48" x 30"
California, United States
The Manzanitas enjoy the mixed blessing of being among the most desirable plants for use in decorative displays. Their blood red bark and twisted branches make a perfect center piece for a dried flower arrangement. Remember to pack a saw if you go picking Manzanita branches. The wood is very hard. The First Nations used the wood for spoons and tobacco pipes and early missionaries fashioned pegs from Manzanita wood to fix the joints of their Mission buildings.
Better yet, leave your saw at home and bring your camera. While it’s true that a saw will help you harvest a decorative piece whose red bark and gracefully twisting branches will grace your living room for many years unchanged, with your camera you can capture some wonderful changes.
For example, if you take your camera to the field in February, when few other plants are flowering, you can catch the beautiful pink and white flowers hanging like little upside down jugs in dense clusters. The Manzanita is one of the earliest bloomers in the Chaparral. A few months later you can photograph birds eating the clusters of berries, maybe even catch a bear or fox if you’re lucky. Take a wide-angle shot and you can see how the Manzanita sprawls out over the rocks, hugging every contour.
But don’t forget the rocks. They are an important part of understanding the Manzanitas place in Nature. The Manzanita live in the dry foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountains. I dedicated almost half of the composition to this rocky stone ledge to make this point. Another reason for including the rocks is compositional. The cool violet and blue colors in the shadows of the stones extend the color range of the composition. I painted the stones with a technique called “wet on wet” in which I ran one oil color over another while the color underneath was still wet. It’s a perfect technique for rendering the lichen encrusted and eroded surface of the soft rocks. But I had to be careful to ensure that the color underneath was very viscous or my knife would smear instead of skipping over the surface.