A new chapter. Welcome Graham Hickling to Still Life with Cat Studio!

Graham Hickling is trained as a Wildlife Biologist in New Zealand before moving to the United States in 2002.  He lived in Michigan for several years before moving to Knoxville, Tennessee, where he teaches at the University of Tennessee. Throughout his career he has combined his interests in photography and videography with his wildlife research activities.  His primary interests are nature photography and macrophotography, however his eye for the quirks of humanity in the Southern landscape has led to a growing enthusiasm for street photography.

I’m looking forward to sharing his passion for photography with you soon as we grow his new collection.

G reflectionsSpringfield House


Beauty in destruction

Hurricane Irma left so much devastation in my city.  More than we have experienced in over a century.  Yet in the midst of all the destruction, there is still beauty.  The power that water holds over us mortals is felt in a visceral way when we see what it can do.  These images are from a city park near my home.  I have been walking to and around this park for almost 14 years.  I have seen the park and it’s central winged statue at all times of the day and have photographed it often in many different settings and light.  In many ways the statue (called Life) is an integral part of my life as an artist.  I sell more art photos of this statue than any other local icons.  So when I heard the park had flooded, and that the seawall had breached, I was devastated.

The worst of the storm had passed and the storm surge was beginning to recede when I walked down to see what was left.  The following photos were taken within the first 48 hours of the storm passing.  The most beautiful dawn light comes after a hurricane and I did my best to capture it and the power of the water still crashing into the 100 year old balustrade surrounding the statue.

Memorial Park Jacksonville

Sunrise of Life after IrmaLife with chessmen WMbalustrade sunrise2 WMChess pieces vibrant WMBroken Dreams WMChess pieces sunrise best WMSunrise WV BW WMBroken wall of Life WMRiverside Avondale Preservation

The good news is that the park will be restored.  the city has already begun some work and the Memorial Park Association and the Riverside Avondale Preservation group is also involved.  Many of the marble pieces have been salvaged for restoration and many of the balustrade “chessmen” are now in safe keeping for the day they rebuild the sea wall.  The statue itself was not damaged, in spite of being up to his ankles in crashing waves at one point.

Why am I so nervous and excited?

About a month ago, I signed up for an evening market.  I’ve been to this one before so it was easy to participate again.  I then stopped thinking about it until last week when the event coordinators started the usual round of social media advertising.  The normal music/food/market was being sponsored by a group called the 22nd Annual ChinaCat Sunflower Festival.  How did I miss all that?  It turns out to be a full fledged Jerry Garcia tribute evening complete with a Drum Circle at 4:20 pm.

I started planning for it yesterday!  Ye Gods- not enough time.  I created a limited edition art piece and almost ran out of ink printing it today.  The miracle of the ink cartridge occurred and I only ran out of a color I had a replacement for.  No last minute stressful trips to Office Depot.

Now I’m about ready.  I went through my jewelry and found my Smiley Face Mood Ring.  I have my Unicorn ring, my copper bear fetish earrings and a huge sun/moon/shooting star pendant.  I wish I knew where my denim cap was but it’s too hot to wear it anyway.


Its almost exactly a month to my 60th birthday and here I am acting like a kid going to her first concert (which was the Dead by the way).

I hope the bands are good, but even if they aren’t I’m going to have a blast!ChinaCat

Back in Italy

It feels so strange to be back in Verona. Almost a year has passed since we moved back to the US with our cat after living here for seven months. Coming back as “visitors” has been harder than I expected. 

To start, we could not find an apartment in our preferred neighborhood, so we are wayyyyy up the hill in Veronetta. It’s quite pretty and very old ( being the first settlement of Verona in the 600’s). But it’s a serious hike from the city center. Uphill both ways! At least it feels that way.   Next up we are visitors again, not residents. Being treated like tourists rankles a bit in our town!

The bright side is how many people we have seen who remember and have missed us.  Nadia and Laura at the fruit and veg store. The cranky guy at the liquor store. The lady who rescues cats and her two dogs. The woman who owns the market and many restaurant owners and servers. All “felice di vederti” (happy to see you!) It’s just a little bittersweet. 

The weather has been spectacularly gorgeous. Rain at night has kept the skies clear during the day. It’s been 70-80 and still cool at night.  The Jasmine is just starting to bloom, roses are in full glory and the peonies are about finished. Strawberries are incredible, cherries just coming on. Last night we had fresh shelled sweet peas and mushrooms with our pork cutlets. Cooking here again made me so happy!!!

About people in the art world

I am so amazed and uplifted by the people I have met in the last few months.  As new as I am to this online and market business of selling art, I can already count many new friends and a few mentors.  Nicole Butler was one of the first people I met at a pop up event in November held at The Honeycomb Salon (Nancy the owner has been a huge artistic support).  Nicole has become a go to business mentor and a great friend (and you really must try her Mother Fudgin’ Mask).  She makes vegan bath and body products that are amazing.  She has sent me leads for markets and consignment shops, answered really stupid questions and just generally been a great contact.  Kat Bush (she is on Etsy as KatBushdesigns)  is another new artist in the markets I go to.  We have been helping each other out as we go along and will be sharing a space at The Makers Market in Jacksonville April 29 and 30th.  She is a super talented water color artist and I am proud to say I own one of her pieces!

There have been so many stories already that will be lifelong memories.  Like the dead snake in front of my booth two weeks ago that another vendor kindly removed for me.  Or the day the wind was so strong the vendor next to me was helping me chase my art down the aisle.  Or the couple selling jewelry at the art walk who would not leave until I was packed up at a night market when I was the last one still working.

There are so many things in this world today that don’t seem right anymore.  I can tell you the market culture is not one of them.


The importance of local art at a local art market.

Last weekend was a learning moment for me.  As I prepped for my local farmers/art market: Riverside Arts Market I thought to myself, why not make some new items.  So I started with fridge magnets and ended with postcards.  Now, lots of people tell me I shouldn’t waste time on cards and stationary BUT it sells.  It’s a piece of art you can enjoy or share and you don’t have to spend a lot of money or worry about where to hang it.  When I was young and trying to decorate an impossibly ugly studio apartment, I bought interesting note cards and framed them to hang.  So, I have a history with cards.  I also worked in the hospitality industry for years selling tchotchka’s to tourists and I know the power of a postcard.

So off to market I went with fun new art magnets and 30 postcards of differing subjects, mostly local shots of iconic things (statues, bridges etc.).  Low and behold, I sold almost all the postcards, but only one magnet.  Here is the lesson:  at the end of the day a woman stopped by my booth and saw the magnets-  “where are the ones that say Jacksonville on them?” she asks?  I collect magnets and your art is perfect for what I wanted but I go home tomorrow.  Oops!  Big miss on my part.  So Saturday I will have Jacksonville collectible magnets to offer.  You only have to tell me once.

By the end of the day I had sold all of my matted prints of our memorial statue known as Winged Victory (official title: Free) and an art piece of a mural at an intersection in town known mostly to locals.

Local art is important to locals and visitors alike.

Learning to manage two blogs, Facebook, Instagram and two web stores. Oh, my.

SEO’s, linked domains, tiered accounts….  Just to name a few new things I’m learning about.  Silly me, I thought you just wrote about what you loved and people found and followed you, then bought something.

Here’s how it all started:  We moved to Italy for 7 months.  I quit my “real” job to become a professional art photographer, blogger and wife.  I started with a Blogger site @jaxcattravel and I still go there for travel exclusive posts.   I joined the @etsy team and created my store there Still Life with Cat/Etsy since they have such a great reputation.  I juggled these for awhile along with my personal Instagram account, posting photo after photo and adding items to the Etsy store.

Eventually I figured out that I really wanted my own website, not just one attached to my Etsy store. I went with @wordpress to start a photography blog and a business website.  I did some research and settled on @shopify.  Again a great reputation for support, an easy to use interface and the ability to link my website to my @wordpress blog.  Another day working on domain linkages and I had it up and running.  Each step I hope getting me closer to my goal.

I decide to follow my dream full time, not go back to the “real world” when we get back to the states.

I have a great first outing at a Ladies Night event with local artisans selling product.  I sold out of a number of pieces and certainly went home happy in my wallet.  I’m thinking this is not so bad.  I can do this!  I start looking for  art markets and craft fairs.  I get invited to a charity Art Walk so I give it a whirl.  Here’s what I learned- you have to ask a lot of questions about the other vendors, and the demographics of the people attending.  I was not prepared with less expensive items to offer and needed them.  I didn’t sell anything except to a neighboring vendor and I think she just felt sorry for me.

Next I signed up for the weekly farmers/art market; Riverside Arts Market in my area.  It’s pretty hard to get into so I was stoked when they accepted me.  Now, I have to make a different kind of investment.  I need tables, a tent, display pieces, lots of portable inventory and lighting.  I get my husband and a neighbor’s kid to help me set up everything in the driveway as a dry run before the actual event.  It was pretty hilarious and I wish I had it on video.  We ran through it all three times and I felt I was ready for the main event.  It went smooth the first weekend and I had a few customers; enough to pay to be there and take home a little extra.  I learned a lot about managing the tent (see the post about wind).  The following weekend it was really cold and I was happy I had bought extra weights.  The coffee vendor ran out of coffee by noon. There wasn’t much traffic so I was surprised that I had my best day in sales so far!  After that I have had multiple events, mostly good and I feel like I have my “chops” about this market biz.  I’m doing a big two day event in April and a Seafood Festival in June.  I’m trying to pace myself, because it’s hard work and when the tent is involved I have to have help.

Now that I am secure in my physical market sense, I have turned once again to my online presence.  My Etsy store has really only been a special order platform and my own website has only been a platform for market credit card sales (thanks to the nifty credit card swiper Shopify sent me).  I am studying adverts now and SEO’s and how to describe product offerings.  But I am pretty sure it boils down to followers.  How many you have and how many shares and likes you can get.  That plus online reviews.  It’s an up hill climb but I’m in it for the long haul.


Some great special order pieces to share

Last week I had three special orders come in for big pieces.  I love working with the bigger images.  They are all Italian photos; one from Venice, one from Verona and one from Padua.  I have been experimenting with different paper finishes so it was fun to see how the images would produce.  I know these photos don’t give them justice, but I have to say I love the paper I used!

The first one is called Slices of Nautilus, pieced together using the Layers app by Instagram.  The sidewalks in Verona are largely made of white and pink marble and all of the cathedrals have pink or rose marble floors and stairs.  The marble is sliced so that you can see the fossils embedded inside.  I printed this on metallic Luster paper by Epson.  A new find for me.  Wow do the colors pop and the image is so electric.  The finished piece is 16X20 in the frame.


The next piece is from the Grand Canal in Venice.  Many of the once elegant and colorful doors have begun to rot from the bottom up from exposure to the canal water.  This particular set of doors caught my eye for the beautiful blue and green wood set into a red brick wall.  I used Velvet Luster Paper for this one from Epson.  It has a texture to it that lends a tactile feel to the image.  With natural images and street art the Velvet paper is perfect.  The finished piece is 16X20 framed.


The last one is from Padua in Northern Italy.  This was a Palazzo Archway in the old city center off the central square.  This one is heavily edited on the Prisma app for a water color effect so it would match the customers decor.  I also used the Velvet Luster paper for this one.  It gave a canvas feel to the image so it worked alongside an actual watercolor they wanted to place with it in the same room.  It is also framed to 16X20.


All in all, I feel these projects came out great!  My customers were happy and I am looking forward to doing more special pieces!

New opportunities abound

So I guess I rejection can be handled when you have other great things happening to offset it.  Over the weekend I was notified that my entry in a photo contest @winewankers.com  had made the short list of 15 finalists.  Of course if you follow me on any social channels you know this already- but you don’t know how really thrilled I am.  I have followed Conrad and Drew’s blog and Instagram pages for years. I want to be like them when I grow up, funny, educational and making money doing what they love- writing about wine (only I want to write about art photography)!  Anyway, I can’t compete (yet) with some of the famous photographers who are in the contest, but I am holding my own in fourth place.  I am flogging social media for more votes since I believe I have run out of friends to ask.  This is actually teaching me the importance of a bigger social media audience.  Next up I was given a spot at a large annual seafood festival in my county this summer.  It has a huge crowd every year and I’m excited that the curators LOVED my work.  So sour disappointment turns into sweet opportunity at days end.  Look for more about this festival as soon as I am confirmed I will advertise it.

PS- if you haven’t already voted for my photo of Moses, click the link above and go to his photo in the contest blog post.

I just noticed that he is sitting next to all the information we brought back from one of our Australian wine tours- I believe it was our first visit to Melbourne!  That’s priceless!