Ikoma Mountain, Nara – Kuragari House

Kuragari Mountain House, Ikoma

Ikoma Mountain House
Watercolor on Fabriano Artistico
34 x 51 cm

This home is near the summit of Ikoma Mountain and sits high above the road along one side of the ancient Kuragari Pass. It overlooks the scenic terraced rice fields, but what fascinated me more than the beauty of the location was the way the building seemed to be almost pieced together of rusted patchwork corrugated steel panels, mud walls, and stone. Perhaps at one time it was a majestic home rising above all that surrounds it and has since fallen into disarray, or maybe it was always like it is now. Either way, its haphazard construction is what made it such an intriguing subject.

Ikoma Mountain and the Kuragari Pass

Ikoma Mountain separates Nara and Osaka and is networked with ancient footpaths, statues, temples/shrines, and tombs. I’m not certain how old the Kuragari Mountain Pass is, but one of the statues I saw is dated at 1270, which is about as old as the Fabriano paper company, on which this scene is painted. The cobblestone streets wind along the steep incline on the Nara side, over the summit with the Suehiro tea house just on the border between Osaka and Nara, and down the even steeper road on the Osaka side. It’s not an easy walk, but it is rewarding for the amazing sights and history. Along the way there are many cafes and small restaurants to rest. One of my favorites is Lucky Garden.

Stone statue dated 1270

Stone statue dated 1270

Kurashiki, Japan – Boats on the Canal

Kurashiki, Japan

Kurashiki, Japan
Watercolor on Fabriano Artistico Paper
56 x 76 cm

I took a drive down to Hiroshima a little while ago, and on the way home stopped by the wonderful town of Kurashiki. Below is text from Japan-Guide.com, where you can find more information and beautiful pictures of the town.

Kurashiki (倉敷) is located in Okayama Prefecture, not far from the prefectural capital of Okayama City. Kurashiki has a preserved canal area that dates back to the Edo Period (1603-1867), when the city served as an important rice distribution center. In fact, the name “Kurashiki” can be roughly translated as “town of storehouses”, which refers to the storehouses in which the rice was kept.

There were many unique and interesting shops, museums, and places to eat. The canal was beautiful, and full of some swans and some huge koi, the latter of which you are welcome to feed.

Black Dress #1

Watercolor by Craig Pirrall

Black Dress #1
56cm x 76cm
Watercolor on Fabriano Artistico Extra White

This is the first in a series I’m planning on doing featuring this model in this dress. I’ll post more as I go. I haven’t been doing figure as much as I’d like, and I want to get back to it. I really enjoy the challenge of working with the figure. It’s a completely different feeling than when painting landscape.



Casablanca Lilies – Watercolor Sketch on Fabriano Artistico paper

I’m not big on painting flowers. It’s just not a subject that generally motivates me on a personal level. I have great respect for artists who can capture the delicate intricacies and light atmosphere of flowers, but I’d rather paint people, or the sea, or scenes from town. Still, once in a while someone gives us a bouquet for a special occasion, and I like to give it a go. These huge Casablanca lilies were given to us after a piano concert. They remind me of something out of the movie Day of the Triffids, or that original Star Trek episode (This Side of Paradise) with the flowers that spray spores on people and control their minds. Anyway, it was a fun exercise, if not entirely successful, and only enhances my respect for the people who can do it well.

Someone just made a comment about this piece on Google+, and I responded with:

It’s an oddly relaxing experience for me, for some reason. Maybe because I treat flower painting more as an exercise rather than a finished painting, I can relax more and let the process be organic.

I think that’s true. After all, what’s more important when painting nature than being organic?


Photo of Casablanca Lilies

The actual Casablanca Lilies


Red Barn – Lancaster, Pennsylvania

Farm In Lancaster

Red Barn in Lancaster, Pa.
52cm x 72cm

The last time I was home I took the family to the Pennsylvania Renaissance Faire at the Mount Hope Winery. Saw this gorgeous farm under an incredible sky while driving through Lancaster. Having lived in Japan for some time now, it’s amazing to come home and see how big the sky is. I can’t explain why it seems that way, but the sky in America is vast.


Her First Bouquet

by Craig Pirrall

13 x 19.5 inches
Fabriano Artistico Extra White Rough 300gsm

My painting “Her First Bouquet” was accepted in another juried show at the Miraku Fine Art Gallery in Nara-ken. The show is over now, but as before, I was pleased to be among so many excellent artists. I was the only foreigner in the show, so that was kind of fun, too.

This is a second version of this painting. In the first one there were a number of places I felt didn’t work as well as I would have liked. This one is closer to what I wanted, but since this is a personal subject I might give it a third try at some point. As so often happens when redoing a previous painting, I ended up with parts of both paintings that I like, and other parts no-so-much. Still, overall, I’m fairly pleased with how this one turned out. I’ve been meaning to post this for a while now, but the photograph showed a little waviness in the paper and I’ve been intending to pull it down from the wall, out of the frame, and reshoot it, but I just haven’t done it yet. I’ll update this post and the gallery with a better picture soon.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays

Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!!!

Wishing a Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, and a joyous holiday season to all of my friends around the world. I hope the new year will bring you much happiness, peace, and love.

I handpainted a few cards for the family.

I hand-painted a few cards for the family.

Watercolor Lesson 6 – The Swiveling Easel

Pen on journal


“This is part of my Watercolor Lessons series of posts, where I share personal experiences that I feel have not been sufficiently or succinctly covered elsewhere. If you’re interested only in the lessons and not my normal blog posts, you can easily select them in the categories box on the right. ”



When I first started watercolor painting, the singular thing I spent the most time trying to figure out was this easel. Through lots of research on the internet about what people had done, this setup was the easiest and least expensive that I could put together. I had seen Alvaro Castagnet working with a similar easel and wanted to try to make one myself. Note: This is my first attempt at making a board from foamcore instead of wood, so come on! Let’s try this experiment together. The steps are almost the same, though.

The Swiveling Easel – Why? Well, I’ll tell ya.

In watercolor, it’s very important to control the flow of the water on the paper. Sometimes you may want the water (and therefore the pigment) to lay flat and not move around much. In other circumstances, you might want the paint and water to move quickly down the paper. This easel setup will allow you to do just that without having to make adjustments to the easel while you’re working.

Note: I usually use a thin board made from processed wood for this, but since I needed a larger board for some larger work, and I was concerned about weight, I went with foamcore. It’s not nearly as sturdy as the the wood, as you can see in the video.


The supplies you need are:

  • sturdy but lightweight tripod with a quick-release shoe. Make sure you get one that has extra shoes readily available. I have a number of boards in the same and different sizes that I can swap instantly.
  • board
  • thingy (see below. I don’t know what it’s called.) Tee Nut – Threads should be the same diameter as the original screw on your tripod’s shoe.
  • screw (I use one with an allen wrench head so I can really crank it down)
  • washers
  • long ruler – I recommend you get one with a finger guard for all your cutting needs.
  • box cutter
  • packing tape
  • hammer
  • scissors
  • marker
  • awe or drill (depending on the surface you’re using)


Swivel Supplies

Swivel easel supplies – Note: you can see a finished board made from wood that the supplies are sitting on.

Tripod: The SLIK F740 tripod is one I highly recommend. The shoes are wide and large, adding a greater surface area for the board to rest on. In addition, the tripod itself is well made, sturdy, and inexpensive. You can find it on Amazon here, but you may want to ask at your local camera store if you can get the replacement shoes easily. Where I live, they’re very easy to find and cheap, but I don’t see any on the American Amazon website. It doesn’t matter what tripod you use as long as it’s sturdy, lightweight, and has quick release shoes that are fairly large.

Support: If you’re working small (45×60 cm or less), I highly recommend using processed wood instead of foamcore. It’s a much sturdier and more secure surface to work on. The downside is it’s much heavier. If you go this route, see what your local hardware store has to offer. Plywood is probably going to be too heavy to carry around, and may push the limits of the tripod.



Cut the Board to the Required Size

I mark it out lightly first with a marker or pencil. It’s easy to cut when using foamcore. If you use wood (like I usually do) and you don’t have the necessary tools, you can ask the store to cut it for you.

Swivel precut

I leave about a half an inch on three sides and more on one side so I can tape scrap paper there and check my colors before using them.

Swivel paper size

Tape the Edges

Makes it look nice and protects it from moisture.

Swivel Taped


Find the Center and Use an Awe or Drill to Make a Hole

This hole should be slightly larger than the diameter of the tee nut’s shaft. Hey, you in the back, stop laughing. Geesh, there’s one in every crowd.

Swivel awe

Attach the Shoe to the Board

Here are the supplies you’ll need for this step. The screw and threads on the tee nut must be the same diameter as the original screw on your tripod, or at least a diameter that allows the screw to fit into the shoe’s original opening.

Swivel washers and screws and thingies

Hammer the tee nut into the board. These brilliant little devices have spikes that dig down into the board and keep the screw secure. No matter how you turn and twist the board, they won’t loosen. When I use wood, I add a silicone glue to make this even more sturdy. I was afraid to try it with the foamcore, and maybe that’s partially why it’s not as sturdy as I would like. My wooden boards are much more sturdy.

Swivel thingy in


Remove the original screw from your shoe and insert the new one. NOTE: You may be able to avoid this step if you can find a tee nut that has the same threads as your shoe’s original screw. I couldn’t, and it was just easier to buy a matching screw.

Swivel foot removal

Add washers to the shoe so that when you screw it into the board, the screw doesn’t protrude from the opposite side.

Swivel foot adjustment

You want to make this as flush as possible, so use washers to keep the screw from coming through too far.

Swivel screwed in


Here’s what it looks like on the back.

Swivel foot on


Put a piece of tape over the metal to protect it from moisture, and to protect your paper.

Swivel cover with tape

Attach the shoe to the tripod, and you’re ready to go!

Final Thoughts

The foamcore is easier to assemble than the wooden boards, but I’m not entirely happy with the stability. I think the main issue is the tee nut isn’t able to get the same grip it has with the wood. I’ll play with this some more in the future and update this post if I find any solutions. I’m considering gluing heavy cardstock or even a thin piece of wood to the back of the board to give the tee nut a firmer hold. I haven’t had a chance to paint on this large board yet. It seems like it will be okay, but if you are working in a smaller size, I would still recommend going with a wood surface. I use wood up to a 45×60 cm surface, and it works very well.

As always, good luck, have fun, and go paint something great!


Watercolor Lesson 5 – En Plein Air Field Kit

Pen on journal

” This is part of my Watercolor Lessons series of posts, where I share personal experiences that I feel have not been sufficiently or succinctly covered elsewhere. If you’re interested only in the lessons and not my normal blog posts, you can easily select them in the categories box on the right. ”


En Plein Air Field Kit

This is just a short post. I’m preparing another I think will be really useful to the beginning watercolorist that’s just getting set up, but it’s not quite ready. I hope to have that one up before Christmas.

To be honest, my on location field kit and my studio setup are pretty similar. Here’s what I usually take with me.


Packed Paraphernalia: backpack, portfolio case, chair/table, water bucket, paint palette, brushes in a can, foam (orange) with cuts to hold relaxing brushes, water bottle, brush transporter, cardboard box (table) in plastic bag, viewfinder, tripod easel, board with paper

Above is my general setup when I’m standing. If I need to sit down, I just take the table off the base, which is actually a tiny, tiny, tiny (did I mention it’s small?) chair made by Doppelganger.

Field kit with chair

The chair? It’s not comfortable, but it does the job.

The table, as you can see, is simply a cardboard box protected with a plastic bag. Pretty high tech, huh? This has two advantages: it folds up easily and fits in my portfolio case, and I can use the plastic bag as a tarp if necessary to protect a floor if working indoors, or the painting if the weather turns.

Field Kit Packed

Everything fits neatly into the two bags.

When working en plein air, it’s important to have everything easy to take with you. This setup allows me to carry most of the bulk on my back, and sling the portfolio case over my shoulder. The only thing that doesn’t fit in the bags is my tripod easel, but my pack has a cover with straps which slide neatly through the easel’s legs and hold it securely to the outside of the backpack like a camper’s blanket. I want to get a little tin cup that rattles around while I’m walking just for effect.

Packed away

Wrapped up and ready for action.

Not included (because I forgot) in the initial picture is the small dollar store spray bottle you see above, and a fairly awesome Sport-Brella UV Ultraviolet parasol with a clip that I take with me if it’s very hot and sunny.

Assorted Apparatus of Apparent Awesomeness

The Brush Transporter: Brushes may be the single greatest financial investment you’ll make, and you’ll want to protect them. At home or on the go, I never like to leave my wet brushes with the tips pointing up for long. Paint, when it enters the ferrule, will destroy a brush quickly, and I personally don’t think excessive moisture left there to dry is very good, either. Especially if, in the case of when you’re out on location, the water may not be the cleanest and you haven’t worked the brushes with a cleansing soap.  This device is simply a spaghetti holder with a hairband through the opening and a hook made from a paper clip. After I rinse my brushes, I put a rubber band around them, hang them from the clip, and clean them properly when I get home, even if they’ve been naughty and don’t deserve it. Overkill? Maybe, but all of my brushes point like they’re brand new. Important notes: Make sure the container is long enough so the tips don’t touch the bottom. Also, don’t hang them in this to dry at home. Hang them out in the open so they dry quickly and don’t become moldy.

Brush Transporter

Rode hard and put away wet.


The Viewfinder: To be honest, I don’t use this that often, but I do keep it with me in case there is a particularly busy or visually confusing area and I want to box it in. It just lets you see the scene within a frame, and since it’s a neutral color, it helps you to isolate colors as well. You can find it on Amazon here. Wow, I’m not an Amazon affiliate, but after this post, I feel like I should be! I always recommend checking Cheap Joe’s or Jackson’s for supplies first. They’ve both been excellent for me and, well, they’re fighting the good fight.

That’s about it. Hope some of you can find this useful when choosing your supplies. Now, as always, I’ll leave you with my closing words of motivational wisdom. Go out there en plein air and paint something, will ya? Stop slouchin’ around on the internet. There’s nothing good on here anyway.


On Location: Heijo and an Exhibit

Had a free morning so I did a little exploring and a little painting. Near Yamato Saidaiji station there are some ancient tombs and next to them is this slightly less ancient house. It had a lot of personality with its sagging roofline and rusted corrugated steel siding. Hanging from bamboo rods in the shadows were many onions; I have no idea why, other than perhaps that’s how they dry them. It looked like the place was about to fall down, which made me like it even more.

On location in Heijo

En Plein Air in Heijo, Japan

In other news, I was pleased to have my painting “The Fiddler” in a recent exhibit at the Miraku Fine Art Gallery in Nara-ken. It’s a very nice gallery.

Nara, Japan

“The Fiddler” at Miraku Fine Art Gallery