What's New for December, 2017

Most of December was spent on one huge commissioned portrait and as it is a surprize for the client's wife, I cannot post it here just yet. Consequently, I do not have too much to show this time. But I can show the portrait of George below, another commission. This was quite a challenge as it was a posthumous portrait and good photo reference was difficult to find. So often the photos available in these cases are slightly out of focus and nearly always taken with a flash, the worst light to paint from. But this particular pose was exactly what the client, his widow, wanted and she was extremely happy with it. She said, I'll feel like I'm getting a hug whenever I look at it and that will make me very happy.

The latest painting of Maia is a favorite of mine. She is a lively, very bright and warm-hearted young girl. From the first time we met we seemed to have a bond, though she was only 5 then (now 8). She LOVES to draw and I consider her my honorary granddaughter. As long as we live near each other, I think I will paint her for the rest of my life.

With Maia last summer. Thank you to her mother for this photo.


The painting below was the first one I did of her shortly after we met. I have really enjoyed watching her grow and it will be fun to document that growth throughout her years through past and future paintings.

What's New for November, 2017

I like paintings that have some mystery or possibly an open narrative for which people can make up their own stories. The danger in this one is only apparent if you know that those are lightning rods that she holding while in the midst of a storm. In reality, I only have one such lightning rod and so I had to move it around the model and then combine those photos together with others of sky and mountains to put this all together.

As you can see, we had her mother postition her other hand as if there was another lightning rod there. Also, I set a fan on high to blow the robe while the lightning rod itself was placed on top of a box to give it the elevation I wanted. Later the fan was moved higher so it would blow her hair. Of the hundreds of photos I took, I selected the best for each hand, robe and face and then sorted through hundreds of other photos I have of clouds and mountains for the best possible image.

Laguna Beach, California has been considered an artist's colony since the early 1900s.  And no wonder with the great canyon vistas nearby as well as wonderful coastal views. This particular spot is right across the road from a group of artist's studios and thus the name. There are a lot of galleries in Laguna and I am proud to be in one of the best- The Vanessa Rothe Fine Art Gallery where this painting is available.   www.vanessarothefineart.com

One of the people attending the Vermont workshop last month brought along her husband, a real character named, Bob. He often kept us entertained at meals with his sharp wit. One of the attendees asked if we could paint him so he agreed to pose at least for photos, one of which I thought looked like a Rembrandt style of lighting.

Last March, while in AZ, I saw this woman with her horse at a park and (with her permission) took some photos. About the same time I was asked by a gallery owner in Virginia to send some of my work to them, mentioning that Virginia is horse country, especially with English saddles. So the two worked hand in hand. This painting is available now at the Berkley Gallery in Warrenton, VA. www.berkleygallery.com

I was commisioned to paint the town square of Haverhill, NH by a man who grew up there. Originally, it was to be from somewhere right on the common. But when I realized I could see it all spread out from a spot across the river in Vermont, I bounced this idea off of the client. It couldn't have worked out better as in this picture he could see his whole childhood; the house in which he grew up and where his mother still lives, the home of his girlfriend whom eventually he would marry, the restaraunt where he had his first job, the school he attended and the whole area where he played as a kid. I had to make five trips to this place to get the right lighting and to get the foliage at its peak.

I very rarely paint the same scene twice and when I do, I will do it in a different size or format. And that is the case here. A couple years ago, I shot the photo I used as reference at sunrise on the meadow in front of our house on longest day of the year. I loved how the rising, orange sun is filtered through the trees as a spot of warmth amidst all the cool blues, greens and violets of the meadow, trees and fog.

People in California refer to highways as simply "the 405" or "the 22" and so it is with the Laguna Canyon Highway as "the 133, shown a bit at the extreme left. When I am in that state, this is a place I frequent for inspiration as it runs through Laguna Canyon. This work is also available at Vanessa Rothe Fine Art in Laguna.    www.vanessarotherfineart.com

What's New for October, 2017

In October, with all of the toursists who come in, it is harder to work on larger paintings. So I usually do a series of small ones, 8x10 or smaller that I can knock out quickly. I really enjoyed doing a series of old copper tea kettles.

I've been wanting to paint this nearby round barn for years but it seemed every time I went there the conditions were bad, mostly due to light. But this year I hit it just right with the light and foliage all coming together.

I have said many times before that inspiration is monumental to me and some of that came when I met this young lady when Julie and I went to a movie. She is only 12, but carries herself with a grace that is well beyond her years. Tall and slender with big eyes, great complexion and interesting hair, I immediately wanted to paint her. Of course, it is imperitive to approach potential models correctly so I gave her a card and asked her to have her mother call me. It was a terrific to find that her mother was familiar with my work and both she and her daughter, Jessie, were eager to have her pose.

I was amazed during the photo shoot she could look 12 in some shots and yet early 20s in others. I did several small paintings of her in about 10 days and know more will come in the future.

What's New for September, 2017

I picked up an old curio cabinet at an antique store last month and thought I could use it as a frame. The idea then evolved to thinking it could frame two paintings that would relate to each other. So I photographed a great, new model, Molly, with a hood shading her eyes for a look of mystery on the front. Then for inside, I had her pulling the hood back to reveal her beuatiful eyes and face. To be effective, it had to be lit from inside or it would be to dark. So after much work and even more frustration, I finally was able to attach a small light under the front, top surface and hook it to a button to light up the inside as soon as the door was opened. I am very happy with how this came out. So much so that I may take it home and hang it there.

And here are better pictures  of the paintings themselves. I really like how her eyes are just barely visible in the shadows of the top one and LOVE how everything came out in the lower one.

I love it when collectors become friends and in this case even models! Bill is Tootsie Roll Pop. He is hard on the outside, maybe even intimidating. But he has a gooey center with a soft heart. One might think that is why I named this painting "The Other Side of Bill". And it is, partially. A while back I shot several photos of him from which to paint and soon after, I did one of him looking off to the viewer's left. Last month, I did this one where he is looking the other way, or the other side of Bill's face. Either way, that is a great chiseled face to paint. I especially like the cool light coming from one side while warm light comes from the other and to get this, I placed him in a corner of a room with windows on either side, more direct, warmer light coming from the right.

I really enjoy painting winter scenes. Snow is so much easier to paint than grass and weeds. But I usually paint snow in direct sunlight. On an overcast day colors are much more muted and it has a somewhat subdued feeling. With that in mind, I wanted to create an inviting feeling of warnth by having some lights from incandescent bulbs spill out from both the barn and the farmhouse behind. It gives the impression that someone is there and provides a place of comfort from the cold. In the photo I worked from no lights were on anywhere and it felt dead.

This time of year, with so many tourists coming for the fall foliage, I like to have several small autumn paintings ready. So the last month I have done several new ones. Some artists would consider this selling out; doing what the public wants just to make a sale. I guess I would agree with that, if I didn't really enjoy painting them. And in addition to being an artist, I am a businessman and what wise retail business person does not provide what their customers want? So here are the new ones.

I'm happy to say this one already sold.

And finally, one more portrait. On this one I had planned to do a complete finished painting but when I got about ot this point, it occurred to me that the looseness and spontaneity of all but the face felt right. Still, I wanted to push on and "finish" it. But I have learned from many times in the past, when I hear that voice in my head, I should listen. Virtually every time I deny it, I regret it. Glad I did here. So far the voices in my head have not been dangerous....

What's New for August, 2017

Here's an example of how I revise a photo to make a better painting. Rarely does the actual scene look just right in all aspects.

-The farmhouse is blue in reality but that made it almost disappear into the shade of the trees. So I made it white and gave the barn a bit more color as well.

-I eliminated the barn at the far left as it demanded too much attention which I didn't want drawn away from the focal point (the farmhouse).

-The creek looked like a blob so I gave it some more shape curving it back into the painting.

- I preferred the rail at the bottom to be wood instead of metal and turned it to follow the road which I also reshaped to lead your eye into the scene.

- I added a tree in the lower right so that the foreground as a whole would be less symetrical.

- I generally lightened and brightened the whole thing to give a more atmospheric, colorful look; mostly with blues and violets.

-With all those cool colors I wanted something a little hotter so I added a few dots of red and orange back by the farmhouse as if there were some flowers there.

- I considered making it look like one light was on in the house but this can be a crutch and if too often used can be too formualic. So instead I put a wisp of smoke coming out of the chimney to make it look like someone was home.


I'm allowed to do all this because I recently had my Artistic License renewed.

I posed this beautiful young lady looking into an antique mirror from the 1830s. Then I removed the mirror and painted on a panel exactly the same size. When finished, I put the panel in place of the mirror so now the mirror in the painting serves as it's own frame.

I'm doing this with other "frames" too. Like the one below which had held a photo since the 1920s. I've also used other shaving mirrors, a fireplace screen and clock cases to frame new paintings.

At the same time I posed the girl looking into the mirror, I also got some other good reference shots of her and in this case, thought I'd show the process to get to the final of a quick study. Here I used a toned panel and painted directly onto it without doing any pencil drawing first. In this method, I make corrections as I go. this is called the Alla Prima method where it is all done in one sitting.

I also wanted to do a larger piece with this model. I gave her some extra space here as I liked the feeling of openness. It also gives the impression of being in an empty room by yourself. (at least to me).

And speaking of empy, open space- the photo for this was taken years ago in Vermont as the sun rose and burned off the fog. I photographed the sun rising in one spot and then drove into a valley where the hills covered the sun. I got to watch it rise again in a few minutes.

Some of you may recognize Allie from some past paintings. At thirteen, she has a perfect, glowing complexion and beautiful hair. And all this color in her face with NO makeup at all! Because of this, I wanted to try to portray that radiance and the best way to do it is with the grisaille method. The painting is completely done in black and white first and then several layers of transparent glazed color are applied over it, day after day after day. The result gives a softness and depth that cannot be achieved with the Alla Prima style.


The first day I began work on this I happened to put on a soundtrack by Mark McKenzie, the second track of which fit the painting perfectly. It became forever associated with the painting in my mind, they are inseparable. To hear the music and see the process, please click or copy the link below to watch a very short film I made.



I had her family come into the gallery for an unveiling at which time I put on that music and turned off all lights other than a spot on the painting. Here they are as they saw it for the first time. Her grandmother cried and her mom was "very emotional" seeing it. Her grandfather "couldn't stop talking about it the whole way home."

And true to her nature, Allie was very quiet throughout but the smile may have given her away. She will turn up again in my work. She is a joy to paint!

I have painted this historic farm in our town several times in the past; the home, their cows, the barn, etc. The house was built in 1807 and direct descendants of the builder still live there. I mentioned that I want to be careful turning lights on on houses but this one really needed the warmth, both in color (yellow-orange) and the feeling of an oasis of heat in all that cold outside.



In August, I did a series of very small portrait studies; doing them quickly on a burnt sienna-toned panel. I was happy with how all of them came out and will continue to do more. Something about the paint on that surface and tone really made the colors strong. This was the best of the bunch, I think.

What's New for July, 2017

I recently came across some old pictures I took late in the day (with that great low-angled light) of some cows here in Bath, NH. The quality of the photos was pretty bad but there was enought there from which to try to make a couple paintings. I really enjoy painting dairy cows and people seem to like buying them so it works out well.

While in Arizona last March, I met and photographed the daughter of artist Mark Goodson and I liked how she looked in the pictures but the background (a parking lot) was so lifeless that it was hard to be inspired by it. Then I tried some other backgrounds and when I dropped this one in, taken in Nebraska years ago, it suddenly changed everything. Now instead of a girl in a parking lot she was a runaway, lost in a vast landscape and at the same time angry, uncertain and scared. For me, at least, it immediately created a story and that made all the difference.

While in California recently I wanted to paint one of a relative's roses, being inspired by the amazing floral paintings of artist friend Diane Reeves. Trying to catch the effects of light as it filters through petals is a nice challenge.

I've had this broken clock (with a faded scene of Washington's home- Mount Vernon) for several years always intending to make it work again. Then the other day I saw it differently. Still wanting to keep the Washington theme, I found a great profile of him by J.C. Leyendecker and painted a copy in the size of the clock face. Then I found a facsimile signature online and traded that out for the faded picture at the bottom, cleaned up the wood and hung it. I like repurposing antiques as frames for paintings and have done it with other clock cases as well as mirror frames and a fireplace screen.

Once or twice a summer the meadow out in front of our home gets hayed. It happens very quickly, sometimes being cut, raked, baled and trucked off in the same day! So when it happens I like to catch it and for me at least, there is something very bucolic and somehow comforting about such scenes of working farms. Combine it with a steeple and a big cloud and you've got a pretty traditional New England view.

I am so honored to be given the opportunity to paint a client's four grandchildren. I'll just show this one as an example. It will be a wonderful addition to their walls for now and an heirloom for future generations. While all could be combined into one painting, I like the fact that years from now, each of them will be able to have their own painting and pass it down.

On my recent helicopter flight (see Main Page) I got some wonderful views of the Connecticut River Valley which separates New Hampshire from Vermont. It afforded an incredible new perspective of places I have driven past for years and I got a whole new appreciation for the local beauty. this is the first painting to come from the many photos I took while leaning out the open door.

What's New for June, 2017

More Shots from "The People in Your Neighborhood" Show of Portraits

I began painting Miranda when she was about 15 and since then I have painted her a total of 38 times! The one shown here, "Miranda Catches a Bowl of Moonlight" is her all-time favorite. Her husband, Jason, is a more recent model and is shown above with a beard. Both are terrific people as well as excellent and inspirational models.

A natural beauty, Allie has posed several times in the last year including this, my faovorite of her. She has so much wonderful color in her face and uses no makeup whatsoever!

A big thank you to Fahlen who drove more than four hours (to and from) to be at the show.  That's her in the paintings on either side. I really appreciate all the models who came and especially appreciate the inspiration they bring. Inspiration is like life to me and I am honored to get to paint so many great and interesting people.

More from "Pieces of a Dream"

When the "Dreamscape" series ran in the Orange County Register Newspaper it was a contest for our readers. Using the three "clues" of the illustration, title and caption they wrote their own stories and submitted them. We would then publish the five best with a photo of the top writer. It proved to be the most successful reader response project in the long history of that paper, with more than 9,000 stories submitted over the course of the entire series!

The Latest Paintings (June)

Some of you may recall from last month that I am trying to use more paint and paint a little looser. Here is a case in point. I met Chloe and her mom in Scottsdale last March and was able to set up a modeling session from which several paintings have already come. Recently her mother bought Chloe's favorite of the bunch to give to her for her birthday. (shown below). That's a pretty nice gift. You'll be seeing Chloe again in the future I'm sure.

There are some themes that crop up for artists and become trendy things to paint. For example, the head of a cow looking straight at you or a highly polished Airstream trailer. Once I have seen them a few times, even though they may be something I'd like to paint, I stay away, having a disdain for trends. But this one I couldn't resist. A lot of artists have painted a woman, as seen from behind, with a kimono falling off her shoulders while adjusting her hair and now there's one more. While I feel I should apologize to my own sensibilities, I have to admit, I really like this painting and in particular, her right hand.

Someties I read where artists say "This place doesn't really exist;I made it up." That always confused me knowing that you need some kind of reference from which to paint. Originally, this painting had the true background which was a nondistinct hill and a lot of foliage and weeds in the middle ground. But once it was done, it really needed a focal point and some simplification. So I replaced the hill with a rocky outcropping as the sun got low and made a meadow of the middle ground. The result is a much better painting with foreground trees from New Hampshire and a meadow and mountain from Colorado. Maybe this is what those other artists meant when they made up a painting.

Last year we visited Bar Harbor and saw a thick fog in the morning adding a sense of mystery to everything. This makes for a very subtle piece and one that will not appeal to most viewers, I'd guess. I did add a couple small lights on the ship to create a focal point and add something with a warm color amidst all the cool nuetrals.

This is similar to a painting I did years ago and I wanted to revist it with some changes. Originally, I had planned to place her in front of an air show or air race poster but all that I tried made the painting far too busy and the subject got lost amongst it all. So I put her in her element; the sky. To me, it has the feeling of an old heroic illustration and I'm just fine with that. Thank you to Hannah who never fails to give me just the look I'm after. She was an art and theater major and the two are a perfect combination.


What's New for May, 2017

I am doing a series on young ladies with a 1920-30s kind of feeling. Another may be a cowgirl and a third an aviatrix. I should be able to show those next month. The one above is largely thanks to Ebay from whom I got nearly this entire outfit. Picasso said, "Good artists borrow, great artists, steal." and while I'm not claiming to be a great artist, I will say I stole the idea of this pose from my friend Curt Mattson, a sculptor. He did the same thing in bronze; life size though his was a cowgirl. Thanks, Curt!

Occasionally, I will trade another artist his work for mine. For his nice figurative piece that I got, I painted his wife and new son, Leonardo. I love adding to my collection in this manner. Of the many photos we took for this painting, he and I both felt this pose seemed the best with the calm feeling that runs through it.

I don't often post commissioned work but this one was so special that I had to. Reid is a unique girl, so friendly, bubbly and intelligent. And such a cute face! I felt bad that the only opportunity to photograph her came on a day when she didn't feel well so while I don't feel like this captures her personality, it does get a bit of her beauty.

For years I have struggled with what direction to take my work. Do I want to paint very tight or do I want to be bolder and really loosen up? I have gone back and forth many times as I love both styles and frankly, the bolder approach is harder for me. But it is the more exciting from my point of view. So near the end of the month, I tried, in a series of very small pieces to really let go and not be so careful. I understand that many will not like these as much as the tighter ones they are used to seeing from me but I need to do this to grow. My apologies to those of you who may be disappointed.

This was the most successful of those attempts as well as the fastest and most fun. I gave myself an hour to do it and was finished in 40 minutes. The small size and so much of the area being nearly black helped speed that process. But if I did this painting four times larger, I should use brushes four times bigger too and so with that in mind, it should still only take 40 minutes.

A friend came into the gallery and took some photos of me at work. (Go to the home page to see one). He is a terrific photographer and got one of the few photos of me that I have ever liked. I loved the natural light coming in from the window at the gallery while I sat at the easel. So I did a quick little one from that. Thank you, Stephen Restelli! On a strange side note- I met Stephen a couple years ago at a car show. It turns out he found his first car after decades of missing it. I did too. We are both about the same age,  heighth and very similar in appearance. We both love art and photography. We both used to live in Orange County, California. I worked at the OC Register Newspaper there. He delivered it as a kid!

This is the second painting of Chloe whom I met in Scottsdale. I felt like her look demanded a different type of painting, both here and in the future. In this particular pose, I could immediately  see an image of her reclining in a landscape and so decided to combine her image with a couple paintings I had done before. And the timing could not have been better. Just a couple weeks later I decided to make a new book of paintings that would show examples of past portraits as well as landscapes and what could be better for the cover than one that combined both.

Years ago, when I worked for the Orange County Register Newspaper, I had a series called "Dreamscape" which combined an image, a title and a caption. These seemed to indicate a story but the story was up to our readers to write. And they did. For the nearly 40 chances we gave them over 20 years, they wrote and mailed in nearly 9,000 stories. We would print the five best the month after each first appeared. Here's one of my favorite examples.

These paintings usually combined several photos that I already had on hand. So for example, the two in front came form a photo I had of my kids during a picnic (though I added the blindfold). The diver is Greg Luganis from a picture I took when he competed in Irvine, CA (again with an addded blindfold). The distant mountains were from a picture I took from out backyard when we lived in Colorado. The three guys in back were playing a different game at that same picnic; I just added a hoop and the calves and feet of the diver who had just gone through and into the quicksand. I wanted airships in the sky for an ominous feeling so I bought a model of one, built it and photographed it for this purpose. I always loved the surreal in art and in the coming year I plan to return to some of this. Maybe a "Dreamscape" Book might be fun!

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© Craig Pursley, Artist