Featured Artist – Cory Graham

Artist Cory Graham
Artist Cory Graham

Hi Cory, thanks for taking the time!  Tell us about yourself – when did you become interested in art?  And was there any turning point at which you began to take it more seriously?

Eric, thanks so much for letting me share my work on your site! It’s hard to believe only ten months ago I had come here looking for tips using oil pastels. Now here I am sharing my work! Crazy.

So, for the first question, my answer begins when I was just a kid. After watching my first Disney movie, The Black Cauldron, at a California drive-thru I was hooked. Yeah, I was a kid and kids like cartoons, but I took it seriously to the point I’d wake up at 5:30 on schooldays to watch old Johnny Quest and Looney Tunes reruns before school. Heck, I’d barely sleep Friday nights in anticipation for Saturday morning cartoons!

Around the age of 12, I had begun drawing a lot of cartoon characters like Bugs Bunny and Batman. I’d sit content copying from my old comic books for hours. This eventually led to the drawing of my own cartoon strips and comics of my own design. However, this didn’t last.

Cory Graham Self Portrait
Cory Graham Self Portrait

Once puberty hit, drawing no longer seemed cool. Sure, I still did artistic stuff like models and painting miniature soldiers, but my energy flowed into writing fiction and poetry. The last real thing I can remember drawing was in my Junior year of high school. After that, I did NOTHING for 12 years.
Nearing the end of my twenties, and after dabbling in fiction writing for 7 years, I needed a break. With three novels under my belt, but no editor or publisher interested, perhaps it was time to move on. Right before I turned the age of 30, and watching the ’98 adaption of Great Expectations (a so-so movie) which had a theme of a struggling artist, something clicked. I realized I had just rediscovered my love for art.

In my free time, I passionately began sketching and drawing again. This turned into charcoal pictures which then turned into oil pastels. I’ve always loved oil paints but the harsh solvents, smells, price, and time to complete a painting was a turnoff. So I gave oil pastels a chance (Note, I had used soft pastels in the past, but the chalky nature turned me off). It wasn’t until I got my first set of Senneliers when I fell in love with this medium.

In early January of this year, my full time day job of nine years ended. Needing a holiday, I traveled to Southern California to visit family. While exploring Laguna Beach’s wonderful (and very numerous) art galleries, I felt the urge to pursue and paint art full time. I also realized that I’d never been so happy or content when drawing, painting, and creating. The joy of following one’s dream and being happy is like nothing else in this world…even if that means I’m a starving artist in the meantime, haha.

Michael Jackson
Michael Jackson

What is your creative process like?

Living in rainy Oregon, almost all of my work takes place in my studio. Sure I enjoy the outdoors, but a solitary studio helps me to think and concentrate. Once I have a reference photo, either my own or from the internet, the lackluster part begins. I say this because the fun part comes in the painting! However, as in writing a story, you need research and planning out the composition. You could call this phase a rough draft as it usually just involves sketches in either charcoal or pencil…and then a lot of “editing” to get it right.

When I’m ready to paint, I’ll transfer my sketch via Saral transfer paper onto Ampersand Pastelbord (This is an awesome board which I find works much better than canvas or art paper). Another thing to note is I’m not entirely an oil pastelist, as I do incorporate India Ink. Almost all of my paintings are heavily outlined in bold black ink. Nonetheless, I’m still an oil pastelist in heart!

I won’t enter into too much detail concerning how I apply the oil pastels or what techniques I use as most of these can be read from your site or others. To put it simple, I work in a very chaotic, yet energetic way. Within an hour of starting, my once clean studio is a whirlwind of disaster due to the high energy and passion I spill into every piece of work. Because of this, most often or not, I’ll finish a piece within one sitting or two. What feels like a few hours can really turn out being eight. The art almost never turns out the way I intend, but I’m happy with it. Living in the moment and letting my passion turn the piece into something unexpected is quite exhilarating.

Coffee in the Red Room
Coffee in the Red Room

And yes, music is also very important to my process. Depending on my mood or what I’m working on, I always have some type of up-beat song playing. The music seems to give fuel to my energy or synergy, or whatever you want to call it. The stuff of late which has been playing on my Pandora site is mostly ‘80s music. Some Michael Jackson to Steve Winwood seems to do the trick!

Are there any particular artists who you admire or are influenced by?

Yes, the influence of artists and others have really propelled me to where I’m at. Beyond the comics cartoons of my past helping to inspire me, fine art has done even more. I’ve never been one who created more realistic art, so when I found the Impressionists and the Post-Impressionists, I fell in love. Their movement really connected with me, and constantly inspires my work.

If the Impressionists like Monet, Manet, and Degas opened the first door, then the Post-Impressionists like Cezanne, Van Gogh, and Gauguin opened the floodgate. I enjoy the Expressionists, too, like Kirchner, Munch, and Schiele. These three, and Van Gogh’s later stuff, showed me it’s OK to use bold colors and even black outlines (which I use in just about everything). I began heavily using the impasto effect, too.

My knowledge of current artists isn’t as learned, but I do enjoy the late Basquiat and the great and living Francesco Clemente. He is truly amazing. I also enjoy Salvador Dali.

Daffodils and Absinthe
Daffodils and Absinthe

What oil pastels artwork of yours are you most proud of? (and why!)

Honestly, I feel, with each piece completed that I’ve grown, and growing, so nothing really stands out. I am proud of my “Daffodils and Absinthe” piece. I feel Mr. Van Gogh would enjoy my use of compliment colors and bold lines. However, once a piece is done, I’m more excited about what comes next.

What attracts you to working with oil pastels? Any particular strengths or qualities you find that distinguish oil pastels from other mediums? Any challenges or frustrations you have had with oil pastels?

What attracted me the most was how much oil pastels can resemble oil paints. As I already said, oil paints have numerous turn-offs so oil pastels seemed like the best substitute. Sure I’d like to give oil paints a try again, but as of now, I have no interest.

As with any medium, there is a learning process, and for me that was the biggest frustration. A lot of trial and error went into learning how to use and manipulate these little sticks. I can be impatient because I want to know how to do it now. It took acceptance of the fact that it takes time, and so, it did. Finally, after about nine months I realized what works best for me concerning oil pastels. One day it just seemed to “click” in my head, as if I finally figured out some great unsolvable equation. Once this happened, my work took off. My point is it’s a learning process and one in which the artist needs patience. Believe me, it’ll pay off for your work.

Any parting words for readers? Words of wisdom to fellow oil pastelists?

Yes, there’s a lot of parting words I’d like to give, but I’ll try and keep it brief!

First, remember to fresh up on all the basic compositions of art. Knowing your colors, their tones, correct perspective, and good focal points will really make a difference between an average piece and great piece.

Pouring Wine
Pouring Wine

Second, confidence, patience, style, and good feedback are essential. Accept nothing will happen overnight as it takes time. I’ve found as with writing, you can’t write a novel in one sitting. Take your time and learn all you can. Also be patient in figuring out what works best for you. Your style should come natural, so don’t force it. For me, I learned I’m more of an Impressionistic like artist although being a realistic one sure would be great. Hone your natural skills and don’t worry about all the other types of art. This doesn’t apply to everyone, because some people are naturally good at many forms of art. Just because you’re not, doesn’t mean you’re a bad artist. Once you have great confidence in yourself and your work, feel free to branch out into a different style. Just be careful as not to get overwhelmed.

Also, feedback is crucial, and will help build confidence. Ask other artists for help, or even join an online art forum like wetcanvas.com. Positive and negative feedback are great as you can always learn something new, or be reminded of something you forgot. Also note that because oil pastels are a less known medium, those that do partake are usually pretty cool people who are always willing to help and give advice to a fellow parishioner.

Third, invest in artist grade materials when you’re ready to get serious. Yes, this will cost money, but the results are day and night better than what you’ll find at a local craft store.

Finally, have fun. If you aren’t, then why are you doing this? If you’re not happy, ask yourself why?

In closing, I just want to say thanks, Eric, for the chance to share my story. This has been a great experience! I know I have a long ways to go, that I’m still growing and honing my talent, but I’m happy, and excited for what may come.


Cory’s website can be found at: CoryGrahamArt.com
You can also email Cory at: corygrahamart@hotmail.com.


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