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Continuing education in Mexico

Karen Blue

I fussed unnecessarily, before moving to Mexico, worrying about how I would continue with my education, with no grasp of the Spanish language. Why unnecessarily? Because I came just before we were able to get local Internet access.

In California, I actually didn't complete my undergraduate until I was 32 years old, so had become quite accustomed to continuing education. I like learning. I do well in a classroom situation and had made it an important part of my life. Then, when I found time in my busy work schedule, I took weekend classes or evening classes in many different subjects, including stained glass, doll making, various computer programs, handwriting analysis and papermaking.

When we finally had Internet access, I discovered that many teachers and knowledge workers were just beginning to try on-line classes. At that time, most were free, because they hadn't yet figured out the model for making money. I thrived on writing classes, both fiction and non-fiction, continued my education in doll making, discovered classes on self-publishing, Photoshop, menopause, teaching English as a foreign language, and a myriad of other topics which interest me.

After learning my way around Lakeside, I soon discovered classes offered for staying in shape, meditation, art lessons, dancing, tai chi, yoga and many more. Some were free, and most were reasonably priced.

In Guadalajara I saw a sign in a crafts store window for classes in aluminio repujado (repoussé),  which is working with soft sheets of tin to decorate everything from picture frames to candles. I took the class, not understanding much Spanish, but helped by a bi-lingual classmate. The real challenge was in discovering the suppliers of the materials dotted throughout Guadalajara.

Then, a few months ago, I tried my luck at watercolor. Ken Gosh, a part-time resident, taught classes in the courtyard of his home behind the Lake Chapala Society. He taught some foolproof ways of using paint, watercolor pencils and crayons. I even framed one of my paintings.

Alas! I discovered once again, that what held me back was my inability to draw. Give me a pattern for a doll, for a stained-glass window or a flower arrangement, and I can manage to product something even I'm proud of, but start me out with a blank paper and tell me to design it or draw it and the paper just stares back at me.

And then, a fellow named Karl Barnhart came to town, along with a briefcase of brochures I kept running into around town. He guaranteed I could draw a portrait I'd be proud of after five four-hour classes. Ha! I'd prove him wrong. A portrait? That must be the hardest thing in the world to draw. At least one that's recognizable.

He held a series of classes and I signed up for the last one. Fortunately, because most of the snowbirds had headed north, there were only four of us in the class. His approach consisted of helping us get into our right brains to draw, to challenge preconceived symbols of facial features stored in our left brain and to use some techniques, like drawing within grids and upside down. (That's the paper, not the students).

Anyway, it worked. I took home a pencil portrait I'd drawn of my daughter from a blown-up photograph. I framed it and matted it before proceeding to draw another of my son, my mother and my best friend. I framed all of them and sent them stateside with a friend who was driving up. Unfortunately, I didn't think to take Xerox copies before they left. I did take a photo of the framed picture, which isn't as good as the original, but you can get a sense of what can be done with a great instructor.

A drawing of my daughter, Shoni


A drawing of my daughter, Shoni 

So, I'm prancing around like a peacock, eating up the praise from my family, who "didn't know I had it in me," and wondering how to continue my learning process. I tried to talk Karl and his wife into staying here, but failed miserably. They might return in August, though when I'll try and convince him to hold an "advanced class."

In the meantime, I thought, I'd just check out the Internet for portrait drawing. Low and behold! A class available for drawing portraits and caricatures. All of a sudden, I realized I'd always wanted to draw caricatures. I have two of my kids on my wall, which were drawn in Germany in the early '80s. The artist really captured them in just a few lines. Incredible. And, it's one of those talents, which I could use to entertain people-if I get good enough.

I've worked with the material now for several weeks and have been absolutely amazed at how much is packed in there for such a low price. He uses the same philosophy as Karl did with the right brain-left brain approach. Don't tell Jeff, but I'd have willingly paid much more for the class.

I have a real problem with not being good at something right away. I'd like to be a good caricaturist over night, but I see it'll take practice, practice, practice. In Mexico, I've been working on patience and, perhaps this year, my big lesson will be tenacity.

If anyone is interested in learning to draw either portraits or caricatures, you can find Jeff's website. He provides a money-back guarantee and has been great at personally answering email from me.

So, you see, there's something for everyone who is interested in continually learning. This fall I intend to take bridge lessons. Word about town is that they're really worth it.

Published or Updated on: July 1, 2002 by Karen Blue © 2002
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