CONCORD -- Blanca Alfonso was enjoying life, a stable job and traveling around the world until she was diagnosed with fibromyalgia.
Suddenly, she had to change her lifestyle -- retire from her job, move from the South Bay and to the lusher, green landscape of the East Bay and take up new hobbies. She didn't have the energy to hike so she took up water aerobics instead.
She also picked up a paintbrush and never looked back, having found her calling.
"I always admired painters all my life," said Alfonso, a Concord resident who felt at home in the museums she visited in Spain, France, England and across Europe.
Every detail of life brought new meaning and she wanted to capture the colors and landscapes that helped her deal with the syndrome causing bodywide pain in joints, muscles and tendons.
She began taking painting classes through Mt. Diablo Adult Education in Pleasant Hill. Instead of letting fibromyalgia consume her, Alfonso said she was embracing life with each colorful brush stroke.
A retrospect of the eight years since she took up painting will be on display at the Ygnacio Valley Library through Sept. 30.
Just as life goes through stages, so has Alfonso's painting cycle. She's gone through a floral stage reminiscent of Monet and Van Gogh; a passion for capturing landscapes inspired by Dutch, French and California Impressionists; and a fascination with cityscapes drawn from her travels to Europe and her native
Alfonso credits instructor George Holmes, who used to teach through Mt. Diablo Adult Education, for her interest in Impressionist painters. Rather than be intimidated with painting, Alfonso said Holmes' teaching approach was welcoming.
"I'd never painted in my life," said Alfonso, who uses acrylic paints. "I'd only seen Impressionists' work in Europe. He said, 'You're in the right class. I'm not going to ... hold your hand. You go and see what you can do."
Her learning process included using Van Gogh's "Vase with Sunflowers" as a model and then painting her own version.
"In the end, it's your own interpretation," she said.
Among her favorite paintings are orchids grown at her brother's home in Columbia, where they are in abundance.
"The orchids are happy in the tropical climate there," Alfonso said.
When it comes to depicting intricate details such as the wood carvings on the unique architecture of buildings in Columbian towns, Alfonso prefers to use realism in her paintings.
Gary Bergren, one of Alfonso's instructors at the Adult Education Center in Pleasant Hill, said he's worked with her for about four years and admires her passion and persistence.
"She loves the Impressionists as role models and I feel she, as well as her heroes, have a uniqueness of style that helps make her paintings contain a signature or style of their own, and that is very hard to come by," Bergren said.
"Her sensitivity within can be seen by both her own interpretation skills, as well as her own personal technique, and that is what helps make Blanca's paintings look so uniquely special."
Whether she's doing water aerobics three times a week or painting, Alfonso said she's not obsessing about her condition and its limitations.
"Painting is healing," she said. "When you love to create as I do, you get so entangled with what you do. Your mind leaves everything behind. When you're drawing and painting, you're very involved, you start asking questions and you're not just sitting there painting color."
She said she won't let fibromyalgia hinder her creative process.
"It's not a disease, it's a syndrome I can manage," Alfonso said. "You have a life -- live it."
Alfonso's paintings will also be shown at "Art in the Park," Oct. 6-7, at Central Park in San Ramon.
WHAT: The Art of Blanca Alfonso
WHEN: through Sept. 30; artist's reception at 6:30 p.m. Sept. 6
WHERE: Ygnacio Valley Library, 2661 Oak Grove Road, Walnut Creek