This is the only painting I did during my fall 2008 semester in Costa Rica. It remains on the back garden wall of the Associated Colleges of the Midwest (ACM) building in San Jose, Costa Rica. It is 9ft wide and 6ft tall. It was my first mural.
Spanish: I Thought I knew It
I began painting it in the midst of writing my final research paper for the semester. And dude, I just want to point out how physically traumatizing culture shock can be, at least for me. When I first arrived in San Jose, I thought I knew enough Spanish from taking advanced classes in high school and my freshman year of college etc. Not!
I failed the first class I ever took at Colorado College. It was an extreme advanced Spanish class and everyone in it spoke fluently. Anyways...I persevered and now I too can speak la idioma de mis ancestros! My mom is hispanic and her parent's first language is Spanish (from a New Mexican, Spain originating community-like conquistadores style), however they didn't really speak the language around their 7 children so that their kids wouldn't be made fun of by all the white kids in the neighborhood. As a result, my mom and all her siblings only speak English.
Culture Shock-no kidding
But yeah, culture shock is exponentially worse when you really don't know the language. I couldn't taste food for the first 2 weeks and my hair started falling out in huge globs in the shower. When I looked at myself in the mirror I felt like I was looking at someone else. I would touch my face and make faces in the mirror just to check. My voice wasn't my own because it sounded different as I was constantly trying to speak a language of which I only had basic skills (supposedly intermediate).
By the time I painted this mural I had been living in Costa Rica for over 3 months and I was feeling very comfortable with my Spanish language abilities. My host family became so much like my real family that I was starting to get into minor fights with my younger host brothers and my host mom began to irritate me in ways you can really only be irritated by your own mother. She was a beautiful woman, though and I can still taste her bologna, mustard and honey with lettuce and tomato breakfast sandwiches when I burp. yeah.
Then I got the Urge
Anyway, this urge to paint resurfaced after I had become much more comfortable with everything. I used reference photos that I had taken at a beach called Cahuita on the Caribbean side. It remains in the top 3 of my favorite places I've ever been. It's about a 5 hour bus ride from San Jose.
I started with the palm trees in front. They took the longest since I had the wrong color of yellow to mix with the blue in order to make green. As a result, they looked like poop trees instead of palm trees. I ended up redoing them like 3 times. After I got past that the rest went pretty smoothly.
The thing about acrylic paint is that if you want to have any sort of tonality or gradation, uh, value transition...whatever, you have to work quickly so that the paint doesn't dry and it will mix together on the wall. So I set up my paints, picked the right brush and painted the sand, then the water and then the sky. Each was painted all at once with no breaks as fast as I could. Intense. I finished the mural the day before I left the country.