Ray spent her days studying painting with renowned abstract expressionist Hans Hofmann. She befriended a number of Hofmann’s students, such as Lee Krasner and Mercedes Matter, many of which became well-known painters. By 1937, as a founding member of American Abstract Artists, she exhibited her paintings in the organization’s first group show. Ray left New York City and the Hofmann circle in 1939 when she decided to audit weaving and art courses at the Cranbrook Academy of Art in Michigan. This is where she met Charles Eames, and serves as the moment in which her life greatly pivoted.
A few years into Ray’s partnership with Charles, she began making fewer paintings—at least in the traditional sense. Charles commented on this during one of his 1952 presentations, saying:
“My wife is a painter, and a very good one. . .and we’ve been working together for, oh, twelve years now, I guess. . . let me say, her friends of the American Association of Abstract Artists take a, sort of, very dim view of the fact that Ray hasn’t exhibited any paintings or, actually, hasn’t done a lot of any painting lately, in the sense that you can paint something and put it into a frame.
Now, actually, I think that she has been consistently functioning as a painter, and has functioned as a painter on and above the call of duty, because, actually, her hand and everything that makes it so is a part of everything we do, just as much of architecture as anything else. . .
And if you’re thinking of what some color looks like on a building, or what some spot of color in relation to something else. . .this is not it. [She] is really functioning as a painter, sort of, you know, extra and beyond perception.”
Ray clearly agreed with what Charles said. In 1982, when a young woman asked her, “Mrs. Eames, how did it feel to give up painting?” Ray succinctly replied, “I never gave up painting; I just changed my palette.”