I’ve been running around out here and not doing the studio work I had thought I might get done. I’m giving myself permission to have a bit of vacation, but I decided it would be a good chance to do a daily walk sketch, as a base level of art, and I would enjoy that as a vacation project. Elizabeth Alley turned me on to a great hashtag on Instagram called #walktosee. It’s largely British artists posting sketches from their regular walks. In Memphis, often I’m just out quickly with a door key, getting my walk in and getting Mr. Darcy home before it gets too hot. I’m also often already thinking about my current painting or print and focused on getting home to start work on them. Here it’s nice to think I’ll linger a little and sketch, and the weather is more temperate and encouraging for sketching.
So here are a first batch of sketches I’ve been doing this week in Concrete, Washington, and its environs. Above is at Rasar State Park, my sketching Mecca out here. It’s got everything — river, beach, stone beach, forest, and a gorgeous meadow with mountain views.
I arrived out west on Tuesday evening, and I’ve done a few sketches, but largely I’ve been taking some time off work. I’ve been sleeping a lot, catching up with friends, and taking care of emotional business instead of career business. That’s always a bit hard for me, so I was happy to read this opinion article (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/21/opinion/summer-lying-fallow.html) in the New York Times on the importance of rest and renewal to the creative process, as well as life in general. So in that spirit, here are a few scenes from my usual daily walk out here in Concrete, Washington. The trail is an old railroad bed, up above the highway. It’s an easy way to walk out of town, wide and flat and almost unpopulated. I sometimes see another person or two, but not often.
I recently got professional photographs made of some completed paintings in the water series. They are so much better than the snapshots I take in my studio, which invariably have a good bit of glare. So here are a few of them to enjoy today, since I'm in family time mode with my sister here and also getting ready to travel again. There will be travel sketches soon from Washington.
I was a guest on Memphis on the Mark this week, which was great fun. I've known Mark Jones my whole life, since we both grew up at Idlewild Presbyterian here in Memphis. He's a film maker with a number of movies (including Tennessee Queer, a small town family drama, which uses my house as one of its main sets) and several web series to his credit. His newest venture is an interview show with film makers, artists, and other creatives. I was thrilled to be on. We talked a lot about my printing presses and how they work, for those who are interested in that. And I found out that I talk with animation and apparently need to ask for a clip-on mike instead of a stick-on one. The stick-on one fell down my blouse quite early in the process and can be heard rustling throughout the interview. I'm not ready for prime time yet...
I’m back to market still lifes this week. It’s an pleasurable and easy way to get the paint flowing when I’m feeling stuck on another project, and I do enjoy the feeling of continuity with still life painters through the centuries. Pieter Claesz is one of my favorites, and several early women painters were flower and still life painters, Rachel Ruysch and Clara Peeters among others. It was a genre women that was “acceptable” or women to do at the time, and they did it beautifully. And made lasting names for themselves, which is amazing given the patriarchal society they were born into. I also think it’s a gift to the world to simply paint beauty occasionally and remind people of the joy in the everyday things that surround them. Still lifes often get marginalized in the same way as genre fiction, but I’ve always been drawn to them, both in viewing and execution.
This week it was sunflowers, which I discovered are harder than they look. I’d done some years ago, but in a very simplified way. I’m drawn to the size and robust presence they have. I started off a little fussy with them, but then the tomato and carrots went in largely one pass. While I painted the flowers likely ten times. So it goes.
You can see the chalk marks I use for my initial drawing in the early views. I used NuPastel either light yellow or light gray to lay the shapes down where I want them before diving in with paint. Nothing very detailed, but a road map.
The end of the first day below on the left. I was largely happy with it, though I ran out of steam before I finished the second set of hydrangeas. There had been a different flower there that I wasn’t happy with, so I did a little rearranging near the end of the day to bring another hydrangea blossom around to the visible side. The next day I finished that and also decided the sunflowers were a bit fussy, so I simplified them down a bit. I think it’s finished now. The background is pretty uniformly dark, but it’s hard to get a snapshot without glare. The dark background feels to me particularly in an almost apostolic line with the Dutch painters of the past, and it really makes the lighter objects in the foreground pop. Feeling happy with this one is making me reconsider the previous still lifes in this series. A follow up blog post will show you work I did on one of those.
The final reason to love visiting art friends is that (especially when they're generous to a fault), you end up taking a bit of beauty home with you. I totally fell for Judi's bunny (I've got a thing for bunnies anyway), which was in the room I stayed in. She caught his expression perfectly, and I loved the green background. He's now living just beside my bed where I see him every night and every morning, and he makes me smile. I also came home with a gorgeous, wood fired teacup of John's. The photo is too dark to show off its full beauty, but there are flashes of blue inside and out from the ash, and it fits my hand so well. I do love this photo of tea on their deck. They live up a forestry road, and it was the perfect getaway. I'm so grateful for this job where I get to do things I love surrounded by the best people.
I’m being able to revisit various special places this spring. I used to go to Mountain View and Calico Rock in the Arkansas Ozarks pretty frequently, but it’s been a good while since I got over there. My potter friend Judi Munn (she and her husband are the resident potters at the Ozark Folk Center) is also in an art guild there, and she invited me to teach a sketching workshop. I loaded up an array of materials, a stack of inspirational books, another stack of my own journals, and I spent the day with a crew of lovely and dedicated artists. We had a great time, and they were so welcoming of me. I love getting to go talk about doing what I love and all the different fun things you can use to sketch. Then Judi and I ended up going to City Rock Bluff outside Calico Rock to sketch. I used to paint here regularly, but it had been several years. It felt so good to step out onto that broad bluff and again and look down on a beautiful world. And it was the perfect, quiet end of the day. Below is Judi sketching the view.
I got to revisit Tower Grove Park last weekend for the first time in several years. It's always a muse for me, one of my deeply happy places, and I was delighted to have a full afternoon to wander with my sketchbook. I've painted the Chinese pavilion before, and this time I'm at least contemplating a print of it. The park has two gorgeous trees I love at two opposite ends. I checked on my my favorite sycamore in the bird sanctuary. She is old and has deep pockets, but she's a beautifully hospitable tree. The first one I ever fell in love with in a must-touch, spend-time-with-her kind of way.
At the other end of the park is a copper beech I've sketched and painted many times. More traditionally photogenic, with whorls and spirals all over the trunk. I did a larger watercolor of this one, fighting gnats, but so worth it.
It was good to revisit old haunts. I hit Ted Drewes frozen custard, of COURSE, and I saw a lot of friends dancing. A marvelous weekend.
After doing two in gouache, there wasn't much time, so I did one fast, small watercolor just to have the day in my journal as well. I was missing line and wanted to play with my green ink a little too. The two gouaches are on freestanding Kraft brown paper. It's always fun to sketch Elizabeth in her nifty sketching hat.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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