Desert Vibrations

I consider myself a child of the desert, though my family relocated from Tucson, AZ to the Midwest when I was young.  When I returned in my late teens I knew I was truly home, for this is where I breathe most freely.  The Arizona Sonoran Desert is my sanctuary and serves as a creative muse to me.  I realize I'm certainly not the first to write about how landscape and geography serve as creative fodder, or even about how the desert in particular is inspirational. But as a fourth generation desert dweller and metalsmith jeweler in love with the unique place I call home, here is my perspective.

I am not a botanist, a geographer, or a historian.  I am an artist.  I look at the light, shapes, and colors that surround me and use them to inform my work.  I can't impress with the Latin names of cacti or fascinate you with facts about how the land was formed, but I know what I see.  It's captivating and a little magical. 

There is an elusive quality to desert light that is hard to describe.  Is it the intense white light of summer that is exceptional, or the milder welcome light of winter?  Regardless, when combined with the expansiveness of the sky and the sweeping vistas, the light is remarkable.  Stark contrasts abound and shadows play, creating ever-changing shapes and graphic lines.  In the Tucson valley where I live, the hulking mountains meet the horizon to produce shifting shadow, light, and line.  Abstract design elements are constant and inspiration is often as easy to find as looking out my studio window or going for a walk.  

The author, environmental activist, and lover of desert wilderness Edward Abbey wrote, " The extreme clarity of the desert light is equaled by the extreme individuation of desert life."  Indeed it is home to teeming hidden insect and animal life.  But the botanicals speak the loudest to me.  I am drawn to the elemental geometric forms of cacti and succulents.  Simplicity of line and shape are implicit in the sculptural shapes of prickly pear, cholla, golden barrel, ocotillo and the iconic saguaro.  When the goal of Modernist design is to strip away that which is not essential, it is easy to understand how it thrived in the desert.  I love the marriage of modern and southwestern elements.

The desert is not devoid of color. I always joke about being from a dusty brown town, but in the springtime the desert is filled with the riotous colors of wildflowers and the neon bursts of cacti blooms.  After the summer rains it becomes a textured sage green quilt. Between the blue of the sky and the light olive of a prickly pear cactus pad, it's hard to say which is my favorite!  I think that's why I love working with glass enamel;  I can add color to metal whenever I want.  And of course the desert is home to the best sunsets (and sunrises) in the world, especially on those infrequent cloudy days.  A nightly visual feast that never gets old. 

I can be contacted via @littletorodesigns on Instagram, at, and through my website


Grace Gulley