Let’s go on a Camino Oscuro,
a Dark Journey, together!
Every journey has a beginning, middle, & end. And the really good ones also have detours, and growing pains, and reversals, because no journey worth having is clearly mapped out.
Well, this was a REALLY good journey, and below I walk you through it with an explanation of where I was in the journey at each piece, and how I view them now looking back.
To be sure, I don’t expect for you to relate to each step in my journey, or to view my pieces the same way I do. I share my story as a way to connect with you, and would love for this to be a two-sided conversation. So please feel free to comment below with your reactions and thoughts on this journey, the collection, or a particular piece!
What you need to know before We start:
Created shortly following my marriage in November 2017, this collection is a reflection on transitions. Changing my last name led me to a sense of lost identity, and through my art I was able to connect with myself on a deeper level to understand what it means to be “me.”
The name "Camino Oscuro" is Spanish for "Dark Journey." The collection is the visual diary of my journey transitioning from “Natalie Delgado” to “Natalie Dark,” and my art is the language I used to guide me through that transition.
Each of the pieces in the Camino Oscuro collection marks a milestone in my journey from "Natalie Delgado" to "Natalie Dark." As I became more confident in my new identity as Natalie Dark, I also became more confident in the story I wanted to tell through my art.
I spent weeks trying to distill my journey into something concise and easily communicated. I wanted this to be something that wouldn’t offend the 140 character limit we have all become so accustomed to. But here’s the thing about me: I don’t do neatly packaged, or linear, or direct, or concise. I am a whirlwind of thoughts and emotions; I am complex and, therefore, by definition so is my journey and my art.
The first thing I want to tell you about the Camino Oscuro collection has to do with the Spanish naming of both the pieces and the collection. The Spanish names are a metaphor for the transition that took place when I changed my own name. This name change has highlighted for me the way my Hispanic heritage shapes so much of who I am. As Natalie Delgado, I was easily identified as Hispanic, but as Natalie Dark I feel as though my heritage has been stripped away from me. The Hispanic woman I once was no longer exists to the majority of society. I look stereotypically European, my accent is stereotypically American (with no identifiable region), and my first name is stereotypically “White Girl.” On the surface, there is nothing about me that informs you of my background. Nothing to tell you that I didn’t speak English until I was four years old, or that my comfort food is Cuban rice and beans, or that it scares me to think of a future where I have a daughter that wants a Sweet Sixteen and not a Quinceañera. Therefore, I decided to name the pieces in Spanish as a metaphor illustrating how a name cannot not change the meaning of what it is describing. Just as naming a piece "Las Primeras Naranjas" ("The First Oranges") does not change the fact that the subject matter is of the first oranges I ever drew, changing my name from "Delgado" to "Dark" does not change the fact that I am still a Hispanic woman.
The second thing I want to tell you about the Camino Oscuro collection has to do with the subject matter (fruits, with the occasional plant/flower), which I chose for two different reasons. In part, the subject matter is meant as a not-so-gentle nod to Florida, the place where I was born and raised, and where so much of who I am comes from. From the palm frond to the oranges, and avocados, there is a slightly tropical theme that is easy to understand. However, there are obvious departures from this theme, with pieces that depict fruits that are non-native to Florida (like the cherries & peaches). In these pieces I am testing the boundaries of who I am, taking detours into the less obvious and more intimate parts of myself. For instance, the cherries, while not native to Florida, are a fruit that reminds me of my childhood in Florida. When I see cherries I instantly picture my maternal grandmother sitting in the kitchen methodically eating each cherry while listening to the Spanish Catholic AM Radio station. When I see peaches, I always hear some unidentified elderly person affectionately calling someone “Mi Melocoton” (“My Peach”). It is a term of endearment used by Spanish speakers & I have always loved it so much! It gives me all the warm and fuzzy emotions, & reminds me of Miami.
As I continued to draw, I was torn. I had a deep desire to keep drawing fruits, but was nervous about what others would think. Fruits are relegated to the kitchen, maybe elevated to the dining room if they are lucky. Fruits are not glamorous…they are not flowers. But that is what I love about fruits. Unlike flowers, fruits are strong, they are functional, they create new life and sustain existing life. They are taken for granted. They are the every woman. And they deserve to be in the living room, and in the office, and in the bedroom. They deserve to be the centerpiece, the masterpiece.
I have so many reasons for choosing fruits, but my primary reasons are that they are relatable, they are beautiful, they are taken for granted, and, in essence, they are women.
Below is where I was mentally and emotionally at each step in this journey while creating the pieces that make up the collection. There are so many different ways I can look at one piece, because life is complex and so are our journeys. And so below is just one explanation for each of the pieces, but I would love to know if you see them differently, or if you feel like I might have missed something in my analysis of this journey (I love to psychoanalyze!)!
Las Primeras Naranjas
Detailed and vibrant, this still life is full of richness and depth. As the first piece created in the Camino Oscuro collection, it is the only one with a white background. I had not originally intended to include this piece as part of the collection, as it lacks the characteristic dark background; however, upon reflection, I realized that the white background is precisely why it must be included. This piece represents the starting point of the journey I experienced while creating this collection, a collection that would not exist without “Las Primeras Naranjas.”
The first leg of the Camino Oscuro journey is about discovery and experimentation. Los Aguacates is part of this “first leg” (El Principio) not only because of when it was created chronologically, but also because it is the only painting in the collection. I chose to paint this piece rather than use colored pencils because painting was the medium I had previously used to express myself with. I was curious to see how paint would impact my style and connection with the process. By turning to oils I allowed myself the comfort of a known medium, and was free to explore with colors and composition in a way I did not yet feel comfortable doing with colored pencils. Los Aguacates is textured and rich in colors, layers, and movement. For me, this piece represents (among so many other things) the exploration that is possible when we begin a new journey, and was pivotal in determining both the aesthetic and emotional direction of the journey/collection.
El Medio/La Transición
(The Middle/The Transition)
El Arreglo Floral
Unlike the rest of the Camino Oscuro collection pieces, El Arreglo Floral is overflowing with an abundance of detail in subdued, cool hues. As the third piece of the Camino Oscuro Collection, it spearheads what I think of as “La Transición” (“The Transition”).
El Arreglo Floral was created during the time
when the meaning of this journey became clear to me. I think it is the most unique
piece in the series, and expresses my hesitation, confusion, and nervousness
throughout this period. While these are traditionally considered negative emotions, I think their vulnerability makes them beautiful.
By this point in the journey I knew that I wanted to create art for others, but felt overwhelmed by thoughts of wanting others to like my art and nervousness about potentially feeling rejected if my art was not well received.
You can see how I have protected myself in the subject matter by choosing to
depict something that is relatable, easily likeable, and inoffensive. Like this piece, I cherry picked the parts of myself I was comfortable with the world seeing. There is still some richness in the calming color scheme, and a moderately dark background, but it is not as bold as the rest of the collection.
Instead, this piece asks the viewer to focus on the technique and detail, which is where
I am most comfortable. I think this is so important to share, because it is a
reminder that transitions are slow, and each step leads us closer to where we are meant to be. I love this piece because behind its tranquil facade you can sense the power of things to come.
As the fourth piece of the Camino Oscuro Collection, and the second piece of “La Trasición,” Las Cerezas is full of passion and momentum coming off the heels of El Arreglo Floral.
Where El Arreglo Floral is subdued and
tranquil, Las Cerezas is bold and unapologetic. There is a sense of defiance and stubborness to this piece that I can’t get enough of. I was tired of trying to hide who I was, and this was the piece where I consciously made an effort to communicate who I am to the world.
However, I do not consider this piece as the
last of La Transicion, because it began with a much lighter background, something that is not easily covered up with my medium of choice. I believe the amount of effort it took to get the background to be as dark as possible is clearly evident in the piece, and leaves the viewer with a sense of courage and determination. There are areas where the lighter under layer is peaking through the dark overcoat.
When I look at this piece I see so many things, but the two that are most salient to me are (1) that transitions are when "we grow “thick skin” to help us protect our insecurities and emotions, and (2) there is no such thing as “too late” to be who you want to be.
El Naranjo is the final piece from “La Trasición” and communicates a sense of fulfilment, while simultaneously leaving us to imagine about things to come. While it is the only piece in the collection that is not a still life, it is also the first colored pencil piece with a rich black background.
When I started this piece, I still felt hesitant about creating the still life drawings with black backgrounds I envisioned in my head. I was not ready to commit.
Instead, I experimented with a subject that fills the frame. I did not hold back with the black background, but hedged my bets by filling the frame with so much of the subject.
By the end of this piece I knew I was ready. I knew I needed to create what I wanted & that it would be fine. I had tried every alternative, but had not quenched that thirst.
There is an urgency about this piece, almost like my hands knew that I needed to do this one in order to get to the next leg of this journey. I see so much movement and excitement when I look at this piece. It reminds me of that last leg of my drive to a friend’s Central Florida home, passing miles and miles of orange groves, pushing the speed limit as far as you dare, excited to take on the unknown (which for me, as a city girl, were the weekends I spent in rural Central Florida).
The final leg of this journey is kicked off by La Palmita, which is the first colored pencil still life piece I created with a fully black background.
I adore the vibrant greens that breath life into any space this drawing is in. It is the drawing I took the most artistic liberties with, inventing most of the ridges and movement you see.
This piece truly came from my heart. Instead of drawing from the perfect little palm I had clipped from my windowsill garden, that is so protected and cared for, I drew from memories of what real palm leaves look like. The wear and tear our environment has on them, the beauty I find in their resilience.
I feel a sense of calmness when I draw palm leaves, and I feel that serenity when I look at this drawing. It flowed from me like none of the others did, and I hope it brings others a sense of comfort when they look at it.
Los Melocotones Y Las Cerezas
Where La Palmita exudes comfort, Los Melocotones Y Las Cerezas communicate power.
I knew I couldn’t end this collection on such an easy, calm note. That is not who I am. I am a woman who enjoys a challenge. I need to know I pushed all of my limits and conquered all of my fears.
This drawing scared me. The cherries are all piled up on top of one another, there is a gold tray, and the peaches have a color pallet and softness I am not accustomed to drawing. And I drew them, and I conquered it.
In the past I would have approached this piece with hesitation and timidness. However, there is none of that here. Los Melocotones Y Las Cerezas is overflowing with confidence and determination.
Las Clementinas Peladas
The final piece in the collection, Las Clementinas Peladas are my pièce de résistance. (And don’t confuse that for “favorite”, that isn’t possible!) It combines everything I have been working towards: a fully committed black background, a bold composition, and a technically challenging subject. But the best part of this piece for me is that it started off completely differently. I had originally played it safe, but as I began to draw it out, I realized it wouldn’t be good enough to just be “good enough.” I knew this was the last piece of this journey when I felt the confidence I had going into something I felt so challenged by.
I pulled out all the stops for this piece. Nothing about this piece was easy; everything was a challenge. But I kept my head down, believed that I had it in me, and when I looked back up I realized that hard work really does pay off.
I often get comments on the technical skill, patience, talent it takes to do something like this. However, I don’t see any of that, because all I see is REALLY HARD WORK. That is what this piece says to me; good things come to those who work REALLY F***ING HARD.
So tell me, when you look at this piece, can you smell and taste the clementines? I can. They smell like my childhood, and like Christmas in the UK. They taste like a burst of sunshine and happiness. I hope you can, because that was what I was going for. I wanted to draw something that you could connect with on a basic human level. I wanted to trigger your other senses, and hopefully even take you back to a memory or emotion.