About all that's going on over here right now is sketching in the forest on my morning walks and work on the forest ABC book from those sketches (and a bunch of old ones). I've also had a quieter weekend, visiting with my dad and a couple of friends from safe distances. I'm hoping to wind up the artwork for the book quite soon, and then I'll have to figure out all the digital stuff -- get the scans the right size, obtain an ISBN number, and all the less fun but still satisfying stuff.
Here's a shot of my back porch table (where I've been working except a handful of the hottest days, because the full summer heat makes me want to stop working and nap) with the line drawings for the book in the center surrounded by a host of older sketches I'm using for reference. I'm grateful for all the years of forest sketching I have in old books. It's proved more valuable than I dreamed.
And here's one more pair of recent morning sketches with my newish Sailor fude fountain pen that I'm still really enjoying. It's what I'm using for the book as well.
My Quarantine Journal is taking a serious back seat the last couple of weeks to this book project, but I figure it's always good to go with the thing that's strongly calling your name (unless you're on a different kind of deadline). It's good to be able to ride a bit of momentum on a project too. I'm having a lot of fun with this book and simultaneously trying to figure out how to push it on out into the world once I'm done. It's so local that I'll likely self publish, but I'm exploring a few options at the moment. It feels like a lot of years' worth of sketching in the forest have really come together all at once in my head. I'm grateful for the gift of that, unexpected and lovely.
I had a funghi kind of morning on my walk today. I caught a brief glimpse of the owl hunting as I walked (I heard the ruckus of the smaller birds trying to drive her off) but the fungi held still and posed for me today. I’m testing out the 55 degree angle Sailor fude pen. I’ve been using the 40 degree one, and this one feels very different. Thicker lines overall, but I can get the thinner ones if I concentrate. I also found out today that the Noodler’s permanent ink, which is supposed to be water fast to use with paint on top of, has a longer drying time that my fast sketching allows for. I got a bit of bleed when I moved straight onto watercolor. It’s doing great for the book project where I’m leaving it to cure overnight, but less great for sketching in the field where I don’t want to sit around and wait for the mosquitoes to find me.
I was supposed to go teach a workshop for the art guild in Mountain View, Arkansas, this month. I went last year and had a great time with the marvelous folks there, and they had been kind enough to invite me back. Obviously that's not happening anytime soon, and I've been thinking about that group on my morning walks lately. I decided to put up a new page on my website about the pen I've discovered this spring, how I'm using it, and a couple of different sketching projects that have been saving my sanity. All of that is on the page Sketching Tools if anyone else would like to play along. Sketching is a great way to notice new things in familiar surroundings as well as find new delight in those same places, something we all need at the moment.
I lived the first 15 years in this house without a screened in porch, and mosquitoes in Memphis are pretty fierce. A decade ago I finally tacked one on to the back of the house, just off the kitchen. The space was pretty small, so it contains a table and two chairs plus a one person hammock chair, and that's really all it can manage. But it has a blue ceiling, a ceiling fan, and lots of birdsong.
With the stay at home spring and my new-found fascination with birds, I've been eating more and more meals out there through the temperate part of the year. Sometimes it feels like a lot of trouble to carry things out, but I never regret it. Now I've got this new illustration project going, and, unlike my printing, it's beautifully portable. I've carried stacks of sketchbooks, my ipad, and my paints outside, and I've been spending all day making art on my porch. It's a delight. Yesterday, after my brain had shut off for serious work, I decided I wanted to put this period in my Quarantine Journal. The sketch isn't my best, but it does show you the chaotic, colorful process of illustration. The stack of sketchbooks are to look back at on-site sketches from the forest, done over years, to refresh my memory and keep the book vivid. I'm having a ball working on this project.
I've really been enjoying carrying a sketchbook and my Sailor fude fountain pen on my morning walks in the park. I'm mostly sketching the forest, but the above right is the newly closed, much lamented Memphis College of Art, where I took a couple of classes on printmaking that changed the trajectory of my career.
Today I saw a bunny skipping across the path in front of me. He didn't stay around for me to sketch, but I got my book out immediately, drew him from that image in my mind, and drew the path in front of me as well. Later in the walk I followed the owl around the forest, though again in fleeting ways. I wrote down the experience so I'd have it in the place where I'm recording these forest impressions this spring.
I'm feeling a bit back to my workaholic, immersive self for the first time since March. I've been getting work done, but it hasn't been that really deep dive that I'm used to. Then I got this idea, which grew from a combination of my Quarantine Journal and walking almost every day with my sketchpad in the forest. I've really been enjoying working on a new book project, even if I'm not sure where to take it when I'm done.
Plus this is much more portable than my printing press work. The weather has been flat out gorgeous this week, so I've been carrying out a whole stack of sketchbooks with years' worth of forest sketches to the table on my back porch. I've been sitting out there enjoying the breeze and the birdsong and doing this project. It's been a joy.
Rather unintentionally, here are my two new main pursuits across one spread of the Quarantine Journal. I've always enjoyed birds but have never watched them as intently and intentionally as I have this spring. Likewise I have always enjoyed tomatoes, and I've had an herb bed in the past, but I'm not much of a gardener. I put in a new herb bed (the old one had been totally overgrown after several years of way too much travel), added tomatoes (which I've tried without success before, but we'll see), and added a few blueberry bushes and a fig tree. Also things I've tried before and killed. Although in my defense, the fig tree was doing fine until a large masonry wall fell on top of it, which I don't count as a mark against my gardening skills.
I've gotten decoyed off the journal in recent days as I have dived headlong into the forest ABC book. I tend to do immersion in new projects while the energy is flowing and the images in my head are fresh. But tonight I have my first few tomatoes ready to pick, so I thought I would celebrate. The outdoor tomato plants are behind the curve, but this one pot is sitting in the window in my laundry room. I thought I'd try one that the squirrels couldn't get to. So far that's been a success.
A couple of years ago I "plotted out" a tree alphabet book. I love trees and nature and draw all the time in the Old Forest in Memphis's historic Overton Park. I even started a print (I was thinking linocut), but it felt a little forced, and I abandoned it. This year's Quarantine Journal, dog walk sketches, and new interest in birding all have me thinking back to that project. So over the last couple of days I have laid out an ABC of the Old Forest. Broader in species, but more specific in place. That feels like a good combination to me. I'll have to get a bit deeper into it to see how I really feel about it, but I'm having a good time so far.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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