About me

Feet on the earth, head in the stars

©2015, Ailene Cuthbertson, “Tell me”, he said lazily, “Does the dance of the Sashiana mean anything to you?” Digital painting


You’re under the stars at a gypsy campfire – music, clapping hands and sparks from the heat of the fire swirling around you…

©2017, Ailene Cuthbertson, Around her drift the wilis. Photograph


You’re twirling, skirts flying and pointe shoes whispering through a haunted forest bathed in moonlight…

©2015, Ailene Cuthbertson, Her reflection smiled back, eyes glittering in the fading sunlight. Digital painting

Delight in wonder

Your feet crunch across the sand in a city that hasn’t had a footprint for centuries, running your hand across a portal that will reveal your true past…

Hey there!

I’m Ailene, artist

(and nerd)

On my art days, you’ll find me tucked away in my sun-drenched studio, pot of herbal tea on my desk, bringing my imagination to life.

This is for those who read by torchlight, stared out the window wishing they were somewhere else, had your own Lothlorien in the bush up the back, and still believe in dragons.

Let’s find lost cities, haunted forests, sultan’s palaces, and forgotten wastelands. Let’s join gypsy campfires, mermaid pods, and sweeping love stories. Let’s be wild and free.

©2015, Ailene Cuthbertson, ...why she was standing in this forgotten wasteland, steam whispering out of cracked mud, waiting for creatures who belonged only in legend.. Photograph

Be curious

You’re standing on steaming rock in a forgotten wasteland, waiting for the legendary fire dancers to flicker towards you…

©2016, Ailene Cuthbertson, Time to wake. Photograph

Pursue adventure

You hear stone crack and a spray of grit skitters off an overhanging ledge. They’re waking…

©2017, Ailene Cuthbertson, “My sweet, my rose”. Photograph, 30 cm x 30 cm


You’re enveloped by the scent of roses in a palace garden where a sultry glance and a swirl of skirts begins a romance…

My artist story

In the beginning…

My call to adventure was a monster. A giant, many-headed corporate machine that stormed in, thrashed blindly around, and finished by destroying what had been a best-job-in-the-world and “set us free to follow our dreams”.

So, while looking for another job, I followed a dream of mine. I applied to art school, with a portfolio made up of mostly high-school paintings.

As I drew, painted, and sculpted my way along my art journey, I faced a lot of my inner shades: the tall poppy, the outsider, the wallflower, the girl who hid from real life in fantasy novels, the fear of failure, the odd one out…

But, I found my voice, what I want to say, and the confidence to say it. Now, I transform myself, and my dancer models, into heroines – strong, wild, brave, and free – who live their own adventures, reach for the stars, and follow their hearts.

©2017, Ailene Cuthbertson, Can't help but dance. Photograph

Be kind

You’re sitting in the warmth of the morning sun, white petticoats pooling around your legs, about to greet the day with joy – whatever it may bring…

©2016, Ailene Cuthbertson, We sang in the warmth of the Waylight. Digital painting

Be wild

You’re with a pod of mermaids as they travel to the Bright, following their sparks of joyful luminescence, as they sing and surge towards the Waylight…

©2017, Ailene Cuthbertson, The sky beckoned. Digital painting

Be free

You’re standing by the cliffs edge, staring as she breaks free and dives, arms outstretched, into the void. But she doesn’t fall. The wind catches her…

Painting... on a computer

What is digital painting?

Like any painter, I start by priming a canvas, setting up my colour palette, choosing a brush, and dipping it in colour.

Then, I lay down a ground, a base wash of colour that anchors the piece. On top, I block in a messy, tonal underpainting. Then, layer by layer, brush stroke by brush stroke, I smear colours and pull out the details. My final touches are coats of glaze-like colour, light, and texture to bring it all together.

How is this different to traditional painting? My canvas and paint are pixels. I move my virtual brush with a pen and tablet. And because my original painting is just data sitting on a hard drive, it means I need to print my art to bring it into the real world.

Ailene creating a digital painting with her tablet and pen.

My Hürrem Sultan series with Elena and Yevgen (Jack) hanging on the wall at my solo exhibition at ArtsPost, Hamilton.

What about the images that look like a photograph?

Some of my art is photography. Just like a digital painting I start by priming a digital canvas, then my first step is compositing. I combine layers and layers of photographs – the background scene, sky, the subjects, then detailed elements like flowing fabric, hair, mist, or fire – to bring my surreal world to life. My next steps are to paint in light and shadows and add layers of colour and texture, creating the atmosphere and giving my images an old-world, painterly feel.

Why do I choose digital?

Well, the creative process isn’t always that linear. When I start without a clear final picture in my head, the image has room to evolve and surprise. Sometimes I have to smear colours around to see what they reveal. There are times when a part of a painting needs to move, which is easier with digital paint that never dries. And I can continually experiment – shifting colours, deepening the mood, or lightening the atmosphere – until the artwork brings its magic to life.

Ailene Cuthbertson
✓ Live on a farm

From my bucket list

  • Ride a unicorn
  • Walk the Camino de Santiago
  • Run away and join the circus
  • Train a dragon
  • Do NaNoWriMo
  • ✓ Live in another country where I don’t speak the language
  • ✓ Be a dance teacher

✓ Swim with mermaids

The official 3rd person bio

Ailene creates timeless, emotive portraits that spread her love of dance, nature, and storytelling. She uses her art as a form of magic to bring her imagination to life – transforming her models, and herself, into dream archetypal heroines. Her images are uplifting and full of warmth, light, and glamour (the magic kind).

Ailene was a finalist in the 2018 Emergent award at the NZ Art Show and has been a finalist in the Cliftons Art Prize. She has shown her work at exhibitions nationwide, and has been a regular at the Raglan Arts Weekend studio tour.

When not bringing to life worlds full of magic and wonder, you’ll find her working as a software developer because she also loves being a nerd.

Hang out with me

Be entertained, inspired, mystified, and entranced by the adventures of my artist journey. Inspirations, sketches, new artworks, dancers, swirly skirts, and the occasional cute animal to brighten your day…