What’s it like to be a woman in a “man’s” profession?

I’ve known Kelsie Gray for most of the time I’ve lived in Paducah. I’ve known her through a few transitions in her profession, first as a college writing instructor, then painting houses for a living after that gig disappeared, and then suddenly realizing that instead of seeing house interiors she’d painted posted on her social media page I was seeing a burgeoning window restoration business. It was sort of like watching a butterfly transform before my eyes. 

Kelsie Gray, Window Restoration, watercolor on paper

I looked up and wondered how all of that happened.

I watched her make over a lot of historic windows, and saw her go to workshops to hone her craft. She made a crazy trip to New York City right during Covid to work on a restoration project there. She accidentally cut herself with all those sharp tools routinely, wore a lot of bandaids on her fingers, groused about comments she got at Home Depot from contractors as she stood in line to buy materials, and celebrated her victories as she got better at her job.  All the while transforming decaying ugly windows that looked like they were ready for the junk heap into beautiful pristine pieces of history worthy of saving.

When I started this project I put together a list of professions I thought would be illustrative of some powerful things that women participated in. Window restoration didn’t automatically pop into my head, but Kelsie did. Because I couldn’t take my eyes off what she was doing and accomplishing. Every day there was something new on her feed about her latest job and some of the other things in her life. She’s single, owns her own business, is passionate about what she does, holds herself to high standards, and is as funny as heck. She also has a soft spot for animals which endeared her to me as well.

Using the heat gun

So I knew I had to include her.

Kelsie’s workshop is a short walk from my house in a nondescript storefront that has gone through several iterations, the latest before her endeavor being a hotdog stand and lunchette. You can’t see what’s she’s up to from the huge plate glass windows in the front because the mini blinds are always pulled all the way down. Inside is a place that brought back my childhood in my dad’s carpentry workshop down in our basement. Boards of various sizes, widths, and kinds lined the back wall while benches loaded with accouterments for her work hugged the sides of the room. On a pegboard above the workbenches hung saws, clamps, and miter boxes. A blackboard announced her business name, “Kiss My Sash” with the month’s work stats listed below. There was serious consideration going on behind the artistry. The place smelled of wood and glue and growth.

Kelsie’s business “Kiss My Stash”

While I took pictures and she worked on a window destined to return to its former home, we talked about what restoring windows was like from a woman’s perspective. Kelsie being young, single, pretty (there’s that word), and fit makes her an easy target for comments from others who work in the trades. Some are surprised to see someone like her at a worksite deep in the weeds, so to speak, removing old windows and working on restorations. Her opinion isn’t always heard or welcome unless it comes by way of a male ally. Whistles and unbidden comments are common. 

I guess they can’t see her work, that beauty of her craft, before them.

I had such a great time interviewing Kelsie and seeing her work firsthand. I loved getting a peek into her world. As far as I’m concerned she’s a rising star and someone I’m not only happy to have included in my project but a woman I’m proud of for all her strength, perseverance, and the beauty she creates.

A piece of history

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

Watercolor Workshop!!

It’s been a while since I taught a watercolor workshop, but a couple weeks ago I sat down with 8 willing and eager participants at Ephemera Paducah to help them navigate the idiosyncrasies of all things watercolor. Thanks to Kristin Williams’ superior market skills at Ephemera, my two-day class was full with a small waiting list.

Painting in progress in an earlier workshop

This workshop, like the ones I’ve conducted in the past, was for anyone with an interest in learning more or trying their hand at this challenging media. I’ve been at this for nearly 40 years, and I still learn new ways to make watercolor work its magic. Even I have my challenges, one of which is becoming a more adept teacher. I lean heavily on my experiences with past teachers who taught me in workshops and classes as I was starting out. And then I’ve picked up some tricks that I found to work well for me.

From an earlier workshop

We started the first day with practicing wet-on-wet washes to get the hang of handling brushes and how much paint to apply versus water. The key is learning that balance – too little water and the paint won’t flow, too much and you either lose your color or produce “blooms,” thin areas of color with ruffled edges. Both extremes are things you want to avoid.

Tropical beach demo – with salt, masking, and applying Saran Wrap, this demo has it all!

From there my eight charges followed along as I demo’ed a tropical beach scene with a rocky outcrop just off shore with waves crashing behind it and three palm trees in the foreground. I love this picture because there’s a lot going on in terms of technique. Apply some salt at the bottom edge of the blue sky wash and you get the effect of wild spray. Crumple a piece of Saran Wrap into the wet wash in the foreground and you have gentle beach waves once the paint dries.

The second day I introduced a more challenging subject to learn more about painting wet-on-wet as well as how to paint reflections. Again, I provided the step-by-step demo as they followed along, guiding them through the process.

Mermet Lake Blooming – finished painting

It really is true that when you teach something if you’re doing it right you come away learning as much as your students. Demonstrating forces me think about the techniques I’m teaching, and giving them voice helps to reinforce them in my own mind. At the completion of the lesson I also love seeing my students’ results. It’s always amazing to me to see their interpretation of the image I start with. Each painting has its own style and feeling. The tonality, movement, expression, in spite of starting from the same vantage point, are all unique. That’s one of my favorite things about doing workshops.

Stay tuned for more – I’m planning my next one for early Spring 2019.

In Dedication

I work two sides of my brain and sometimes it feels like neither functions very well. At this certain age I suppose that’s to be expected. They say doing complex activities keeps the dimentia at bay, and if that’s the case I should never have to worry. To help feed my creative side, at least until I’m “discovered,” I work as a nurse a couple days a week. In spite of the work being extremely stressful and sometimes down right impossible, I love what I do.

Nurses don’t always get a lot of credit. Doctors are canonized and are portrayed in heroic parts in movies and TV shows. But those of us in the trenches know it’s absolutely true that you better have a good, smart, savvy nurse when your body starts sending signals it’s trying to check out early. So this Spring I thought it might be nice to do something a little special for my fellow comrades-in-arms. Something more than a carnation (one hospital I worked for in the past gave all its nurses a carnation on Nurses’ Day) or the hospital-wide activities that aren’t specific enough to let each of those I work with know how special they are.

Four Seasons

So I did what I do best with the side of my brain that “relaxes” when I’m at work as a nurse. I painted a picture that could be turned into a banner with each of their names on it. It didn’t take a lot to sell the idea to my manager, and I’m happy to say that if you come to my unit, one of the first things you’ll see when you step off the elevator is my banner. People notice and I like to think it’s made a difference.

Nurse for all seasons, which is exactly what we are.

I love my job because I love the people I work with. They’re an incredible group of people who care desperately about the patients who find themselves on our unit.

I hope you’re never “lucky” enough to meet us there.

“Four Seasons”

Watercolor on paper

15″ X 22″

$650

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!

Painting My Muse

Black and white cat at rest staring into distance
Chaplin

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.

Quick Draw

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.

Shadows

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.

A Mighty Sun God

"Golden One"
Golden One

What do we know about creating gods? The ancient Egyptians marveled at the little curiosity of a dung beetle, rolling its portion of what it considered wealth into a perfect sphere to traverse the landscape and be placed in a more opportune local, and were reminded of the sun. They fashioned their Sun god Khepera after this lowly beetle, believing that the sun was pushed across the sky in a similar manner.

From dung sculptor to god is a mighty leap indeed. Maybe it’s no wonder since it can pull over 1,100 times it own body weight, making it the strongest insect on earth. Perhaps that should be “push” since the dung beetle pushes its ball of poo around with its hind feet, periodically stopping and clambering atop to get its bearings. I guess I can see where the Egyptians’ logic might have led them to believe that there must be something fantastically strong to move the sun from one side of the sky to the other.

I’ve taken a mighty leap myself this time around in using acrylic metalic paint to give this little guy some extra glow and invoke the sun. He’s out there searching for his life source unaware of the great import we mere mortals have bestowed upon him.

Title: Golden One

Size: 10.5″ X 14.5″

Media: watercolor and acrylic

Price: $250 unframed

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

Unknown Champion

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