Cactus: Ridiculous or...ridiculous?

"Plein Air Cactus" 9 x 12 Chalk Pastel on Paper

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The cactus plant: a common sight in Southern California, it means different things to different people. For some, it's ugly (I have a friend who hates succulents in general). For baby squirrels, it's a safe home. For random strangers at the end of my street, it's apparently dinner. You think I'm joking? There's often quite a crowd out there with their plastic bags and knives, helping themselves.



For me, it's something that's always available to paint, but I only do so after careful deliberation-- painting cactus is like working on a puzzle. In this case, it was the play of light and shadow on the plant that inspired me to work. I really had to get into right brain mode, though, because my left brain was screaming "It looks like a hand! A hand with fat wide fingers!" This is thanks to a teacher once telling me that a tree I'd painted looked like a hand coming out of the ground (I wasn't offended, he was absolutely correct). Those are the observations that stick with you as an artist, I guess.



Once I got a handle on concentrating on value and shape, I played a little with the color. I always think my plein air pieces are disasters in the making until I put them aside and take a fresh look at them. This piece was no exception; I was quite happy to look at it again and again later and not feel like I'd painted a big fat hand with wide fat fingers sticking out of it.




It's hard for me not to stylize cactus, and here's a previous plein air piece where I did just that (and had a little fun with it):









"Cactus" 4.5 x 6 Oil Pastel on Paper



To read more about this piece and my first week of plein air, click here: http://artbynikihilsabeck.blogspot.com/2011/06/plein-aire-experiment-part-1.html



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