Carmen Lomas Garza: Watercolor cactus

Carmen Lomas Garza is a Latina narrative artist who created images about the everyday events in the lives of Mexican Americans based on her memories and experiences in South Texas. Although she wouldn't be considered a "modern artist" because of the time period in which she was working, I thought it was important to share with the students that Garza validated styles classified as "folk art", and that her imagery was powerful, even in it's simplicity.

I was inspired by one of her pieces, Prickly Pear/ A little piece of my heart because of it's illustrative quality. For this project, I kept the materials to a minimum, so that the students could really explore the creative and technical skills they've acquired while working with paint and color pencils.

  • Hand out 9 X 12 sheets of Bristol board or Canson watercolor paper. When you are using a wet medium and applying a dry one, you need a paper that can hold up. A floppy piece of construction paper/poster board/drawing paper will simply not do.
  • I had several pictures of different varieties of cactus and I showed them to the students, so they would be inspired by all the shapes and colors. They picked their favorite and completed a light sketch.
  • Remind students that whenever they are going to use watercolor, any/all of their pencil lines will show through. So they should practice with a light hand.
  • After students completed their sketch, they painted their cacti using watercolor paint.
  • Once that was dry, they painted a watercolor wash over the background, using several different colors, to give it a rich look.
  • I handed out prismacolor pencils to the students so that they could enhance the shape of their cactus. Forget using cheap student grade color pencils. All they will do is break down your paper and possible create holes. You will never get any sort of vibrant color from them so toss them out and invest in a good quality student grade and/or artist grade set from Dick Blick. Personally, I am a loyal fan of Prismacolor pencils, but I understand that they are a little too pricey for the classroom. I've had a set for the past fifteen years that are still in great condition.
  • Last step is to give the watercolor a tactile edge by cutting out pieces of scrapbooking paper to create the spines/thorns of the cactus. Encourage students to be very sparing of the glue, or else they will make a mess! I prefer stick glue to liquid.
The artwork above was created by a fifth grader.

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