20" x 18"
California, United States
Look up 'Pincushion Plant' on the Internet and you will find pictures of a plant with long stems and slender, needle-like leaves, surrounded by sand and pebbles. You’ll get similar results if you look up Desert Hyacinth, (the three violet flowers in the painting). These plants are adapted to extremely dry conditions. Although the gravelly flats of the low deserts are appropriate settings for these plants they are not very interesting to an artist who likes complexity. So, when I saw these desert flowers among thick grasses I jumped at the chance to paint them. The grasses added the complexity and color range that I enjoy, from ochres to pink.
Pincushion flowers have short petals in the middle, long branched petals around the outside and spiky bracts surrounding the petals. To achieve this star burst look I dipped the edge of my palette knife into pure Titanium White oil color and then drew it out from the center, followed by similar strokes of Burnt Umber mixed with Permanent Magenta to create the spikes. If you stand back from the painting I hope you will see a tufty look. In a few weeks the flowers will turn a rusty or pinkish color, similar to other white flowers of the coastal hills, like the California Buckwheat. I once painted a picture of California Buckwheat in it’s rusty phase with only a few white flowers still showing. I would like to return to this spot to paint Pincushion flowers as they begin to dry.
So what are these plants doing among the lush grasses? They are enjoying a seasonal advantage. During the long dry season in Southern California, after the grasses dry out, the Desert Pincushion (Chaenactis fremontii) and Desert Hyacinth (Dichelostemma capitatum) burst into flower. In the desert, of course, they have a permanent advantage. They are one of the most common flowers in the low desert flats.