What's New for June, 2020

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.

What's New for February, 2020

I needed a model for a specific painting and saw a photo of Aeona in the local paper and thought she would be perfect. I contacted her parents and was able to set up a photo shoot from which this painting resulted. This is not the one I had in mind; that and others from that shoot will come in future months. I always love finding new models and am constantly amazed at how many people there are, even in rural NH that I want to paint. Watch for more of Aeona in the future. Also, I am very happy to say this one sold to a collector in Arizona almost immediately after posting it on Facebook/

And speaking of new models, here is Lilah. I actually met her at an art event in Arizona two years ago. I photographed her on the spot then but unfortunately, it was under terrible light conditions. But we stayed in contact and recently were able to do a proper photo session. And what a great professtional she turned out to be. It is VERY rare that someone combines the knowledge of how to pose with good communication skills (you might be surprised how many have trouble returning messages or even showing up for appointments) and promptness! I found that she was able to anticipate what I was looking for and shift into a pose even before I was done asking. This makes my job so much easier. And of course, her beauty certainly doesn't hurt either.

In one afternoon we worked on a variety of styles and poses and I am certain that there will be many paintings come of it. She nailed them all! So a big thank you to Lilah! In this one I returned to the Retro Cowgirl genre but added some of the more recent applications of heavy paint and blurred edges in some places giving it a more contemporary look. Hopefully, this will help me gain entry into some more Southwest galleries.


Even though I haven't lived in Southern California for 18 years, I still ove painting it, especially the canyon areas of Orange County. I sometimes try to take them back to how they looked before development as in this case. If you stood today at this spot you would be hearing the constant hum of traffic on Hwy, 133 and there would be some used cars for sale along the road in front of the foreground trees.

Many of you will recognize Pingping here in the 19th painting I have done of her in two years. She is one of the dearest people I have ever known and has become like a daughter to me. Recently, she asked if I would walk her down the aisle when she gets married someday and I consider this to be one of the greatest honors of my life. She calls me "Dad" and my mom, "Grandma." She came to join us at my brother's home in early Februaty wearing her Mother's beautiful dress from Shanghai. With that and her shorter hair, I immediately wanted to paint her again. We grabbed one of the tulips that my sis-in-law had picked up for the evening and went out in back of the house. I loved the simplicity, the light and this pose she struck which seems to show her innocense and it resulted in what I feel is the best of the paintings I have done of her.

Russell is my son-in-law and I am proud to call him that as he is a good and solid man. I have wanted to paint him for sometime as he has such strong features and the tone of his skin often reflects such wonderful blue-violets in the right light. We were all at the Autry Museum recently and as we walked out, some terrific late afternoon light fell across him as we left. I only had my cell phone with which to take some shots but they proved to be just fine.

What's New for January, 2020

Between driving across country and the timeconsuming project of writing and painting "Portrait of Emily Hutchins" my January was pretty used up. Consequently, I don't have as much to post as usual here. Above is a detail of that portrait in the mid stages. Please come back next month when I will have more to show you.

What's New for December. 2019

The last painting I did in 2019 turned out to be one of my favorites of the whole year. Having a great model, a cool dress, good lighting and a wonderful pose certainly helps things get started of right.

I liked the atmosphere in the photo below which I took out of a moving car. It was a little soft focus but had enough inspiration there to pursue. As you can see, I used a bit of artistic license and added some warmth to the sky and reflections. Otherwise, everything sould be just cool colors.

What's New for November, 2019

During the workshop in Vermont, I brought this red outfit from model Jessie to try on. It fit her perfectly and I couldn't wait to set up a photo shoot to get the reference from which to paint. There were many terrific pictures from which to work and this is only the first of several I expect to do. At only 14, she is already a very poised and excellent model. Detail shown below. The odd shape is because I cut a panel to fit into a beautiful old dresser mirror frame. I'll try to post that next month.

Sometimes what seems like a good reference photo needs a little something extra or needs something(s) removed. And here's a good example. The photo above has too much background and first, needed to be cropped to a better composition. I didn't like the piece of equipment just to the left of the barn and felt like a pathway leading to the barn would be a nice addition to help lead the eye into the picture. I also wanted to add a dark tree at the left to keep the eye from running off the canvas as well as some foliage on the empty trees in the distance. I also added a hill way in the background to add some depth and a little violet color. Once it was painted, it still needed a little something. Not too big, but just a little something to add some interest. And so the next day I added the pail which lent the idea for the title. Every time an artist changes anything to make a better painting, he/she has just renewed their artistic license.

I don't often post commissions but I thought this one had an interesting story to go with it. In the summer a man came into the gallery with an idea. Years ago he had invented something that was picked up by the pharmacutical industry. In an ad for it, his wife and son were used. He wanted this to be made into a painting with a Norman Rockwell feel to it. I suggested making it a Post cover, drew it up and we both had a piece we were excited about. The date of th issue is his son's birthday to add a personal touch to it. I felt the background was a bit busy and so I went to my local Rite-Aid to take some better reference photos. I was told in no uncertain terms that any and all photography was NOT allowed! So I adjusted what I had by making it a soft focus. The client is very happy with it and so am I.

I was asked to paint a demo portrait for the Lakes Region Arts Alliance in Tilton, NH in November. Having only 90 minutes to do it, I had to have a rough start by the time I got there. While it was finished in the allotted time, it did require some tweaking the next day. By the way, the model is wearing my wife's grandmother's 1932 wedding dress.

What's New for October, 2019

I don't know why I hadn't thought of this before! I have always LOVED the combination of Cobalt Blue and Gold (which is the title of this painting) but had never used them in such pure form as in this one. I have an almost palpable reaction to these colors and am very happy with the result, especially when it is in this gold frame. Notice the thin band of gold leaf going horizontally across the painting near the top.

Though I had painted a smaller version of this a few months ago, I decided to do it as a larger, more finished work with the addition of some fall colors. You may recall this bridge is just a couple hundred yards from Norman Rockwell's old house in Vermont.

With fall come around 100 foliage tour buses (one of them first brought us to Bath, NH in 1993) and with the thousands of people they bring into the gallery, I have less time to paint. Thus, I choose to do smaller, quick ones like this. They can fit in luggage and are very affordable....and they're a lot of fun!

What's New for September, 2019

I love painting red hair and I love painting satin so I got to combine both here in one a little larger than I usually work. You may recognize the model as I have painted her 10 times in the three months I have known her. That hair almost looks like it is on fire when I light is placed behind her and that makes an easy focal point.

Occasionally, it is a good idea to copy the work of someone you admire as I did here from a detail of a John Singer Sargent painting. In this case, it taught me to lighten my darks, darken my lights, look at color more closely (not making assumptions) and paint with softer edges. Sargent's on the left. He was an absolute master!

That trip to southern Vermont this summer is still providing inspiration for landscapes. I was standing in Norman Rockwell's yard before dawn to get the shot from which I worked here. It was so peaceful and quiet and the fog seemed to enhance this as I had the area all to myself this morning. The church was built in 1804 and just beyond it (and just out of view) was an 1854 covered bridge, which I in August (see below). This was exactly as Rockwell would have seen it and it is no wonder he chose to live here. 

By lighting a subject from below, all the highlights and shadows are reversed from how we generally see them from ceiling lights. I find this exciting and fun to paint. Here the shadows created by the angle and direction of light nearly obscures her mouth and one eye leaving the other eye to clearly be the focal point.

I have found a readily available and cheap model in this guy so I paint him once a year or so. But I have to tell you, it is getting harder to be honest as jowls sag and hair gets greyer.

Again, I've chosen to paint with a low-angled light source. I wanted to title this one "Good Golly" and let the viewer fill in the rest. But I realized that only people my age and those who knew the model was named Molly would get the song reference ("Good Golly, Miss Molly" by Little Richard, 1958) And the meaning of the song certainly does not apply to this nice young lady. So to avoid misunderstandings on several fronts, I just titled it "Miss Molly."

What's New for August, 2019

Most views that result in paintings are not quite right as is, but require some tweaking in terms of composition or color. Having said that, the one below only required shifting the angle of the fenceline and making some more interesting clouds for it to look like I wanted. By the way, Tory Road was so named because Tories lived on this road during the Revolution and that is how it was designated from the start.

Just down the same road was to the property for this commissioned painting (see more information on it on the main page). Here's another rare example where nothing needed to be changed. This is fortunate because for a commissioned painting, it should be as the owner knows it. When I went there before dawn to get the best angle, I was excited to see this wonderful and natural composition. By waiting for the sun to rise on the home it would help insure that it would be the focal point. And as the sun got to that point, it sent a shaft of light down the incline at the bottom where the natural curve of the earth swept right toward the cabin. The only serious adjustment I made was to add the fog which helped separate the two ridges of trees.

And now for something completely different. As I have mentuoned in previous months, I am trying to push out of my comfort zone and have a more contemporary look while staying true to realism. As I discussed with someone I am mentoring about an idea for another painting where I intended to use rubber stamps to apply some paint, she thought I meant using postage stamps. I liked that notion and so I got well over 100 stamps from the 1950s and 60s, arranged them according to color to make smooth transition and then glued them down one at a time to create a very flat, yet textured look. I also painted the border with very think paint and applied it with a palette knife. This is so far out of my comfort zone that I'm not even sure if I like it. The colors are nothing like I normally do. I am happy with the response to it so far at least.

It is kind of fun to examine the individual stamps as so many are interesting. It makes me think perhaps I could collect stamps with a common theme and use them in another paintings. Like stamps honoring artists, musicians, poets, writers, etc, Or other countries, or states of historical events. We'll have to see.....

Of course, this does not mean I am going to abandon the old style, I want to keep improving it at the same time I push the envelope on others. I loved the dappled light at dawn on this bridge just a couple hundred yards from Norman Rockwell's home.

What's New for July, 2019

Something very new for me! The entire painting was done leaving her dress blank until all the other paint dried. At that time, I then added gold foil which completely flattens the dress area but together with the 3-D look of her face, arms and feet creates a unique look. I'll experiment some more with this!

Some of you will recognize Pingping from previous work. She is an amazing young woman who has become like a daughter to me. In fact, she calls me her American Dad. With her permission, I'll tell you a bit about her with the two paintings here. She was raised in China during the "One Child" policy. She was the second child in her family so they had to move to another village for her safety and that of her mother. They told everyone, including Pingping, that she was a niece they were rasing. She didn't know for years that the couple raisng her were actually her parents, believing that her real parents had abandoned her. Much of her story is too personal for me to be comfortable sharing here but suffice it to say, she had a very hard upbringing, though she seemed to rise above it. She came to this country to attend Arizona State without being able to speak English. She worked very hard and just graduated with a 4.0 GPA. She is one of the most endearing people I have ever met. I hope you know someone like her but they are few! This is called "The Gift" because she recently donated that beautiful hair for cancer victims.

A long story but worth the read. In the mid-19th Century a disillusioned rancher in South Africa had heard some were finding diamonds there. So he sold his ranch and went in search of riches, never finding them. A visitor came to the ranch's new owner and saw a stone on the mantel and asked, "Where did you find this?" "I picked it up in the creek outside. There are lots of them, I just thought that one was especially nice." Of course, it was a large diamond, only needing to be cut to reveal it's beauty. This ranch turned out to have the largest diamond mine in the country! The previous owner had abandoned acres of diamond to go looking for them. Without going into details, Pingping's boyfriend recently broke off their relationship in an unbecoming way. I told her the story above and that someday he would realize he gave up acres of diamonds that he had right in his grasp. This painting, when varnished, goes to her with that title to remind her of her great value always. By the way, while these stories are hard for her, she said that if sharing them can help someone else, she will be happy.

Every year I teach a painting workshop in Landgrove, Vermont in November. I finally was able to visit there in a month where all was green and it did not disappoint! I thought I'd show this in relation to the actual scene in order to make a better painting. Comparing it to the photo from which I worked, you can see that I added the path to help lead the viewer in, while eliminating the old tombstones. I kept some of the stone wall and added a few trees to the right to give some balance. Also added the mountain and changed the slop of the hill for the sake of composition. 

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© Craig Pursley, Artist