You’re So Pretty!

If you’re not a woman you haven’t experienced it. The unwritten beauty code. It entails more intricacies and detail than the Magna Carta but is known by women throughout the world by the time they reach puberty. The need to smile, to be nice, to be thin, young, sexy. In short, to be pretty. Whatever else we might become in our life, that last requirement, to be pretty, sits atop everything else. If you don’t believe it, try being of the female persuasion.

Julie Zickefoose, naturalist, artist, writer

I finally got tired of this ridiculous bar that we women must meet after seeing one too many “You’re so pretty” comments on Facebook of women posting pictures of praise-worthy achievements. Being pretty has nothing to do with earning your doctorate or technical rock climbing.

Being an artist, my brain switched to its creative side to find out what good trouble I might get into that could address this inequity. While going off on a tirade with David about how offensive and belittling this need for women to be pretty beyond all else, I had a flash of inspiration. Fifty portraits of 50 women doing something they loved or were passionate about. I needed to find those women and paint them, show them in action, tell their stories. Whoever they were, whatever they looked like, young or old, regardless of race (especially), they needed to be seen for what they have done or what they do. Because that is the bar that all humans should be measured against, whether they are men or women.

Amy Baker RN, APRN, Oncology Nurse Practitioner

I am well into my third portrait of my series of women that I’m painting for my project, “You’re So Pretty.” Somehow it’s escaped my thoughts to blog about this until this morning when a calendar notice sounded on my phone for me to publish a blog post. Evidently at some point in the year I’d scheduled that task for myself, committing to posting blog entries at least quarterly. Dave ventured that what with all my painting, photographing, and interviewing women I surely had lots to focus on. 

Kelsie Gray, window restoration extraordinaire

Oh, yeah. All that! I guess I do have a lot of progress to talk about.

The project logistics are still working themselves out as I proceed. I’ve sent out some grant applications, been awarded one from the Kentucky Foundation for Women, received a nice  write up in The Paducah Sun, and I’ve posted a bit on FaceBook. Yet there’s a story in the making as this project moves along, and I want to make sure I’m documenting it, getting those details down. So far it’s been both fun and amazing. And, wow, are there some really incredible women out there!!

Marcella Cruz, Jenny Salas, and Chiva Lira
Dancers, Drummers, Performers from Mexico,

To date I have received permission from 10 women to be included in the project. Most are local and all are dynamic people. Covid has slowed me down from getting together with everyone because I want us all to feel safe together without masks, and some of the portraits may be in interior spaces with more than just my subject. So it’s a little complicated. But I have photographed half of those women and completed two portraits and am well on my way to finishing the third. Not a bad start nor way to end the year.

Kelsie Gray, in progress

Making A Splash

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!

A New Day, A New Year and A New Series

Detail of Cows in Heaven

I’ve managed to fall behind in this blog as usual. But Dave and I put our heads together today and decided to cast off with the old habits of sloth and take charge of our art once more. Nothing like a new year to bring out the resolution-making in all of us, though I’ve never put much stock in that.

In this case it makes a good deal of sense as looking back at this year just come to a close I find I have not nearly the accomplishments I would have liked. No one to blame but myself.

So, off we go. Page turned and heading down a new road.

This little painting was actually completed in the Fall but I’ve been so dilatory that it never got posted. A-hem. This must stop! But however belatedly, it is the first in a new series I got the idea for from a book I read some years ago, The No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency. It made a very scant reference to a belief in Botswana that the first thing one sees upon entering heaven is white cows. The idea struck a cord such that I knew I had to paint it. And then later this past year it dawned on me from another reading reference about animals and myths that this could be a painting series.

Right cow detail

I’m still feeling my way as to what the series is all about and what to include. For this initial painting I believe it speaks to me of a curiosity of my search for God. How do others define God and what do they see when they speak of heaven and the divine? White cows immediately brought to mind the Brahmans that we see in Mexico with their soulful eyes and graceful gate. Much larger than the Jersey or Herefords I’m used to from here in the States, they command a presence that I find quite singular and mystical. So I have painted them as my vision of those Botswanian cattle from on high.

I can think of so much worse to find awaiting me on the other side.

"Cows In Heaven"

Cows In Heaven”

Image size: 14″ x 10″

Price: $250 unframed

Horsin’ Around

"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.

Out On A Limb

Sparrows in Progress
Sparrows in Progress

The days have been cold, really cold, for over a week and have just today climbed above 40 F. I’m a sucker for the birds who are here during the winter, especially if I’m suffering from the extremes. So I’ve been religiously adding food to their feeder almost daily from the beginning of the cold snap. The sparrows are the most frequent visitors, with cardinals, juncos, and a few titmice and black capped chickadees every now and then gracing my presence. The feeder is just outside my studio window so it’s a constant distraction, source of entertainment, and for today, inspiration.

I took pictures last week of the sparrows sitting on a distal limb to the side of the feeder, waiting their turn. They line up in a plump row, little balls of fluff. I’m not particularly a sparrow fan, but everybody’s got to eat. And they’re kind of endearing at this time of year, so round and fit so well with the browns, grays, and sepias of winter.

Sparrow Detail
Sparrow Detail

I sketched out a composition and am in the middle of putting in the sparrows. The only one facing forward has come to life today. The background is a very direct wet-on-wet wash of French Ultramarine Blue, Indigo, Sap Green and Windsor Blue with a tiny touch of Permanent Rose. While it was drying I added a strategic sprinkle of sea salt for effect. Look for the little sparkley circular flares as the taletell sign. Come back tomorrow for another progress report.


Moonlit Field
Moonlit Field

A happy belated New Year, and new decade, to everyone! I feel a little like I’ve been hibernating with the bears and other animals that go into that torporous state every winter. It’s hard to stay active and productive during the dark days and cold of winter. The squirrels and winter birds make a continued stream to the hanging birdfeeder suspended from the sycamore tree outside my studio window. Their busyness nags at me to get going to earn my keep and stay vital during this down time of shortened days.

Hey, Mr. Squirrel! You’re eatin’ up all my birdseed! He doesn’t care, even when I actually go out and say that to him in person. He just juts his little face out, pauses for a moment to see if there’s any real danger, and then goes on munching when I obviously appear to be no threat.

I’ve been working for some time on developing images for a children’s story with friends of mine. This is a study for one of the first paintings that will become the book. I’ve not painted a lot of night scenes before so this was a bit of a challenge to get that atmosphere while illuminating the field in the foreground.

In the coming days I’ll give you a peek at my first painting of the year as it progresses. A tribute to my visitors of the birdfeeder. I have them sketched in today and will begin the actual painting tomorrow, as long as I’m not distracted in other directions.

Onward into these new days!

Taking a Break

Los Globos
Los Globos

This week marks the final preparations for a new beginning, getting a second cochlear implant (CI) so that I’ll be able to hear bilaterally for the first time in nine years. I had my original CI replaced three years ago after it unexpectedly failed ( a very rare occurrence I’m told) and that made me realize how much I really needed a back up. In spite of rarity, things do happen, and we have two ears for a reason.

So this Thursday I’m going under the knife again to give myself a spare and also a means of improving the hearing I get with one CI. As I said, you have two ears for a reason, mainly because it gives you better hearing and better sound localization. Call my name and I probably won’t be able to tell where it’s coming from, especially if you’re not in my field of vision.

So this exercise and commitment to daily small paintings will be on hold for about two weeks while I travel to Chicago and have this procedure done and recuperate. I’ll have my computer so I can still keep in touch with those of you who’d like to leave comments on existing blog entries or send me emails. Soon enough, I’ll be back making these fun little watercolors that reflect my wanderings.

I’m posting a small painting today from our first trip to Mexico, a study for a larger painting of the balloon vender in the jardin, the center square of San Miguel. This is also one of the free and loose paintings without a lot of preliminary sketching. My main concern was how to execute the balloons so that they looked fresh and unworried. The big painting sold but I still have the study, a great little gem and rememberance of this gentleman who we no longer see.

Los Globos Study

Watercolor on paper

10.5″ X 6.25″


Contact me for purchase

Daily Paintings — 100 Days

Calla Lilies
Calla Lilies, watercolor on paper, 5.5" X 4.5", $50

Recently I’ve felt stalled in my work as though I’m stagnating in an isolated pool. It hasn’t helped that over the past few weeks I’ve had one rejection after the other for major wholesale shows and grant awards. One of them even sent me comments from the jurors that focused on my technical skills. That might be okay if I were just beginning to paint but I’ve been at this medium for 30 years so I think I’m past that. So I’ve decided to crank things up a notch and give my promotions a shot in the arm, because that’s really what’s been stagnating. The vacuum I’ve created has become too stifling so it’s time to break out.

Since the economy is still in the drain and people continue to have less money to spend on non-necessities, I’ve decided on a strategy to make what I do more affordable and at the same time get more stuff out there. For a number of years now a lot of artists have gotten into the concept of doing a painting a day. It started with one artist who wanted to challenge himself, and so he began a discipline of painting a quick study and posting it on his blog each day. Soon it caught on, he developed a following, sold most of the little gems, and the rest is history. I’ve toyed with the idea of following his and others’ leads but have always rejected it as too much work. I’ve now decided that’s just been my excuse for not diving in and seeing where this might lead. But not anymore.

I’d like to grow my following and sell more paintings. Starting small is manageable for me and hopefully for more people who like what I do but don’t feel they can fork out a lot of money for the big stuff. My goal is to do this for 100 days. We’ll see what happens and I’ll go from there.

So, this is my first one. Calla Lilies is the title. Watercolor on paper. All paintings will be $50 plus shipping, which will be around $12 cause these will be unframed.

Simple, huh.

Subscribe to my blog and you’ll see what I’ve done every day.

A New Creation Quilt Show Week

Quilt Show week is past and so Paducah, especially LowerTown and downtown, is back to normal. I spent two afternoons of the weeklong festivities painting outdoors by the gazebo on Broadway. A local artist, Jeff Spicer, organized the outdoor painting and creating sessions, inspired by his own successful activity last summer painting outside of Wildhair Studios on Broadway downtown. So far, the artists’ public activity has been met with a lot of enthusiasm. Who knows, maybe the city will agree to let us do this on a more permanent basis along the streets of downtown and at the Texaco station in LowerTown.

I was a little nervous about the prospect of painting in public, not so much at being watched, but because I’ve never much enjoyed painting outdoors. The elements seem to always be a problem – too hot, too cold, too windy, and there are usually bugs bothering you. I never seem to be able to get comfortable. But Jeff told me he’d have some tables set up and chairs, so I figured I’d at least see what I could do. Just to be sure, I ended up buying a portable small table from Walgreen’s and a fold up stool, both of which I could also use at art fairs.

Me painting at the gazebo
Me painting at the gazebo

Both days ended up sunny if windy, and there were lots of people on the street as expected, it being Quilt Show week. The previous week I’d started a new painting destined to become “Mexican Place Settings,” a still life of sorts of two tables, overlayed with colorful hand-woven Mexican tablecloths, surrounded by several wooden, brightly painted chairs that are typical of Mexico. The painting had presented a challenge of pattern and execution, how to make the tablecloths look realistic with a woven pattern while not over working them. I’d had to spend a lot of time with precise drawing to make the chairs appear correct in perspective, with their arched ladder backs and spindled legs and backs. And up until I carried it off to paint at the gazebo or be damned, I had spent the week previous worrying about how to pull the painting off.

As it turned out, there wasn’t a lot to be worried about. To my surprise, I enjoyed the heck out of being outside and painting. Maybe it was having a good set-up with two tables, one to paint on and the other to use for my palette and other materials. Maybe it was the shade overhead from the tree behind me and the constant breeze (sometimes wind) that kept me cool and easily dried my work without need for a blow dryer. Or maybe it was just having fellow artists around me doing their work too, and people coming by from time to time to watch and offer a friendly comment. I’ve come to realize how much both of the latter mean to me and how much they help to inspire me in moving forward.

Mexican Place Setting -- Watercolor by Stefanie Graves, 21.5" X 14"
Mexican Place Setting -- Watercolor by Stefanie Graves, 21.5" X 14"

My quilt week guest, Ginger, offered her own take on my worries about finishing the painting. Well, of course you were nervous, she confided. You were giving birth to something new to the world. You were bound to be worried over it. Those were birth pangs you were experiencing!

How ‘bout that. My first birth pangs.

Igniting a Fire

Watercolor by Stefanie Graves   11" X 21"
Watercolor by Stefanie Graves 11" X 21"

One of my New Year resolutions was to start a new blog, one of my own that would be separate from the Cowango blog, writings about our travels and life in Mexico. Since we’ve moved to Paducah, that blog has almost been mothballed, its reason for being having pretty much disappeared. Settled here in Paducah with only periodic trips back to our casita in San Miguel, the blog needed re-thinking. I’ve felt a greater need to have a separate voice to devote to my watercolors and my efforts at making my way in the art world.

So, the fireworks are over, the calendar has been turned to 2009, and I can’t think of a better way to start things off than with a new venture. Besides the blog, I’ve promised to paint more this year and work on marketing even more than ever. Right now it feels a little like trying to start a fire. Gathering little twigs and pieces of dry grass, arranging them carefully to allow for some room for oxygen and enough energy to create a spark that will ignite even bigger things and become something of substance to give off warmth and sustenance. I’m still trying to get that flame to take hold.

Maybe this blog will be the spark, along with some luck, to get things moving along beyond where I’ve come so far. I’ll share my work, progress, thoughts, and whatever interesting pieces of flotsam and jetsam that comes my way.

The year closed with an experimental piece completed as part of a community art project about communication and community. One artist started by creating a painting, which was then viewed by three other artists, who in turn created their own work inspired from what they saw from the original painting. This continued on with subsequent artists looking at those works and creating their own paintings or pieces of art. Kind of a visual game of “Telephone.” My painting was one of 15 works of art that became part of The Ripple Effect exhibition at the Maiden Alley Cinema in Paducah exploring communication and other themes brought out as a result of the project. My painting’s theme of religion played off the idea of religious community portrayed in the artist’s painting I viewed. The process shook me up, took me into a new direction. Now I’m wondering what else it may tell me.