I love sweets, and I love sketching them. It's fun to remember a really lovely treat later every time I open my sketchbook. Also the drawing of it increases the anticipation and enjoyment. Unlike a lot of meals, most desserts aren't hot, so they won't get cold and less appetizing if you take time to draw them. Ice cream is the super transient exception to this stability of drawing rule, so I rarely draw ice cream. But other treats are well worth celebrating. The caramel cake is from my come-have-cake-on-the-front-porch neighbors (even though we were inside this week with the wintry weather), so I'll remember the visit as well as the cake. They so kindly left me a second slice for the next day, so I didn't take time out of our visit to draw, even though I love drawing food with fellow sketchers when we get together and all draw at once.
Here are a random batch of sketches from about a week ago. I've had a super slow week, doing print and commission work in my lap on the sofa, so no really recent sketches. But I had a ball meeting a friend at this gorgeous Tudor revival for an estate sale and drawing a house we wouldn't otherwise have had access to.
Next was a misty morning at Shelby Farms with a pair of great blue herons flying overhead. After several passes, one sat in the top of a tiny tree and posed for me. Henry was patient while I got my sketching things out. He's learning to be an art dog as we go along. He would always rather walk, but he's getting more used to the stops.
Finally another graphite sketch of Henry from one of our sofa sitting sessions.
I've cut way back on the commissions I take lately after a year of serious deadlines, but I did do this one for a cool young couple who want a portrait of them each year from an artist to reflect the year they've had. I loved the idea of this, and they let me play and try something new. Since it's an annual thing, I didn't feel like I needed to try to do a traditional portrait (not my strong suit anyway). I've never really mixed print and sketching, even though they feed each other all the time, sketches moving into prints, and prints pushing me to sketch specific topics. I felt that this idea could either be really good or go very badly indeed. I was pleased with the final outcome. I printed in sienna since black felt like it would overwhelm the painting underneath of one of the special places they went to this past year. I also printed out just the figures for them to have as well. The whole project is making me think more about combining blocks and other media in new ways.
Saturday was our first Saturday of the month meeting of Memphis Urban Sketchers. I love having an artist meetup on my calendar, making art, talking art, and connecting in person with friends. We met at the pyramid yesterday. I wandered around the inside of the Bass Pro shop for a bit, but the fake cypress swamp, weird lighting, and all the dead, stuff animals just weren't doing it for me. Outside with the viaducts was equally visually overwhelming, but more what I wanted to sketch. I got lost toward the right hand side, not paying attention to which columns were in front of or behind which bits of road, but then it drizzled for a few minutes, and my ink ran a bit, and it all softened up. You can see some of the raindrops if you look. I reacted to the crazy complex scene by keeping my palette very limited. I love the blue green of the overpasses, so I concentrated on that, with a bit of blue gray to go along with it. It was fun.
I'm trying to draw more as I'm at the dog park, and I'm recognizing that for me, that urge is weather dependent. When the sun is out, I'm all excited about it. When it's gray and chilly, I stand around with my hands in my pockets and just laugh at the dogs. Both are good for getting me out to notice nature and stop looking at screens for a while. So here's the one recent sketch I've done, celebrating a sunny morning we had recently.
Soon after getting Henry I was excited to have a dog hanging out on the sofa with me again, and I wanted to take full advantage of his modeling opportunities. So I bought a 7x10" multi media spiral bound sketchbook, nothing fancy but pages thick enough to take a little water. I have a big, fat, graphite crayon that I love to play with, and it's water soluble, so you get a lovely depth when you brush water over it. With a water brush (almost a pen, but with a brush and a reservoir of water inside), it's a quick, not at all messy, easy to grab way to sketch, so I've got those three things (and, of course, some other sketching stuff too) within easy reach on my coffee table. I've filled up half a sketchbook at this point, and I woke up early today and scanned a bunch in. You can see from the shadows that the paper has buckled a little with the added water, so it's not totally flat on the scanner, but I didn't fiddle with these to get that all smoothed out. I just wanted to be able to share the progression. Here is the first batch of my favorites (plus one watercolor), starting from early September.
I had a wonderful New Year's Day. I'm slowly feeling more and more like myself again, and yesterday I started the day at the dog park watching Henry frolic. Then I had a walk and a visit with my sister in from out of town. And then I went to an all afternoon music jam. That's been my main new years celebration for years now, but like many gatherings, we took the last couple of years off. It was a delight to play tunes out in the sunshine of a 75 degree day and see old friends. I came home and sketched the graphite sketch above with a banjo, dog, books, and painting, to set my intention for the year and celebrate the day that had been.
NPR had a wonderful story on the difference between resolutions and intentions, saying resolutions tended to be both negative and specific (lose 10 pounds or stop eating certain foods), and they set people up to get discouraged and quit. Intentions are looser and more positive, like taking time to be creative or (and I loved this one) "being in your body", including taking a walk/run, reveling in a bath, breathing deeply, or remembering to check in with all your senses. Intentions feel like they have a measure of grace built in, like my favorite hashtag #dailyish, which I have always described as intention plus grace. It lets you focus on a goal without the self flagellation and pressure of absolute daily homework.
My intentions for the new year personally are to check in with my body regularly, breathing, stretching, using more senses than just my eyes (where I often get stuck), and hopefully working back towards more regular exercise. I had just been getting in shape when covid hit me, and I'm taking a long time to get my energy back. My word of the year, even before hearing this NPR story, is grace, though, so I'll take it gently. I'd also like to sketch more often at the dog park, since Henry and I spend 45 minutes to an hour there each day. It will be weather related and energy related and not daily, but I'd enjoy sketching more people again after the isolation of the last few years, and dogs are always happy to sketch.
I have a whole list of professional goals, but those are the more personal life ones (though, as always, personal life and art blend together pretty seamlessly). For my work, I want to keep working on the Rowan Oak tree print series I have going and find a place to exhibit it. I'd like to make an M is for Memphis book to go with P is for Possum. In a related goal, I want to figure out the handwritten font tool I bought last year and not have to hand letter the entire book. A font would keep all the words the same size, which I have trouble doing freehand. I want to keep working on "sequential art" (graphic essays or more narrative sketches that tell stories). And I want to get better at saying no to commissions that don't fit with what I want to be doing and that take me away from the art I most want to put my time towards. There are probably a couple of others since I'm not looking at my list, but those are the main ones. It's fun to look back at that goal page in my monthly art bullet journal and see how I'm doing as the year progresses. I met every goal this year except making a new graphic essay, so I felt really good about my year's work.
Yesterday and today I made a start at sketching at the dog park. It helps that this week is warm enough I don't want to just shove my hands in my pockets to keep them warm. But I've also been knitting hand warmers (fingerless mittens) to keep me warmer and leave my fingertips free to grip pens, so I'm preparing for the rest of winter. Here are the first three double page sketches. And happy new year!
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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