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.

Workshop day 1

This workshop is right up my alley. The paper is really wet and scrubbed front and back and put on plexiglass and it will stay wet for hours. And we are focusing on dark and light patterns throughout.

In the ref photo you will see spurge which flowers in January here among prickly pear.

The teacher looks like and talks like my sweet sister in law Martha but with a mid texas accent rather than a North Carolina one. Love it!

Poppies–Day 13


Here is the 13th day of painting.  California poppies scattered in a prickly pear patch.  I am almost halfway through this challenge and the time is flying by and I am having such fun!

Playing Prickly Pear Day 10


This was how the experiment started yesterday.  On Sunday we had a lovely demo on a technique using heavy levels of staining watercolor on a wet sheet with a wet synthetic chamois underneath to keep the moisture levels high.  So I tried it at home.


Once you have all the paint on nice and juicy, you take stiff bristle brushes and lift out lights and designs.  I was going for desert foliage. The paint then took forever to dry!


Today I went in and played with adding color and making the shapes more.  While I’m not crazy about the whole image, I like part of it cropped, and that’s below:



So what did I learn?  I learned (again) that it’s fun to play and that i want to be more judicious in what I lift off next time and how much I work the paper.  But I like the suggestion of more pear pads behind these and the interesting colors.  This is an experiment I will try again!

I’ve also learned that I’m enjoying the 30 in 30 painting the MOST this time.  I’m a third of the way through already, and I’m still going strong and enjoying it.  hope you’re liking glimpses into my daily painting process…

February Art Show!

The Distance, watercolor by Rachel Murphree

The Distance.  Watercolor by Rachel Murphree, framed to 11″ x 14″.  $125.

I am pleased to announce that I have two pieces juried into the “For the Love of Art” show in Las Cruces at MAS Art, 126 South Main Street, Las Cruces, NM 88001.  The show opening is February 5th from 5-7 pm.  If you are local, it would be great to see you there!

The Distance was actually done during the 30 paintings in 30 days challenge I did in September.  You can read about the process from my blog post at that time.

Agave Shadows #1 Watercolor painting by Rachel Murphree

Agave Shadows #1, done mostly dry on wet. Framed to 12″ x 16″  $125.

The other is Agave Shadows #1 which I did earlier last year.  You can read about the process at this post. 

File Jan 11, 6 30 30 PM

darker foreground shape

And here is the painted value sketch amended from yesterday.   I realized that I didn’t have the value of the foreground prickly pear dark enough, so I added another layer of color.

Mesquite Shade_painted_value_sketch _rachel_murphree_watercolor (2)

lighter foreground shape

You can’t always judge the value of items from a photograph, but I think in this case the dark value of the front is appropriate because it is in shade, and it reinforces the brightness of the sunlit area by the wall.

I think it works better.  What do you think?  I think tomorrow I will do a value sketch with using just one pigment to focus on values and not play with the color.


Riordan workshop wrap up

Cloud_Shadows #2_rachel_murphree_watercolor

Cloud shadows #2

When I was unhappy with my clouds in “Storm Approaching” there was some extra time, so I figured I would try another clouds/mountains landscape. This one is it, and I’m happier with the clouds because they are expressed confidently and freshly. But the rest of it? hmmm….I think the mountains are a bit wonky as is the cloud shadow, but regardless.  it is what it is!!

Views earlier in the morning

white winged doves on a dead scrag with the beautiful Organ Mountains in the background socked in with clouds.

The last workshop day (Friday) was plein air and it was a chilly, windy, cloudy, spitting rain cold day for here.  We were huddled under a shade structure watching the demo and trying to scout out places to paint.  I wished I had brought a hat and gloves!  You can see the earlier cool of the day in the photo of birds in the desert brush. This might be an interesting photo to paint from some day.

Michael gave us a several good tips on finding a subject when painting plein air:  Look for the area of deepest contrast and work out your back, middle and foreground. Move around other components, like trees or bushes, from elsewhere in the landscape if they make the composition more effective.  Also if you’re doing architecture, roofs are lighter than you think because they reflect the sky.  I guess now is a great time to say that he has a new book coming out in February where all the stuff he drilled into us, and tons more I’m sure, will be in.  

Eventually the weather warmed up and the sun came out, followed by sprinkles, and it was a beautiful afternoon.  I think I was just tired from the whole four days and the driving and parenting stuff in the evenings, and didn’t want to do another landscape.  They’re not really what I’m passionate about.

So with his cautions I tackled a more difficult subject, santa rita prickly pear plants that were getting old and tough.  And because it was plein air, I sketched a value sketch but didn’t take a photo.  Silly me.  Those cactus pads are pink/purplish when fresh, and as they age, these ones got very cool gradations of peachs/lime greens/purples/browns, and they really drew my eye.  They were sprawled on the ground and a challenge to work out (invent) a foreground and background.

So in the end, it was an off day.  I didn’t come out with something I’m proud of, but I sure did have fun mixing deep colors wet in wet and playing on  how to pull out edges to make the stiff bristly bits on the edges of the pads.

plein air in Riordan workshop Oct 2015

playing wet in wet

plein air in Riordan workshop Oct 2015

santa rita prickly pear plein air in Riordan workshop Oct 2015

On the left is a play piece I made and then on the right, the not -so-fresh planned one heavily cropped!!  but still, it was fun, and I was proud of myself for persevering to get something halfway representative. And yes, on more than one bush, I’ve seen prickly pads that are distinct heart shapes, as the little one here in the center.

And I had my first sighting of the year of white crowned sparrows (winter visitors) squeaking to each other in the brush, and a I had to shade my eyes from the warm fall sun to get a gorgeous sighting of a hawk (either  sharp shinned hawk or coopers) flying low overhead.  WOW!  you can’t get better than that for a day that started out dismally!

Help me name this painting…

Watercolor of rocks and flowers by Rachel Murphree

11″ x 15″ watercolor of mexican poppies, prickly pear and rocks. Click on image to view larger.

So, as promised, here’s the finished painting from the photo I shared in the last post. I took artistic liberty with some of the rocks to make it a better composition.

This was definitely a painting that was giving me fits as it progressed.  It had its long moments of “adolesence” when all seemed to be a bit off, but it came together in the end.  When I paint this again, I will know better how to do it from the start, and not have to lift out so much color and repaint.  That makes it seem overworked to me, and not the spontaneous look I’d prefer.

But I think the discipline of continuing on when it got difficult, realizing problems and fixing them, is worthwhile, both in painting and in real life — don’t you think?

As of now, the working title is Poppies’ Rocks but I’m thinking there has to be a better title. What do you think? I’d love to hear your suggestions for a name for it.

Thanks for stopping by and letting me know your thoughts…

Christmas Nopales and Tuna

Watercolor of prickly pear fruit and pads

Prickly pear cactus pads/leaves called nopales and their fruit, the pinky maroon tuna.   5″ x 7″  Available.

I was intrigued by the Christmas colors of these fruit when I saw them in the produce aisle.  They are part of the prickly pear cactus plant, and in southwest/Mexican cooking the pads/nopales are used as a vegetable and the tuna as a fruit to make jellies and more.  They earn their name “prickly” because even if you can’t see them, there are tiny stickers as thin as hairs that get embedded into your skin.  Ask me how I know!  Here’s a study of these to try to show the texture and colors.  I will definitely try these again sometime soon.

In other art news, I’ve stumbled across a really great podcast on Blog talk radio called Artists Helping Artists and it has several years’ worth of weekly talks with artists on their work and on marketing, tips on painting and the like.  I heartily recommend it.  Check it out at AHA (Artists Helping Artists) 

A newer and also really helpful podcast is the Savvy Painter podcast hosted by Antrese Wood, which has almost fifty in depth interviews with artists.  I’ve learned a lot from both of these art shows.  Do you have any shows you find inspiring?

Thanks for stopping by and checking out my work!  I’d love to hear your comments.

More found item sketches