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Art of Succulents: Nancy’s Gift

November 6, 2009
un dia nublado

'Un Dia Nublado' for Nancy

When my friend and co-worker, Jim, asked me if I would paint a gift for his wife Nancy’s birthday, I readily agreed. And then I froze inside: I hadn’t painted anything in over two years and I wondered if I still could. The brief Jim gave me was that the painting should include a succulent and be in the vibrant, colorful style of other paintings I’d done, which Nancy liked very much. As I posted earlier, this caused me to look at those earlier paintings for inspiration, hoping to re-kindle that urge I felt when I created them. I kept looking at them, too… waiting for that feeling to come over me again. In the meantime I spent lots of time looking at, and taking pictures of, just the right succulent to paint. I settled on a large agave attenuata, it being one of the most fun to paint with its wide, fleshy leaves and sensuous green/blue color. I posted about the earlier paintings and to my surprise Nancy read it and left a comment saying she loved my work! Little did she know the commission I referred to in the post was for her birthday gift — this really made me both happy and nervous — I had to be sure I created something she’d enjoy as much as those earlier pieces. But wait, the painting was being difficult!

See, every time I paint something I have first a burst of energy and optimism, that “Wow, I can really do this!” feeling. Only thing is, very soon after that I have a “Oh, man, I suck, and I’ve ruined this one!” feeling and I want to destroy what I’ve done and start over. This time was no different and I wanted to call Jim and tell him all hope was lost and it wasn’t happening, maybe he’d have time to get Nancy something really nice in its stead. But I didn’t and kept working and working till I loved it. Then, I showed it to Paul and his reaction was “… you’re still gonna work on it, right?” Ack! Now came complete deflation and terror, because the deadline was just a few days away … I took a deep breath, looked at the piece some more and came up with that last element that brought the piece around to where I loved it again. I knew it was ready for presentation to Nancy. The day had finally arrived, I brought the piece in and handed it off to Jim. And waited to see what Nancy’s response would be the next day… and, she loved it … Happy birthday, Nancy!


Scratching adds a final 'pop' of color and dimension

Nancy’s painting is acrylic and Prismacolor pencil on gessoed wood panel and incorporates a technique called sgraffito. The word is based on the Italian for scratch, and it’s a technique used widely during the Renaissance in both Italy and Germany. It’s also akin to that fun technique we learned in kindergarten where a drawing is done with different crayon colors, painted over with ink or black paint and then designs are scratched into the blackness to reveal the colors undereneath. Using the sgraffito technique I was able to add that last bit of dimension to the piece by scratching down to the base color, a bright orange. This served to both outline and add highlights on both the large agave and the little boy’s face.

If you’d like to commission a piece for yourself or someone else, please leave a comment.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Nancy Rivera Brooks permalink
    November 6, 2009 7:55 pm

    The photos don’t do justice to this amazing painting. The vibrant colors… the depth… the boy’s mesmerizing, ambiguous expression. Best gift ever!
    Thanks so much, Reuben.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      November 6, 2009 8:04 pm

      Glad to have done it for you, Nancy, thanks!

  2. susanna permalink
    November 8, 2009 1:52 am


  3. tia permalink
    January 2, 2010 2:29 am

    The painting is gorgeous.

    • reubix1 permalink*
      January 2, 2010 4:42 am

      Thanks, Tia … hope the new year’s doing well by you!

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