I've been giving myself a bit of an easier schedule at the start of the year, which has been a lovely break. I have also, due to several family and social circumstances, had a few more meals out lately than my usual. Two of them made it into my sketchbook. A Saturday night out on the town at Casablanca, one of my favorite restaurants, and a Tuesday lunch at my favorite Mexican place. It's on out from my house but around the corner from my dentist, so I always try to schedule a dental appointment just before lunch time to have a small treat after.
I'm getting ready for my Valentine Open Studio Sale, which will be Friday, Feb. 5th, from 5-8pm and Saturday, Feb. 6th, from 11-3. Melissa Bridgman will join me again with her gorgeous pottery.
I've been wanting to do some more note cards, and this year a valentine of Mr. Darcy seemed right. I got my press right around Valentine's several years ago, and a valentine block was the first thing I carved for it. I've tried to continue that tradition each year. I had fun doing the bigger block of him and decided to make a small one as well. Sometimes people ask if I can have a
smaller version of a given print. As you can see above, carved blocks don't zoom like a computer image, so I'm carving a small one from scratch. It's fun to think about simplifying a block I enjoyed doing large.
I'm also typesetting a postcard for the show. I had a leftover sliver of linoleum that seemed the right size to make a small border with. I continue to be grateful to Cheryl Parker, who traded me a cabinet type for paintings when I was just starting out. I would never have managed such a collection on my own, and it's delightful to have.
It's been a disheartening week in my beloved Overton Park. Several years ago, inspired by Henry Shaw who transformed a whole section of St. Louis by founding parks and the botanic garden and planting 40,000 trees, my dad and I asked about donating some trees to Overton to provide visual screening of the zoo lot and shade for future generations. Due to the closing of a longtime nursery and their generosity in pricing the leftovers, we were able to go big (although not Henry Shaw big) and donate 300 new trees plus another 100 shrubs.
Many of the trees are planted in a ring around the Greensward, the one big open meadow that was planned by George Kessler, a disciple of Frederick Law Olmstead, as the heart of the park and the main meeting/play place for people. It is ringed by trees, but the old ones are slowly coming down and need renewing. Sadly the zoo has been using this one big green space for their overflow parking since the 90's, and the city hasn't stopped them. This week they went off the rails and ripped out 27 of our new trees in the dark of a Sunday night. They clear cut four acres of old growth forest several years ago, so their lack of conservation is not a surprise, but they have never before ventured out from their fences to destroy trees in the park proper. I am appalled and heartsick, and I sincerely hope the city will finally stand up and keep them in their borders. They want this land outright, the very heart of the park. That cannot happen.
This morning there was a jazz funeral march for the fallen trees and a ceremonial replanting of three new ones. The Mighty Souls Brass Band went above and beyond on their civic duty to play on a cold Saturday morning.
Below is a picture from three years ago of the Boy Scouts who helped plant the same batch of new trees that the zoo ripped out some of.
I'm starting a new adventure with this new year, and I'm really excited about it. There are several urban sketchers around the country who have regular sketch features in their local papers. They go out and draw interesting things happening in their communities, and it's like a column or other regular feature in the paper. I pitched this to Eric Barnes, who owns the weekly business paper The Daily News here in Memphis, and he was kindly receptive. With the holidays over, I met with the editorial team yesterday.
They already have a weekly spot for community happenings that is usually anchored by a photograph. They're going to use my work in that space once a month and also commission me to do occasional covers for the paper, which I am utterly thrilled about.
I have loved my landscape illustration work for Cape May (and occasionally Memphis Magazine) and have been wondering how to expand that piece of my career, so I am delighted to be starting the new year with a new opportunity.
I did a little scouting of locations downtown after the meeting and treated myself to sweet potato pancakes at Memphis's iconic diner The Arcade as a celebration. I sketched, of course.
The last day my exhibition at Dixon was up, I went back out there to savor it one more time and sketch again in the gallery. It felt a little self indulgent, but I also just wanted to celebrate this amazing moment in my career in the way that feels most natural to me these days. Having the show in my journal of the year was important to me.
A bonus was that I got to see a number of friends who had come out to see it that day. I am so grateful for everyone who helped me celebrate this happening in my life. Everyone has been generous about it as I babble on a bit, so thank you.
I also walked down to the corner and sketched the banner. The banner just thrilled me every time I drove past. I also wanted to remember it.
I'm definitely a little sad that it's all over, but I'm also enjoying a much needed slower period at the moment. I'm doing a little printmaking, but also watching some Downton Abbey, taking a few days off, and reclaiming my evenings instead of working till bedtime. It feels good. Nice start to a new year.
We also ran into my photographer friend Peter Ceren. He uses a nifty, not-much-focused lens to take stunning photos of our forest. He took a picture of Mr. Darcy and me as we approached. I like the feel of it (and a sharper lens would have caught all the bulges in my pocket with leash and sketching stuff). I will hasten to add that I'm carrying a camp seat for sitting on the ground and not a truly ugly purse. I'm always accessory challenged when I'm out with art gear.
My earliest is the last Stillman and Birns that I used. I like their paper a lot, but the 6x8 size is only in spiral bound, and scanning in sketches across that gap is challenging. Their bound sketchbooks open up to a pretty square format, and I really prefer a rectangle to work in. So this was my last hurrah for their books. The first half is the second half of my 2014 Paris trip, but I kept working in it on my return, and a good third of it was 2015. A couple of my favorites were a marker sketch of Mud Island and sketches of Mr. Darcy.
My first handbook journal, January to April, hooked me on their books. They're a great size to fit in my purse, take water media nicely, and even have a small pocket in the back for museum tickets and other momentoes. This was my hands down favorite page from that one.
I also got back to Shakertown in Kentucky, one of my favorite places to sketch.
During that period I also went to Amsterdam and spent a week sketching both the city and inside the museums.
And then on to Paris for one utterly beautiful week.
Finally, I'm two thirds of the way through the small handbook I started in October. Sketching ground mostly to a halt during my really busy pre-Christmas season, but I got over the Dixon at the end of the holiday to sketch my show, which was the single biggest moment of my career.
I also (always) continue to sketch my beloved Mr. Darcy.
I've been enjoying sketching my tea lately. I've been doing it sporadically for a good while, but recently I saw Liz Steele's blog about all of her teacup sketches, and it reminded me how much I enjoy doing this too. It's a nice break in the day.
Here's one from Boxing Day. I have several that I haven't posted yet, so here they are together.
And one from even earlier.
I plan to do more of these in the new year, now that my work schedule is finally slowing down a bit.
I sketched a wedding last night. I've done maybe four of these ever, but it always touches me to be a small part of such a special occasion. I do all of these live and on site, which takes a lot of concentration. There are no do-overs, and I always end up with some that weren't what I had hoped, but for this wedding, I'm pleased with 12 of 15, and that's not a bad ratio at all for an event where the principals are all in almost constant motion.
When I do this, I show up early. I love sketching the bride and her mother or sisters or friends interacting during the fastening of the dress. Here's it's the mother (in purple) doing up the back and the sister fastening her pearls.
A couple of other early sketches were the bride in her kimono as everyone gathered to dress and the dress itself hanging on the shaker rack.
I carried four watercolor pads, two 7x10 and two 6x8, so I could grab the next while the sketch I just finished was still drying. I used my water brush while we were all moving around before the service, but for the more finished pieces during the wedding (well, ones with backgrounds, anyway), I set myself up in a just-behind-the-family pew and poured out a few palette cups of water next to me and got my bigger paint set out. (It's still a modest-sized travel one.)
People hold slightly more still during the photo sessions, and that extra time gives me longer with the principals in front of me, so I sketch during the photo taking when I'm sketching a wedding. That also lets me warm up and get a sense of the people in my brush before the do-or-die service time.
The bride had told me that the most important thing to her for me to capture (aside from the obvious scenes) was a sketch of her parents walking her down the aisle together. That moved very quickly, but the photographer was not allowed in the sanctuary during the worship service, so I wanted to try. I warmed up on a flower girl and then did the family.
That's the full set of 15 sketches in about 3 1/2 hours. I did a tiny bit of touch up on 4 or 5 of them when I got home and looked at them in better light, but mostly these were done live and on site. I don't work well from photos, and I prefer drawing what's in front of me to staring at a screen at my work table. I was overall pleased with how these came out, which is really all I can ask for, given that people are not my primary focus in my work.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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