I wrote yesterday about how much I'm watching the birds these days, and what a beautiful new awareness that is in my life. I've always admired them, but never sat still and long and really looked more than occasionally. The learning about birds been a huge gift of this quarantine season. And then this morning, an enormous owl flapped across my path in the forest and sat on a limb for ages, looking at me and chatting a little. I'd gotten over there very early (about 6:15), sadly without my smaller sketchbook today, since s/he sat so long. I wish I'd had it. It was still pretty dark to take photos, but I got a couple and locked in a little in my memory as well. Over breakfast I sketched out this page to help me remember in coming times. I loved the side to side head motion. I must have stood there 5 or 6 minutes. I think perhaps there was a nest nearby, or probably s/he would have just moved on. I finally decided I'd been an annoying presence long enough and took up my walk again, with such gratitude for the beauty of the forest and all its creatures.
I don't know if this is really a Quarantine Journal or a new normal journal. We're a long way in from what we used to think of as normal, though, so even though the shelter at home order is lifted, it feels like I'm still largely in quarantine from the virus if not the government.
My new garden, which has been giving me herbs, is now also giving me gardenias, and I could not be more delighted. They smell divine. One good friend has brought them to me before from her bush, and I've wanted one ever since. Our little midtown nursery is open air shopping, so I got there first thing a month or so ago. I also have my first hydrangea blossoms. It's been a joy to reclaim a bit of my messy yard for beauty.
I had lunch on the back porch today and watched a dove building her nest. With every beak full of straw, she stopped to perch on the fence across from me before she took it on to the nest. I finally got my sketching things and managed to draw her over several trips. After the Cardinal tragedy (though I'm happy to say they're still whizzing around the yard and seem to be mating again!), it's happy to see another nest being built. This one is quite high, so I'll have to just watch from a distance, but it's a joy. I've never watched birds the way I have this year. I feel like I'm turning into my grandmother, and it's really given me a lot of quiet happiness in the midst of the chaos.
I feel like I've been working on this tiny print for ages, and today I got yet another proof done. It's not quite what I want -- the tunnel shape still isn't quite there, and I'd like more definition at the right hand side. But the main purpose of this is to do a test for doing a bigger piece, and I've finally figured out what is working and what isn't, so I think I'm ready to draw this up bigger and start carving. It was good to work out the kinks in something that was a lot less labor (and expensive material -- this was done on scraps I already had instead of a large sheet). I'm still working to get the seagulls finished, but this will be next up.
I've been divided between sketching, printmaking, and skiving off lately, so I've been irregular in all my pursuits. I have done a few more Mr. Darcy sketches over the last couple of days, however, and here they are. The watercolor one is the aerial view of him I get from my work table stool when he's lying next to me. The others are when we're both on the sofa at night. I'm so grateful for his company.
I had a reptile kind of walk this morning. I got out early to beat both the heat and the holiday weekend crowds in the park, and I had the forest beautifully to myself. I had done a short walk with Mr. Darcy (who struggles with an arthritic hip these days) and then gone back out with my smaller sketchbook. I'm so glad I did. I found a turtle in the middle of the path, and he very obligingly hung around and let me sketch him. He didn't even pull into his shell.
Not five minutes later, I came across a pair of copperheads writhing together on the path. This time I took a photo but didn't stay in the vicinity long enough to sketch. I did the journal page looking at both my turtle sketch as well as reference photos for both.
These are the first snakes I've seen in ages, which is a little unusual for me. For several years now I've been a bit of a magnet for them, enough that the forester has joked about having the copperhead researcher (a professor at a local college) follow me around so she can find them more easily. I was beginning to feel like I might speak parseltongue without knowing it, though truthfully, a port key or apparition would be much my preferred form of Harry Potter magic. Today made up for the gap, however, since I saw two at once for the first time.
I’ve been slow on my journal this week since I’ve gotten back moving on prints, though truthfully, I’ve been slow on a lot of things. I’ve been spending a lot of time in my favorite reading chair with Wilkie Collins. I did at least draw the view. This is another corner I reworked recently in my push to get the house how I want to live in it. I found the little square stained glass lamp at a garage sale. It’s not fine, but it matches the wall well and cheers up to top of the cabinet. Hanging next to it is a Hatch Show Print I had bought years ago and never gotten around to framing. I love it, and it’s great to have it up on the wall. Less clearly visible to the left, on the oven with magnets, are a drawing from a friend for my birthday (which itself needs framing, but it came after my big order of frames and binge of work in that direction) and several show cards that inspire me and make me happy.
I’m trying to talk myself into more journal sketches again. I’m having a hard time finding the balance between cutting myself some slack and being even partially accountable for getting some work done. Today I carved after lunch and finally got this posted, so now I’m going to read a little more Woman in White.
I think I’ve had “finish seagull piece” on my goal list the last three months. It’s a lot, and I’ve amazed at how much more work the larger size is. It’s also intricate, so if I see something I want to fix, I then have to figure out where exactly it is on the backward block in the middle of the swirl of motion. I also realized yesterday that I think my reading glasses are no longer getting me the clarity that they used to, so I ordered the next up strength today. Hopefully that will help. I’m also struggling to thread needles just now.
So for all these reasons, along with a general lack of mental focus, this one has been hanging about. I did a new proof the other day. It won’t have that huge white gap in the middle, but I needed to see if the color of the paper would do for the cuts in the distant water or if I was going to need another block or color. I think it will be good, but now I need to cut ripples into that whole section on the color block. The other option was to have a separate water color near the horizon, which you can see in a previous color test, but I don’t think I need it, and I actually think it detracts a bit. There’s still a good bit of way to go in carving the water and refining all the patterns around the birds. They’re too thick in this current proof, so I’ve been thinning them down. But I do finally feel that I’ve worked out exactly how I want to go about it, after staring at proofs and being unsure for a while now. That alone will help move things along tremendously. Maybe I really will manage to finish it this month.
I keep sketching my main muse and housemate. I'm really enjoying that Sailor fude pen, and I've had it and my smaller sketchbook lying around handy lately. It's been fun to do during a slow week.
The last sketch has The Woman in White sitting on my lap. I've been listening to a delightful podcast of The Moonstone ("Phoebe reads a Mystery" -- she started with Poirot, and I love her voice), and I decided I wanted a bit more Collins. I found the absolutely perfect quote for the current situation:
“I ought, perhaps, to have made more progress than this; but, as luncheon time drew near, I grew restless and unsettled, and felt unable to fix my attention on work, even though that work was only of the humble, manual kind.” My week in a nutshell, courtesy of Wilkie Collins.
I feel like most of us are having these most weeks. This week has been especially so for me. I had a lovely mother's day visit on the patio with my folks, from a safe distance. Then the baby Cardinals finally hatched. And then they died overnight in the nest, I think from cold. It affected me in an outsized way, although I imagine some of that is just the grief and stress of these times also showing up, and it's not bad to push a little of that out occasionally. Plus Mr. Darcy came over and gave me big sloppy kisses to make me feel better.
I found that I needed to physically turn the page on this page of my sketchbook, so I drew my dinner last night. I've never cooked beets before. Thanks to Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything (which I think is going to be key for my CSA journey), it was super easy, and I've had a couple of truly lovely beet salads with goat cheese and slightly candied walnuts.
Then today was lovely again. I met Dad and Pat at his grandparent's house, my great grandparents, about half a mile from their daughter's (my grandmother's) house where I live now. I never knew my great grandparents, or the house, and it's recently been bought by a lovely woman who is lovingly restoring it and who wants to know the history of the house and of our family as she moves in. It's beyond special to have someone there who wants to know and carry forward those family stories. We've had such a great series of emails over the last week, and it means a tremendous amount. I sat afterwards and sketched the house to have more happiness in my journal from this time. My favorite thing, aside from getting to see the place, was finding out that the sunroom off the main bedroom was called "The Joint" because it was jointly owned by my dad (with his bed there for weekend visits) and his grandfather, who kept his desk in there.
I've been having fun sketching Mr. Darcy, always my best muse, with my new Sailor fude fountain pen. It's also a quick, easy way to sketch in the forest on our daily walk, so I've been getting used to this pen as I walk and also sit on the couch in the evenings. I'm really enjoying the feel of it and the varied width of lines I can get.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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