I was in St. Louis early in July on my annual sister baseball trip (see the last blog post), but of course I found a little time to paint in my favorite park as well. I did all of these with my tiny watercolor kit and water brush pen. It's handy to not have to set out multiple cups of water to just do some quick sketches. I didn't have a lot of time that trip, but I always try to paint at least a little bit in Tower Grove.
I usually go with my sister to St. Louis once a summer to take in some Cardinals baseball. It's a fun time, and I look forward to being in Busch stadium, since mostly I just listen at home on the radio. This year I was pleased to be asked because her wedding anniversary fell on the weekend where the Cards played the Padres, which is her husband's rooting team. They made an anniversary trip of it and took in four games, but they very kindly and warmly bought extra tickets to the second two games and asked me to come join them partway through. I was delighted, and it was a lovely weekend with the two of them.
I mostly watched the games, but I did one sketch at the beginning of the game each day. The second day I restricted myself to a Stabilo fine liner and one grey Faber Castell marker, which was the sketching equipment I was handing out to teenagers on a retreat later that week where I would be teaching sketching. (I'll write about that soon. I am SO behind on this blog right now.) I wanted to do a couple of demo sketches and also just think about the best ways to use those materials. Mostly, though, I just had fun and enjoyed two Cardinal wins and hung out with the siblings.
I've been focusing and printmaking and sketching the last few years, but Dixon wanted some oils as well for my fall exhibition with them. It took me a while to get my head back in this space, but I've been flipping through some sketchbooks and found several images I'd enjoy painting, and I really have been having a ball. There's something very immediate and responsive about oils. They're lush.
I'm also enjoying revisiting a special place. This painting and the moonrise one (last blog entry) are both from watercolors I did at the woodworking school Country Workshops. My friends Drew and Louise Langsner live there and run the school, and their farm is one of the loveliest places I know. They periodically invite me to visit them and paint for a bit, and I always look forward to my time there. It's a fruitful place for my art.
I've got a new painting underway for my fall exhibition at Dixon Gallery and Gardens. This is an evening sky I painted in watercolor when I was in North Carolina last fall. I've already done a print from that sketch, but the image continues to call my name. My favorite thing to paint in oils is big, lush skies. That medium does skies better than anything else I work in. I've enjoyed getting back into oils for this exhibition.
Dixon Gallery and Gardens has their main museum building closed for renovations this summer and was looking for some classes to offer to keep the education program going during that process. They asked me if I would teach a printmaking workshop in my studio, since I have a printing press there, and they said they would bring the tables and chairs. I was delighted, and the workshop was this past weekend with eight students.
I hadn't taught it before, but the two afternoon format turned out to be perfect. I asked everyone to come in with a black and white image or two that they would like to make a print from, and I was impressed with everyone showing up with drawings or photos to work from. They progressed from tracing the drawings to cutting the linoleum blocks, transferring the drawings onto them, carving, prepping their paper and setting up registration, and printing. Everyone did one full print and went home with a small edition of prints, and some people started a second print to take home and keep working on.
Block printing is one of the few forms of printing that you can do at home without a printing press. I did three years' worth of professional prints rubbing on the back of paper with a wooden spoon, and I wanted everyone to be able to go out and keep printing if they wanted to. Everyone did some printing with the spoon to get the feel of that as well as trying my press, and the class materials included a set of carving tools and some other basic materials that they could keep and use at home.
It was such fun to have a whole group of excited and motivated students in my work space all weekend. I work alone at home for much of my work time, and it was such fun to have a neat group of people to spend the weekend (two four hour afternoon sessions, which was just about right) making art with me.
I was also deeply impressed with the quality of the prints everyone made. It was exciting to see all of these progress from the first drawings into finished prints. Here are the prints created by the class.
I would really enjoy teaching this workshop again and am pondering hanging out my shingle for it again in January. Let me know if you'd be interested in joining me for some printmaking.
This craze is sweeping the Urban Sketchers online, and I have completely fallen for it. I made my first tiny watercolor tin in a mini-sized Altoids tin, and I have used it incessantly ever since. When I was in Amsterdam this spring, I was delighted to find that one of the huge items for the Dutch tourism industry is tiny mint tins. I bought several at different museums. At 1.75 x 2.25" they are slightly larger than the Altoid tin, but about a quarter of an inch. Six empty half pans (which I ordered in bulk from Cheap Joe's) fit inside, as oppsoed to five in the Altoid tin, but I have the same number of colors. I just put the ultramarine blue in the bottom right directly into the corner of a tin instead of in its own half pan.
I can get almost my full regular palette into the tin, missing only yellow ochre and viridian green. I don't have as much mixing space as my full one, which I still get out to do finished, stand alone watercolors, but this is delightfully easy to use with a water brush (a pen-like contraption with water in the barrel that you squeeze gently as you use the brush) for quick sketches. It's perfect also when you're standing up or working in your lap at the theater and don't have space to set out cups of water for dipping.
Here are the colors I squeeze into my tiny kit. The first one I made didn't have the lemon yellow, and I missed it, so I've got three colors in that section. Everywhere else only has two. The purple fits along the side in the Altoid tin and at the bottom in these new ones. I usually use Windsor and Newton professional grade watercolors.
Dixon asked me to come up with some thoughts about my upcoming exhibition that they can use for the newsletter. Here is what I came up with. (Above are color proofs of the print I created for the exhibition poster. That was way fun to do.)
"My work and work habits both are highly influenced by John Constable, my favorite artist. I took the title of my show, "My Own Places," from his letter to a friend in which he writes, "I should paint my own places best; painting is with me but another word for feeling, and I associate 'my careless boyhood' with all that lies on the banks of the Stour; those scenes made me a painter, and I am grateful." Constable did not follow his generation on the grand tour to paint Italy. He painted the river he grew up next to, his village church, his home, his best friend's home at Salisbury, and later Hampstead Heath just outside his door.
Similarly I spent the first dozen years of my career painting the landscape in and around Memphis. I could easily say that my family's farm and Overton Park made me a painter. Constable was also one of the first painters to do finished paintings on site instead of just studies, and his practices influenced the Impressionists. He also did hundreds of small studies of clouds and plants on site to inform his studio work. All of my work starts with an onsite sketch or watercolor. Any print I create grows out of work I created sitting in that place, recording that moment in time and what drew me to the scene.
A summer in Greece in 2003 gave me the gift of painting beautiful and exotic places, and I have enjoyed painting on my travels in the years since. But I was delighted to be invited to create a show of current Southern landscapes to complement the exhibition of Southern Impressionists that Dixon will bring to town this fall. It's a beautiful opportunity to refocus on the scenes that made me a painter and which continue to delight and enrich my work. In the tradition of Constable, the places in the this show are my "heart places." Overton Park, where I walk daily; my family farm; a farm in North Carolina that have visited and painted through the years; and Dixon itself. Growing up in Memphis I have been amazed and schooled by the exhibitions here while I simultaneously kept painting the lovely gardens. Dixon has helped make me the artist I am, and I could not be more honored to create a show of my home landscapes to hang in the place that has inspired me over the course of my life."
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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