The Creating of "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.
As I looked closer, I was impressed by the ocotillo, with its tall, spiny columns, adorned with tassels of brilliant red, and all
variety of succulents and cacti that were topped with dashes of color. Standing amidst the colorful landscape my eyes rested upon
this particular grouping of cactus, so full of open, pink blossoms that it reminded me of a bouquet of flowers.
The beckoning blossoms created such a beautiful sight that I knew I'd paint them soon. I asked my photographer husband to do what amounted
to a full photo shoot. Later, armed with a portfolio of photos, I was excited to get bring them to life on canvas. My work falls into the
category of 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 touches of surrealism, which for me means that I add certain elements to the painting that weren't there in real life.
For the Springtime Succulence painting, I carefully recreated the cactus, hand scaling its trademark funky shapes. 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, as I need to allow the paint to dry between each layer. I then added the spines. In order to make them
look real 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, with about 20 spines on each of the sixteen pads! Not a problem though, as I enjoy the
details. 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 was in the original
photos, but they were scattered around the landscape and I felt like they'd add an element of 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 decided to add was the Cactus Wren, who also wasn't in the photo either. I added him because I'm intrigued that
by how they have several homes in such a spiny space. I can picture him clenching numerous twigs in his 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 reflected
on the patience it must take for him to do his job, too.
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, as this is how they reproduce. Finally, I painted my signature beetle onto the rock in the foreground of the painting.
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 they can see a hint of the greater ecosystem in which they live. By
understanding of the interdependence within these elements of nature, we appreciate our own relationship to it, remembering to not
only celebrate its beauty but to support its preservation through our awareness.
Author: Kathy Shute