The Value of Color – Nara Park, Ten-Jinja Shrine, Japan

On Fabriano Artistico

Nara Park, Ten-Jinja Shrine, Japan
Watercolor on Paper
13.5 x 20 in

The Value of Color

In this painting, I really wanted to push the mossy, tree covered steps leading up to the shrine and contrast them with the brightly lit building. The gate, though strong and red, feels secondary to the entrance receding into the blue darkness behind the statue. I always like to push colors, but I think it’s especially important to use colors and contrasts to lead the viewer’s eyes through the painting. If I had allowed the shadows in the building to fall away into a duller dark, I think the gate would have become entirely the focus and the place where the eyes would not only rest, but be caught and held. Now we go directly to the strong blue in the center of the painting, then wander over to the gate, follow it down through the foreground steps and tree, and back to the entrance.

Watanabe Ryokan, Miyajima, Japan

Watanabe Ryokan, Miyajima, Japan by Craig Pirrall

Miyajima Summer Tea
Watercolor on Paper
14 x 20.5 Inches

A hard thing about being a painter is knowing when to stop. I’m never completely satisfied with what I do, so I always feel like there’s more that I could do. But as all artists know, could and should are two completely different animals. Sometimes I just have to snap a picture, crop out the ugly tape, and look at it for a few days or weeks. That’s where I’m at with this piece. There are parts I like, and parts I don’t think work so well. After a little time and mental distance, I’ll be able to know whether it works as a whole or not. Usually, I’m happier after a few days.

Miyajima and the Watanabe Ryokan

One of my favorite tourist spots in Japan is Miyajima. It has everything. It’s small and old, has lovely temples and shrines, and is by the sea. I’m sure you’ve seen the amazing gate at Miyajima rising from the water. The island is only accessible by boat, and is about a 20 minute ride from the mainland. Once there, depending on the season, you might find crowds of people joining you, but here’s a hint. After you visit the tourist spots around the gate and shrine, head towards the mountain. There are rarely many people there, but many beautiful places to see. At least it’s been that way when I’ve gone.

Gate at Miyajima

Miyajima Gate

And one of my favorite places to stay is the Watanabe Ryokan. I always go to Miyajima with the intention of exploring the island, but then enjoy the ryokan so much that we end up just sticking around there and relaxing. Go check out their website. If you’re taking a trip to Japan, it won’t be complete unless you go to Miyajima, and I highly recommend staying at the Watanabe ryokan while you’re there. And they speak English as well!


Ponyo’s Home – Tomonoura, Hiroshima

Tomonoura is a great little port town in Hiroshima prefecture, but outside of the city proper. This seaside port, fishing harbor, and town is where Hayao Miyazaki based the location of Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea ( 崖の上のポニョ). He was inspired by the location after taking a vacation there, and even designed one of the cafes in the town.

It’s a wonderfully quaint little Japanese town and perfect for sketching. I guess I wasn’t the only one who thought so. A large number of school children were there with their sketchbooks as well.

Click HERE to visit Tomonoura’s official homepage.

Ponyo Town Island Temple

Heading Home
Fishing Boat by Island Temple
Watercolor – 10 x 12 in


Ponyo Town Harbor

Heading Out
Tomonoura Harbor
Watercolor, 10 x 12 in


All around the port there are many stingrays swimming around. I’d never seen them in the wild before.

Brazen Stingray

This guy looks like he’s going to walk right up the stairs.

About Tomonoura – According to

Tomonoura (鞆の浦) is a port town at the southern end of Fukuyama City, Hiroshima Prefecture. Situated at a bay facing the Seto Inland Sea, the picturesque port town features an endearing old-fashioned fishing townscape, with a calm and laid-back atmosphere. Tomonoura is part of theSetonaikai National Park.

Tomonoura prospered in the olden days of sail boats, when merchant ships traveling along the Seto Inland Sea would dock at its port while waiting for a favorable tide. The town center flourished with the bustling sea activity, leading to thriving industries such as the production of “homeishu”, a medicinal liquor of shochu and 16 types of herbs, said to promote longevity.

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, 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.