Rocky mountain plein air

In October our group went out to paint in the Franklin Mountains State Park which is a beautiful place to hike, camp and commune with the desert landscape. Here are steps in my process of expressing what I saw and felt that day.


Initial inspiration and shadows closeup

Broader initial view on that beautiful October morning

First wash of warm and cool shades

First wash dry and set up on the easel and even in the short time I needed to wait for it to dry, the shadows and consequently the lights changed.

Pretty close to stopping for the day, I liked putting the painting against the natural elements i am trying to portray.

Here it is on the easel. Look at the small shadow now because time had gone by, it was 11:30ish.

I try to paint in the shade, both for my comfort and for not having a glare on the paper.  I was painting in the picnic shelter of a campsite in this wild state park that is the only such Texas park with an urban area city limits. And only five miles from my house. I have to get out and paint here more!

More accurate view of color depth taken indoors during the days I spent thinking about what to do next the piece


Glossy areas are masking fluid shapes.

I added more details. The shiny gray areas are shapes covered with masking fluid to have lighter shrubs after darks are painted on top.

Then I got carried away and made the darks a big block of the bottom without a pathway through the painting.  I also didn’t like the curved yellowy sotol shapes in that area.

I thought the lit area and the rocks on the right had some merit, so I lifted up part of the foreground left area and made rock like shapes there.  And that is where it is right now.  I think I may crop it and frame, but not sure now. Any suggestions?

I will probably paint this again in the studio, and definitely go out exploring in this wild place to find more sites to paint. Stay tuned!

Don’t forget that you can purchase prints cards and ornaments of my work at my online store:


Day 6 of 30 in 30 — The Distance

The Distance. 30 in 30 painting challenge Day 7.  Watercolor 5" x 7" $25

The Distance. 30 in 30 painting challenge Day 6. Watercolor 5″ x 7″ $25

This piece started out as a smooth wet in wet wash of a blue sky going into pink and then yellow layers near the bottom. Once it was dry, I looked at it and followed the faint lines of irregularity in the washes and instead created a scene of distance. I used a 1″ flat brush for most of the near mountain and the color minglings, and then blotted out some areas to suggest foliage and sotol plants.  Flat brushes hold less water than round brushes, and I got more of the linear lines of the mountain texture using the flat.

If you’d like to see other artists’ work for Day 6 click here.  Thank you for stopping by.  Feel free to leave me a comment or question.

Yucca Bloom finished for August’s Show!

Yucca bloom in watercolor by Rachel Murphree

Watercolor on Arches 300 lb rough paper. 11″ x 14″

I’m thrilled to announce that this painting is finished. It was a lot of fun to put in the darks around the bloom and then go in and add details to the dried blossoms on top and really define each cup of the bloom and their shadows.

This piece is 11″ x 14″ and will frame up to be 16″ x 20″. It will be for sale in the members show of the El Paso Art Association that will be held in late August. I will be exhibiting 8-10 pieces and sharing one of the gallery rooms with another painter. Exciting! and a bit nerve wracking….

As the months go by, I will probably be taking polls on which pieces you think I should hang. It’ll be fun to hear what you think…

thanks for stopping by. I’d love to hear from you.

Yucca bloom step by step

In progress watercolor of Yucca Bloom

The painting as it stands now… Click on image to view larger

My friend Susie suggested that I might want to post a painting in stages so ya’ll  could see the process as it develops. What a great idea! but I often don’t remember to snap the photo. But in this case I have.

Here’s where the Yucca Bloom painting stands now.

These are the photos I’ve taken on which the painting is loosely based.  I like the closeup but not how washed out the sun on the blossoms made them.

photo photo

In progress watercolor of Yucca Bloom

Wet in wet wash that will become the bell shaped flowers of the yucca bloom. Click on image to view larger

Scroll down to see the painting as it has developed thus far.  It’s a lot of fun to tease out the images by creating either hard lines by damping one side of a stroke of paint, or soft lines by painting wet in wet to form the bell shape of the blossom.  Fun to create magic by making something 2D look 3D.  I love it!

In progress watercolor of Yucca Bloom

Some darks in the dried blossom area. Click on image to view larger

In progress watercolor of Yucca Bloom

Continuing blossoms. Click on image to view larger

In progress watercolor of Yucca Bloom

More blossoms and the stem sketched in. I expect to do darks or stems in the rest of the areas. Click on image to view larger

In progress watercolor of Yucca Bloom

Blossoms done in bulk and stem and other stalks started. Click on image to view larger

In progress watercolor of Yucca Bloom

Now some of the darks are going in and I can see the lights start to “pop”. Click on image to view larger

Thanks for stopping by! I’d love to hear from you if you liked this explanation or have any questions…

Plein air in Tucson

Saguaro In Plein Air.  Watercolor by Rachel Murphree

Saguaro cactus plein air, painting outdoors, in watercolor. Click on image to view larger

For spring break, we took the kids to Tucson where we did tons of fun things, including rock climbing for the kids, biking for several of us, and painting and visiting botanical gardens for me. This was my second attempt at plein air painting, or painting outdoors, and I went out four times on the trip, but this painting was the most successful. I got the basics down while I was outdoors and then the following week worked on darkening areas and putting a pale bluish wash over some of the limbs to make them “fall back” in your vision to bring others forward. Also lifted up some paint to lighten areas because in keeping track of everything going on, including paint drying even faster in the sun, I didn’t keep the lighter areas as well as I needed.

All in all a very good learning experience. I’m definitely going to try more plein air painting because I remember all the sights, smells, sounds, of the experience when I look at the painting.

Saguaros are the signature plant of the Sonoran desert and they are amazing creatures, reaching great heights over decades (they are very slow growing), in the harshest desert climate. They provide shelter and homes to birds and animals who nest in holes created by other animals. They grow an inch or two in the first decade; the “arms” don’t start branching out until they are 50 yrs old. This one was over 6 ft tall in the front yard of the house where we stayed. There’s tons more info at the link if you’d like to learn more about these really cool large cacti.

Photo taken at the  Tucson Botanical gardens

Saguaro and tree interlocked

Here’s a photo I took at the Tucson Botanical Garden (neat place if you’re visiting!) where you can see that the saguaro has grown up interlocking with another tree.  Often saguaros spring up beside a “nurse” tree that helps protect it from the elements.

Here are some more beautiful cacti photos from the botanical gardens.  Click on them to view larger if you want to explore.

Feel free to share, reblog or comment! I’d love to hear from you and thanks for stopping by..

photograph of cactus

Photo of Mexican Fire Barrel cactus at the Tucson Botanical Gardens

Cactus photo

Photo of golden barrel crest cactus from Mexico

Cactus photo

Didn’t catch the name of this type of prickly pear but I loved the light catching the new growth

Some background information

2014-07-11 15.45.57So here it is in progress, the Mexican Bird of Paradise.  Leaving it for the day to ponder what the background will be.  I find backgrounds hard to do, largely because I underestimate how much of a paint puddle I’ll need for it, and remixing midway is NOT good, I got water blossoms (the kind you don’t want to get) and hard edges, and just plain yuck.  Doesn’t help that I find I hold my breath while painting it…  note to self, find a way to calm down.  Perhaps I should do the backgrounds first?  get them out of the way.

I’d like a background on this before working more on the detail.  Parts I like on it are the triangle composition, most detail on the blossom on the left, second mos
t detail on the top, and the bottom is more dull.  Don’t want to draw your eye out of the painting.

Do you think the diagonal lines draw your eye out of the painting?  or do the flowers keep your eye engaged?

Caesalpinia mexicana — Paradise in the desert

Caesalpinia mexicana, commonly known as Yellow Mexican Bird of Paradise

Caesalpinia Mexicana, common name is Mexican Yellow Bird of Paradise.  This desert/low water shrub is in bloom all over in El Paso.  I did several studies of the blossoms and leaf structure, and used a limited palette:  Aureolin yellow and Cobalt Blue (Daniel Smith) and Quinacridone Red (Winsor & Newton).  The paper is Arches 140 lb and the size is 10″ x 14″.  I had fun with it, did it over several days and tried to slow down and not add paint for paint’s sake, but to understand where it needed it.  These pale yellow flowers are challenging to create the form and shadows and not make it mud.  I enjoyed making the buds up the stalk a lot.  In real life, the yellows are a lot cooler(i.e. greener rather than orangy) than they appear in this photo.  Have to work on fixing that.

I’ve read somewhere recently, sorry to say I can’t remember exactly where, that you learn from your mistakes.  You don’t learn nearly as much from what is done well.  And on this painting, I’ve learned that cobalt doesn’t disperse as quickly or flowingly in water as I thought/hoped it would, and if I were to paint this again, I would do a smooth wash of a pale blue all over the top and then come back in later with extra layers of greens and blues to create the background foliage.  But as they say, live and learn!

Wednesday’s cholla blossoms

Sometimes called the “walking stick” this thorny cactus has yellow buds and gorgeous magenta blossoms. My study is 6″ x 11″ on Arches 140 lb.

cholla blossom study

Painting sunflowers

I’ve been re-evaluating my life recently and decided to make more time for painting and not always have too much on my plate.  It’s been a very good thing for me and for my family!  So here are two pieces I’ve worked on recently.  The flowers are from an exercise in a book called Watercolor Painting: Layer by Layer, and while I’ve learned, I think I want to take the principles embodied in the lesson and paint my own set up or vision, because I”ll be more engaged in the piece.  but I’m reasonably happy with how the flowers came out .  Sunflowers

And here’s the other one, this was not from a book but after researching how to make realistic rocks.

Pen and watercolor wash

From PenInkWCWash
From PenInkWCWash

Finally getting back to sketching, and more importantly, painting, after my long trip back home and busyness in my real life as a mom and volunteer. So for mother’s day, my DH took the kids riding, and I sketched and washed blossoms around and about my yard.

I’m having fun sketching and learning the structure, washing it with WC (on this sketchbook paper it sure doesn’t behave as it does on watercolor paper, but that’s ok) and then I try to paint it without drawing on the same page. So, I had some quinachridone gold on my brush, so I painted it around the edges and over my notes. the drawings looked better before that addition, but the paper won’t let me remove it!