Above is the first pull of a new print of a gorgeous old house in my neighborhood. Below is the second pull. There are still a few things I want to tweak, but it's pretty close to finished. I'm getting faster at getting right in the neighborhood of what I want during the first real carving session. This is slowly becoming a more intuitive way to work.
I've been involved in the volunteer organization Park Friends for some years now. It's focused on preserving and maintaining the large park (Memphis' version of Central Park) near my home. Occasionally projects sap my art time for a while (usually fighting some major threat to the park, like the city plan a few years ago to dig up the picnic field for a storm water retention basin), but it's been quieter lately, and helping out always feels like a great cause, since the park is where I walk daily and paint often. It's my closest sanctuary place, and the most important, since I can be there in a lovely three block stroll.
Recently a small group of folks donated a number of new trees to the park. It started as a small-scale project, but a number of factors (a nursery closing and giving us good deals on trees as well as donated work by landscape designer Tom Pellett, also an Urban Sketcher) made the project blossom. We ended up adding 300 new trees to the park and another 100 shrubs. You can see me above helping to plant a bottle brush buckeye with my new nephew Max. Tom is standing just behind us.
Today was the celebration for the new trees, and it was a joy to walk over past many of them to drink a little champagne.
I decided that the best possible way to mark the celebration would be to sketch a tree there in the park, so I did this drawing of an old magnolia I've been admiring and meaning to paint for some time.
I'm looking forward to walking in the park for many years, visiting the new trees, watching them grow, and painting them as they grow into mature and lovely creatures.
I keep mentioning it, but the Memphis Urban Sketchers have changed my life. Several people in there are never without a sketchbook, and I'm trying to emulate that. This is from my tiny one (3x5", I think) that fits in my pretty small purse. I also learned this sketching technique from the Memphis group recently -- just a fountain pen and a water brush for washes. It's a very nifty, streamlined kit to carry around with me, unlike my usual bulky backpack of supplies. And I love being able to pull out a sketchbook wherever I am. Hopefully I can keep this up.
I had a rare day where I didn't make any art yesterday (a series of other obligations and a little time just sitting in the park to drink up some winter sunshine), but the day before I put the sky into this painting. It felt great to play with clouds in oils again. The main thing I'm unhappy with in my watercolors is my handling of skies. It's fun to be doing a lush one in oils again.
Today I'll be back in the saddle.
It was another beautiful day in Memphis, and by the time I got home from church, I grabbed my sketchbook and headed to Overton Park to draw my favorite tree. Again. Before lunch. This is the view from my favorite picnic table, where I also sit and play banjo if the weather is warm enough.
I went back later in the afternoon to do two more tree studies. I'm still having fun playing with the fountain pen/wash technique. I should have been doing printmaking or painting, but it was the Sabbath, so I gave myself permission to take a nap and make the art I wanted to instead of working on things due.
Above is a sycamore that rises up over Rainbow Lake, and below is a tree with mistletoe. My other favorite picnic table is below it.
Today was one of the periodic international sketch crawls by various Urban Sketcher groups around the globe. So far I've seen drawings posted from Sydney, Australia (before we even got out this morning) and Montreal. The Memphis Urban Sketchers headed to the South Main arts district and took part officially for the first time.
I love everything about the Memphis Urban Sketchers. I love going out with a group to draw (and not be the only one huddled on the sidewalk). I love the folks in our group. And I love learning new ways of drawing. Today, inspired by a couple of people in our group, I tried drawing with a fountain pen and using plain water to make washes in the ink. I couldn't find my water brush (an all-in-one, pen-looking contraption), so I just used a regular watercolor brush instead, and I do like the softness of it.
Above is my first attempt, with a little blue watercolor added in. It's a quick method, and I did a whole series this morning, enjoying the brain fizz of trying something new.
Several of us nipped into the Bluff City coffee shop and sat at the bar in the window. It was nice to take a break from the wind and have a hot chocolate while I sketched.
After meeting up to compare sketches, five of us hung around to have lunch in the famous Arcade restaurant and keep on sketching. I enjoyed the camaraderie, the sweet potato pancakes, and (once again) sketching in company.
I added extra watercolor to this one, but I wish I'd left it a little more simple. It's easy to overshoot the mark.
My final sketch was out the window to a whole tangle of traffic lights and trolley wires.
It's been freezing and sleeting and whatnot in Memphis the last few days, so I don't have any new on site watercolors to post. Instead, I'm taking advantage of the off season to work on a larger, indoor project. This is a commission for a newly married couple at my church. I'm looking forward to doing a big sky in oils again. Much fun.
Friday was utterly gorgeous, and one of those breaks from winter that I love about living in the south. Today is cold and possibly sleety, but we had a lovely weekend. Friday was sunny and low 70's, so I spent the whole day outdoors to enjoy it.
I did sketches for prints in the morning (see two blog posts ago), and after lunch, I met a friend and her toddler at the zoo. I did this quick sketch while waiting for them.
After my zoo time with them, I was drawn (as always) to a picnic table underneath my favorite tree.
I was just packing up to go home when I noticed a lovely sky to the west. I love painting clouds in oils and pastels, but I've really struggled with them in watercolor. After a recent talk with my new brother about John Constable's sky studies, I had made the resolution to do more sky studies in watercolor and try to get better in watercolor. So here's my first attempt.
It was lovely to spend a day in Overton Park doing a number of different sketches. Sooner or later a print will also come out of this day's work. Meanwhile, back to winter and indoor work for a while. It is sleeting AND snowing as I write this. My walk in Overton Park was not so lingering today.
I know artists who always have a sketchbook with them, and I've never been that organized. Thanks to the influence of the Memphis Urban Sketchers, however, I'm working on being prepared and have a tiny one in my purse now (assuming I'm carrying that...).
Recently it's paid off, and here are two quick tree studies from (moderately) recent trips. One the left is yet another stunning tree in Tower Grove Park in St. Louis. On the right is a pine from the parking lot of the dance weekend I went to in Chattanooga, TN. I probably would have finished the top part a bit more, but it was raining lightly as I worked, and I finally called it a day.
After days of rain, it is sunny and 72 degrees today, so it is a joy to be able to get outside and sketch. I've had a couple of new prints in my head for a while now, and it was good to do the detailed pencil sketches for them. Above is the scene I walk past every day in Overton Park, and New Year's morning the trees caught my eye meaningfully and asked to be in a print. This one will get a little wider (more space between birdbath and bench, and bench and tree), and it will join my art deco series of color prints.
Below is a study for a black and white one, though it will have "Midtown" carved underneath it. Local realtor Joe Spake has been asking for a print that is quintessentially midtown to put on the coffee cups he hands out, and I have always loved this bungalow in my neighborhood.
Funnily enough, Elmore was biking past and saw me sitting on the sidewalk drawing and thought I was a sidewalk bum. He had to do a double-take and turn around up the block to come back and say hello. I'm lucky this neighborhood embraces its eccentrics. No one tends to bother me even when I do settle into the sidewalk for a spell.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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