What Do You See?

What Do You See?

In light of recent events people have been making a buzz about how we are to not to allow Syrian refugees into our borders. U.S. politicians have taken a political stance and I have listened quietly to what others have said on twitter and facebook feeds. I have had some thoughts about safety and what it means to be safe. I do want to protect my family but I also want to do what's right. Maybe doing what's right isn't supposed to be comfortable.

I spent two hours painting the image above which has been in my head for quite some time. I listened to a live discussion last week with Chris Marlow and a few others about how we respond to evil and I would strongly recommend you give it a listen. Something that stood out to me was when Jonathan Merritt shared children refugees asking, "Do you see me?" Here is the link!

I also came across a poem that is imbedded throughout the art piece. It shared from the perspective of a refugee talking to a Clarkston resident. Throughout Outcasts United, the older residents of Clarkston were very negative about the refugees in their town. In the chapter, “Getting over It,” a quote from Pastor Phil Kitchin relates to the idea expressed in the poem, “Jesus said heaven is a place for people of all nations. So if you don’t like Clarkston, you won’t like heaven” (St. John 177). It shows that at the end of the day, we are all human beings despite our differences of race or nationality. News Link

What do you see when you look at me?
Why do you see me as such a threat?
All I want is to be accepted, to be free,
Yet you judge me even though we’ve barely met.
You see me and think that I’m just a stain
On the familiar image of your “perfect” town.
You refuse to see me as just someone seeking help
From a place in which everything has come crashing down.
You see me and think that I’m a parasite
Slowly eating away at your life.
You refuse to see me as a poor soul
Whose life has been constantly filled with strife.
You see me and think that I’m a cancer
Growing and destroying with the rest of my kind.
You refuse to see me as a stranded soul.
Someone who knows that peace, for me, is hard to find.
I stay here every day, trying to be one of you.
Yet you’ll never see it that way.
What if I told you something that I know
You’d never allow yourself to say? I am a person just like you.
Don’t you see?
I was always a human being, yet you chose to give me shame.
I eat. I sleep. I breathe. I feel.
And I bet that you do exactly the same.
It doesn’t matter where we grew up
Or how we got to where we are today.
It doesn’t change the fact that we’re people.
And as much as you hate it now, I’m here to stay.
If you looked past what is different, I wouldn’t have to tell you.
I just wanted you to see me for me.
If you look at it that way, maybe we could get along.
So now, what do you see when you look at me?
-Matthew Pinnock

Work Cited St. John, Warren. Outcasts United: An American Town, a Refugee Team, and One Woman's Quest to Make a Difference. New York: Spiegel & Grau, 2009. Link to original post

Original photograph reference taken by Jonathan Hyams

Video time-lapse of painting coming soon.

Becoming One

A couple getting married next month asked me to create a painting that signified their relationship. I saw how they complimented each other and their personalities reminded me of a sun and moon. When an eclipse happens I see two becoming one so I came up with this as they wait to be joined as one on their wedding day.

I came up with different concepts below to show you the process.

Here is a video time lapse of the process of the piece. I hope you enjoy it and please share if you do!

The final piece! 

Answering the Call

This year, more than 7,000 children will spend time in foster care. More than 500 children are waiting to be adopted. The greatest need of every child in foster care is a safe, loving family where they can heal and grow.

Children are placed in emergency shelters, group homes or residential facilities. Siblings are often separated because there is not a home available to take them as a group. Nearly half of all children who enter foster care must be placed outside their home county because there is no room closer to home. Out-of-county placements create the need for children to be transported to their home county for staffings, family visits, and court appearances. Extended travel time leads to further disruptions in the child’s life – like missing school. It also consumes DCFS staff time.

"I wanted to create a piece that showed the hope of a child finding a loving home. They would be walking towards a door that was opening full of light. Doing a watercolor I wanted to have bright and vibrant colors that set an uplifting mood. Placing "Answering the Call" is the response that we are responsible for. We shouldn't ignore the orphan and welcome them however we can into our home and lives." -Samuel

Having a pool of available foster and adoptive families in every county in Arkansas would go a long way toward solving the problem. The CALL is mobilizing Christians from multiple denominations and churches in local communities around Arkansas to meet the needs of local children in foster care. Recruiting families is our priority, however, we know that not every Christian is called to foster or adopt. The CALL works with local churches to assemble a support team of volunteers to wrap around their foster and adoptive families. We also try to connect churches with other opportunities to serve children in foster care.

To learn more about The CALL you can go to there website here: http://thecallinarkansas.org/

Ready to Adapt

Ready to Adapt

It’s hard for everyone

If you aren't planning for it. I was asked last week to go paint at a conference in DC that i had been planning for. I didn’t know I was going to be asked to do something like this until a few months before which left me little time to figure out what I was going to paint and how to transport a 4x4 ft. painting on a plane.

I was called to adapt. This conference was a fundraiser for 99balloons which is a non-profit that helps bring awareness and support to families that have children with special needs. The whole purpose of this trip was to build relationships with people that had ties with Arkansas in DC. That included house of representatives in congress as well as other important people am supposed to know of. It was a great experience for me and allowed me help an organization tell their story.

Be ready for any situation

If i had not been practicing for the live painting I was asked to do at this fundraiser then it would have been so much more stressful. I was ready because I paint live in front of people every week at Mama Carmen’s. I had already spent enough time to know what I needed and how to get the job done. All I had to really adapt to was figuring out the audience I was painting for and how to get everything I needed to DC.

Be a passionate failure

Too many times have I taken odd jobs that I wasn’t ready for. I had not been practicing and I gave false promises to how long the project was going to take me and what I was going to deliver. I realized that means I need to hone down my focus on what I am willing to say yes to. That also means that I wasn’t passionate enough in the type of work I was doing. 

Learning to adapt requires you to be a passionate failure.

Practicing is the key to being able to adapt

You can’t practice and prepare for everything. Pick one or two things and begin showing up every week producing something. If you can make something every day, do that. I show up every week and paint a live painting regardless if someone else is ready for it. My long term mindset with live painting is to bring the experience anywhere to people. This was my chance to make that a reality.

Knowing your stuff

I realized that bringing a canvas on the plane was going to be difficult as well as having to borrow an easel to setup at the event. However, I have had experience in using linoleum flooring that can be rolled up and transported in a tube. I did some research and saw that having a tube carry on can fit on a plane. I also looked up that I could bring all of my brushes and acrylic paints in my check in bag.

An important thing about linoleum is that it needs to be taped up on a wall or flat surface. I usually use painters tape and through experience I have learned that it doesn’t stick well to curtain surfaces. If there is no tooth on the wall then the canvas will just fall over in the middle of my painting. That would be so bad! I can just picture having the canvas up and I have to complete this painting in an hour and everyone is watching me and to have it fall over would be a nightmare for me. That is why I asked to have pictures of the space before I left and asked for permission to put the piece on the giant windows they had. They, as in Microsoft, wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to get any paint in the space. I know exactly how much of the paint drips down and where it goes when I do paintings like that so I took measures in bringing enough paper rolls and plastic sheets to framed off the work area.


What are your limitations?

The only way you are going to know your limitations is learning from your mistakes. I had already experienced not being able to finish a piece in time because I didn’t know the concept before hand. The canvas has already fallen over because I didn’t have the right tape or didn’t know what surface I was taping it on. I didn’t have a concept drawn up and what color palette I was going to use. There weren’t small enough brushes to do details in the painting when I really needed to put those finishing touches. All of these things we learn by just doing it. A lot.

Yes or No?

I have learned that it’s better to just say yes to those big opportunities. I don’t want to limit myself from failing. You are going to fail. Being ready to adapt requires risk and you can’t adapt if you don’t keep trying.

I hope that you keep pushing forward in whatever you are passionate about. Doing it now will put you in a place to do it anywhere.

Letting Go of the Blind Sheep

"She looks like she is waiting for the greater things to come."

I wanted to share an experience I had today of letting go of an art piece I had grown fond of. It is a piece that was made to speak to someone I know. In the piece you see a young woman and a sheep next to her blinded from their surroundings. Unaware of their blindness they are in need of a shepherd. There are times where we see others we care about and they seem blinded to reality or the decisions they are making. As an artist I felt compelled to depict the state that I saw this person in. I saw her as a sheep that needed saving. When one sheep moves, the rest will follow. They will follow their leader off a cliff to their death. They are directionless and defenseless. I saw this person I cared about and hoped that she would find the shepherd that stoops down for us when we are poor, lost, and weak.

It is hard to let go of things that remind us of what we need most.

I created this piece four years ago, and I have seen more of myself in this piece than who it was originally created for. I still hope that "Blinded Sheep" spoke to the person I made it for, but I am thankful to have been able to hold it long enough to see how I have gone astray and needed saving. It has been a reminder to me how much I need a shepherd. Even though I am given everything I need I still happen to wander off.

As I delivered the piece to the new owner I explained the story behind the piece. That I made it as a response to a relationship with someone I know. I also talked about many other things on how to take care of the piece and keep it clean and ways to display and hang it. After some time of talking the woman told me that she asked her sons what they thought of the piece. She said her youngest son responded by saying, "She looks like she is waiting for the greater things to come." What he said really hit me because I didn't make this piece to show hope, but how lost she was. I didn't make this piece to speak to myself, but was a daily reminder of where I was at in my life. We are supposed to understand who we are and where we are at in life, but we also must be filled with hope of the greater things to come.

"Blinded Sheep" 4x6 ft. Charcoal on Linoleum

"Blinded Sheep" 4x6 ft. Charcoal on Linoleum

That's why it's hard to let go of pieces like these. Time and time again I am in awe of the stories I hear and the people I meet through art. Sharing art sparks connections and moments like these. That is invaluable to our life experience. Letting go of your work can be bitter sweet. But it is so worth it. Don't hold on to what you create. Share it with the world. You never know what story you might unravel.

Thanks for taking the time to read and I hope you have a good rest of the week.

P.S. If you haven't made it out to Mama Carmen's for our Live Music & Live Painting evenings on Friday nights then you need to come! This Friday at 8:30pm.

Until next time,

Live Show Recap "Faith Unseen" & "You Hold My Path"

The last few live painting shows have been great. Different people have come each time and it has been a great way to have interesting conversations and allow people to be a part of the creative process.

I find it very powerful when someone when will spend an hour of their evening to watch you create a part of their story.

 It is difficult to be satisfied with the end result of a 1 hour painting. I try to see it as a long conversation with someone. Just one person in the crowd that I am speaking to. I try to push aside all of the insecurities or desire to try to impress, but make a connection with someone and speak to them in some way. Whether that is addressing something of their past or where they are going, I want to help people to see themselves in my paintings. 

leaning forward

Here is the painting of a digital illustration I did a while back. It is called "Faith Unseen". I began painting the ledge of where the tree and man would be standing on. I put a briefcase on the group depicting how we carry our baggage around with us. That might be bad or good things that we hold on to, but I wanted to show the act of leaving all that we carry behind us.

We have been called to take a leap of faith not knowing what is ahead of us. And be willing to give up everything we have.

I'm not saying to leap to our death, but knowing that we are being carried by something else. I personally believe that God uses the struggles in our lives or the blessings to be used as a guidance towards him. When you leave your luggage behind, it is then used to help guide and carry us forward in life. Are we going to stay rooted with the tree or are we going to take the plunge?

You Hold My Path

I've always day dreamed about sitting up in the stars. I think about walking on the stars when my time here on earth is up. I see myself being held in my creators hands and being welcomed into eternity. Who holds your path? I have faith that Jesus holds the path to life after our short time here on earth. You might not believe that is the story of life, but I want you to know that the things I create are simply a reaction to what has gripped me. I am held by these hands. Sometimes I don't feel like I am and I feel like I am falling into know where. So I named this piece, "You Hold My Path". 

I even had some kiddos help me paint some of the stars! They were really into the painting and music and I saw myself in them when I was young. I remember having old artists taking me under their wing and letting me be a part. Hopefully in the near future I will be able to do art lessons or mentor someone. We will see!

Thanks for taking the time to read my blog post and follow along this journey with me. It has been such a learning experience doing this live paintings and I feel like it's different every night! If you ever want to come see my paint I put showtimes on the front page of the website. I would love to know your thoughts and feedback!

"He Loves Me" - Story

He loves me... He loves me not... He loves me... He loves me not...

We go back and forth in our lives feeling like we are on top of the world or see it crashing down upon us. We get that promotion and feel satisfied and deserving. We get in a car wreck and feel like it is the worst timing and undeserving. We contract infections and diseases and have many surgeries. We have someone we love and lose them for it was never meant to be. We have family that pass on and we never got to say goodbye early. We pluck the petals, back and forth we let our thoughts and emotions be dictated by what we see. If we run out of petals then we give up. We don't think we are loved. Our abuse was because of You and you don't love us. Why did you take her away from me? Why do I have to be sick for so long? What did I do to deserve this? The boat dock I am sitting on begins to shift and pieces fly away.

All flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls. - 1 Peter 1:24

For what good does it help us if we determine our well being by the short time we are here? It is but temporary. When we are plucking away saying, "He loves me, He loves me not, He loves me, He loves me not", where does that get us?

Yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. - James 4:14

The petals I keep plucking are about to run out. I sit and wait. Wondering if I'm going to be ok. I go back and forth ready to fly away but still wanting to stay.

Last one, "He loves me."

The woman that bought this art piece asked me what it was about. This woman had been sick and her body was very frail. She said that she saw herself in the little girl. When I told her that it was about "He loves me, he loves me not" she instantly connected with it and with tears said to me, "I am going to be O.K."

Live Show Recap 1-11-15

Sorry you had to miss out on this amazing show, but incase you did here is what happened. We had two videographers recording the evening and TJ recorded audio for one of his songs that we will be using for a promotional video. In the video we will also be explaining our vision and what we are doing at Mama Carmen's.

Here are some pictures attached of the painting and setup. It was a 10 song set that took about an hour. I kept painting for another 20 minutes after the music stopped and everyone there were mingling. Very laid back with different people walking up and talking about the painting. I will hopefully start a new charcoal piece up on the wall Wednesday and we will be painting/playing music every Friday of this month.

A few things that I am going to work on this week:
– Make a sign with time and day of the week we will be playing stand up next to the stage to give people a heads up.
– Write up stories for each art piece that will be showing at the gallery and our vision for the space so people can read it. Also thinking of having pictures of us with it.
– Finish content for MC website page for us.
– Plan for art pieces on Wednesday and Friday.
– Send out Newsletter on Wednesday with story of the piece from the previous show.
– Make something that people can take home of them to remind them of their experience.
– Get prints framed to rotate artwork.

I would love to hear any input or questions you all have! If you want to get exclusive updates and showtimes then you can sign up for my Newsletter here:

"Traditional State" - Story

"Transitional State" depicts the life journey we are on. It is a moment in time capturing a child walking on a path of life. This path opens up into a source of light. The narrow gap. Filled with hopes and dreams and requests we throw up to the stars, we hope that our creator changes our hearts and opens our eyes to find him.

…And He called a child to Himself and set him before them, and said, “Truly I say to you, unless you are converted and become like children, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven. “Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.… Matthew 18:2-4
Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. “For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Matthew 7:13-14
Come to me.
Make me a child.
Help me see you Father.
You are the Light.
Show your truth.
I need you Daddy.
Let me hear you.
Help me choose you.
Open the gate to my heart.

Here is the timelapse video of the piece being made. I would love to hear what you think.

If you are interested in buying  a print you can get one on my store.

Use What You Have

Freshman year of college my Drawing I teacher told our class to go to Home Depot/Lowe's and buy some pre-rolled linoleum flooring. Our assignment was to draw a portrait of a famous figure. At the time I was into the Godfather movies and I wanted to do a big portrait piece of Don Corleone. So I went a purchased a 9x12 piece of flooring and we nailed them up against the walls in our studio. The back surface is similar to a paper texture and it reacts pretty well with the charcoal we were using. Below are some images of the process of my first piece and how my work has evolved over the past six years.

Yes.... I was a goober in college.

We didn't prep the canvas at all and the gray tone of the texture worked well with the strong blacks. Once you started putting down a lot of the charcoal the gray looks white because of the contrast.

As time went by I fell more and more in love with this process of drawing large scale charcoal portraits. I didn't have money to buy many supplies, but doing these pieces allowed me to use only a big block of charcoal and the flooring. I used what I had.

Do you have a website with your work? I love that large charcoal one... Can you do a show here with that kind of work?

That's how it all began. A gallery owner in Little Rock asked me if I was an artist. I somehow managed to have a basic portfolio online of the classwork that I was doing. The only piece that stood out to him was this piece. I walk away signing a contract and have my first art show that year. My first series of work I had to use a simple framing system because I couldn't afford to have professional moulding. I would clamp the top of the piece with two aluminum bars and build a back frame with L brackets of aluminum pieces. I would then attach heavy duty velcro to the back of the piece to the frame. It was simple, light, and could easily be taken apart. I owe most of the credit to my Dad who has been an amazing help with figuring out how to use the most cost effective way. I ended up selling every piece from my first art show. It was a humbling experience. I had no clue what I was doing, but I was doing it.

By the time of my third solo show. I had developed different methods of making my own frames. My father and I came up with a way to order some floating moulding from a company in Dallas and build the frames ourselves. We would drill masonite to the inside of the moulding and would still velcro the pieces into the frames. A big change I started doing a few years into doing these pieces was to start gessoing the surface to create a more contrasted feel and the charcoal would move around better with the smoother surface.

You never know when someone will take notice of what you are already doing.

Whatever is around you or in your budget, use it. Make the most of those things. You never know when someone will take notice of what you are already doing. Some of what I used six years ago I still use today. My process is still evolving and I am still learning new ways to express myself. Let me know if this encouraged you at all, I would love to hear from you!

"Faith Unseen" - Story

Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. -Proverbs 3:5-6

You bring your plans and your passions with you. Your hurts and your struggles. Giving it all away to let the Lord guide you. He uses what you give back to him and asks you to take the jump. As the pressure and weight of what you hold on to lets loose, the spirit draws you closer and closer in. Jesus wants us to live a life of remembrance of what he has done and blind obedience to what he is going to do. He is the one who uses our baggage, good or bad, to comfort and guide us towards him.

You are leaning forward to a new year... Are you ready to take the leap of faith?

If you would like this reminder in your home you can get a print in my store or the link below.

Charles and Molly's Story

I met Charles about three years ago when I stepped into their home off of School St. for a bible study. I went with a few friends that would bring some food and meet with a mix of people from South Church at Lifesource and a few other friends from New Heights. Some of these folks didn't have jobs and living off of food stamps and others were architects. I wouldn't say it was the cleanest of places and there were dogs running around everywhere. A bit messy and unorganized to hold a bible study, but it worked. Charles was happy to have people in his home and saw it as a service to have people talk about God and read the bible in his home. His wife, Molly, at first was usually not interested in participating in the bible study and their son, Little Charles, was always making some kind of noise or distraction from doing anything. However, after a period of time many people's hearts were softened in that home. I have kept my relationship with this family as I regularly see them at South Church and sometimes throughout the week.

Looking back, I've seen a big transformation in Molly's life. She would share some interesting remarks towards those that would come around the house but now she always wants a hug from me and asks me to pray for her family. I often see her tear up about different hardships going on and sees me as a good friend. Little Charles is probably the craziest kid I've ever seen. But I love him. Many people in this community have seen him around South Church or other after school programs and would agree with me with his free spirit. He isn't afraid to ask questions and get people's attention. I could see him having a huge impact in his community when he grows up if he makes the right decisions and hangs out with the right crowd.


The video above was taken two years ago when I was still getting to know the Troy family. Here is a biker jacket that Charles got me to match Little Charles.

Charles and Molly live a little bit different lifestyles than me and are in a different season of life. I am not the one to know all the answers or know what's best for their family. I can't fix their current life situations, but I can love them and be their friend. I can talk about Jesus and why I live my life the way I do. I can help them out every once in a while and give Charles a tow for his broken down car, or bring them some potatoes and eggs to eat, or take him to church and take him out to eat every once in a while. They have done a lot for me and have opened up their home to me. One of the funny things that Charles does all the time is call me to see what I'm up to. He usually calls when I'm at work or it's too late but he always leaves a voicemail. I recorded just a small number of them and wanted to share them.

I remember taking to Charles to IHOP a few times to get some pancakes. I look almost the complete opposite of Charles. We always get weird looks when we go eat together. People can't tell if he is my grandfather or some person that has been living outside. I once had some older women sitting at the table next to us tell me, "God bless you for doing this." when Charles went to the restroom. I didn't really know what to say because at this point it was just two friends going to get something to eat. I almost felt offended that I would be seen as extra loving or spiritual that I would grab some food with a friend. I guess it isn't normal to spend time with people that don't look like you.

Charles has told me that he would do anything for me. He tells me how much he loves me all the time. I am grateful for his friendship and he has made a an impact on my life in way that shows me that I don't have to love people that just look like me or act like me. He sometimes asks for help with different things, and he's ok if I say no. I love him and his family.

I did a charcoal portrait of Charles because I want to share his story with others. Someone that has loved me well and has been a good friend.

Little Charles said his Dad looked like Jesus! I got a good laugh. If you would like to see more stories or find something valuable in Charle's story then please share. Thanks for taking the time to look.

"Open Door" - Story

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.… Matthew 7:7-8

Doors can symbolize so many things and for me that usually means a new season of life or transition. I'm sure many of you have heard of the saying, "when a door closes another opens." I know that even if we see an open door there is still a long journey ahead. There may be mountains that we have to climb or water that we are called to walk on. We are called have faith that those doors were opened for a reason and we must seek to find beauty in the unknown and to not live in fear.

I just got engaged this last Friday, and started an art gallery at Mama Carmen's two weeks ago. These are two open doors that have been opened to me and I am learning to walk by faith through them. I don't know what the future holds. The mountains I will have to climb. The waters that I will walk across. Regardless of how long the blessings I've received on earth last, I know that I have been given an open door to life through Jesus. And that is enough.

If you are interested in having this piece in your home I am giving away a print before the end of the year. To be eligible you can sign up for my newsletter, post the image below on your instagram, and tag the photo #samuelgrayart. I will choose a random winner by verifying the #samuelgrayart tags on instagram and ship the 20x20" for free! My username on instagram is @samiswell.

Be on the lookout for two more prints that I am giving away before the year is over!

If you want to buy a print of "Open Door" you can do so here:




So What Do I Do?

If you're reading this you have somehow stumbled upon my blog through a Facebook post, Twitter tweet, Instagram photo, Mama Carmen's gallery, or through my mom. 

You might know me as a charcoal portrait artist through the different non-profit fundraisers I've made pieces for or the art galleries that I've been represented by. A digital illustrator through my Instagram posts. Or a live painter from seeing me paint at conferences , weddings, New Heights Church, and Mama Carmen's.

That doesn't include the travel and wedding photography that I've done, and the graphic design day job that I have at a t-shirt company. 

It's sometimes hard for me to explain what I do when people ask me, "So, what do you do?" Well, I do lots of things, but I would say I'm a visual artist. I create visual images that have a story behind them. The kind of work that I do is either work that I make to share something that is meaningful to me or sharing someone else's story.

I wanted to write this blog post to process all of these creative rolls and what direction I need to focus on. Lately I have been realizing that I have been spreading myself very thin with all of my different passions.  I feel like I am able to keep up with these different passions but they are just "good" and not "great". That means I will have to say "no" to taking pictures for a friend's wedding, or doing that logo for this new startup company, etc. 

Two of the things that I want to keep doing is Live Painting, Charcoal drawings, and digital illustrations. 



In Unity - Live Painting


Charles - Charcoal Drawing


Open Door - Digital Illustration


My main focus right now is to let people know and understand "What" I do before of the "Why". I will be writing another post on why I make all of this art and the meaning I believe it has. 

Since I've helped start this art gallery/music venue at Mama Carmen's, I am finding it difficult to hone in on one or two "Whats" so people can later understand "Why" I am making all this art. I want people to be able to hold on to something and believe in. To not be thrown into a box, but to not confuse people and help stories be told in a clear light. Not that many people will want to support a cause without seeing a clear need or find value in it.

What do you think I can do to explain what I do better? What do you think makes the most impact? I'd really like to know because I don't know at this point in my art career.