her from painting in the cloister to catch a glimpse of a salamander at the base of the courtyard fountain.  Selected as a symbolic ornamental element in her painting, it was enchanting and inspiring for it to be revealed in real life. Inspiration for her painting at Sant Jeroni de la Murtra; the salamander motif and timeless layers of character in paint. Heather's painting in progress...nearing completion. Finishing touches... Lori LeMare and Heather Kent critiquing her whimsical twist on a classic Botticelli painting...inspired by Luna the goat who lived in the monastery garden. Heather applies the final coat of glaze to her portrait painting.  It was a wonderful, inspiring week of painting together daily from 10 AM - 2 PM...then resting at the monastery or venturing off to explore Spain. Heather and Bill loved the painting retreat at Sant Jeroni de la Murtra...creating, exploring, and making new friends. The artists and their creations...gathering to celebrate at week's end. It was a pleasure for Heather to meet Jim Rogers, President of the Modern Master's paint company, and his wife (Lori's sister) Monique LeMare Rogers, who serves as Director of Marketing.  Heather has used Modern Masters paint product for over a decade to create her exquisite faux finishes recipes...and the paints used to create this painting at Sant Jeroni de la Murtra. Father Jaume is a warm, jovial, and lovely man - who has a deep appreciation for art history.  He stopped by to admire the artist's studio works. Heather took this portrait...of the new friends made during the painting retreat at Sant Jeroni de la Murtra. The monastery hosted a musical group, who entertained guests with live classical music in the old chapel ruins. Another beautiful, inspiring evening at Sant Jeroni de la Murtra. Their final evening together, the artists prepared dinner for the monastery staff who had been so gracious during their stay.  The formal dining room is located within the tower of's hand-wrought ornamental ceiling basked in chandelier light creates a beautiful ambiance. Lori surprised dinner guests with a sweet, impromptu serenade. Our final supper, and feast with friends at Sant Juroni de la Murtra. Sharing a few laughs and inspiring stories... A moment was taken to reflect on the fact that of the sixteen friends gathered to different regions of origin were present; Spain, Canada, United States of America (New York and California), Mexico, Guatemala, Senegal, and the Sahara Desert of Africa. Lori LeMare, and her dear friend....Father Jaume of Sant Jeroni de la Murtra. After painting, the artists took great joy in exploring the Spanish countryside surrounding the monastery. This cyprus tree lined path led to an ancient hermitage...overlooking 
Sant Jeroni de la Murtra. The centuries old hermitage was used as a retreat by the monks for fasting and apostolic solitude...believing that their prayer could have a profound impact on the world outside the monastery Views of the Spanish countryside... Atop another hill flanking the monastery lies the ruins of an Iberian settlement dating to between the 6th and 1st centuries B.C. Iberian society was organized into assemblies, chiefs, and leaders - and was characterized by well structured town planning, as noted by the layout of the ruins.  It's economy was based on agriculture and stock-breeding, and excess produce was traded with other Mediterranean communities. Cacti in bloom are abundant, growing wild on the hills and valleys surrounding Sant Jeroni de la Murtra. The ruins of what was once a truly spectacular manor house.  Fun to explore, but hard to imagine being abandoned.  Sweeping view of the Mediterranean Sea, wonder who lived there..... And from the manor house ruins - one feels compelled to explore and crest the cross mounted on the hill... ...following a winding dirt path through the countryside to this vista, with yet another sweeping view of the Mediterranean Sea. A venture to the Mediterranean shoreline to walk for over a kilometer along what was once an old fishing village, La Barcelonata Beach. The spirit of exploration...our favorite aspect of traveling to experience different regions and cultures. The artists savored time to new friendships are a gift in life experiences. And breaking bread...toasting wine is always a bonding moment.  This has gone on at Sant Jeroni de la Murtra....for centuries. A trip to Barcelona would not be complete without viewing the last and greatest work of master architect Antoni Gaudi - The Temple of the Sagrada Familia. The Nativity Facade is a triumph of life and architecture.  The building began in 1892...and continues today. Cast bronze door detail.  The whole facade is a hymn to the joy of creation... expressed in each and every detail of the Sagrada Familia. "The great book, always open and which we should make an effort to read, is that of Nature."  
- Antoni Gaudi The Sagrada Familia is an incredibly singular, naturalistic and organic style of architecture. Gaudi had a plaster workshop for the design and production of scaled models for different parts of the temple.  He preferred working with plaster models rather than drawings because he could see more clearly how the new architecture would work. A radiant welcome... Every architectural element has poignant meaning and spiritual reference. To look at Gaudi's work through the eyes of the master, invites us to discover the geometry of the animal, plant, and mineral kingdoms.... This was the inspiration and the relationships that Gaudi was continually establishing with what he called 'the great book of nature.' For the windows and vaults of the church, Gaudi planned a composition... ...of windows and skylights with hyperbolic shapes that would capture the light outside and distribute it around the interior. At a height of 15 meters, he placed galleries with a capacity for 1000 singers.  The hyperbolic vaults provide excellent acoustics, a quality which together with the music and song, would enrich the service. As Gaudi acknowledged, the structure that holds up the inside of the temple naves is like a tree - with the trunk, the branches, and a canopy of leaves as the ceiling. "The purpose of the building is to shelter us from sunshine and rain; it imitates the tree, as this shelters us from sunshine and rain. The imitation touches the elements; as columns were trees first, then we see capitols decorated with leaves.  This is yet more justification for the structure of the Sagrada Familia."
- Antoni Gaudi The ramified shape of the columns and their great number will give the congregation the feeling of truly being in a forest. The spectrum of light, symbolized by the, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet.  Another nod to nature's glory in the Sagrada Familia. The towers of Sagrada Familia provide an expansive view of the Mediterranean city of Barcelona. The Agbar Tower, a skyscraper 144 meters tall can be noted in the cityscape profile.  It's shape inspired by the eruptions of a geyser, Gaudian architecture and Montserrat Mountain. Still under construction...Gaudi studied plant buds, spikes of cereal, and grasses that were growing in the region.  He had enlarged models of them made, that would later be sculpted in stone to become the pinnacles that we see today on the temple. A view of the city from the sea to the mountains.  About the pinnacle, Gaudi said: "Look at the top! Is it not true that it seems to unite Heaven and Earth? This burst of mosaics is the first thing that sailors will see when approaching Barcelona - it will be a radiant welcome." Heather descending the tower stairwell....As a great observer of nature, Gaudi was familiar with the way that cosmic movements, together with the power of gravity, generate a series of spiral movements on the Earth - that are also found in the plant and animal kingdoms.  Attracted by these phenomena, Gaudi used the spiral in structures and decorations on most of his works. Strolling the streets of Barcelona to admire some of the most beautiful buildings in the world. La Pedrera (Casa Milan) - the forms of this incomparable building defy gravity and the senses.  Built between 1906 and 1912 by Gaudi, it is today an important cultural center run by the Fandacio Caixa Catalunya.  This example of Gaudi architecture was inspired by waves and the sea...with wrought iron balconies made to resemble seaweed. Elaborate detailing and architectural nuances are abundant. en route to Passieg de Gracia... Passeig de Gracia... a famous avenue and open air museum. An opulent centrally located park... at the start of the famous La Rambla avenue. The noble building proportions envelop the passerby. Palau de la Virreina, an 18th century Baroque palace, is now a contemporary art space and home of the Institute of Culture in Barcelona. Church of Betlem - an old Baroque Jesuit convent built in the late 17th century. Fresco detailing and balconies along La Rambla... Venture into La Boqueria... a 19th century marketplace, considered one of the best in the world. Enjoy a delicious fresh made crepe stuffed with prosciutto, mozzarella, tomato, spinach, mushroom and caramelized onion. Spanish olives... Pungent and savory spices.. Stalls specializing in exotic products... La Boqueria has an enormous variety... of top quality fresh! A visual feast...stall after stall of delectable selections. How lucky we are to share experiences like this in life. With much gratitude to our friend and muse, Lori LeMare (be sure to check her out at Lori LeMare Studios Inc.) for... opening the door to make this dream come true!
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