It's leap day, and I'm celebrating with a couple of new projects. Here is the proof of my first real multi-block color print (at least the first one that wasn't a class assignment). I need to refine the edges a bit, lighten the sky, and use a more opaque dark green, but this gives you a good idea of what it will look like eventually.
This process is a leap for me, especially since I'm still printing by hand, rubbing on the back of the paper with a wooden spoon. This block will have to be printed three times for each print (one for each color, with time for drying in between), instead of just the once for my black and white ones. I visited an old family printing business here in Memphis yesterday. They have a lovely, small table top press that they no longer use, and I was hoping to sweet talk them into selling it to me, but sadly they weren't ready to let it go yet. Maybe someday. It would have been very helpful for this print in particular.
My other leap today is starting a new oil painting -- I finally finished my five canvas piece for church, so this is my first new painting in a while. I've got a show with Elizabeth Alley this fall at Askew Ferguson Nixon, and I'll have a mix of oils and watercolors. Today I'm starting the first oil for the show, one of Dixon Gardens. I'm finding myself really drawn to formal gardens lately and only wish we had more in Memphis for me to paint.
It was perfectly lovely Sunday afternoon, and Merlin and I went over to hang out at the park. I've been meaning to paint this tree again. It's my favorite one there, and it's so bulbous that I'm afraid one of these years it's going to have to come down, so I keep painting and doing prints of it while it's still around.
We decided just to hang out and enjoy the sunshine, so I did two less formal sketches as well. First one of Merlin:
And then one of the sidelines of the ultimate frisbee game that meets there every Sunday and Tuesday:
It was the perfect way to spend an afternoon.
I needed to touch this one up slightly before it was ready to post. Sometimes it's hard to get the balance just right when you're out sitting on the curb with tourists chatting and the flippers doing their thing. It was such fun to be out there, though, in the midst of all the bustle. I'm going to have to get down there again soon. I've got an evening commission for Beale, and I've got a whole evening planned out in my mind -- Elmore sitting around with a beer while I paint and then fish tacos at the Flying Fish. I'll report back on how that goes....
I spent a long weekend staying with my sister (a pajama party of eight of us) plus dancing all weekend and then staying over for a little more visit Sunday night. It was a great time. I didn't have time to settle in and do any watercolors (in spite of Marian's newly red barn and tempting new skylights). I did, however, do a little bit of sketching along the sidelines of the dancing Saturday afternoon. I find that I'm still terrible at faces, but I have fun working to catch the shapes of people.
I've been both out of town and slow to get what sketches I have done scanned in. Sorry it's been a slow week around here. But the weather is better, and I'm back in the saddle now.
Yesterday was just glorious, and I had a commission for Beale Street, so I played tourist in my own town. It was fun to sit outside (in a t-shirt!) at a table right on the street and draw the Blues City Cafe across the way. I listened to some blues, chatted with the Beale Street Flippers, talked to some visitors to our city, and had a ball. We have a great city, and I enjoyed seeing it from the perspective of out-of-towners for an afternoon.
I've had two articles written about me over the last few months. It's always lovely to get a little publicity when you work for yourself and don't have an advertising budget. The first article was in Fix Magazine, and the second in the Commercial Appeal. I realized I had posted them on the "About" page of my site but hadn't put them on the blog. At the end of a week of bad sketching weather, which I've spent doing finishing touches on big indoor work that I can't get good photos of myself, it seemed like a good time to add them here.
I was pleased that Emily Keplinger's article talked about the Memphis Urban Sketchers as well as just me. Urban sketching is still a new term, and it's great to raise its visibility outside art circles. I was also pleased for our local group's next outing to get a plug.
Elmore and I adopted a cat for Valentines Day. Our old cat, Richard, had died just before Christmas, and we were really missing having a lap buddy in the house. Mikey (9 months) is a very welcome addition to our household, and is sitting in my lap now as I type. He doesn't hold still that much, but I love his black and white patterns and want to do some more sketching of him as I can. I've also realized that I never sketch Merlin, so I may be doing some more pet sketches now that Mikey's arrival has jolted me into a couple.
One of the many things I love about being married to a fellow artist is hand-made valentines. Elmore forged this heart-shaped hook for me in his small forge made from a fireproof brick. He's been making other hooks and bottle openers for our kitchen, and I love carrying on our daily lives in the midst of things he's created for our home.
In other Valentine news, it's just on a year since Elmore reinforced the floor to receive my new letterpress. He spent four afternoons on his belly in the crawl space digging holes and sinking posts into concrete. It was the best Valentine ever, and I could not be more lucky.
I'm also still madly in love with my letterpress a year on. The first block I carved for it was a valentine. I was thinking of Elmore, of course, but I'm glad to report that the letterpress and I are also thriving in our relationship.
I've been working on a five panel painting for my church, Idlewild Presbyterian, for the last year or more (with several long pauses along the way). This is my final large project for them as part of my artist-in-residence position. I'll keep doing the weekly bulletin drawings, but I don't have another large project planned for this year.
Over the last week, I've finally gotten the five panels pretty much finished. Today I had a scattered sort of day, with lots of outside business to attend to, but I did take advantage of the cold weather to finish the backs of the panels.
I wanted each individual canvas to have the critical information on it, which is that this large piece, my vision of the tree of life at the center of God's Garden, is painted in memory of my mom. I had done layers of gesso on the supports of each canvas earlier, and today I got all the lettering done. Lettering is not my strong suit, but fortunately it will be facing the wall anyway. I just want the information on there for posterity, and also to have Mom's name, even hidden, present in worship each week, as my own sort of permanent prayer for her.
These two photos show the information on the diagonal struts of each larger panel (there are two that are 36x72"). The first photo is the three smaller panels, each just 12" wide and six feet high. I've got a date with my photographer for next week, and I'll post the front when I have good photos of the finished work to show.
My neighbor and fellow urban sketcher Stuart Lacey has been suggesting we go draw at the stable that houses the carriage horses just north of downtown. I finally got it together to join her yesterday, and it was fabulous. Fortunately, we showed up just as the owner dropped in, and he very hospitably gave us the run of the place and told us to come back when more was going on and bring a group. I'm going to try to get the full urban sketchers down there sometime.
Stuart watched the farrier shoeing a younger horse, but I was drawn to the whole line of stalls and settled down almost immediately to do the above watercolor.
It was getting noticeably colder by the time I finished, so I didn't start in for another one. I did several quick pencil sketches waiting for Stuart to get done, and then we headed home for a little warmth. I definitely want to go back and paint more, though. What a fun afternoon.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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