Sherrie McGraw left her home in a small oil town in Oklahoma at age 23 to study at the Art Students League of New York. The League provided the most important influence in her development — exposure to chiaroscuro painting in the tradition of Rembrandt and Velasquez through the instruction of David A. Leffel. McGraw worked as a night guard at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, studying there until she left to paint full time in 1980. Seven years after leaving school, the League asked her to be an instructor, which led to her teaching there until her 1992 move to Taos, New Mexico.
McGraw participated in a traveling show in 2013 with the America China Oil Painting Artists League that began in the Beijing World Art Museum, then traveled to Dalian, Tianjin, Wuhan, Hangzhou, and ended in Shanghai. She is a life member of the Salmagundi Club in New York.
In 2014, McGraw had a major retrospective at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown, Ohio, featuring 75 paintings and drawings. The book Then & Now focuses on this show. In May 2015, the Butler Institute awarded McGraw the Medal of Honor for Lifetime Achievement in American Art.