What's New for June, 2018

I have a client who has a very unusual and beautiful frame and wanted a painting to put into it. After much consideration, we decided on this image which actually utilizes the frame INTO the painting. The architectural element behind her IS the bottom of the frame turned upside down. So once the two were put together they became a cohesive unit. I need, however, to adjust the colors in the frame to better match the actual frame.

While it may not look like it, this painting was a revelation for me. Something I probably should have recognized before but I guess I wasn't ready. For some reason, painting subjects who are lit dramatically from below are easier to paint loosely for me. Painting looser with more bravura brushstrokes is a great desire of mine for some time. So this together with the pose of outstretched arms makes this one of my favorite paintings of the year thus far. Painting loosely here was like letting go.

It is VERY rare that one scene will have everything just right so often I will make "adjustments". So the landscape you see here, for instance, had no cows in front and no barn behind. Those were additions to make the scene more interesting.


I met this young lady and was taken by her singing voice, her beautiful ukelele and her look with curly, dark hair. She allowed me to photograph her and from those shots I combined three. One of her face, her torso and uke, and one great one of her left hand. The position of that hand makes this piece in my mind.

From a recent photo shoot with Hannah, there were so many good shots and I wanted to do a series of small head studies. In this group, I felt there was an almost cinematic feel to it; like frames in a film. It seems to convey movement to me.

I have driven past this bridge a hundred times but I never saw it until last winter during a storm. I am a proponent of not driving "blind" but observing all the time. But sometimes I'm guilty too.

Clouds in the summer here in NH can be very dramatic and so much fun to paint!

What's New for May, 2018

I'm still working on the series of "Retro Cowgirls" in preparation for next year's Celebration of Fine Art in Arizona. I've been fortunate to find several models with just the right look and you'll be seeing more of them in the coming months.

When I got to this point on "Rodeo Girl" I thought I was done but I think in the near future I may fill in the rest of the canvas with the horse's neck and a big sky and cloud behind her. Speaking of those models; there is none better than Hannah who has the capability to be anything and is a great collaborator, often coming up with ideas and poses better than mine. She was perfect for "Rodeo Girl" but also for "Sweet Dreams" below and "Black Satin" also.

About once a year I do a self-portrait, usually when I find myself ready to paint in the gallery but short of short of other reference. So I'll find an old photo from  the past and give it a try. After finishing this one, I felt like I was sitting across a card table from this guy while he stared me down. Thus the title.

As an art teacher in the 70s and 80s, I occasionally gave the class an assignment to make a mural out of several pieces and then assembled into a larger whole. Usually they didn't know what the final would be, just working on individual tiles. It always worked and the kids loved the outcomes. I decided to do this entirely on my own from a painting I did a couple years back.

I first enlarged a photo of that old painting and then cut it into 48 pieces, all 2.5 inches square (at left above). Then I would enlarge that onto a 5x5 piece of masonite, trying to loosen up as much as possible.

As each was done, I'd lay it in its place on the floor.

Over several days, it all came together. The lines on one piece did not always quite line up with the next but they were close enough for your eye to "assemble" them into a coherent whole. The same thing happened as I was mixing the paint from one panel to the next. But if one was slightly darker or slightly different color than an adjacent piece, it still worked.

The rest of the month was spent in refining portrait skills like the one above of Pinping wearing her mother's dress, known as a Shanghai Dress.

You may have noticed that sometimes I will backlight a subject as in this one. I always do this with reservations because several artists who I admire (including two mentors) consider it a "cheap, boy illustrator trick". But I have to admit, I really like the like the dramatic appearance it gives.

What's New for March, 2018

One of the things I've learned about painting landscapes is to mix a wide variety of greens, no matter what you see in front of you. Making a good painting often goes well beyond the mere duplication of the reference. One can change the angles of roads, heighth of trees, colors of clouds, mountains or anything to make the picture more interesting.

"I love your work but we just don't have any wall space left and we're down-sizing." Realist artists have heard this for some time and it seems like there was no solution. But I think this may actually be a good way to deal with the issue. Grandparents LOVE their grandkids and are more likely to commission portraits of them than are their parents who DO have the wall space. Once this ball started rolling, I was happy to get several more commissions in the space of 10 days.

I didn't think I was feeling homesick after being gone so long but I did find myself painting these two of Bath, NH late in the game. The painting above actually shows a bit of our house over the top of the bridge with smole rising from the chimney. The bottom one is the view from our front yard. Maybe I was a little homesick but it was pretty nice to miss a bunch of those Nor'Easters!

What's New for February, 2018

Another of the very large paintings I've done recently, this one is a remake of an old illustration I did when I was with the newspaper. Many expenctant mothers were polled and several things kept reoccurring in their dreams. Water was the main one but also leaning towers and containers of all kinds. Most interesting I thought, were those by women in their first trimester of fish and amphibians, followed in the second trimester by cute little furry animals. In the third, came large, scary furry creatures. I love surrealism and this lent itself well to this style.

Those who know me well, know that I often like to do paintings in a series. Here are two of eight recent ones of 6x6 horse heads.

I am currently working of a project with an old clock case as the frame. But the painting part is done. While here I Scottsdale at the Celebration of Fine Art, this beautiful young lady came into my studio with her father. She was EXACTLY the type I wanted for this project. I will show the whole piece when it is finished, but for now, I'll post the painting alone.

Julie and I attended the local balloon festival in late January at dawn and the light and color was so good that it seemed like overload. Actaully, I have to credit her dad for this painting as he suggested putting it on canvas. Thanks, George!

This endearing young lady came into my booth in February and during our conversation told me her name is Pingping. She was born in China and came to the US to go to college (she just graduated). She told me her mother gave her this name because when she was born her face was so round and red. Pingping means apple. When she told me this, I immediately saw this painting in my mind and asked her if I could paint her. We set up a photo shoot and this is the result.

Livia Hanel came into by studio with her mother and impressed me with her knowledge and maturity. She is only 16 and art is her life. I saw some of her work on her mom's iPhone and was astounded. She may be better than any college student I've known. She is such a nice young lady too and so much fun to talk to. She also has a vast knowledge of very old movies and TV. I asked her what her favorite TV western was and that gave this painting its name. She mainly paints rock stars and is already getting commissions. Yes, I said 16 years old! She is WAY underpriced and I encourage any or all of you to get something of hers NOW! Here's a couple examples of HER work, not mine.

If you would like to contact her, please email me and I will be happy to give you her info.

What's New for January, 2018

More often than not, my landscapes are of bright light and more colorful but on occasion it is fun to do a more subdued piece with more muted colors. The reference photo for this one was taken during a very gentle rain which knocked down the color level and gave it a somewhat peaceful feeling.

This is the largest painting I have ever done, other than a mural and it represents a true story which is very tragic. The event, which took place in 1931, was national news when it happened though almost no one knew the whole story. I grew up hearing a little about it and then chose to research it extensively just a few years ago. Through Google and newspaper accounts found there as well as interviews with a couple people close to it, I was able to piece together the whole story. It involves almost superhuman strength and faith. It is a long story but one that deserves to be told. And though it is very sad (several have burst into tears on hearing it) the point is not the sadness, but overcoming it.


The woman in the painting represents Ella, who with her husband, Elmer, and her mother, are raising seven children on a farm near Parks in the southwest corner of Nebraska. The country is deep in the Great Depression and these farmers, like everyone else are struggling to keep afloat. Added to their concerns was the drought affecting the mid-West leading to the Dust Bowl. It seemed things couldn’t be worse. And yet this family was known for singing wherever they went.

One evening in March, they are rushing around to finish dinner so they can make it to a service at their Pleasant Valley Friends Church. For some reason, Goldie, 15 and the oldest daughter, is especially clingy to her mom and as the time nears to leave, Ella says, “What’s wrong with you? We’ve got things to do and we have to go!” Goldie responds, “I just love you, Ma.”

But there is no time to even put the dishes in the sink. They must be left on the table, coats put on all the kids and hustle to the car. The car, a Willys Whippet, is a dependable , though smaller car; especially for a group of ten. In the front, Elmer slips behind the wheel, 10-year-old Glen is next to him and on his right, his mother holds the youngest child, Eugene, who is just three. In the back seat are, the oldest boy, Herman at 13, Goldie and their grandmother, Nancy. Each have one of the youngest three girls on their laps. They are Hazel, Mildred and Fern, ages ranging from eight to four.

Just a hundred yards on they stop to give some eggs to a railroad grading crew who were camped there. They don’t even know these men but are glad to share the little they have with them.

Just beyond that, lies Colfer Crossing and the railroad tracks. The family is singing as they bump over the tracks when suddenly a eastbound passenger train hits the Whippet on its right side just behind the door post. The car is spun clockwise as the right, rear wheel is crushed. Glass is shattered, wood splintered and steel reduced to shards. All six in the back seat are killed. Those in the front are alive but unconscious. The grading crew rushed to give whatever aid they could as the train screeched to a stop and passengers streamed out to help. Glen is thought to be dead and his body placed with the dead until someone saw his hand quiver. As he is being carried to be put with the survivors, he regains consciousness and tells the rescuers who the family is and where they were going.

Little Eugene has a serious head injury and is not expected to make it through the night.

Ironically, the quickest way to get them to a hospital is on the train that hit them. They are wrapped in blankets and loaded onto the mail car and taken away.

The parents, Elmer and Ella, are unconscious or sedated long enough that they miss the funerals of their children and her mother. 

Eventually well enough to return home, they are taken back across those same tracks. It must have been a painful reminder every time they crossed them as that was the only way to and from their farmhouse. As they opened the door, there spread before them were ten place settings on the table just as they had been left. Ella wept openly as she washed these and put them away. Six of those plates representing someone she loved and had lost. Goldie’s plate may have been especially difficult, remembering how she had been hustled off when she was trying to express her love for her mom.

Somewhere in another part of the house, Elmer is mourning in his own way. Both he and Ella know this accident was his fault. There was nothing to impair his view of the train. Either he didn’t look or thought he could beat it.

No one would have been surprised if this event would have destroyed the marriage and a cloud would have forever hung over the survivors. But Ella decides at some point that this tragedy will not define her, that she will not be in mourning forever. She makes a decision to be happy and to forgive Elmer. And for the rest of their lives, they virtually never mention the accident.

In less than a year, she gives birth to another child and in a remarkable display of her indomitable spirit, she names that baby Joy, knowing she will bring happiness to them.

Even later in life, when Ella is severely crippled with arthritis, very frail and in near constant pain, she is never without a smile, always cheerful and always happy.

Though she was so frail, she was the strongest woman I ever knew. She was my grandmother. Eugene, who wasn’t supposed to make it through the night grew up to be my father.


So in this painting, the model representing Ella is looking to heaven, getting her strength from God. You will see six broken roses for those she lost. She holds one of the four “surviving” roses and it is different, being that she is carrying that new “Joy.”

The plate stands for all those left on the table, though broken as was the family at that point.

The white bird, an Egret, is those souls departing. I wanted a white bird and not one as obvious as a dove.

The moon and the morning light on the cliffs represents the passage of time.

The tracks were painted from a photo I took years ago when I stood at Colfer Crossing more than 50 years after the accident.


Just below the train’s window is a number; 3931; the date of that event. March 9, 1931.

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.

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 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.

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.

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.

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.

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).

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!

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.

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!

Print Print | Sitemap
© Craig Pursley, Artist