How The Desert Landscape Changed This Arizona Artist’s Work


Laurie Anne Gonzalez can credit painter, art instructor and television personality Bob Ross for her career choice. When she was 13 years old, her mother gifted her father Ross’ painting kit. But it was Gonzalez who benefited. “I got into it before he could!” she laughs. 

a woman in a blue shirt stands at an art table with landscape paintings behind her and a dog next to her

Artist Laurie Anne Gonzalez fell back in love with painting after moving to the Arizona desert and discovering the colors of her surroundings.

This early passion led to a degree in fine art from Auburn University and a career in oil painting. But the financial pressure to do commissions rather than explore her own ideas stymied her creativity. It was time to take a break. Five years later, she moved to Arizona and discovered an entirely different landscape. “There were colors everywhere,” she muses of the desert hues. The artist within Gonzalez was reborn, and she took a new approach. Instead of working on large, ponderous oil paintings, she opted instead for small acrylic landscapes. “I fell in love with painting again,” she says. 

Gonzalez creates palettes intuitively, using soft hues like sage, mustard and rose—colors, in other words, that aren’t typically seen in Southwestern art. From there, she paints on a tiny scale, usually 3 ½ inches by 5 ½ inches. For those who prefer a large-scale piece, she creates prints. Each painting is clearly a landscape, but it is also a little impressionistic and abstract. The result is dreamlike, more representational than photographic. “I see the environment in shapes and colors and compositions,” the artist explains. 

collection of various colored rocks in bowls on a table

Gonzalez’s process often begins with mementos such as photographs and rocks collected on various trips.

sketchbook with drawings of Maine and Cape Cod landscapes

Using travel as inspiration, Gonzalez often sketches before she begins painting.

hand holding a paintbrush above a small painting and tubes of pigment

While her paintings are clearly landscapes, Gonzalez takes a more abstract approach to them.

small acrylic landscape painting hanging behind a table with art supplies

At only 3 ½ inches by 5 ½ inches, Gonzalez's "tiny landscapes" veer away from the large oil paintings of her former career.

gallery wall of acrylic landscape paintings in muted greens, blues and yellows

The artist creates prints of her small-scale acrylics for those who want larger versions of the paintings.

Inspiration comes from her travels, such as a past visit to Saguaro National Park with her husband and their late dog Hazel, as well as trips to Greece, California and Oregon. But when it comes to the process of painting itself, Gonzalez doesn’t venture far. Working from her home studio, the artist’s approach varies. Often this means diving right in based simply upon her memories, but she also occasionally looks to photographs from her expeditions or sketches prior to starting a piece. 

It all happens in the company of their new dog, Oscar, and with no set schedule. “There are different types of artists,” she says. “There are those who work constantly and then there are painters like me who get inspired sporadically. My husband knows to bring me food and water, leave me alone with Love Island and let me knock out 30 paintings.”