Texas Wildflower Series: Mexican Hat and Texas Thistle


Texas Thistle, 7×5″, oil
These are part of the Texas Wildflower Series of paintings (oil, 7×5″). They are painted on location and, if needed, finished back at the house. To select posts of only this series, click on the “Texas Wildfower Series” in the category links either above or below this post.

The first of the day was the Texas Thistle. It grows to about three feet and you may notice a huge white, fluffy ball about the size of a baseball when it’s releasing its seeds. While painting this, a hummingbird flew in and spent a minute or two checking out all the little florets, so if you’re one of those that like the hummingbirds on their spring migration, you might wait to chop this plant down until they pass through. 

These are pretty easy to paint, being just a poof of purple-pink with highlights in the sun’s direction. Great flower to start off with if you’re wanting to paint wildflowers. I was lucky to find these with a huge clump of vines on a fence behind it, providing a dark background to really make the light of the flower stand out. It has prickly leaves, like those on a Holly Bush, but if you just make sweeping brush strokes to points along the leaf, it’s not hard at all and there’s very few of them near the flowers. By the way, if ranchers drive by looking at you in bewilderment, it’s because these are a pest in their fields and they won’t understand why in the heck you’d want to paint it. 

Mexican Hat, 7×5″, oil

The second of the day was a “Mexican Hat”. I was hiking down the road to find a ranch scene with distant views, huge oaks and cattle, but this flower was backlit from the sun in tall grass and really caught my eye. The unexpected surprises are the best ones. I’ve been having trouble getting the transparent yellows and reds to show up bright over a dark background. It ends up dull and muddy. I finally figured out I can wipe off the dark background to the white of the gesso and lay the red/yellow over that like a glaze. The light hits the pigment from the back and front making it appear to glow. Very cool effect! It must work, because another hummingbird flew in and only realized up close its not a flower. Best compliment I could get! Oh, and for the fun fact about this plant (odd), the “Zuni” people made a syrup from it to induce vomiting. Thanks, Wikipedia. 


Texas Wildflower Series: Prairie Nymph


“Prarie Nymph” (5×7″, oil on masonite)
About the flower: This is the “Prairie nymph”, my 6th of the Texas Wildflower Series. It’s a part of the iris family and it pops up just above the grass line with its unusual three pedals. Somehow, this flower will know it’s about 9am and open up from a tight, curled up ball, bask all day, then around 5:30-6pm, close up for the night. It happens pretty quickly, so I’ll try to set my iPhone on timelapse (1 hr sped up to 1 min) next time I see one.  

Notes of the day: Finally it was a sunny day and perfect temps after almost a week of clouds and rain. I was at work, but found open times to get the brushes flying. I began around noon, so the sun was directly above with the pedals shading the stems and grasses under it. I scumbled in a light watered-down background of greens, blues, browns and just finished adding in the pedals before getting back to work. By the time work was done, the flowers had bundled up, so I made my best guess by looking at the grasses and other little small, ground cover weeds around it. Not ideal, but it was enough to capture the feel of it. My top priority was keeping the pedals lighter then the grasses to stand out, but maintaining some balance with highlights of green here and there.  When finishing up, I paid attention to the edges of the pedals, softening up those receding and sharpening those coming out towards me. Felt so good to paint again. Sometimes that last 10% of effort to “finish” a painting makes all the difference. I have such a hard time knowing when to stop, but I backed up and it just felt like it did when looking them in real life; not too bright, but noticeably unusual. 

Texas Wildflower: Tickseed

Here’s another one for the Texas Wildflower Series. This flower, called “Tickseed” is a flower that grows so thick, it can blanket an entire field. This was located in Columbus, TX on the property of another artist I’m helping with a project. It’s an herb, but unfortunately she said it stinks like something rotten when she mows. 

As for the painting side of learning to use oils, I found out he hard way yellows are semi-transparent. I layered that cadmium yellow hue so thick, it wouldn’t even stick anymore, but found I had to let it dry at the house and add more layers a couple of days later. I think next time, I’ll just wipe off the underpainting to the white surface where the pedals go beforehand. 

Onto the next!

Plein air: Weimar, TX 


texas or indian paintbrush (5×7″, oil)
blue-eyed grass (5×7″, oil)
These are part of the “Texas Wildflowers Series”. You’ll see a category link at the top or bottom of these articles. When you click this, it will spit out only the articles in this series. 

The top sketch is the “Indian Paintbrush”. I also saw it was renamed “Texas Paintbrush” (by Texas) as a more politically correct name. Sorry, Lousiana.  Also, Indians don’t use them to paint. As a fun fact, the roots tap into the neighbor’s roots and steal nutients. Reminds me of how back country college students in East Texas often tap into the TV cable/internet line of the parents house and then bury the cable because it illegal, right Jeremy?

As a painter, it was very hard to paint! Adding white to red makes pink, and yet somehow the actual flower is both bright and very red. The pure, rich color was impossible to match, so I made the background super dark green and smeared on the petals with as much pure pigment as possible to make them appear bright and luminescent. As is often the case, it’s hard to even get close to what nature presents us with. 

The second painting is called “blue-eyed grass”, which forms in a clumps. It’s said that it’s useful as a laxitive and treats diarrhea, so… good luck with those odds. 

These flowers would be a great introduction to painting flowers en plein air. The grass and flower are both relatively easy to color match and paint. It’s also a great lesson in using light and dark color in the flowers to show the roundness of the clump. The only trick is patience. That’s a lot of flowers. 

Onto the next one!

Another study for a Wildflower Series.


Texas Roadside Lilies 5×7″, oil on masonite
plein air work (unfinished)
It’s been a rainy season in Texas and the wildflowers are popping up everywhere along the roads. After doing several studies like this, I figured I’d turn into a series, this being the third. These lilies (I’m guessing that’s what they are), stood about 1-2 feet tall and are the flowers spread out about 3-4″; enough to catch your eye driving by at 40mph. It actually looks cultivated, but I’ve seen them in several random places near water, so I’m guessing they’re ” wild”. Either way, they were a fun little study for the oil paints. I couldn’t decide what to do about the background while out there, so I just packed up my gear and headed back for lunch. I tried extending the busy foreground behind the flowers, hoping the simple white colors would stand out. Not sure it worked or not, but this is when it’s good to just put it away and take it out later to see it with fresh eyes. 

Well, the suns about to set and I want to catch the “golden hour” for a study of the huge oaks here!


Plein Air: Weimar, TX (“Gracie’s Lantanas”)



picture taken indoors (no glare)
 In my grandmother’s backyard is a Lantana bush that was just about knee height with 4 fours in 2012. I had planted a garden there to fend off boredom while I went through chemo and left this little sprig alone. It obviously loves it there and is now a 6′ by 5′ bush sprawling out everywhere.

It was a perfectly lit, halfway out of the shadows, which really made the flowers and leaves pop out. Although painting flowers doesn’t really inspire me, it’s perfect to learn from. The flowers are pure, saturated color, which makes it easier to mix up greyed out (or “muted”) color for the leaves. I decided to go darker for the shadows, rather than try to suggest much there. My main goal was to learn brushwork.

Hopefully, I’ll be comfortable enough to start doing some landscape studies with old barns and cattle. The spring greens and golden color of the molting oak trees are hard to resist!

Plein Air: Nolenville, TX with Oils!


“Roadside Daisies” 5×7″ oil
This will be a quick note, but I got so tired of fighting with the acrylics drying and fading yesterday, I decided to test out some water soluble oils with a simple subject. It’s a lot different, but I love not having to rush to get the paint smeared on only to return to a dried pile of mix. I may return to acrylics at some point when I need to, but it’s a nice break. It seems that the oil blends so much better, I may be able to reach another level of expression in the subtle variations of cool and warm grays. I found a way to store wet panels very cheaply, and will show this in the next post. Can’t wait to get back out and try again!!