First Win for Beginning Painter Opens Doors Artist of the Month: PJ Cathey

PJ Cathey pauses in her home studio. (Photo by LaVerne Kyriss)

PJ Cathey pauses in her home studio. (Photo by LaVerne Kyriss)

PJ Cathey’s winning entry Opening the future. (Photo by LaVerne Kyriss)

PJ Cathey’s winning entry Opening the future. (Photo by LaVerne Kyriss)

LaVerne Kyriss

Before moving to SaddleBrooke two and half years ago, PJ Cathey had never picked up a paintbrush.

“I always wanted to explore art. I’ve always loved having art in my home and being around artists. Several members of my extended family were artists—all oil painters—but I never had the opportunity to try it out,” she explained. “In fact, when we were exploring where to retire in Tucson, my husband remarked that SaddleBrooke had an art guild. That was a selling point for me.”

On moving back to the desert after living in various locations around the country during their careers, Cathey promptly joined the SaddleBrooke Fine Arts Guild and signed up for classes.

“I was a little nervous at first because I didn’t know anything, but the instructors and other students have been so supportive,” she said. “I didn’t even know how to hold the paint brush,” she laughed.

“I knew I wouldn’t be able to learn to paint by reading books and I wasn’t sure I could keep up with online classes. I also knew I’d have lots of questions about the most basic topics, so guild classes perfectly fit my needs,” Cathey explained. “It’s always a small-group setting in a friendly, supportive environment. When I struggle to master a specific technique or step, the instructors are so patient and encouraging. Slowly, I’m getting it and now some of those students and instructors have become my best friends.”

“I’ve also learned that I need to paint regularly to improve my skills. I block out time two or three days a week to paint,” she said. “Time flies. I look up and I’ve been at it four hours. I keep taking classes and am exploring YouTube videos. I searched for ‘how to paint a rock,’” Cathey smiled. “I’ve even signed up to take an online class. And because social activities have largely been curtailed, I’ve been painting a lot.”

Cathey works in watercolor and focuses on fairly realistic landscapes as subject matter.

“I use photos I’ve taken over the years and am just beginning to create from my imagination, moving and changing elements in my painting. I’m training my eye to see the right thing and to understand where the light is coming from,” she added. “I’m just now starting to let the paint brush do its thing.”

“One of the most difficult things for me was to learn to be open to critiques on how to make a painting better,” she reflected. “I am a perfectionist and it was hard when I had done my best in class to hear that my work could be better by trying a few things. Once I was able to step back and see that perspective and try it out, I discovered the advice was almost always just what I needed.”

Entering the guild’s “One Image, No Limits” contest was a big step for Cathey. Encouragement from classmates and instructors paid off. Cathey’s entry, Opening the future, won an award of excellence in the beginners’ category.

“[This is a] very inviting painting. The blue door is calming to look at,” contest Judge Laurie Brussels noted.

“I still have a lot to learn. This contest opened a door for me,” Cathey smiled.

You can see all the contest entries in the Road Runner Gallery at the SaddleBrooke One clubhouse. Visit the Guild’s website at for more information about classes and other activities.