Making A Splash

Animals, Beginnings, Community, LowerTown, New Paintings

I’m getting ready to teach a beginners’ watercolor class that starts in a couple of weeks and goes through early August. This is a first for me to teach this many people at once. But it’s a good start since Dave and I hope to do more of it as we spend more time in Mexico in the future.

So I’ve spent this week putting together my “curriculum,” deciding on what concepts to include and what I want to demonstrate. How do you distill 30 odd years of experience into 6 classes that give people the basics and enough confidence to continue to try more? That’s the challenge.

Looking through our photos I found this guy from our trip to the St. Louis Zoo last year and thought what a fun subject he is.

I love him for so many reasons, not the least of which is he has sun-lit hairs that make me smile. So I’m deciding whether to put him on the menu. He’s a little challenging but he’s got a lot of elements to show what you can do with watercolor without getting too fussy.

My class is at Ephemera, our newest addition to the Lower Town Arts District. Kristin Williams, the owner, has been doing a super job with marketing, and the class is about full! Looking forward to starting this new adventure!

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Painting My Muse

Animals, New Paintings
Black and white cat at rest staring into distance


I’m still at it, painting portraits of my kitties. This week it has been Chaplin, the mama of the pair. She’s my muse with those emerald eyes that stare mysteriously into the inner and outer distance. Chaplin is just pure love, all about affection, both getting it and giving it. If she could spend her day plastered to my face, she would, endlessly washing my cheeks and chin.

And I would have no skin left.

She’s in one of her favorite haunts here, on her sheepskin bed in my studio. Today, both she and Dove are luxuriating in the early Spring breezes coming in the open windows. That’s a real treat after the winter cold.

Maybe she’s looking forward to Spring. I know I am.

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Quick Draw

Animals, New Paintings

Chaplin and Dove

My two cats have always spent a lot of time together, sleeping curled around one another, sitting side by side on the chair in my studio looking out the window, or playing, running wildly through the house. They’re mother and daughter, whom we rescued soon after we moved here. They groom each other adoringly and adorably, pushing my repressed maternal button something terribly. They’re the cats I always refer to when people ask if I have children. No, two cats — which always draws a laugh.


So, this past week I put them to good use, as more than my surrogate children and unruly minions, and used them as creative inspirations. Maybe they’re my muses. I’ve always said, “I should paint them.” But I’ve never gotten around to it. With nothing else on my plate and feeling less than inspired, I decided to look at them as a challenge and try to draw and paint them freehand and without much thought, giving way to the looseness of my preferred medium.

Dove Sleeping

None of these are meant to be polished or complete as a formal painting. They’re just quick little sketches that took me no longer than a half-hour at most. My biggest challenge was to draw fast enough to complete the pose before they stretched or turned a head in response to a truck rumbling by. Only the first was done from a photo. The rest are from life, catching them in the moment.

Lump 'a Luv

They’re perfect models; their only fees are a few crunchies each morning and evening and lots of love and kisses. Those are my kind of prices.

This post is dedicated to my friends who inspire me with their encouragement. What else are friends for?  Thanks, LeeAnn.


Unknown Champion

Horses, New Paintings

Unknown Champion

We went to the DuQuoin State Fair a couple years ago in southern Illinois. It brought back a lot of fond memories of growing up in Indiana and making the annual trek to their state fair. This one was a much smaller version, but there were still all the animal barns and 4-H competitions for cooking and sewing. The big difference was the emphasis on horses and horse races. We wandered through barn after barn of horses readying for sulky races and waiting inside their stalls for the next big event.

This guy caught my eye immediately for his rich chestnut color. (Yes, I know he’s bay, as evidenced by his mane, but I insist that his red is a chestnut.) I just couldn’t walk past him, he was that striking. His handler standing near by cautioned me that he was a biter, and though I’d never dream of just casually lifting my hand to stroke a strange horse’s nose, he didn’t seem too menacing. I decided to err on the side of caution and just look from afar all the same.

These many months later I wish I’d written down his name and where he came from. He’ll have to remain an unknown champion to me. I can’t imagine him of the devilish grin as anything else.

“Unknown Champion”

21″ X 14.5″

Watercolor on paper

$700 framed

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Another Form of Telephone

Community, Figurative, New Paintings, Travel
Story Line

"Story Line"

Fez, Morocco was our last stop on our world tour in 2005 before heading back to reality and our lives. If moving to Mexico could be considered reality. At that point it didn’t seem very real, or sane, for that matter. After two months of constant travel I was tired and weary of ever-changing landscape, customs, food, and trying to find cheap but decent lodgings. Morocco was a bit of a homecoming since we’d been there before, but we’d never been to Fez so it wasn’t familiar territory.

We managed to find a lovely pension on the east side of the Medina, recommended by a Moroccan we’d met on the train. He probably got a fee for finding folks like us but we didn’t mind. It was a nice place with clean rooms and friendly staff. Plus, it was just outside one of the bobs, or gates, to the souk. There was constant foot traffic of laden donkeys and streams of people going to and from the busy souk. It’s hard to describe such a place since the alleys snake endlessly through the old city such that it’s easy to get lost, and most foreigners like us are well advised to hire a guide. Which we did. My only regret, paradoxically, is that I wish we’d just explored on our own and not worried about getting lost. You can always pay some young boy to take you to the nearest bob and then hire a taxi to get back to your hotel.

The second or third evening we did decide to adventure out into the adjacent neighborhood to the east of us. This was reached by way of a winding street through neighboring storefronts that wound up a low hill into a nontourist area of the city. We like to find these spots to see how the locals really live and get a feel for the people. It was early evening, not yet sundown, with people out shopping in open air stalls and visiting. The streets were alive with people strolling and chatting, children playing, and they looked at us, these strangers with strange faces and dress so unaccustomed to their streets. We wandered into a small grouping of  stalls selling produce and food to order. At one we stopped to talk with a man making some sort of flat bread to ask what it was, whether sweet or otherwise. He had only to give us a taste to convince us this was something we had to have! Yummy and warm, fresh off the griddle, it was the perfect thing to eat and stroll.

Further along the way we came upon a long line of local women, heads covered in scarves of various design, bodies clothed in kaftans, the traditional garb for women, seated along a sidewalk curb in serious discussions. This was obviously their social time, gathering in the evening to talk about their day or other topics. How familiar it felt, and yet I envied this connection they had with one another, coming together as part of their daily existence while we are stuck behind our computers, televisions, and endless schedules. More than anything else, this line of women spoke to me of community, family, and sisterhood. Though I could not understand their words or begin to know what they talked about, their story reached out to me of this ancient need to connect and share each others’ lives.

“Story Line”

Watercolor on paper

$500 unframed

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Onion Pair

Onion Pair

I’m in the middle of private lessons for a local woman who’s never painted or drawn except in school way back when. I like her enthusiasm, and she seems to have some natural ability in handling the medium. Our second class is this Saturday when we’ll talk about color and do another small painting.

Last week I did a demo of the two onions you see here. We didn’t have enough time left to have her do a return demo so I’m anxious to see her grape…. That’s what she said she thought she’d do.

I remember taking classes 30 odd years ago and thinking how much there was to take in. I think I’m still taking some of it in.

“Onion Pair”

10″ X 12″

Watercolor on paper


Contact me for purchase

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When a Quilt Isn’t a Quilt

Florals, LowerTown, New Paintings, Painting Demonstrations

Design detail sketchA couple weeks ago someone asked if I could paint a 4′ X 4′ quilt on a piece of plywood to hang on their barn. Not what I usually do, but I’m always up for a challenge and I figured this would be pretty straightforward. We worked out a deal, and I started on the piece last week.

My first task was to paint the entire board, front and back, several coats of the background color, cream. That’s probably the easiest part of the whole exercise. Kind of like painting a barn. When that looked smooth I begged some help from a true quilter, master fine art quilter, that is, Caryl Fallert, one of my neighbors and a good friend. I needed the use of her overhead projector to get my 5″ X 5″ picture of the quilt to the 4′ X 4′ size I needed. She converted the file to grayscale using some Photoshop magic, and after printing it out on acetate we went to work aligning the image to fit with my panel. A couple hours later I had my outline complete and was ready to start the actual process of painting.

The painting begins!

The painting begins!

So far, I’ve completed the vine that coils around the border, a meandering undulating cord with loopy leaves and tulips and bud stems. The little isolated yellowish ovals you see are the centers of the roses that make up the middle of the quilt.

You can see more of the vine and tulip detail here:

A tuliip and bud stem on the border vine

A tuliip and bud stem on the border vine

Stay tuned while I add in rose medallions and fine tune.

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Pray For Me

Community, Figurative, New Paintings, Travel
Pray For Me

"Pray For Me"

I’d lived in and around Chicago for nearly 15 years by the time September 11, 2001 came about. I worked in healthcare, managing a series of community health programs for a local chapter of a national nonprofit, all of them concentrated in the Hispanic and multicultural neighborhoods of Chicago’s west side. Most of my program’s clients were Latino, but Chicago being the cultural microcosm that it is, we experienced a much broader ethnic mix than just Puerto Rican and Mexican. We had blacks, some Polish kids, a smattering of Asians, and even a Palestinian teacher. I loved this cultural stew I found myself in, and I felt I was finally experiencing the real Chicago.

Dave and I lived in a large condo building in Berwyn, a west side suburb adjacent to Chicago, at the time of September 11, 2001. Berwyn is a working class neighborhood with a larger percentage of Mexican immigrants, but there are other groups that live and work there as well. Every morning I’d walk to the gas station next to our building and buy a Chicago Tribune to start my day. The gas station was owned and run by a couple Middle Eastern men. They were efficient, kept the place clean and orderly, and quietly dispensed change to me and standard pleasantries on my daily trips to their business. I never asked them where they were from. It never seemed necessary. They blended in with the rest of my experience.

I began to wonder about the two men after September 11 and hearing reports of incidents of harassment of people locally who looked Muslim. It concerned me that regardless of the atrocities in New York we would indiscriminantly turn on others just because they appeared to be Muslim. A few mornings later, as I handed my money through the safety window at the gas station to one of the Arabic men, I asked him if anyone had given him any trouble. He looked at me ,perhaps a little startled, and said,” Pray for me.”

I told him I would and wished him good day.

He and his partner left several weeks after that, turning the gas station over to someone else. I never heard of what had happened, why they left. But I still pray for him, and all of us, that we look beyond appearances and seek out what lies within each others’ hearts.

Title: “Pray For Me”

Medium: Watercolor on paper

Size: 8.5″ X 6.25″


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Horsin’ Around

Beginnings, Horses, New Paintings
"Grazing"  Watercolor on clayboard, 11" X 14"

"Grazing" Watercolor on clayboard, 11" X 14"

This is the beginning of a new series of horse paintings. Not only is it new in the sense that it’s a new painting, but I also decided to finally try the clayboard that I bought last year to see how it worked. It seems a lot like the watercolor canvas I got at the same time. More challenging than paper because the paint moves around much more on this surface. I know some people like it better for that very reason. You can lift off mistakes a heckuva lot easier. I’ll have to use it more to get used to this property.

The horse is Matt, a friend’s quarterhorse who they show regionally and who is revovering from surgery for a problem with his intestines. Dave and I went out to their place in the early Spring to meet him and take pictures. Even though it was a gray, rainy day, I liked the way the light hit him more subtly. He’s a pretty gentleman with a speckled forehead. Thanks, Debbie, for having us.

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Special Talents

Community, Deafness, Festivals, LowerTown, New Paintings, Painting Demonstrations
Crowds at the 2010 Lower Town Arts & Music Festival

Crowds at the 2010 Lower Town Arts & Music Festival

To give you one small update, I didn’t get awarded the featured artist for the up-coming Bryn Mawr Rehab Hospital Arts Ability show which will be this Fall. I consider it an honor to have been invited to submit just the same. There have been other things, however, that have come along that have been even more rewarding.

Sometime shortly before the Lower Town Arts & Music Festival I received a call from Easter Seals West Kentucky art program manager, Darlene Davenport, asking if I’d be interested in providing a workshop for their adult clients sometime in June. I have a soft spot in my heart for Easter Seals having worked at the Chicago Metro Easter Seals for six years about a decade ago. It remains one of my most memorable and rewarding jobs. So in spite of my trepidation I gave Darlene an enthusiastic YES! and scheduled a time to come tour the studio and discuss my eventual workshop.

The Easter Seal adult program here serves adults of all ages from early 20’s and up. Their disabilities run the gamut from cerebral palsy to autism to traumatic brain injury. They participate in special activities such as the art program, as well as attend adult day care. The facility is bright and open with caring, capable staff. It’s a happy place in spite of what one might think given the seriousness of the disabilities seen among their clients. The art program is managed by Darlene and her assistant, Hope Boone. They’re both friendly, welcoming and infuse the small room with a sense of fun, color, and contagious creativity. When I visited, Hope was working with about 8 clients on a project drawing trees with colorful crayons and paints on muslin to be turned into wall hangings. The pieces were tremendously individual, each with its own strengths and personality — tall, skinny trees, trees with movement, trees of every shape. I went around the table and talked with each of the clients, and I knew immediately that the workshop would be a lot of fun if I could come up with a way to accommodate my watercolor style to their abilities.

The workshop I’d been asked to do is part of a grant program through VSA Arts, an international organization where people with disabilities learn through, participate in, and enjoy the arts. (I happen to be a member and participate in their registry due to my deafness.) Artists are selected to provide workshops with clients developing a collaborative piece of artwork that will then become part of the Easter Seals West Kentucky 5th Annual Heart and Soul Art Celebration. This annual fundraiser features art from clients and local artists, as well the collaborative pieces created through these workshops.

Starting the main fish

Starting the main fish

I decided, after a lot of deliberation, that I would simply sketch out the painting I had in mind and then begin working on it while the clients began painting their own “practice” pieces using watercolor paints that I supplied. My choice of subject was a pool of koi because of their colorful nature and fluid, flowing shapes and movement. I figured everyone could related to these fun fish that don’t rely on a lot of detail. The painting would be all about color and movement and hopefully reflect the fun of the workshop.

Once I’d started the two main fish in the composition, and with the six or so clients busy painting their own fish at the main table, I called individuals up to my easel one at a time and asked them to paint sections of the painting on their own.

A client adds her touches to the painting

A client adds her touches to the painting

I chose the colors and dipped the brush in the paint to ensure the right amount of paint and water, but each person was free to paint their area however they chose and to their level of ability. Lines and detail weren’t so important. Dribbles and drips were allowed and not fussed with. The colors washed on and the painting began to come together in a delicious way. I was touched by each person’s concentration and enthusiasm to be part of the painting. I sensed that something more than a painting exercise was going on. A shift in energy within me had transpired as the painting came to life, as it most assuredly did.

The finished painting and me

The finished painting and me

My worries had been that something meaningful wouldn’t result from my workshop, that I’d lack the ability to communicate or integrate my experience with that of the clients. Would they be up to it? But I needn’t have worried as each of them approached the work with a calm self-assurance. I was the one who was scared, not them.

So, I made some friends who helped me paint some koi in a way that I would not or could not have done on my own. I had one of the best creative days ever and more than anything felt so lucky to have participated. Afterall, it wasn’t just my painting. It became theirs as well, and that’s reflected in the signature I affixed, “Stefanie Graves & Easter Seals Clients.”

"Koi of a Kind" watercolor on paper, 21" X 30"

"Koi of a Kind" watercolor on paper, 21" X 30"

If you’d like to see the finished painting in person and be part of the Heart & Soul Art Celebration, mark you calendar for Thursday, September 16, 6:00pm at Maiden Alley Cinema. Tickets are $20 and can be reserved by calling 443.1200 or 444.9687. I can’t think of a more worthy cause or a better way to spend a Thursday evening this Fall. All proceeds from the art auction benefit Easter Seals Western Kentucky.

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