Chile Wreath #1

Chile Wreath Ref Photo_rachel_murphree

Chile wreath in late afternoon sun reference photo


Here in El Paso, Texas on the Mexico/US border, the chile wreath is one of the symbols of Christmas, or at least for me it is.  Wreaths and ristras (long hanging strand of red chile peppers) are sold after the harvest time and the reds are so beautiful!  So they celebrate harvest and bringing bright warmth and cooking goodness into the darker days of winter.


As part of Christmas traditions, a good friend and I go to an artist market every year which is where I purchased our wreath.  I’ve spent the past week painting it, after glorying in the warmth of it in the late afternoon sun lighting up one side of the wreath and highlighting parts of the other side.  I didn’t snap a photo at its best, but here it is on another less sunny day hanging on our front gate.

Chile Wreath #1 in watercolor. 12″ click on image to view larger.

Here is Chile Wreath #1, kind of a play piece for me, practicing and working out the procedures. As I was painting plein air in the courtyard, I thought, oh this is definitely for the bin, so on the right I started another ristra practice.   After it dried, I thought it had potential as a practice piece, and worked on the wreath itself.  So what to do with those scrap chiles in a column on the side?  I put several layers of yellows and blues on the background which is why there’s a darker spot bottom right!  note to self, even if you think it’s going poorly, break out another sheet to keep practicing!!  LOL

Chile wreath #2 in progress_rachel_murphree_watercolor

Chile Wreath #2 in progress in watercolor.  Click on image to view larger.

So this is where Chile Wreath #2 is in its progress.  Excuse the stem and partial leaf I found on a walk to paint later.

You can see the lighter yellows where I want the warmth, and some of the darker parts of the peppers being put in.

One element to keep in mind is that the peppers aren’t just hanging facing left and right; some are facing toward you so they have to be foreshortened and included to give it a roundness it has in real life.  I’ve really gotten to know my reds and which are warm (largely for the right side in this piece) and which are cools, the left side in shadow.

Another element is that you want hard AND soft edges to define each pepper.  I’ve been alternating wetting the area in a pepper shape and putting in thicker pigment dots on the side to diffuse.  Or sometimes putting down a stripe of color and softening it.  Lots of ways to do it and the fun is in mixing it up.  I’ve been using my striper dagger often to get more familiar with it.

I need to build up the wreath at the top left since it’s skinnier and also work on getting the curly raffia at the top to come over the wreath.  With that in mind I was practicing on smaller ristra paintings, trying out masking ahead of time, and this afternoon working on using white gouache with tan tones of watercolor to put in strands of raffia after the fact.  More on that in another post.  On this one I can’t figure out a way to thinly lift out color for the raffia strands over the top, so I will probably use gouache and a calligraphy pen to get the thin/thickness of the strands.

But more on that in another post…. lots of other holiday items to finish!  Thanks for visiting and commenting…




10 thoughts on “Chile Wreath #1

  1. For the raffia, masking might have been the way to go or even wax resist – you can always mask it over a pale wash that’s dried already (it doesn’t have to be over raw paper). Love your wreaths! The first one you painted looks photorealist …


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