True Blue Arizona – The Arizona Highways Magazine Project
The Hunt for Native Blooms, March – April 2019
A few years ago, I received a special birthday card from my husband. When I opened it, pictures of my favorite cars, cut from the pages of magazines, fell and floated to the floor. My gift that year, and meaningfully so, was for me to pick out and purchase the car of my choice. You see, we were down a car, and truth be told, my husband usually gets his way when making car choices. This year he was handing the baton to me. This was a bigger responsibility than I thought. By the time I was done with my hunt, I more fully appreciated Randy’s role as the family “car guy” all these years.
I resolved that my “new” car would be gently used. It would be fun, and it would be colorful. I’m an artist after all. Someday I will own a blue convertible Volkswagen Karmann Ghia, but this was not the stage of life for that frivolity. I needed a car for hunting. And by hunting, I mean flower hunting.
You see, for twenty-eight years I have made my living as a botanical artist, mostly right here in the great state of Arizona. The first cactus blooms I painted while studying art at ASU were hedgehog blooms from the cover of Arizona Highways Magazine. My husband bought a subscription as an enticement to move me from my home state of California to Arizona in the late 80’s. It worked. Since that first painting, I have made it my mission to photograph beautiful botanicals to paint. I have traveled to some wonderful places with beautiful tropical gardens, rose gardens, etc., but I always return to the desert. Desert blooms and Arizona light enamor me. Which brings me back to my car purchase.
An Arizona flower hunter needs a four-wheel drive car, in a pretty shade of blue. I found a gently used 2010 two-door Jeep Wrangler in Huntington Beach, California. It had never seen the dirt. I haggled with the sales person, and on spring break of March 2012 we loaded up the family and went to see a man about a wrangler. I named her True Blue.
My husband and daughter drove our other car and I followed them back over the border into Arizona. As I drove, I was day dreaming about the adventures Blue and I would have. Then suddenly, near Dateland, I hit the largest swarm of bees I had ever seen—a huge cloud of pollen and wings. I pulled over at the next gas station to survey the damage. It was not good. It would take a lot of elbow grease to get that grill clean again. And truthfully, Blue has never been totally clean since that day. She is always slightly dirty and scraped up from recent adventures. And that’s the way it should be, when you are a hunter.
In 2019 we had a wonderful rainy winter. In California, celebrities were being helicoptered into fields of orange and gold to see the “super bloom”. But here in Arizona, we had blooms (and ideas) brewing too. I had just delivered my latest body of work to Bonner David Galleries in Scottsdale for my March show. I was ready for a break. Enter Robert Stieve with a cup of coffee and a thought. Maybe an issue with ten or so paintings celebrating the spring bloom in the Arizona desert. Hmm. Intriguing.
So, no break. And honestly, how could I take a break now? I needed to get out and see the desert while it was in bloom. Over the next few weeks, I compiled a list of places to go hunting. Instagram and plant nerd friends would send me locations of bloom sightings and I hit the books to refresh my brain about what really blooms here, what is native Arizona—you know, true blue. When guests came from out of town, I dragged them with me to hunt. Superior, the Catalina’s, Bartlett lake, the Superstitions. True Blue got pretty dirty. I took the lids off and she got dusty inside too. The camera clicked and clicked and a few weeks later I had 1500 photos to choose from, and the sketching began . . .
Choosing what to paint was no small feat. It was like having a gift card for your favorite outdoor outfitter, and having to narrow your choice when you love it all. Fortunately, the crew at Arizona Highways offered a vision of their favorite blooms which helped. Jeff Kida, the magazine’s photo editor, sent a thumb drive with some reference photos that provided great direction. Then, I was able to narrow down my own reference photos and get started. I knew, as is normally my habit, I would probably edit my choices as the work began and my vision of the collection came more sharply into focus. I began painting in late April, and started with a composition of an agave and a sego lily that I had spotted in Sedona. I finished the piece in late May and was really pleased. The momentum had started. Painting can be like running or hiking out of the Grand Canyon; once you find your pace and are focused, you just want to keep going, and so I did.
Over the summer months I painted like the wind. Mariposa lily, poppies, opuntia, cholla, all rolled out of me like words on paper do for an author writing her epic novel. I noticed there was a color palette developing with my choices for the backgrounds. The work began to look cohesive as a collection. Many of the compositions like “Superstition Treasure, Buckhorn Cholla” really gave me a run for my money. I had to make edits mid-stream, because what works in a photograph or a preliminary sketch does not always work on a canvas. I also would change my mind on background colors, opting for a slightly more effective hue in the final hours of the piece.
On weekends, after I was exhausted from studio work and craving the outdoors, my husband would graciously take me on Arizona back road adventures in True Blue. We would pack some food and spend all day exploring some remote and glorious areas of Arizona. My creative tank would refill and my mission to be an ambassador for the plants and places of my state would be renewed. On Monday morning I would hit the canvas refreshed and re-energized.
Once the paintings were complete I would hurry them to my photographer in Phoenix to be expertly photographed for the magazine. Slowly but surely the collection was coming together, and in November the last piece for the magazine was created. I saved the iconic saguaro for last. You’ll notice the bees happily pollinating the blooms in the piece, a much happier place to be than on the grill of True Blue. It was an exhausting composition but well worth it.
Now it was time to get the images and descriptions to Arizona Highways editor Noah Austin. The idea was to create a bit of a field guide for the magazine’s readers. I loved that idea, because part of my quest with my art is to inspire others to get outside and explore, notice, and learn new things. I had done my best to identify the genus and species of each plant, but I called upon my plant nerd friends to check my work. Then we had the experts at the Desert Botanical Garden do the final check.
So in March 2020, on the pages of Arizona Highways Magazine, you will see the fruits (or, um, flowers) of our labor, inspired by the native plants and places of the Grand Canyon State. And while you are reading the magazine, I’ll be creating more paintings for the series, because I’m simply not done with this theme, probably ever. There will always be another dirt road to explore and a meadow or rocky hillside to examine, and that’s the way I like it. True Blue Arizona.
December 1, 2019
Dedicated to Dad