In the Ruins

I got started later than anticipated yesterday and so by the time I finished my little painting it was too late to photograph it. So, here it is, yesterday’s painting. This little guy is a Mexican horse, or maybe it’s a pony as it turned out from the way I painted it. He’s looking out from some of the ruins in Real de Catorce, an historical town up in the mountains of central Mexico on the way to San Miguel. It’s an interesting town, accessed only through a mile long tunnel carved through the mountain like catacombs. The streets are steep and meandering. We stopped on our way south last year to explore and were charmed beyond belief. This little guy was peeking out of an abandoned hacienda at the edge of town.


Watercolor on paper

4.5″ X 5.5″


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Dave, my in-house art consultant, has convinced me, along with another knowledgeable friend, that my pricing on these daily paintings is off. Pricing is always a tricky business, and when you start something new like this you kind of have to gauge response and what others are doing. So, taking all that into consideration, and because I value their opinion and judgement, I’m changing the price on these to $50 each.

Day 2 — Black Ibis

Today’s selection is an image from our first trip to San Miguel de Allende. Just to the east of town is a nature preserve with a man made reservoir that attracts myriad water birds, among them Black Ibis. Exceedingly shy birds, we’ve never been able to get very close to them, and absent a telephoto of some power, this is about the best you can do. Later, when we rented a house on the east side of town while building ours, the ibis would make nightly sojourns from east to west to roost somewhere for the night. Their trek invariably took them directly over our house, making them a special bird indeed for us.

“Black Ibis Flight”

Watercolor on paper

4.5″ X 5.5″
Contact me for purchase details

Black Ibis Flight
Black Ibis Flight

On another note, yesterday brought a reason for celebration other than starting this series of small paintings. My painting, “Mexican Place Settings,” which I’ve posted as a new work this spring and also as part of a post during Quilt Week, was accepted into the 63rd Annual International Exhibition 2009 Aqueous Open. This show is put on by the Pittsburgh Watercolor Society, and for me represents my first acceptance into a watercolor society show of any kind. Strange as that may seem, and for all the other shows I’ve been in, none of them have been exclusive watercolor exhibitions. The show will be at be Galleries, 3583 Butler Street, in Pittsburgh, PA from November 3 – 28, 2009. The opening reception will be Saturday November 7 from 6 – 9pm.

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.

A Rude Awakening

Mexican Place Settings -- work in progress
Mexican Place Settings -- work in progress

Deaf moments – those times that something unexpected, and usually embarrassing, happens as a consequence of being deaf – rarely occur these days. But I still have them from time to time, I suppose just to remind me that I still am deaf and to add spice to my life. What would life be without its entertainment value?

Well, I had a doozy this morning, a deaf moment to go down in history. The light was dim through the curtains when I first opened my eyes, and since Dave was still beside me I knew it was fairly early since he had to be at Lowes for work at 9AM. I tossed a bit and went back to sleep. To awaken sometime later with Dave gone and still not much light coming into the bedroom; I went back to sleep. This went on a couple more times until I told myself I really needed to get my butt out of bed. As I started to toss the covers off, I was struck with a thought that sent me into sheer panic. I had an adult education class coming this morning at 10 to begin a tour of LowerTown galleries! God help me, what time is it??? Glasses hurriedly crammed onto my face, I looked expectantly at Dave’s clock. To my utter horror it was 10:01. I could only pray they were late.

Being as I cannot hear a ten gun salute next to me while I sleep much less a door bell or the phone since I am without my processor, I knew that had they rung my bell or knocked I would have been oblivious to their attempts to arouse me. I flung on clothes and put my processor on hurriedly. The first noise to assault my consciousness was the trill of the phone from the living room. Oh, heaven save me, get me to the phone before they hang up! Of course it was them. I ran to the phone just in time to reach the instructor at the other end of the line. Where are you? she quite reasonably wanted to know. Well…ur…umm….well, I am here. But you see, I am deaf….uh…well, and I couldn’t hear you……and……ummm….well. Oh, geez, I have just now awakened. I am SO SORRY!! This is so embarrassing.

Sandy, the instructor, was such a gracious person, to my eternal gratitude, and offered to go somewhere else first. But I wouldn’t hear of it since I had maps for them all, marked as to which galleries were open. In less than a minute I had my hair brushed and studio lights turned on, the studio blind lifted, and opened the door to wave them in from their van. Sandy alighted and greeted me, “Rise and shine, sleepy head!!” Hugs all around.

The good Lord save me from myself. I hope they had a wonderful day here in LowerTown and Paducah.

Images of Morocco


At last! We have a working camera after two protracted visits to the repair shop and finally the purchase of a used lens through ebay. The old lens was the problem, as it turned out, not registering anything with the camera body. I kept getting “error 99,” whatever that meant, when I tried to take a picture. So my little blog, with all its high-flung intentions, went neglected until I could post pictures.

After the lens arrived in the mail today I immediately attached it to the camera and fired off a couple test shots from inside and outside the house. Success! I then carried my painting outside for its long-awaited photo shoot and took some shots to transform via Photoshop. Digital images are so much easier than taking slides as you used to have to do. Now I don’t have to worry about what’s surrounding the painting, I just crop it out in the image preparation. After some futzing with the tripod and then a little touch-up after looking at the photos on my computer, the images are ready.

The painting is called “Unloaded,” and is a fair depiction of a familiar scene in a souk, or marketplace, in about any of the major cities in Morocco. This one is actually in Fez, but the important thing is that burros, such as the one standing prominently in the foreground of the painting, provide the predominant means of transporting goods into the market. Their ability to handle huge, heavy loads, their sure-footedness, and their resilience makes them the perfect adaptable transport. Not to mention the narrow, twisting corridors of the souks that they can easily traverse, which don’t lend themselves well to trucks of any size.

I like the strong geometric sense and contrasts of the composition. There is a hardness in those strong lines, reflective of the toughness of the donkey.

First Painting

"Two Ibis"    Watercolor by Stefanie Graves    17" X 17"
"Two Ibis" Watercolor by Stefanie Graves 17" X 17"

My painting is at a resting phase, something they all go through at what appears to be their completion. I wait to let them sink in and see if they have anything else to tell me. I, on the other hand, am in motion. After so many months of not writing blog entries and not doing very many paintings, I’m trying to get my groove back on and develop some long-needed discipline. It seems I read about it every day, the benefits of setting a schedule for your work and sticking to it. Robert Genn devoted an entire letter to it recently and has spoken of his own schedule from time to time in his Painter’s Keys bi-weekly list. My neighbor, Bill, puts me to shame, painting like a mad man. So, I’ve taken note and am trying to set a new course.

I recently came across a neat way of taking credit for the time you spend in your studio. An artist I found online posted calendars for the past three years, showing the days she’d painted or drawn colored in with bright colors, so that by the end of the year they made a colorful abstract painting by themselves. Seeing the three years together also showed her progress in spending more time on her work. It’s sort of like getting a gold star by your name when you do your chores. The kid in me likes that, so I may have to make my own calendar to fill in.

The first painting of the year is entitled, “Two Ibis,” inspired from one of our trips to Florida in the past few years. I love the birds and wildlife there and try to spend at least part of each trip someplace where I can wonder in relative silence and watch the creatures go about their daily lives. Ibis are particularly busy birds, nearly always at work wading through bogs and waterways thrusting their bills into the muck to find some tasty morsel. Here, they rested, perhaps gathering energy for their day ahead.


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.