Sunday, February 20, 2011

Desert Landscape

"Just as Beautiful"

24" x 36" x 1.5" acrylic on gallery-wrapped canvas


This painting was completed for the Calypso Moon Artist Movement February assignment to paint a winter landscape.

Yes, this is a winter landscape. Kind of.

We live near the west Texas town of Del Rio, where the Sonoran desert meets the Chihuahuan. There are millions of acres of rolling hills, flat expanses, and jagged ancient mountaintops peeking over every horizon. The trees are short, if at all, the bushes low and thorny, and the animals tough.

And a sky overhead that never ends, that wraps you in a blanket of blue warmth, that stirs the soul and awakens the senses.

At least that's what I see.

Most people who come here see desolation, isolation, harsh environs, and BROWN. "Where are the trees? There's no green here! How can you stand it? It's just so, so, so BROWN."

Yes, yes it is brown, and yes, most of us would consider brown to be a supportive color, not one to gaze upon longingly. But why? Why is brown bad?

True, there are some nasty things that are brown, like mud on the carpet and certain bodily necessities. Eww. Sorry. But there are wonderful things that are brown, too. Chocolate, coffee, soil, potatoes, and brownies. So why is brown bad?

Growing up in the east, I have lived my entire life surrounded by green. Green is great, really it is. But in the Spring and Summer when everything is in bloom, EVERYTHING is green. There is so much green that all of the other colors get washed away, overlooked, neglected. Only the reddest rose will stand out, the most shocking pink azalea can catch your gaze, the most daring yellow sunflower can win your attention. The rest is GREEN.

But not here in the desert. Sure, there is some green to be seen during each season, but the other colors, all ROY G. BIV of them, get their own chance to shine. When your backdrop is brown, you as a color can really show your stuff!

For this painting I wanted to share, in my own little way, the beauty of my desert in all of it's brown glory. Each section represents a season. As you can see, the underlying colors are the same, shades of brown, tan, white, and gray. But each season brings it's own palette of lovely accent colors that in any other green landscape would be completely upstaged.

In Spring, the wettest months with almost 6 inches of rain total, there may be thunderheads building in the never-ending blue skies. The prickly pears awaken from their winter slumber and plump up their pads and become a beautiful, rich, decedent green. On top of these nopales, pads, gorgeous magenta/yellow/red/pink flowers burst forth getting ready for the fruits growing beneath.

The low lying bushes, many of which are Purple Sage, spring to life and with their lavender hues entirely transform the scenery into a bubblegum chorus line. The purple goes on, and on, and on.

There are many, very many small delicate flowers, no larger than your fingernail, that spring to life, their colors adding to the rich web of beauty.

If there was all of that green, none of these other colors would ever be seen.

In Summer, when the cumulus clouds fight for space against the continual blue sky, the rain stops falling and the desert dries up. The last of the sage blooms in purple protest, the cactus lose some of their green pop, and the prickly pear flowers make way for the blood red fruit, called tuna, that top the cactus like crowns.

Sunflower-like weeds grow to glorious heights, straining against the burning sun. The small weed flowers still blossom incredibly, even with temperatures above 110 degrees. The mix of colors shimmer and dance in the radiant heat from the ground.

If there was more green, the sunflowers would be lost in the mix and couldn't give us strength with their determination to beat the sun.

In Fall, there are no clouds. Because of the yearlong low levels of humidity, the sky remains this shade of blue year round. Don't believe me? I invite you to come for a visit and see for yourself. I'll even pick you up from the airport or train station.

The color of the sky at the apex is the deepest cobalt blue, and fades to the horizon in the most stunning display of Carolina blue you have ever seen.

I have been frozen in my tracks many times during my daily run when I take my eyes off of the ground in front of me (spotting for nasty critters), and look up into that glorious sky.

"For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities-his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God." -Romans 1:20

The prickly pear fruits become ready for harvest as they turn a deep reddish purple and begin to fall from the cactus. The small flowers still bloom and the shrubs lose their last hints of purple and begin to slowly change into yellow.

If it were all green no one could see the prickly pear fruits or the tiny yellow flowers on the ground, or the soft gray leaves getting ready for the Winter.

In Winter, the sky is dry and full of high cirrus clouds. The threat of bad weather hangs occasionally in the sky, usually on it's way to the East leaving this desert dry and dormant.

The prickly pears lose their green and turn a deep, sleeping brick red. Some droop and shrivel to the ground while others hold firm, ready for the short winter to be over. The weeds finally stop their show of baby blooms, and the the shrubs sport yellow and orange leaves. Across the vista is a sea of gold.

Who needs green when you can have gold?


  1. Wow - Very deep and thought-provoking. I don't think anyone has ever seen the desert quite like you do - I understand a little better why you love the desert so much. Your painting is just wonderful - you've done a great job with the major thing the desert has to offer - the big, deep blue of the sky. Your blue says it all. The ground is done very well, but the sky outshines all. Well done, Paula. The explanation of your feelings of the desert are superb!!!

  2. I don't know which I am more taken with, your wonderful paintings, or the commentary about the desert seasons which they represent. Both are wonderful.

  3. Beautiful. You've done a great job of observing and depicting the subtle changes in the sky and the land. No snow to shovel, no grass to mow - just a gigantic blue sky above and tiny flowers at your feet.

  4. I've always wanted to do a season-based series of paintings- this is better than I could imagine doing! Really beautiful. Definitely makes me want to visit the desert in each of these season.