What Moves an Artist to Paint?

Springtime Succulence

Inspiration for Springtime Succulence

What moves an artist to paint a particular subject? Probably the same force that enables special stories to be written.

I call it pure inspiration. Something special jumps out and shouts for our attention, like this grouping of prickly pear cactus did for me one spring afternoon.

I’d started along a familiar trail in the Anza Borrego Desert CA, and as always, I had my eye out for that unique element in nature that would inspire me to paint.

Approaching the path in the warming sun, I rounded a bend and saw the many sprinklings of flowering desert plants that dotted the ground like confetti. The beauty stopped me in my tracks. I’d been to the desert many times, but had never seen so many flowers blooming all at once.

As I looked closer at the landscape, I was impressed by the ocotillo, with its tall, spiny columns and tassels of brilliant red. Nearby were a variety of succulents and cacti, which were also topped with dashes of color.

Standing amidst the colorful landscape my eyes rested upon this particular patch of cactus, so full of open, pink blossoms that it reminded me of a bouquet of fresh cut flowers.

These beckoning pink blossoms created such a beautiful sight that I knew I had to paint them. I asked my husband to take a few photos, with his great camera. He’s a hobbyist photograph, so this turned into a  full photo shoot.

My artistic style falls into the category of painting called realism, meaning that I paint detailed work where my subjects look a lot like a photograph. What makes my work unique is that I add whimsical or folksy touches for added fun.

With the Springtime Succulence painting, I carefully recreated the cactus, hand scaling its funky shapes to size. Then, with my brushes I painted a base coat of green oxide for the pads, finally adding shading and highlights several times.

I paint in oils so this is a slow process, since I need to allow the paint to dry between each layer. I then added the spines. In order to imitate their sharp, needle-like spines, I took a razor knife loaded with paint and sliced the color on, then came back and added the shadow at the base of each spine. This was a time intensive process since there are about 20 spines on each of the sixteen pads!

Of course, the finishing touch was to create the pink blossoms. I painted about 9 layers of white, pink and crimson to capture the nuances of the flower.

With the cactus complete, I moved onto the ground, where I added the barrel cactus and the cholla. Neither of these were in the original photos, but they were scattered around the landscape and I felt they’d add perspective for the prickly pear. The cholla’s tiny, collective spines glistened a golden-white from the afternoon sun, and it took several tries to get the feel just right in the painting’s foreground.
The last element I added was the Cactus Wren. While he was also not in the original photo, I put him in there because I’m intrigued by how these birds live in such a spiny place. I read that the wren will make a few decoys to guard against potential predators.

It’s easy to envision this wren clenching a bunch of twigs in its beak and carefully placing one after another into a crevasse between the pads. As I carefully painted the details of his feathers, beak, and eyes, I could identify with this level of patience that creating can take!

Springtime Succulence

Springtime Succulence

With the wren perched proudly on the pad, I added finishing touches such as filling in the earth, adding in some strewn twigs, rocks and a few fallen pieces of cholla. I’ve always found it interesting that you see broken fragments of cactus littering the earth at the base of a living one, since this is how they reproduce.

Finally, I painted my signature beetle onto the rock in the foreground of the painting. It took me about 100 hours to complete this canvas, which is the average it takes me for most paintings, so you can say my artwork is a true labor of love.

It’s my hope that my Western Trails Fine Art Collection inspires viewers to keep the adventure in their lives, and also to look at the elements in nature like this cactus closely, so as to remember how closely connected we are to it.