I have a time honored tradition of finishing up a deadline/show/business stuff push and wanting to treat myself by doing the creative work I can’t do while I’m doing the business-y stuff. So this week I’m doing small, immediate gratification paintings after doing all the rote printing/scanning/deadline stuff (one round, anyway) for my WAMA show. It feels great to do small pieces with fat paint and just play. I’ve been mining my sketchbooks for images I’d like to play with in a different medium. I love the bright washiness of the watercolors, but it’s been fun to translate them onto small canvases. I’ve had trouble with this in the past trying to make them too big. I often lose the energy of a piece trying to size it up too hard, but these are 8x8” or 9x12”, and I’ve been challenging myself to use brushes a little too big except for the details, and I’m having a really good time.
They’ll be a good fit for my November show of waterscapes at Eclectic Eye. I have a bunch of large paintings for that, and it’s always good to have some smaller sizes too, but mostly I’m doing these because it feels like joy. Which is why I do what I do in the first place. And I’m so grateful for all of that.
I’ll probably do a bit more work on both of these as the base layers dry, which allows me to glaze on top or scumble light colors without them getting dirty in the darker paint. But today I’m easing out early and looking forward to reconnecting with old friends for the first time since I was gone all summer. All of that feels good after the push of last week.
I had a ton of printing and scanning to do to turn preliminary images into WAMA for the show next year. I took a few days off Inktober, but mostly I have really enjoyed the reminder to sketch regularly and play with my dip pen and walnut ink (and a red marker for the pot). I'm also getting into a rhythm of having my materials next to my place at the island where I can sketch Gideon. I always used to draw Mr. Darcy on the couch, where he would settle in with me, but Gideon isn't as snuggly and prefers to be on his own on the floor. So this is where I get a good view of him when he's calm and sketchable.
I also sketched my new enamel pot yesterday. After the deadline I've really enjoyed a few quiet days -- doing a little painting for my own pleasure, visits with friends, and cooking a pot of spaghetti gravy yesterday. My old soup pot was aluminum, and I've been looking at a replacement. This isn't one of the fancy brand name enamel ones, but it's a gorgeous cherry red and gets the job done. I was delighted to find it at Target last week.
Below is a sketch from a meeting about saving the Greensward. Again. I can't believe we're in round 43 of this. We met outside at the gorgeous old Memphis Heritage building, and I sketched it waiting for everyone to show up. I'd biked over and left extra time, not knowing exactly how long that would take. A sketchbook is always a good companion.
It's been an exciting week around here. I worked on a graphic essay about the zoo's land grab for Overton Park's Greensward, the one huge, escape-from-the-city meadow, several years ago. Then the zoo and city backed off, despite the council having handed them several acres of it, and plan to raze about 85 trees and raise the parking lot up level with the meadow so everyone is staring at car bumpers instead of trees and sky. Then, in an underhanded Friday 5pm news dump, they announced they're going ahead with construction anyway. So I updated this essay and sent it off to a couple of publications. They're both in the same publishing family and BOTH decided to use it. I was delighted. You can read the full essay at Memphis Magazine or the Memphis Flyer (our weekly paper).
I'm sad for the reason but delighted to see this essay in print. It was the first graphic essay I had worked on, and I really love the story telling mix of paint and text.
I'm still keeping the dip pen and walnut ink by my breakfast place and tending to sketch a bit as I linger over my tea. It's been a long week with a lot of printing, so this has been the only creative work I've been doing (as opposed to the more production end of things). I'm grateful to Inktober for giving me the nudge to both mix things up with ink a little and to keep sketching regularly. I'm enjoying both dog sketches and still lifes, two of my regular go-to subjects. But Gideon makes a cameo even in the last piece, digging and snuffling over at the far right edge of the page.
I'm feeling more confident drawing his body lately, but the face is still super hit or miss. I was happy with the top right one and much less so with the bottom in almost the same position. He's easier for me in profile for some reason, but I'll keep playing and get better as I go along.
Memphis urban sketchers met at the VECA art walk today, and it was my first time back in person since the whole pandemic began (since I left town soon after my vaccination and was gone all summer). It was beyond good to sit at a table under huge oak trees and catch up with good friends. I love getting together with people to make art, and we've got a lovely group of folks. It took me an extra nudge to get out of the house today after a long week, but I was so glad I did. It's been very easy to just stay home the last couple of years. Perhaps not easy, but it was easy to lose steam for going out when the world seemed scary. It still is a good bit, but I'm finding it important to choose the safer things and not get frozen at home. Outdoors, masked, and a bit spaced out was perfect, and it was so good to see both the art group and a handful of dear neighbors.
It had been a long week, and I had slept badly, so in spite of having packed a full complement of sketching things, I stuck with the walnut ink and dip pen that I've been enjoying this Inktober. My sketchbook lately looks deeply unlike my normal full-on watercolor spreads, but it's good to mix things up, and I'm greatly enjoying playing with line.
I'm printing a lot lately, and I got this short video of my new(ish) press yesterday. For years my bed size was limited to 12x20". This is more like 30x40". I'm not sure offhand as I write this, but it can easily take the 18x24" blocks, even longways across, that I've been working on. I could get rolls of lino that are larger, but that's as big a sheet as I can get, and it's just right. Big enough to be eye catching and let me do a lot more detail, but not so big that it's ergonomically challenging to carve. I'm so enjoying expanding my horizons for my show at Walter Anderson Museum of Art. I always try to seriously up my game for a museum show, and this press, which I found second hand just before the world shut down last year, has seriously allowed me to do that.
I've had trouble getting my head around sketching Gideon. I'm used to dogs with short hair and clean lines, and he's fuzzy all over. I'm still struggling with his face, but I'm getting better at his body. Inktober is giving me a good excuse to sketch him regularly. He tends to lie on the floor beside his food bowl more than anywhere else, and when I'm sitting at my regular meal spot at my kitchen island, I can look down on him from there. So I've been keeping a bottle of walnut ink and a dip pen at my place to be able to sketch him when he's staying at least halfway still. It's challenging but fun, and since I'm in the middle of an absolute ton of rote printing (with the creative carving part all done), it's been nice to grab bits of creative time in the middle of the day as a break.
This is one of my favorite pieces for the show, and I’m getting final prints of it this week. After struggling with several other recent ones, I was worried about the extreme intricacy of this one for printing, but it acted like a champ. I’m grateful. I think the base later of some solid color gives a stickier surface to work into. The really delicately carved block is the second one, and my current theory is that it sticks to the ink better than to bare paper. The ones that have had me tearing my hair out lately are smaller but similarly intricate and just black and white. So all that detail is going straight onto the bare paper. I think of multi colored prints as more work, and overall they are, but they may also be less headache in an unexpected way. Whatever it is, it was a good way to end the week, and I’m grateful. My deadline is close enough that I’ll work some over the weekend as well, but I’m giving myself a slower Saturday start, drinking tea, reading the paper, and a trip to the farmers market for the necessary Cherokee purple tomatoes. Happy weekend, y’all!
I've been enjoying being back in my historic neighborhood of Evergreen lately. It's fun to have the mix of houses and buildings that an older neighborhood gets. I've also been taking more walks around blocks looking at houses since Gideon can't go as far, instead of just taking off for the forest and burying myself in it. I've been taking out my sketchbook occasionally to do some quick sketches on walks.
The other day I took my bike over to Victory for service (beautifully I can ride through the park to get there and not have to disassemble it to drive it somewhere in my tiny car). They were so fast that they were done before I even got my gear out and sorted to start sketching, but the day was so lovely I just stayed to sketch before riding home. That water tower is as iconic for Broad as the Sputnik sign at Joe's Wines is for Evergreen. We have such a funky mix of visual treats in Memphis.
These are the quicker, out-on-my-walk sketches with just a brush pen or two and my fat felt tip pen.
This last one is one of my favorite houses. I've done sketches and several prints of it over the years. The gables and arched windows along with that fantastic tree up front keep drawing me back.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
Get studio email updates from Gideon and me.
To subscribe to this blog, by email: