LEXINGTON, Ky. — The Kentucky Derby is known for its athletic horses and unique fashion. For 2022’s Derby, one University of Kentucky College of Communication and Information alumna is going to be known for her paintings.
Aimee Griffith, a 2006 integrated strategic communication graduate, was recently named the official artist of the 148th Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks to be held May 6-7, 2022. The Kentucky artist is taking the title, not as a well-known, classically trained painter but as a full-time mom turned nearly full-time painter.
Becoming a professional artist was never in Griffith’s life plan. Her career was in advertising and marketing, and she loved it. But when she quit her job and moved to Australia for her husband’s career, she found herself taking a watercolor workshop while vacationing on Hamilton Island in 2016. Combining her new knowledge on the basics of painting with the inspiration she got from the art she discovered during her travels, Griffith figured she’d try her hand at making her own paintings.
“I feel like the biggest lesson I’ve learned is to not limit myself,” Griffith said. “We’re all capable, but it doesn’t hurt to try because if you try and it doesn’t work out, so what? Throw it away. It’s no big deal. Even if it’s not something that grows into a business, it can be very therapeutic, and it can bring joy to people that you make it for. One of the biggest things I just love is making art for other people.”
Though others might find the unforgiving nature of watercolors intimidating, Griffith finds it magical. Watercolor is her specialty because she loves its unpredictability and transparency. She can simultaneously narrow in on the details of her paintings while also allowing the watercolors to freely flow.
What started as a hobby to fuel her lifelong love for art turned into a side hustle when she started an Etsy shop for the people who wanted prints of her paintings. Though she wasn’t sure what she was doing when she started her business, she used what she learned in ISC in the design of her Etsy shop, website, wholesale line sheets and social media marketing. Now her art business has grown enough to establish itself and become Griffith’s job instead of just a pastime.
“When I left my job and became a mom full time, I was really unsure of what my purpose was going to be past being a mom,” Griffith said. “And art has been an outlet for me. I’m just glad that I’ve found something that I enjoy doing so much that is able to help support me.”
Right when Griffith hit a low point in her new art career after taking a hiatus from painting to help her kids through virtual learning, she was surprised with a request in early 2021 to submit her art for consideration of becoming the official art for the 148th Kentucky Derby. She never imagined being selected, but she knew this was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity she couldn’t pass up.
She created two 2 feet by 3 feet watercolor paintings, one for the Derby and the other for the Oaks. Her goal was to create paintings with lots of energy. The Derby painting features racehorses and their jockeys mid-run. Griffith wanted to capture the “bright spot” she felt when painting this — the feelings of hope, kids going back to school and the vaccine being released. As such, this painting is full of color, excitement and joy. For the fashion-forward Oaks painting, she wanted to create a fun atmosphere showcasing the pageantry and anticipation leading up to the race. Griffith wanted this piece to tell a story with the people and fashion it features.
Griffith hopes the exposure from the Derby and Oaks will open more doors for her art career in the future, not just to support her but to support others as well.
“I really want to try to find a way to use my art to help other people,” Griffith said. “I think that some things are a gift, and it’s good to give that gift to other people so that it can help others. I’m trying to figure out that for me.”
“Official Art of the Kentucky Derby” will be featured on the 2022 Kentucky Derby and Kentucky Oaks official racing programs and a variety of merchandise, including Derby and Oaks 148 limited edition artist-signed and numbered posters. If you like to purchase other merchandise featuring the “Official Art of the Kentucky Derby,” visit the Kentucky Derby Museum and www.kentuckyderbystore.com. If you would like to purchase Griffith’s other paintings or prints, visit www.watercolorsbyaimee.com/.
Click here for more Kentucky business news.