I came west fully intending to use the time here for illustration and for watercolor immersion. Then I kept stepping outside and looking at the trees, and suddenly I have a flood of prints in my head. Since I'm more or less on vacation and don't have any particular deadlines, I'm free to do the work that is calling to me most insistently at the moment, so I've been doing prints the last week. I've done two tiny ones, since I don't have big supplies out here, but I'm also laying out several larger ones and waiting for big linoleum to arrive in the mail for me. Above is one of the little 5x7" two block prints. I've been testing it in different colors, but the deep blue/purple of the sky is what I saw when I stepped outside with Mr. Darcy at bedtime and is what inspired the print.
The other small print is from our near daily walk on the Cascade Trail. It's an old railway bed that is now a gravel trail for walkers, cyclists, and horses. I love how quiet it is, with no traffic to contend with (once we cross the highway to get on it, anyway). The trees often form an archway over it (another forthcoming print) but at the open end near home, you get a stunning view of Sauk Mountain. I'm color testing this one as well, but in a more subtle way. I think I like the gradated sky instead of the solid one.
I originally planned the mountain to be solid blue, which is how it seemed the day this view really spoke to me. Since you can't put anything back once you carve it away, I've been leaving some green in it, just to see if I want the depth, but it's too messy looking, and I think I'm just going to clear it out of there and let the mountain recede into blue distance.
These blocks are new for me since I'm not keeping the full frame around them but simply carving more organic shapes. That makes them harder to print, since the edges want to catch some ink even when they're cut down, and I don't have a press out here, so I'm back to my wooden spoon, and things can move a little more that way. It's fun to play, but I mostly prefer keeping my prints with a frame for both visual reasons and for practicality. The bigger ones I'm starting will be a little more traditional, but I must say I'm pleased with how these two are turning out if I can get clean prints from them.
I've got a new green ink that I'm in love with. So many of them are harsh and cool and unnatural (rather like a lot of the new light bulbs), and they don't fit the landscape drawings I do. This ink is light for writing, but it's warm and leafy feeling and perfect to go with watercolors. I've so enjoyed drawing with it and having just a hint of the green line work show through in the finished sketch.
I'm having such a good time that I even did a page in my sketchbook about it. It's an ink made by Parker but with an Asian name. There are a lot of colors, and given the richness and subtlety of this one, I want to try one of their grays next.
Here are a couple of other recent watercolors I used it with.
I came out having just gotten a book called Direct Watercolor by Marc Taro Holmes, an urban sketcher from Canada whose work I admire. I am self taught in watercolor, and he's got several techniques I really admire and want to spend some time practicing. The hardest for me is remembering to leave some chinks of paper as highlights. I tend to grab a brush and start too enthusiastically, so it's a strong mental exercise for me to try to be more restrained. Marc also talks about edges, and where you want them to bleed and where you want them to be crisp. He also talks about three passes with your painting -- a light "tea" layer first, a medium "milk" layer for more depth, and a final pass of "honey" for thick darks only. I'm impatient about letting the piece dry between layers, so that's another place for me to practice patience. I've layered more in the last few years, but this is a nicely ordered and intentional way of thinking about it.
So I went out to Rasar State Park, my favorite spot to paint here, to practice. I love the brain fizz of trying new things, and I was really pleased with my first day's work (though I also always see the things I wish I could fix). I'm looking forward this year to having more time to paint in this beautiful part of the country. I still want to do some book work (Mr. Darcy's Odyssey is waiting), but it's nice to take a little time and just do what feels good after all the deadlines of shows.
North Dakota was crazy. We drove through blowing snow, and there was a gale force wind that made it difficult to walk, let alone get out of the car without the doors blowing off. So our stop at Theodore Roosevelt National Park was truncated. I did two quick sketches from the front seat (of a stationary car this time) and called it a day.
It was much nicer in Montana. We had a sun filled, end of day stop at Pompey's Pillar, named for Sacajawea's son. It's a huge rock formation right beside the Yellowstone River, and Clark carved his name and the date into it. It's the only physical remnant of the Lewis and Clark expedition. I loved being there, and it was gorgeous, quiet park to enjoy at the end of a long day's drive.
I was almost out of both time and water in my brush pen, so after sketching the view from the top, I did a super quick outline of the rock itself.
Then when we got here, I kept thinking about it. I'm working on my watercolor this spring and summer, and I decided to try a 12" one. That doesn't sound large, but I've been working 6x8" in watercolor, so it was a big jump and a fun experiment. I used both my sketch and a photo to work from. It was fun to play a little.
There was one more page of little road sketches that didn't make it in the post with the others. And that's the full set of sketches I did coming across the country. Both years I've said I would sketch every state, and both years by Idaho I'm tired and don't care anymore, and the little leg of the state we go through passes by so quickly that I miss it. Sorry, Idaho. Maybe next year.
I also kept playing with my new green ink and the watercolor as well.
Most of my sketches were from a moving car, but we did stop to see Hannibal, MO. I'd seen signs for Mark Twain's house, and we enjoyed just walking around the small town. It's obviously benefitting from the Twain legacy, but Main Street is a pleasant place with lots of thriving businesses, and it was very quiet for us on a weekday in the not quite busy season yet. There was a great coffee shop in a gorgeous old building as well as historic sites to see, with the river right there as well. A good lunch stop for the day.
I've been hanging my show and doing all the scrambling around with that, so I'm behind scanning and putting up my sketches. Here are a pair I did in Overton Park. I've got a new green ink I'm excited about. It's not that cool, unnatural road sign ink. It's warmer and more like foliage, so I wanted to test it out in the forest. I've really been enjoying sketching with fountain pens lately. This is a nice addition to my kit.
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: