Sidetracked by the Muse

As I look ahead to adventures planned for this coming year, I have also been looking back at our travels from 2017.  A camera gives me an opportunity to “relive” travel experiences, recalling the imagery of specific moments.  But painting from those images also allows me to recall the atmosphere and the specific elements that attracted my attention, that drew me to capture at least the visual scene in the photograph.  Through painting, I can more freely interpret that scene, drawing out from the overabundance of visual information only those key elements that mattered to me and minimizing the extraneous detail that might detract from it.

So, despite my recently-stated intent to narrow down my focus for now to figurative work, when I felt inspired to work on a specific project that did not conform, I found myself following the muse.

I had photographed a prickly pear cactus as a memory from my youth, when I had spent several years at various locales in the American Southwest. The plant has a rhythm in the linking of its lobes, a characteristic texture of its surface—with obvious spikes … and less obvious ones that (as I  learned early) can prove quite as troublesome if you brush too close…, as well as delicate, tissue-like blossoms that spring out in glorious color in the midst of the dusty, sun-baked surroundings.

“Prickly Pear” by Charlotte Mertz (8” x 8” watercolor on Arches hp paper, #180201w)

Using watercolor pencil, I sketched in the plant against a background of dried desert grasses.  A subsequent water wash couldn’t bring out the play of color the subject demanded, so I treated it as an underwash, following it up with multiple glazes of QoR watercolor to provide greater depth of color and contrast.

Prickly Pear is not a plant I want in my Florida garden, nor as a potted specimen on my Wisconsin deck.  But in the vast expanse of the desert lands of the Great Southwest, I found it an enchanting and rather nostalgic sight.

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