What's New for November, 2020

One of my mentors strongly encouraged me NOT to paint these backlit portraits and I am doing fewer of them. But I admit I love the contrast and the drama they create so for at least the time being, I will continue to some point. 

Here's a challenging commission recently finished. The photo was sharp but black and white and that means I have to imagine coloration.

I was so honored to be asked to paint this historic old home in a town nearby. The first part of it was built in 1768 and the barn around 1820. Most of the original features are still in there and it has been very well cared for. At one point it was a stage coach stop and an inn for travelers. The coachmen slept on the rafters in the attic. Someone scratched their name in the plaster in 1838 and it is stll readable today. It has a beautiful and commanding view of the Connecticut Rivder Valley. Years ago a boy was hired to sit in the tiny room behind the middle window in front (2nd floor) just to watch for the stage or travelers coming across from Vermont on a crossing on the river. 

I am continuing with the nostalgic, old magazine covers and having a great time with it. I guess I am still an illustrator at heart. The model for the one above is Genevieve who at 14, is an amazing painter herself. I am currently mentoring her and her sister. See main page for more on them. The model below many of you will recognize as Hannah, a favorite model for the past 4 years. This one is about the 70th time I have painted her. And by the way, her attitude is nothing like the woman in the painting. But she is capable, even excellent at becoming whatever look is asked of her. She has been a femme fatale, a cowgirl, and aviatrix, a pinup girl and a girl next door. She was perfect of all of them. She had never modeled before the first time she posed for me. She's a natural.

Isaac has the perfect look of a cocky airman from the Second World War. He is the brother of the girls I am mentoring and part of a wonderful family!

This will not be a popular painting and one that I doubt will ever sell. Overcast paintings rarely are or do. But it marks an improvemt in style for me. It is looser, done with a bigger brush (at least to start) and is a step in the right direction, especially in terms of edges (softer). I will try to carry these things over to future paintings that will be "prettier."

Hannah is also in the family mentioned earlier with the sisters whom I am mentoring. Four months ago she and most of her family came in the gallery and I wanted to paint all of them! And then I found how gifted two of them are. Hannah often naturally took this stance as she talked and I wanted to paint it in particular. She came with this striking black dress to a photo session and with the addition of a black vintage hat, made for an interesting painting.

What's New for October, 2020

While setting up a photo shoot for a future painting with her younger sisters, Monique (at 13, the younger of the two I am mentoring) came in this dress and together with her usual stance of arms crossed at the wrists, I thought it was worth a painting of its own. I found out a couple weeks later that it would be the dress she would wear to her Confirmation and so that became the title.

You may recall the painting recently with a smiling girl holding a Coke. I thought that would make a fun series with products as if they were old ads. So I bought a couple outfits on eBay with that in mind, including this great old majorette uniform. Then I heard that even without making prints, I could be sued by Coca-Cola or whatever product. So I shifted gears. I can still do these paintings as long as I use products that no longer exist or, as in this case, defunct magazines.

The sisters (above) that I have been mentoring have had an impact beyond the life they brought to the gallery and as models. They especially enjoy painting land and seascapes reminiscent of the old Luminist style, popular from 1850-75. And it has reawakened that interest in me as well. This is the best of the two that I did in October.

Sophie came into the gallery with her parents and before they left had agreed to model for this painting. I loved the look of the big glasses and bangs! You may see her again someday.


What's New of September. 2020

The portraits above and below are the two sisters whom I am currently mentoring. It has been wonderful helping them advance their skills as wll as getting to know their personalities. Genevieve, the older (by a year) is such a kind and gentle young lady and I have seen her be such a good sister to Monique. Gigi is very thoughtful and considers each brushstroke and is somewhat a perfectionist. 

Monique, on the other hand, charges full steam ahead and is completely fearless. This is why the painting is called "The Young Kestral." A Kestral is a bird about the size of a pigeon but is actually a small falcon that is, pound for pound, the toughest bird alive. She will teasingly give her sister a hard time and has a kind of a sly smile that tells you you're in on the joke when she flashes it. Both are terrific young ladies and incredible painters; way ahead of their years. And they have only been painting for 18 months and have no training other than watching Bob Ross on TV. And in less than a month BOTH have sold paintings in the gallery!! This was a thrill for me as well as them. I'll post more of their work in the future. You should keep your eye on these two!

I very rarely paint the same scene twice but I did it twice this month. Here I changed the composition from rectangular to square and eliminated a house that was at the left. Also, AI added a bit of fog in the middle ground to help separate one area from another.

I have such mixed emotions with this painting. It came out exactly as I had wished and I intended to do a series of similar pieces. Then I was informed that laws have changed since I last dealt with protected images (in this case, the Coke logo). It is illegal for me to sell this piece and stupid to do more. So it will hang in my home and go toward my frustrating increase of education with such things. I am still planning on doing similar paintings but I will have to do them with companies or magazines that no longer exist and therefor, no one left to care to sue me. Anyway, a tip of the hat to Emily, who did a perfect job modeling for this!

This is the other painting reimagined from an earlier one. The first, was twice as wide as tall. For this, I moved the interesting trees that were at the far left in to where they could still be in the picture plane and provide some nice compositional elelments. Then the lower on third of the image I pulled down, mking the trees a bit taller and adding more snowy ground. 

Julie and I took a drive to Sugar Hill, a beautiful village not far from us here in NH. The fall colors were turning early this year and when we got to a crossroad, this scene was presented to us. It was the perfect time. Five minutes earlier or later would not have been as good. I changed the paved raod for a dirt one to give a more rural feeling. Happily, this one sold in just two weeks!

What's New for August, 2020

I'm often asked how I come up with names for paintings. And to be honest after hundreds of them, it gets harder. It may be a feeling I had when I was there or something I listened to as I painted or an old song title that may have to do with the subject. In this case, it was the fact that there were so many changes I made from the actual photo reference.Here I altered the road from pavement to dirt, the barn from grey to red, added a cupola where there was none and threw in the cows too.

I love painting atmospheric works. Some think that painting fog is harder but it actually simplifies everything, making all into 2-dimentional shapes. They always have a mood that I like as well. This one was done at the request of Vanessa Rothe Gallery in California where it will be available.

I hated to have recently lost three of my best models. One retired and two moved to distant states. Fortunately, at the same time, Ilah appeared and has already proven to be terrific. You will not only see her again this month but in the future too. Here's the first of her where I wanted to showcase her wonderful profile; one of the three best I have ever seen.

Here's the second of Ilah. I'll point out another great feature she has. These are THE best eyebrows I have ever seen! It may seem an odd thing to comment on but the shape, taper and arch, combined with great blue eyes below them are just fantastic! When I told her this, I think she thought I was kidding but her mother immediately said, "I have told her that too!"

I'll make a confession here. Often times when I have high hopes for a painting, they end up being a disappointment and this is a case in point. When I imagined this combination of waterfall and flowing white dress, I was more excited to get started than I have been for any painting in a few years. But what I find happens is that they become too "important" as if this is my chance to make a masterpiece. Consequenty, I get too careful and the painting ends up being somewhat forced and without any of the spontaneous brushwork I had envisioned. I may be able to salvage this but right now it is just frustrating. I feel like I can be honest both when I am thrilled with paintings and disappointed.

I have been past these cliffs many times and always wished I could find a good spot from which to paint them but until recently, it always eluded me. Last month, however, during a light rainfall, I took a little path that lead to this lake and it all opened up for me.

What's New for July, 2020

On rare occasion I will paint another picture from the same reference photo if I think I can do it better or have something a bit different to say in paint. Though this one is only slightly different from the earlier version, I think it is significantly better. I added just a little warmth in the sky on the horizon that did not exist in the photo. This gave kept the painting from being entirely cool and thus, more interesting.

I really did meet this young lady at a pizza place nearby and wanted to paint her. I liked the hint of attitude both in her face and her stance. The title comes from a song from the 70s that almost no one else has ever heard.

I rarely paint "cute" but after seeing this little guy in front of our neighbor's house, I just had to. We are fortunate to have deer in our yard frequently and even one born in our backyard a few years ago. We always love seeing them and all the other wildlife here.

I enjoying bartering on occasion and this one was done in trade for the professional who will soon be editting me novella. This is from an old photo she sent me of her grandmother from decaeds ago. It is always a challenge to paint from a black and white photo but having a lot of practice at it when I worked for Upper Deck Baseball Card Co. for their Heroes of Baseball Commemorative Sheets, it did get easier.

The historic Minot farm here in Bath has provided a lot of inspiration over the years. The barn was built in 1803 and the house 4 years later. Descendants of the original owners still live and work their dairy cows there. Almost every cow I have painted the last 15 years has been on this land.

Many of you will recognize Hannah here and this one is kind of bittersweet. It was painted just about the time she and her husband moved to Oregon. She has been a wonderful friend, model and collaborator over the last 4 years. As a former art and drama major, she knows how to pose and how an artist sees and thinks. She often anticipated what I was thinking and would shift to the pose in my head without a word being said. No matter what look I was wanting; girl next door, femme fatalle, glamour girl or Retro Cowgirl- she nailed them all! This and her very pleasant, cheerful demeanor made her the best model I have ever worked with. This is the 68th time that I have painted her; more than any other. And thankfully, not the last. I still have lots of photos from previous photo shoots from which to work. You'll see her again.

As simple as it is, I really like this little scene. Maybe it reminds me of the walk Julie and I took through the quiet woods as a light snow fell. It is really easy to paint falling snow. Just load up a toothbrush with white paint and aim at the canvas as you run your thumb over the bristles and there you have it. It literally is done in seconds.

I'll bet many of you will also reconize Miranda whom I have been painting for almost half of her 29 years. She and her husband are stellar people and we consider them good friends even though they are closer to the ages of our grandkids. She now raises chickens and has become immursed in that along with a new business of growing and selling flowers. Busy young lady!

This tiny painting is actually my favorite of the month. It is a study done from my biggest art hero, John Singer Sargent. I replicate one of his works every couple years or so and always learn from them. I was surprised how much purple he used in the face and I applied that knowledge to the one of Miranda above.

What's New for June, 2020

This is what we wake up to every morning and we feel so fortunate to live here. We constantly marvel at how beautiful is our little spot of the world. Some time ago I saw a photo of the bridge taken in 1960; the only color picture I have ever seen where you can see that it was once painted red. So I took it back 66 years to what the view from our window would have been then.

Good reference photos are more likely to make for good paintings and the set of pictures I took of model, Allie at the waterfall (just under that same bridge) were amng the best I have ever taken. In fact, she is going to use a few of them as her senior picture. And as a side note, she is wearing a dress I found at an antique store which was worn at a graduation ceremony 120 years ago. She always has such a calm, serene look and I knew she would be good for this idea. I am very happy with this and consider it one of the best paintings I have ever done as it seems to have a "feeling" beyond just the image. I cannot really describe that but I don't recall this ever happening with a painting of mine though I have felt it in a very few paintings of others.

The distant views across the Connecticut River Valley are always great from Haverhill, NH. Just beyond that row of blue trees in the middle ground is the Connecticut River which separates us from Vermont. 

And of course they are equally good from Vermont looking back into New Hampshire. This is virtually the same place looking across to where I was when the photo reference was taken for the previous painting. I added the cows in from other reference and added the path as well to help lead the viewer's eye into the picture. I also made the river visible, as it cannot actually be seen from here, and changed it course too for the sake of better composition.

I don't usually post drawings but I really like this one. In truth it was the photo that caught my attention. A friend posted the photo of her mother from many years ago. She is such a generous and supportive friend that I sent it to her as a gift. 

Alden Minot was a pillar of the community here for decades. He was town treasurer for over 50 years and a great member of the church and historical society. Always cheerful, and quick with an amusing annecdote, you could often hear his beautiful whistling, almost like a bird song. His ancestors moved here in the late 1700s and built the home in which he and his wife lived in 1807. I have painted it many times. Then a couple years ago his wife passed and he followed her just 3 weeks later. They are greatly missed and when I go past the old homestead, where his son now lives, the dairy cows I see there. in my mond are still Alden's.

I got this kettle at the same place and the same day as I purchased the graduation dress seen above. I had to clean it up a bit to get it to look this good!


Artist friend, Ann Kraft Walker takes some beautiful photos out her front door in Texas and her Facebook friends get to enjoy them too. She gave me permission to paint from one and other than changing the position of the moon, I didn't change a thing. 


Speaking of changing the position of heavenly bodies, I did the same here as the photo I took needed a little something. This sun did rise through the trees less than a mile from here but it you stood in this place and saw it as depicted here, it would be rising in the north. Artistic license is a good thing to use in almost every painting as all the elements are RARELY in place as you see them. This makes Ann's photo I used above all the more wondrous to me!

What's New for May, 2020

Occasionally, a commission is bittersweet. A schoolmate from nearly 50 years ago contacted me to paint his wife who passed away last year. He was very pleased with it as were their kids and I am very glad to have this memory of her on their wall.

I sometimes sit in this position and have for years, but it wasn't until I saw my reflection in a dark glass that I thought it might make an interesting self-portrait. I was surprised at the great response it got on Facebook, though I have to admit the image "frightened" my mom when she saw it.

This is a home from the Revolutionary war era in a town nearby. The woman who lives here has wanted me to paint it for some time and was saving for that. She mentioned it to her son recently and he contacted me to do it as a birthday surprise for her. She cried when she saw it and all were really happy with it. I love hearing that kind of reaction!

A few months back I mentioned that I was writing a novella set in the Civil War period about a young artist who falls in love with a subject of a portrait. I had already done one version of this but was not happy with it. The lighting was wrong and for the reference I had taken the head from a past photo shoot and Photoshopped it onto another model wearing this outfit. And it looked like that head was just pasted on. Then I saw a Facebook posting of a friend whose daughter I had painted when she was 12. She is now 19 and when I saw her image in that posting, I was floored. She looked exactly like the main character in my story (as I had described her). So we quickly set up a shoot and this painting is the result. It will be the cover of the book and I am very happy with it. Early in the writing of the story, I saw this capelet on Ebay from the right time period and got it. It became a part of the story itself. I hope to have it published by the fall.


What's New for April, 2020

Normally, I start by drawing a simple outline of the face to show where the placement of eyes, nose and mouth will be along with the shape of the face and an indication of the hair. Then I begin the actual painting. With this new technique however, I began by brushing in a quick range of fleshtones where the face would be. From there the process was pretty much the same as before. But what I found was that this process automatically brought about changes I have wanted for some time. And I hadn't anticipated that. I had wanted more softness and by painting details over the existing wet paint, that was acoomplished as it is difficult to get a hard edge when painting wet into wet. Also by doing this it decreased my range of values (darks and lights) for the same reason. If you paint something white over a flesh tone, that brushstroke with blend a bit with what is already underneath. And so it is with a darker brushstroke as well making the lights not as light and the darks not as dark. Something I have wanted for some time. And while I have tried in the past to simply not use as dark or light a palette, this seemed to make it easier.

I have only had perhaps four or five breakthrough paintings in my life so they are very significant to me. Therefore, even after two requests from clients to buy it, it will remain in my home.

This is our house in NH and that light on is in our bedroom window. I always rise before Julie and I know when she is awake because she calls out, "COFFEE!" Not in a demanding way but just to let me know she's up. I then take her a cup to clear the fog. This is something I learned years ago from my brother who does the same for his wife each morning, though I suspect without call.

On the mainpage I had mentioned the highs and lows of painting and this single piece can encapulate that. On the first day I painted the face, hands and a bit of the surrounding area and was very happy with it. On the second day I darkened the hair and the outfit and in so doing it ruined the face and hands for me. The added contrast made the fleshtones then appear as too pale so I went over them again. But in the process, the brushstrokes that I was so happy with all blended out and gave it an appearance of oversimplification. It nearly ruined it for me and actually cost me some sleep that night. But in the middle of the night, I resolved to rework it yet again and on the third day I was able to recover it fully and maybe even make it better than the original. Once it was finished, it became one of my favorite paintings I'd ever done. 

And by the way, this painting was done because I have had a great old frame for years in the attic, always thinking that someday I would know what to put in it. Finally, it occurred to me and I already had the reference photo from an earlier shoot with a favorite model. It was an odd size so I hade to cut a piece of masonite to fit the frame, covered it with three coats of gesso (a kind of white paint-like subsurface) and couldn't wait to get started. Her it is in the frame.

Sometimes you get lucky! Much of being a good photographer (and thus having better photos from which to paint) is patience. Waiting at a specific place for the sun or clouds to be just right and it doesn't always work out. But this scene was as you see it as I first did, coming around a turn in the highway to have it appear perfectly in front of me. I pulled over, grabbed my camera and started shooting. This is in New Mexico and thus the title.

This again is Maia (also shown in "Growing Up" above) and many of you know she is like a granddaughter to me and I love to paint her. I was a bit surprised to hear from he mom, after seeing this one, that after all (20?) I have done of her "this is absolutely 100% her! It captures who she is entirely!" So this one will go on their wall.

Last year Julie and I took a trip to Arlington, Vermont where we stayed in Norman Rockwell's old home, now a B&B. The next morning I went out before dawn and shot photos as the sun rose and have painted several pictures from that series. This may be my favorite and would have been his next door neighbor. I loved the silos in the half light as well as the distnat fog burning off in the new sunlight. Sometimes paintings take me right back to the spot and I can almost feel the coolness and hear the birds and get a sense of the incredible glory of the moment. This is one of those.

What's New for March, 2020

In early March I had the pleasure of painting this demo for a group in Anthem, Arizona. I had started it beforehand and then finished it in two hours for a group of about 35. I always enjoy these as I get lots of good questions and I suppose it appeals to the show-off part of my nature.

I always love finding a new model and the one below, Lilah, is one of the best ever. She has done some professional modeling in the past and so she knows how to sit and stand. That may sound odd as everyone knows how to do those. But a good model knows how to do it with interesting angles and lines as well as how to hold their hands in a graceful way. Often a model may appear stiff or tense and it may go away after doing it for a while. But Lilah also has another characteristic of a good model. She is easy to work with, always responding to emails for scheduling and she is dependable. You might be surprised how often I cannot get one to respond or once we have a photo session set, they will just not show up and not even call. They may be as flakey a group as artists on the whole. So when I can find one like Lilah, it makes my job so much easier and pleasant.

And there has never been a better model than Hannah. I have painted her 67 times since meeting her four years ago. Not only is she a great model but also is an excellent collaborator, often coming up with great poses on her own and even anticipating what I am about to ask her to pose. She is a joy to work with, always having a cheerful attitude and an easy smile. I have said before and will say again that the importance of inspiration cannot be overstated. It is like pure energy and good subjects, whether a model or great light on a beautiful landscape is electric!

Great light on a landscape doesn't always have to be direct light. Hazy light can be terrific too and I got some of that on a trip into Santiago Canyon in Orange County, California. Also, a trip to see some wonderful paintings in the Irvine Museum provided some inspiration for these as well in terms of color especially.

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© Craig Pursley, Artist