The eyes are the window of the soul – English Proverb

While the potential to go broke as an outdoor writer is very likely due to low wages and a saturated market, all the cool gear and accessories don’t make it any easier to pay bills on time. Case in point: Joanne Graham’s pastel paintings.

While at yet another trade show, this time in Portland, Ore., I found Joanne tucked among the booths lining an aisle amid all the other vendors hawking their wares. Her work stopped me in my tracks. While her work is amazing, it was the expression and detail of a black Lab’s eyes that really caught my attention.

The picture, which can be seen to the right, is a commissioned montage that details the life stages and greatest memories of the owners. Take a look at the expression and eye detail of the centerpiece. It’s a phenomenal work. If you’re a dog person you’ve seen that look and expression before from your own companions, and you know it’s what’s usually missing in artwork; that conveyance of real emotion.

Joanne’s medium of choice is pastel paints. They’re like little chalk pieces that she colors the paper with and uses only her fingers — no brushes — to shade in the fine detail and highlights. In addition to dogs, she paints cats and horses, too.

The award-winning artist (she has more than 22 recognitions to date) who hails from Chico, Calif., paints dogs on paper ranging in size from 16 x 20 inches to 24 x 30 inches. Costs run from $1,000 for a 16 x 20-inch piece of a single dog’s head to $2,500 for a 24 x 30-inch full-body dog with background or a montage piece of a head, bird and body.

Those prices might make you go “ouch!” when you first think about the dent to your wallet, but consider this: you’re getting an original piece of artwork of YOUR dog that contains all your memories and emotions. Throw in the fact that it takes Joanne about three weeks to complete a piece and you begin to understand the necessity of the price when factored against the hours involved.

I’m already envisioning various pictures of Kona that can be included in a montage portrait. From puppyhood to our South Dakota adventures to a really neat shot I have of him at just over a year old staring at incoming geese as his sire sits in the background in a very similar and intense pose.

Now I just have to figure out how to balance the price of commission against the wages of an outdoor writer!

If you want more info or to view more examples of Joanne’s work, check out her website at or call (530) 877-2100.