Saturday, February 20, 2010

Painting Prickly Pears

"Prickly Path" 9x12, pastel - contact Michael

While painting my two "snapshots" yesterday, a raw wind got up and the clouds moved in. Schnebly Hill is a very beautiful perch to paint from, but it's not somewhere you want to be on a windy day. We retreated to the lee side of the hill and found shelter behind some junipers. I set up my easel on the lip of the canyon - it was a long drop down - so I could get an interesting perspective on some prickly pears with Snoopy Rock behind it. (Sorry, but Snoopy isn't visible from this angle.) Since my back was to the canyon, I had to make sure that, in the process of stepping away from my painting now and then, I wouldn't blindly step off the edge.

Prickly pears are a prickly subject to paint - so many pads, so many colors! I started this one by just blocking in a large mass of light, cool green and added some dark passages where the shadows seemed deepest. Next, I outlined a few pads with a dark brown pastel and then colored them in with raw color, going warmer and cooler as I needed. Finally, I added rim light on a few of the other, unfinished pads and suggested a few spines. You don't have to paint every single pad and add all the spines to tell the viewer that he's looking at prickly pears. If you get the overall shape and color of the mass right and detail a few pads, that's enough. The mind will fill in the rest.

I like this sketch because it is not overworked and preserves the energy of working quickly. Snoopy Rock is very sketchily done, but it's not the focus of the painting. I took about an hour to do this one.


Joy Eilee said...

Thank you for this blog post - it has inspired me to try something similar. My question is - are you using oil pastels or soft pastels for this picture? It is probably obvious to everyone but I am a new reader and also new to art materials. I want to use something in the field that is easy to carry and quick, without much chance of a mess. Thanks for any advice.

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Hi, Joy, thanks for your note. I use only soft (chalk) pastels. Glad for the inspiration!

Lyn A said...

This looks familiar! I miss my time there already! I love the prickly pears in this painting. The large mass of them is just the right size and shape and leads your eye nicely through the painting. Well done!

Michael Chesley Johnson, Artist / Writer said...

Thanks, Lyn!