At first glance, the landscape of the United States southwest can appear as a monotone, barren, monotonous, and even redundant cycle of nothingness to a passing spectator. The muted colors of the desert can stretch on across several states, with sometimes only boulders or cactus for relief from the umber colored monotony.
Yet, the southwest has spawned some great artists from the Native American Art of the Anasazi, Hopi, Navajo, to the iconic art of Georgia O’Keefe.
In the summer of 1992 we took an over-road-car trip through this part of the great United States of America, and I was prepared to declare Death Valley the most desolate place on the planet earth until it began to rain. Now rainfall in Death Valley in August is virtually a miracle of sorts, simply by itself.
However, the real miracle was what happened to the desert in under an hour. That umber earth took on a green haze. Those stark lonely cactus began to burst forth in blooms of verdant yellows, oranges, crimsons. The arroyos began to run with muddy, rushing, life-giving water, and the desert turned into a virtual Garden of Eden.In a heartbeat we were experiencing first, the worst, and then, the best, that the desert has to offer.
Firsthand, I learned of all that prolific life, subdued, seemingly hidden, almost seeming to not exist at all, suddenly bursting forth with vibrant beauty like an opening afternoon Broadway Production on the wide and seemingly endless stage of Mother Nature.It’s a challenge to communicate the extraordinary in the seemingly ordinary, but I always enjoy a good challenge, so when the kids have been nagging me for another Sunday afternoon art project, I’ve played around with this niggling idea of how to introduce the beauty in these subtleties to them in some fun way.
Because they love water paints, and because water paints can be the subtlest of art mediums, I opted to try to capture some of the shades of a southwestern sunset with water paint on white art paper. So with a children’s set of water paints, a glass of water, a paintbr5ush, and thick white art paper, we sat down to discuss sunset colors.
We agreed on a sandy yellow for the earth, a sunset yellow for the horizon color, a muted orange higher in the atmosphere, and a soft violet for the evening sky. We pretty much divided our paper into four sections, blending one color into the next at the point where they joined. There are no mistakes here. Sunset colors naturally bleed into each other, and so if it happens, it simply looks believable.
We sat our sunset paper aside, and took a piece of chocolate brown construction paper, about 3 inches tall, and made accordion pleats in it like a paper fan. Then with a decent pair of scissors, we cut out rectangular winds, rooflines, and arched doors.
Using glue, we sat our little hacienda like structure on our sandy, earth colored ground with the subtle shades of our painted sunset gleaming through our cutout windows. The kids were enchanted.
Thick white art paper
Brown construction paper
Glass of clear water
One box of watercolor paints
Total time: 1 ½ to 2 hours to complete.