On Saturday morning at North Water Gallery in Edgartown, men and women sipped coffee as they moved briskly through the front room of the gallery towards a back section, where sketches and paintings by Ray Ellis covered the walls.

During his lifetime, Mr. Ellis achieved great acclaim as an artist, painting Christmas cards for the Clinton administration, and collaborating on three books with the late television journalist Walter Cronkite. Over his career, 15 books were published chronicling his work. Mr. Ellis died last October.

On Saturday visitors to the gallery gathered to celebrate the artist. His wife, Teddie Axtell, sat in an armchair and exchanged stories about her late husband with close friends and admirers of his work. Next to her was a stack of the recently published book Painting a Life by CK Wolfson, which tells Mr. Ellis’ life story, in words and paintings.

Author CK Wolfson. — Mark Lovewell

“[Painting a Life] really captures him,” Ms. Axtell said. “We didn’t expect Ray to die, it was such an enormous shock, but luckily the book was already on schedule to be published. It was just fate.”

For six years, Ms. Wolfson worked closely with Mr. Ellis, studying both his work and his life story. She visited his studio almost every week, and would often speak over the phone. Over time, Mr. Ellis’ work and his story blended into one, and Ms. Wolfson started to see his personality in every painting.

“What’s unique about this book is I have placed his work in parallel to his life, to show how when you look at his work you can get the subtlety of how his life was, because they perfectly reflect his philosophy and also his life,” said Ms. Wolfson. “I can’t separate him from his art.”

When Mr. Ellis first approached Ms. Wolfson, he asked her to write a standard biography. As the book progressed though, he realized that he didn’t want to just have Ms. Wolfson tell his story. He wanted to help her create something that would inspire others to follow in his footsteps.

Teddie Axtell exchanged stories about her late husband with close friends and admirers of his work. — Mark Lovewell

“He wanted to tap every person with artistic talent on the shoulder and tell them, don’t give up, make it happen, be determined, you can do this, here I am, you can do this,” said Ms. Wolfson.

Painting a Life journeys with Mr. Ellis decade by decade, from his childhood in Philadelphia to his final years on Martha’s Vineyard. The book recounts all of the details of his career, but also shows the kindness that made him such a treasured figure on Martha’s Vineyard.

“He was a really happy man,” said Ms. Wolfson. “If you go up to anybody on this Island who knew Ray Ellis and mention his name, their first reaction, and I’ll put money on this, would be to smile. You think of successful artists as having a brooding nature or something that is less accessible, but he was utterly accessible.”

In fact, Ms. Wolfson says the most difficult part of writing this book was maintaining her critical perspective due to Mr. Ellis’ natural enthusiasm. Although Ms. Wolfson had only known Mr. Ellis professionally before starting this project, they became close friends and her affection for Mr. Ellis shines through in every sentence of Painting a Life.

“When you sit next to Ray, his effervescence is contagious,” she said. “He was so affirming, it was a bit like writing a love song. Ray Ellis invented his own reality, then he painted it, and then he danced into it.”