A backstage peek at my process

As I was preparing my application for Spanish Village Arts Center, it occurred to me that you might like to see how I make my pieces. I chose a prickly pear for my application piece because it’s a local flower, I have one in my backyard, and I knew I could paint and collage a small painting in one week-end. The timing bit was actually critical since I had not planned in advance to make a piece just for the storyboard until I reviewed my photos and realized I didn’t have enough! So, here’s how it happened:

I chose an image for its simple compostion and how it captures the essence of a prickly pear.  I had a ton of other pictures, but none seemed simple enough for this painting.  I drew a sketch and decided to go with this image.

sketch on board

I love doing collage on wooden panels, but the surface needs to be primed before I start.  I use a gesso for acrylic paints to smooth the surface and make it easier to draw and paint.  After the surface was primed, I sketched out my cactus flower, deciding to zoom in from the original concept. I thought it might make the picture more dramatic to be closer in.

I started the underpainting which will act as a roadmap for the collage.  I chose purple for the background because it is opposite of yellow on the color wheel — and I just love this purple.

Finished underpainting

I decided to change the background to show sky and earth, but left a bit of purple showing through.  I painted the image to wrap around the sides as well as on the front.

First I had to choose what paper to use in the background.  Even though it will be almost impossible to tell what the original sources are when it’s all done, I like to choose carefully. I have pages from a Spanish-language tarot book (I chose to use the pages on the the card, El Sol.), sheets from a score of “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” , comics from The Tenessean from January 1978 , a map of Mexico and some groovy wrapping paper.

Stencilling paper with my right hand

Then I painted a very thin layer of purple on the pages intended for the background, and stencilled color in layers on top.

More layers of stencilling.  I like to use cosmetic sponges for the small stencils.

painting tissue

For the flowers, I decided to use gift tissue colored with watercolors.  I love the vibrant and unpredictable effects of watercolors on sheer tissue.

Gluing in the background

I start gluing down ripped pieces of colored paper, starting with the background. I use gel medium instead of ModPodge because it doesn’t wrinkle the paper and has a nice finish.

Then I glue down the next big element, the cactus.

Ripping paper

Ripping the tissue for the cactus blossom.  I just love the range of color from watercolor washes.

Each color is glued down with a brush.

More glue on the cactus

Finishing up gluing paper on the prickly pear blossom. I make sure to cover the sides as well.

painting needles

I use a henna coned filled with acrylic paint to put on the needles and final details.  I sign my name with a henna cone as well.

And here is the final painting of a prickly pear cactus.  5 x 7.  I used these photos in my application to Spanish Village Arts Center, and hopefully will know soon if I advance to the jury phase. It would be quite an honor to join the community of artists in Spanish Village.


  1. Thank you for sharing this process. It looks like very detailed work and I love how you explain how you went through the process. The end result is spectacular. I can’t stop looking at the prickly part of the pear. haha It looks 3D.

    1. Thanks so much, Lynda!! I appreciate that you enjoyed learning about the process. The end result is slightly raised and does have a 3D effect!

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