Prickly spurge collage in progress

This is an experiment I’m working on.  I’ve taken attempted watercolors of Euphorbia rigida, or spurge, entangled in a cluster of prickly pear cactus, and cut shapes from all of them and put them together in a collage.  Nothing is glued yet but I’m pretty excited about the prospect of putting this all together, adding final details and shape defining darks and framing it in a shadowbox.

prickly spurge collage rachel murohree watercolors

Prickly Spurge watercolor collage in process

wp-1490822224454.jpgOver the past several weeks I’ve painted multiple versions from this photograph, trying different styles than my norm which is loose and free.  I’ve tried a limited palette and using masking fluid to preserve the whites of the leaves in the sun, and I’ve been frustrated and in a bit of a slump.

So I’m playing this by ear as I go, keeping in mind design elements and composition, cooler bluer colors receding, warmer colors up front, and soft and hard edges.  For the cactus pads I’ve ripped the edges by softening the paper and either tearing it front to back so white shows, or tearing it the opposite direction to have the white torn edge be on the back.  I’m keeping in mind the watercolor principle that you save the whites and can always paint over them if they are distracting.  I’ve done the same with the flower heads and arranged them to have the most detailed one at the focal point.  I’m doing multiple levels of the flower bracts to create dimension.

The sky background is streaked because I am (so far) using a multimedia paper I painted rather than watercolor paper for the background, so I’ll have to decide if I need to replace it or if I can live with the streaks.

prickly spurge bw

Black and white view to check values

Below is my first attempt at painting this scene, and it will be on display in July at the Cottonwood Gallery of the Southwest Environmental Center in Las Cruces at the corner of Main and Las Cruces streets.  The Southern Chapter of the NM Watercolor Society is hosting a show there with the theme of Nature, and there will be a lot of beautiful watercolors on display to enjoy in the coolness of air conditioning on a summer day.  I hope you can make it!

spurge among the prickly pears

Spurge among the Prickly Pear framed to 18″ x 22″ $300 

Regarding painting this again, or other pieces, I’ve decided to go back to my normal  loose and free style.  For this view I’ll wipe out the leaves from a rich dark puddle, but that’s for another day and another post.


Another moonlight piece

This was a fun piece done in a class where we wadded up the paper while dry to get texture, even tears, in the surface.  We then wet it and worked wet in wet.  I like how the wrinkles helped add interest to the mountains.  Other elements that work well are the papa, mama, baby bear size and details of the flowers and lost and found edges.

What do you think?

Cholla Trio


Here’s another piece that I’ve finished and I’m really happy with it! The thorns are made by scratching on the paper surface to add more texture to the negative pained thorns and segment edges of the cactus itself.

If you remember here’s what it looked like in an earlier post.

So what did I learn from doing this?  First that negative painting to preserve lights is not that difficult.  Negative painting is when you create an image by painting what is around it  I did that on the branch, and also to create a stamen and pistils in the center of the main bloom.  I remembered to describe the elements in varying amounts of specificity.  In other words, not all of the blooms are equally detailed or in focus which gives the viewer something to imagine and fill in the blanks.  I also went ahead and put in the background at the same time as the focal flowers and foliage which helped have some edges soft, some edges sharp (that’s known as lost and found edges).  Plus I learned that all this was FUN to do!

Cholla blooms in progress

Have I mentioned how much I like taking classes with Laurel Weathersbee? This is the third of four classes with her and I have learned so much.  More on that later, because I am energized from class and want to put that energy into my Shiloh commission.

So bye for now. More later…


Cholla times two. day 25

Last night I tried the cholla blossom again for try three and ended up trying a loose interpretation after it.  I know I like the loose one best. Try four. it expresses for me the delicacy and light and heat that surrounds the cactus when in bloom

 How about you? Which do you like better? 

Prickly pear blossom day 19

I had real difficulties with being interrupted by my kids yesterday while working on this so it doesn’t have the freshness I wanted.  Frustrating and I probably wouldn’t show it, or persevere with it,  except for this challenge. Oops, I was wrong in writing this was a prickly pear blossom. It’s actually a cholla or walking stick blossom.

Walk with me?

Walk with me.  Cholla blossom watercolor by Rachel Murphree

Watercolor of cholla blossoms, 11″ x 14″ Click on image to view larger.

The cholla cactus attaches very easily to passersby, and it is never a fun experience for the human or animal. It’s much more fun to enjoy it from afar. Its common name is Walking Stick, and it’s one of my favorites.

This is the product of plein air painting on mother’s day in my side garden. It took me a while of  trial and error, to find my technique to show you the character, spines and spirit of this cool plant. This plant hangs its head over my side wall into the sidewalk below, and it makes me smile as I start my dog walk this time of year. I plan to paint it from that angle as well, backlit by the sun.

This one  will be framed and put in August’s show.  As it gets closer, I’ll give you the dates and location.  I may consider putting it in a square frame.  We’ll see….

Thanks for stopping by.

Apple Cactus — Day 7 of the Challenge

Photo of cactus bud

Photo of Apple Cactus blossom. Click on the image to view it larger

Today I started sketching for a larger painting using one of my photos, taken when the kids were toddlers and I could only dream of having time to paint!

This is an apple cactus (cereus repandus) another common name is Peruvian Tree Cactus.  We don’t see many of these in our neighborhood yards in El Paso, although there is one that I recall.  I took this picture in Palm Springs, CA in the mohave desert region.  If you click on the link you’ll see comments from people all over the world with experience with this plant.

sketch of apple cactus bud

Pencil sketch of apple cactus bud in sketchbook. Click on the image to view it larger.

I had the most relaxing hour sketching this and envisioning how I would paint it.  I hope that I do it justice, at some point in the many times I try it!  Smile.  I will sketch it bigger tomorrow, transfer it to paper and start practicing the delicate washes of pale color required for the bud tip.
I cropped the image to have separate areas that are smaller to work on, as opposed to a wash covering a sky.  I find those easier to handle.  I know I’ll have to get the values correct (darks and lights) and also when to make soft edges or hard edges, where the color stops in a distinct line.

This will be challenging and fun!

Artsy weekend in Tucson

The other weekend my DH and I headed over to Tucson for a long awaited break and had a lovely time.  We did gardens, galleries, Gather antiques, and took in a movie at the Loft Cinema. I got to go back to Tohono Chul Park by myself to reflect in the native gardens, do some sketching, bird watching and seeing a watercolor show in their gallery. This place is a real jewel in Tucson and I’m so glad I got to go there.

A lovely docent directed me to this Echinocereus  blossom which was as big as a saucer. Literally 6″ across. You can be sure I’ll be attempting to paint this beauty.  I did some onsite sketching and painting.   Here it is in the pot, just to give you a sense of scale.


just to give you a sense of scale

It was by this lovely soothing water fountain with benches to sit and just enjoy the beauty. See the close-up. I love the horsetail plant there.

2014-05-18 10.02.55   . 2014-05-18 10.03.15

The property was built in the 1930s and at the time was very isolated and grew palm trees and citrus.  The art galleries and gift shop are in the original house and they are always a real treat.


Euphobia ResiniferaThis was a really interesting plant clump.  It is called Euphobia Resinifera , common name is Spurge.  We have one that grows here and blooms lime green in January, but I haven’t seen this particular variety.  look at the close-up.  It stood about 18″ tall and each spire was perhaps an 1″ or more in width.

Euphobia Resinifera Close-up

We also went to the Southern Arizona Watercolor Guild gallery, in an upscale market area with a Whole Foods, public library branch and neat restaurants.  There is beautiful work on display and it changes regularly.  I picked up a brochure on classes offered in the fall/spring, and I think I will actually take one of them with Carol Carter, an artist whose work and blog I follow!
We tried two new places:  fabulous Thai food…I can still taste it in my mind, it was incredible.  at Bai Thong on E. Speedway.  and then we saw an article in their locavore magazine: Edible Baja Arizona
which has a beautiful cover of fish in blues/oranges. You can read the article was on Boca Tacos y Tequila, a place we’d driven by several times on Speedway near the University. On the sign was “Our salsa is hotter than your wife!” who could resist? the flavors were complex and wonderful. Oh MY! it’s a definite addition to my favorite restaurants.


Arent these blooms amazing? This is from the front yard of a house in my neighborhood. I don’t know what species it is, but note it is in partial shade. Does anyone have a guess? Yesterday i had a lovely driving tour of gardens i like w jean, and it was the only day for these funnel shaped blooms. Perfect timing!

I have been walking mostly twice daily for a week now and it has made me feel so good!