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Artist Profile: Brenda Harris Tustian

Celebrating the Joy of Christmas

By Ellen Samsell Salas

For Brenda Harris Tustian, Christmas never ends. Annually since 1993, Tustian has painted one of her Santa watercolors, her signature works, beginning the process early each year.

“After one Christmas is over, I might see something, a picture, then it will come to me. Or the good Lord brings them to me, and I mull them over for several months until I begin the painting in the summer,” Tustian said.

Though all the paintings convey the magic that is the spirit of Christmas, each has its own message. Several have raised funds for philanthropies including Children’s Hospital of Atlanta and the Humane Society of the U.S. Tustian’s favorite is her God Bless America painting. Created following the 9/11 terrorist attacks and honoring first responders, it has benefited the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation.

While she is dedicated to her Christmas works, Harris also creates florals, landscapes, and pet portraits. She paints almost exclusively in watercolor because the medium’s illusive quality has intrigued her since she was a young artist.

“It’s the glow of watercolor, the luminosity; it is so beautiful to me,” she said. In a process that might span months, Tustian works on only one painting at a time.

“I get to my studio at 10:00am and then don’t come up until dinnertime,” she said. “I get so engrossed in my work that I can’t stop. One thing leads to another, and I always think, ‘This is the best one I’ve ever painted — or maybe the next one.’”

Tustian begins each Christmas tribute with Santa’s face. “It must be beautiful,” she said. “I’m always after that glow, that spirit about Santa.”

It is Santa’s face, its luminosity and expression, that captures the viewer’s eye. The direction of Santa’s gaze often leads the viewer to the painting’s message: the reverence of Mary cradling Jesus; Santa’s awe of the infant Jesus; the dove of peace; the enduring strength of the flag; or the love between Santa and Mrs. Claus.

Richly saturated colors, shapes, lines, contrasts, and values ensure that the viewer’s eye moves from Santa to the “hidden gems” in each painting such as first responder dolls that fill Santa’s toy bag, or the nation’s unscathed capital standing proudly.

“People have said that my paintings give them such a sense of peace and tranquility,” Tustian said. “Maybe that’s part of me because that’s what I feel when I paint.”

Although her career has included commissioned pieces for major corporations and philanthropies, and her paintings hang in many corporate headquarters, Tustian says her greatest reward has been to be an artist.

“It’s all I’ve ever been, all I’ve ever wanted to be. Celebrating the joy — that’s what my life has been blessed with — my family, my faith, my painting,” said Tustian.

To see more of Tustian’s work, visit or Facebook/Brenda Harris Tustian at Star Pointe Gallery. Some of her paintings will also be on display at Falany Performing Arts Center at Reinhardt University through December 17.