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Valley Diaries, Spain: La Huerta (part 1) Cycling and Drawing Storms

Updated: Jan 21

**Below is a short video that accompanies this piece and all that inspired it...


Last time I was in Spain I spent a lot of time hanging out downstairs where I was staying with my friends Vicente and Amparo in their home outside Valencia city... mainly in the kitchen, or

outside in the patio drawing the garden, the garden wall, the terracotta pavers, the bougainvillea, the fig tree, the lemon tree, bit by bit every day, every afternoon, allowing my body to lead, just kind of lying low, at sea level…catching the light.

The area is known as ‘the Huerta de Valencia’, basically a zone of small, independently-run or family-owned fruit and vegetable plots connected via an unusual communal irrigation system that’s been in place since the Moors were in this area more than 800 years ago, and which forms part of the unique agricultural tapestry here that’s kind of entangled with the city. It's the most significant of its type in the world, and I’m surrounded by it.

Moorish Palacete en La Huerta de Valencia

Where I'm staying is the frontier street between two villages. There are 'Alquerias', traditional style Spanish houses like this one, scattered around the place, and some Barracas, which are typical of this area with pointed roofs, some 'palacetes' (small palaces) even the odd Moorish palacete interspersed here and there. There are a couple of establishments within earshot, so there’s definitely stuff around between plots but it’s not what I’d call urban. I can hear traffic flow (but not directly out my window). I can hear summer festivities in neighbouring towns blowing by on the wind, giving me a broader sense of what’s going on, and I feel connected—not isolated in any way—which I love.

Not surprisingly I’d consider the Huerta a Valley Environment.

So I’m ground level in a Valley. Perfect. 

Amparo said to me earlier, "do you want to see the view from upstairs, from our room", I was like, "oh yeah of course." Amparo’s been giving me some beautiful tours and insights into the area. She took me on a bike ride a few days ago. I haven't been on a bike since 2018 — Burning Man — and this was Vicente's bike, a little high for me but I managed, we just took it slowly. She wanted to show me a palacete nearby… she thought I’d enjoy it. "You know the tiles on the floor in your room," she says to me. Do I know them? I'm obsessed with the tiles. All of them. The ones in my room, the entryway, the kitchen, the patio, the stairs up to the top level... I can't get enough of them. it's literally heaven underfoot. They each leave a different impression on my skin, and I've noticed it’s been making me super relaxed…a feeling of being in touch with the earth, my cells vitalised….

Turns out this area was famous for those mosaic tiles, made by a guy called Noya from Catalunia who married a local girl whose family owned this particular palacete (that Amparo brought me to see) among other properties, deciding it would be perfect for them, and that he would build a tile factory just next door. It became a whole thing, and the area is now named after him. We couldn't go in because the Council (who's bought it from the family) are doing restoration works, but it was super cool to see. Amparo said they went to several open air recitals there during the summer and it was amazing.

So we went upstairs and she showed me the view. And I snapped a beautiful photo of her looking out over the fields, gazing out towards the sea from her bedroom window, talking about the garden, the seasons, what's growing or recently planted, the different flowers — the ones that I’m doing my best to capture and that I mostly don’t know the names of, much less in my rusty Spanish–the fuchsia the red, the purple…sharing her love of this place with me, radiant.

So I’ve taken the inspiration and change of perspective the top floor gave me back to the ground floor, and have been working on a little sketch of Amparo using a technique from a portrait workshop that I did the other day online with Yvette Coppersmith. The idea (as per my takeaway from the session) is to warm up, loosen up the shoulders, move quickly to make marks, not be afraid to quickly and loosely cover large areas with dark tone to get a foundation happening, use the eraser to carve out some highlights, get the angles of the features right by checking against the straight edge of your charcoal but just always with that intention of moving quickly, and getting stuff down as a kind of a draft. Some quick studies. There will be time for the detail later in a more layered or larger work but the structure and foundation needs to be first.

The structure and foundation needs to be first.

This is definitely a bit of a trap for me. I love the detail (the features) and often head straight to the eyes. The eyes are everything. It's kinda like if I'm gonna stuff it up why not just do it early and start again, so I appreciated this reminder to establish a solid foundation. I have noticed a sense of cellular calm sets in when I start at the beginning, which I hardly ever do with all my bouncing about and experimenting. Taking time to establish this foundation now gives me a feeling of like, ahhh yes, I can do it like this. There’s no rush, I’ll just take my time and get a good base going on.

So I’ve been practicing this technique on a few facial studies in the last few days, and I took that technique to the photo of Amparo looking out the window. Fast but not that fast, just 20 mins or so. And there she is, she popped out. Those hands, her sparkle. Now I'm excited about maybe working it up into something bigger because I’m vibing portraits, catching that essence of someone is so cool, and the clouds…I’ve been yearning to draw clouds for a while. I love looking at clouds, and cloud formations, and the changing hues of clouds, and they were really sweet today. Plus this is a Valley, so I feel relaxed. And I'm on holidays in Spain (and the Channel of Inspiration is firing me up from the Transit)...Anyway I’ve been working on all that, and dreaming a bit while sitting downstairs in my favourite spot at the kitchen table, and I just noticed the light change. It got really, really intense suddenly, kind of orangeish — the storm's coming in.

I went upstairs to look out the window, not where I was looking out to the Mediterranean before with Amparo but out over the fields and village to the west, to watch it. There was no one home to tell me to be careful so I happily hung my body out the window to take in the spaciousness of this area, fully... take in it’s proximity to everything whilst being a little distant, the sounds bouncing around, just noticing the beautiful, relaxing effect it all has on my body. Lightning over Meliana to the north, clouds flaring pink with the sunset, the storm rolling in at a distance, and me just hanging out the window breathing it all in through my skin.



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