Archives for posts with tag: workshop retreat

“One of our guests doesn’t eat dairy, another doesn’t eat gluten, two others don’t eat eggs”.
I was feeling a little stressed one morning at breakfast during a workshop last season. I was trying to juggle our guests requests, allergies, etc.. and struggling with my spanish to relay all the information accurately to our chef, Ruby.

She quietly smiled at me and marked down on her checklist the dietary needs of our guests.
Later that morning while serving out the plates, I became confused as to who ate what and was gently corrected and instructed as to which guests got what by once again, calm, cheerful Ruby. Not only was she accurate, but she created imaginative, delicious alternatives for those folks who couldn’t eat the breakfast being served that day.

Ruby, our chef for the last 9 years has been an amazing contribution to our staff at Casa de los Artistas.
She and her assistant (usually a niece) ride the bus (a one hour ride) from the mountain town of El Tuito every morning during a workshop to cook breakfast and lunch for the Casa.

Having barely an hour, she manages to cook up a delicious breakfast every morning including fresh squeezed orange juice! Once or twice a week she also will give a cooking class to our guests, demonstrating an original Mexican entree, (see the recipe for Enfrijoladas below), as well as teaching all of us how to make homemade tortillas.

The feedback we get at the end of every workshop is usually “too much delicious food”!
Many participants just want to take Ruby home with them… including us!
Barely 29, with three children of her own she is an amazing example of a talented, empowered young Mexican woman.
We are proud to employ and support her. -Monica and Bob

Ruby teaching a cooking class at the Casa

Ruby teaching a cooking class at the Casa

Rubys’ Recipe for Enfrijoladas

Soak 1lb of beans, (preferably black, or red pinto) till soft, (a few hours)

Blend beans and soaking water in a blender to a puree

In a pan heat a small amount of cooking oil till hot and then ad bean puree

In a separate frying pan heat a little oil and heat each tortilla on each side, then dip the tortilla in the bean puree, on each side.

Spread fresh crushed farmers cheese on the beaned tortillas and roll up, placing them on a metal tray. –Almost daily, Ruby brings fresh made cheese as well as ka-koe-key, (I have no idea how to spell it, but thats phonetic), a delicious sweet sour cream from her Mt. town, El Tuito. Place the tray in the oven at 350 for about 20 minutes.

While they heat create the Enfriolada Salsa:

in a blender place:
3 large boiled tomatoes
1 clove garlic
1 pinch Mexican Oregano, (very strong)
1 teaspoon of salt
1/4 cup water

Place 2 or 3 of the hot bean dipped tortillas on a plate
drisel each with the remaining beans
garnish in the center with chopped salad and sprinkle cheese and then pour the salsa over the sides



I’m often asked, “How do I start?” The very first thing I do after walking to my Studio is to prepare the place to be productive. Anything that does not serve me for “the day’s painting assignments” is put away out of sight. I prefera clean, uncluttered studio when I create. The tables are covered with polyethylene and taped down. Next, Sirius Radio or Pandora sets the atmosphere. And furthermore, I have an old habit left over from the 60s I light incense. Again, itsets the tone, calms me and helps me focus on the task at hand.

Always with me is my sketchbook with notes and any painting assignments that Kate and I have determined from our earlier morning meeting. And some mornings I play my electric drum set I have in the corner. I play for an hour – it’s my stretching exercise. Now I’m ready to paint. It’s 8:30am… like a real job!

Usually, every morning I start with small 6×9 inch warmup paint sketching consisting of a series. The Painting of the Month Club starts with this excersise. After an hour or so, I’m ready to get into my major purpose of the day – the body of work I’ve been painting for awhile, such as my exhibit series, a museum show or the Sausalito Art Festival. By this time I’m usually in the groove, which will last all day, uninterrupted.

Before painting, I journal. This becomes my “job description” and includes my daily four Cs. What’s the CONCEPT? The big idea. What’s the COLOR COMBINATION? I place on the table only those tubes of predetermined colors, plus black and white. What’s the COMPOSITION? I have twelve to choose from. The next C is a no-brainer – COMMITMENT to the concept. I’m a painter and I’m committed to the task at hand. And the last C is CONTINUE THE SERIES.

Some of my studio tables hold pre-gessoed and precut paper taped down. Others tables have a stack of small canvases; and on the wall hangs larger canvases. The stage is set for my typical studio day. Once all this is in place, I paint all day without stopping the flow of “creative automatism.” Once I start painting, I am all about production and flow. I can trace all that back to my earlier life to product design and manufacturing… and that’s how I start!

Robert Burridge, 2013

“Everyone is born creative; everyone is given a box of crayons in kindergarten. Then when you hit puberty they take the crayons away and replace them with dry, uninspiring books on algebra, history, etc. Being suddenly hit years later with the ‘creative bug’ is just a wee voice telling you, ‘I’d like my crayons back, please.”
– Hugh MacLeod

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist when we grow up”
– Pablo Picasso

“Creativity is not a talent. It is a way of operating.”
– John Cleese, (from Monty Python) 

“We have to be continually jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down” – Kurt Vonnegut

First off, Monica, I and our family wish to send everyone our wishes for lifes’ blessings of good health, happiness, passion and creativity in the New Year.  While writing our last newsletter/blog on happiness, (see Dec. 8th blog, Give the Gift of Happiness) I was thinking a lot about the function of the Casa and how the Casa Experience nurtures happiness. What has always been obvious to me, aside from witnessing the flow of happiness, was the correlative connection of the Casa experience to creativity and amplifying creativity for our participants. As I thought about these relationships – happiness, creativity, nurturance, inspiration, I started researching the nature of creativity on the web, to see what others thought. I soon realized how we could easily interchange the phrase “Casa Experience” with “Creative Experience”.  With this in mind I decided to focus this newsletter and current blog On Creativity, summarizing some of the things that stood out to me in my findings as well as sprinkling in quotes on creativity from various persons. Continue reading to find out more about this and why the Casa Experience is truly an oasis for eliciting creativity. We would love to hear back from you with any of your thoughts on the subject, or post them as comments on our blog.

On researching creativity on the web one of the very interesting things I found was a youtube video of John Cleese, (from Monty Python), giving a speech in 1991 on creativity
. This was augmented as well by some subsequent musings and research on the subject he has done since then as well as other writings.  He talks about a lot of different aspects but makes a point to emphasize a series of 4 or 5 factors that “foster creativity”, and I will try to relate to them from a painters perspective and how they relate to what we do here at the Casa.
Aside from the above mentioned factors is the description of the “creative mood” as an ability to play childlike -just for enjoyment, with no expectation of a given result. Of course having a healthy childhood, non judgemental and loving family, nourishing education, and supportive work environment can all ad to the development of an individual that moves easily or naturally into the “Creative Mood”, or what Cleese calls “the open mode” or what many artists refer to as “the flow” and creativity reference often speak of as “right hemisphere thinking”. There are other inter-related steps which we can look for and take to help move us in that direction…

…Con.’t (from newsletter) …  an important condition Cleese points out is:

Space. What I would summarize  as “Creating Space for Creativity”, this refers to both a physical space, i.e. the sacred space of the artists studio, or for the plein air painter, the sacredness of being in Nature, (and I don’t mean sacredness in a religious manner, but rather as a spiritual one – as in connecting to the universe around you and the full presence of the moment), as well as the mind set of giving yourself space. A place where there is no pressure of the outside world, no expectations, (even to create! -god forbid) -a place removed from the “daily grind” – a separate reality, a place where one can “just play” with no expectations of a particular output, or, as Carlos Castenada put it and I often say to Casa Workshop participants, a place to “Jump into the Naqual”, what shamans refer to as moving into Non-Ordinary  Reality -the “UnKnown” or unconcious or SuperConcious Mind. This physical space of the artists studio can be as simple as a table in the corner of a room or as elaborate as the Casa’s 1,000+ sq. ft. open air studio with panoramic vistas. I believe what is important is that you create this space with intention, whether you go there to paint, draw, read or take a nap doesn’t matter, as long s you have designated this “space” for yourself where you are free to play and experiment – anything can happen -and does. Eventually this leads us to “stare into the blank canvas”, which can be frightening and make one uneasy, which leads to the next step or condition:

Time – Which Cleese actually emphasizes twice

We need to create time for creative endeavor, to carve out not only space but gift ourselves the time.  Time to play, time to practice, time to ponder.  Creating a regular “creative habit”.  Time for the solitude, where we sit in the emptiness and allow the universe to speak to, (thru) us, as well as the time to replenish through collaboration and taking in the inspiration of other artists.  These 2 things seem almost opposites, but both are essential to creative output.  We need the isolation, the silence, the stillness, to sit with the mind long enough for it to get beyond the anxious nervous stage, as in meditation to quiet the mind. The Problem is the mind resists this – the rational, logical, “left hemishpere” that we habitually live from, doesn’t wish to give up control, (a big issue for many of us). The habitual mind, or as Cleese calls it, the “closed mode” wishes to distract us with all kinds of details – “It’s easier to do little things we know we can do then it is to do bigger things that we are not so sure of”. When you sit in the oasis of quiet, the mind will race and try to become busy, (on trivial things and distractions), but if you sit with it, eventually the mind quiets.  Cleese points out that a 1/2 hour is not enough Time, you become frustrated, after an hour -hour and 1/2, the mind is quiet and you have an hour or so of “open mode” time. Now you can truly continually ponder the “whole abstract composition” (-which is the key to any “successful” painting, be it representational, abstract or non-objective as well as thought structures), you have to keep your mind “gently rubbing up against it”.

“The creative person is willing to live with ambiguity. He doesn’t need problems solved immediately and can afford to wait for the right ideas.” — Abe Tannenbaum

To see it fresh and new, painters have many ways of doing this, we squint,  glance at the work in a mirror, turn it upside down, leave it in a distant corner of the studio, etc. Cleese points out that real creativity takes the courage to rest in ambiguity, to give yourself Time – to wait till the last decisive moment, to give time for the mind to quiet and the subconscious to percolate. Because the most creative solutions are taking what at first appear to be divergent ideas, objects, circumstance, compositions, thoughts that seemingly have no connection to one another and rearranging them in new and surprising ways that reveal new meaning.  To do this we also need to be voracious in our appreciation of the world, of ideas, in connecting with others, to collaborate with other artists – sharing ideas and techniques, in seeing great art, inspiration from nature, etc. To stare into the blank canvas and then when inspiration strikes we must take the next step -to take decisive action, which is a result of –

Confidence – the fourth condition for creativity

So here is where all the stillness and sitting, the practice and technique, study or just experience from doing, comes into “play”. You allow the information from all this that is stored in the left brain, (color mixing, elements of design, perspective, chiaroscuro, etc.) to mix with all the eye hand, muscle pull memory coordination of doing and the act of painting to become second nature and intuitive. I have found one of the best ways in painting to reach this is through painting in plein air, (I’m sure other artists have other preferences and methods). It combines the sacredness of space and stillness with the practice of trust in ones intuitive judgement. You must commit to an angle of incidence, (the direction of light) and act decisively on what has inspired you at that particular moment in time -the Aha. It does however remove a bit of the luxury of time in the decision making process as described above, (this can be added back in later through further edits and changes), as you are forced to make very quick decisions on the spot, as your subject is constantly changing with the light.

One of the things that leads us to total confidence is an attitude of openness to failure, realizing, as I always tell Casa Participants, “In the Art process there are no such things as mistakes, only opportunities for change”. In the workshop setting in particular, we need to remove the preciousness of making “finished pieces” from our agenda, so that we are free to play -to experiment and grow. And you can only do that when nothing is “wrong”.  You give yourself permission to play and anything goes, there are no mistakes.  This lifts the restraints of the limited rational, logical mind set -the “closed mode”, which would restrain your actions on the fear of being “wrong”. Removing this fearful obstacle allows access to “open mode”, because you realize that any so-called “mistake” can lead to that cubic centimeter of chance that will reveal the breakthrough.

“Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep.” – Edward de Bono

So to be most efficient in creativity, we must be able to move fluidly through these 2 ways of being.  The rational, analytical, technique and detail driven, action oriented “perfectionist” mode and the intuitive, flowing, ambiguous, relaxed, expansive, “curiosity for it’s own sake”, open mode. to quote Cleese again, “To be at our most efficient, we need to be able to switch backwards and forward between the two modes. But — here’s the problem — we too often get stuck in the closed mode. Under the pressures which are all too familiar to us, we tend to maintain tunnel vision at times when we really need to step back and contemplate the wider view.” – To do this we have to keep a certain perspective of play, a reason why, in most traditional power structures, humor is frowned upon and “seriousness” pervades the atmosphere, and there-by stifles a lot of creativity, (and consequently, individuality – not good when you want to maintain control over a given population). This attitude of playfulness is what Cleese describes as the last of the creative conditions –

Humor – 

With humor we can’t take ourselves too seriously, we become opened and expansive. Humor and playfulness is the quickest and most effective path to lead us from closed mode to open mode, in some case it can happen almost instantly.  I remember studying with a shaman who told me, if you are with a (spiritual) teacher that doesn’t laugh or crack a joke every 5 minutes or so – watch out, they take themselves too seriously and is an indication of a limited, closed, (and as mentioned above) -controlling view. The very nature of humor and playfulness is an attitude openness and spontaneity, which in turn sets fertile ground for creativity.

“Humor is an essential part of spontaneity and essential part of playfulness – an essential part of the creativity that we need to solve problems, no mater how serious they may be” -John Cleese

The Casa Creative Experience – So what drew me to researching all this stuff On Creativity was the realization that the Casa is actually a Creative Oasis for the conditions I uncovered above that create the ideal environment for the amplification and development of Creativity.  To give a synopsis in relation to the Casa Experience:

1) Space 2) Time & 3) Time – In coming to the Casa you are choosing to designate a very specific time and sacred space to the development of your creativity. Even every day at the Casa is segmented into time increments to maximize creativity: time for learning as a group and individually, playing, alone time, group exchange and interaction, rest, exploration – Time at the Casa is optimized for the creative experience.  It is a totally different space then your “daily grind”, being unknown and exotic you are moved very naturally into spontaneity and are certain to develop a fresh perspective and gain inspiration. I greet every guest with a congtratulatory toast for “Jumping into the Nagual – The Unknown.  Before you even arrive, just the act of choosing to come and making the decisive commitment to travel to and participate in a week at the Casa is a show of (4) Confidence and a purposeful pact with yourself and your dedication to creativity. The rest of the week is filled with exploration and ease in comparison, and of course it involves a week of contemplation and staring into the blank canvas as well as the joy, new friendship and insights of like minded souls, filled with (5) humor and playfulness and seeing what comes up in the Manjana attitude of the Casa Experience.

“The creative is the place where no one else has ever been. You have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. What you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.” — Alan Alda

From The Casa Kitchen – Rubys’ Recipes Traditional Home Cooked Gourmet Mexican Cuisine.

Hi and Welcome to the Casa de los Artistas blog.  Casa de los artistas, Inc. was created by visual artist Robert Masla, ( and his wife Monica Levine LICSW, (  We run workshop retreat seminars to foster creativity and Self awareness at our home and studios: In Mexico, in the charming fishing village of Boca de Tomatlan, 10 miles south of Puerto Vallarta on Mexicos’ gorgeous Pacific Coast and at our home in the rural New England town of Ashfield, MA, among rolling hills, brooks and meadows, at the foothills of the Berkshire Mountains.  We will try and post blogs on a variety of subjects related to the “Casa Experience”, creativity and Self awareness each week – so check back, leave your comments and  -Welcome to the Casa!