Elmore had a week-long class recently at Country Workshops, a woodworking school in North Carolina. It's a place we go at least once a year (when we're very lucky, we house sit in the fall), and it's a fruitful place for my artwork. I've done many paintings and prints on the farm over the years.
This year I was more focused on the prints I already had in progress, so I didn't paint on site as much as I usually do, but Nancy Darrell and I went out sketching together a couple of mornings. Nancy is a potter turned printmaker, and she's the wonderful friend I got my proof press from earlier this year.
We met halfway down the driveway one morning and stalled out here at this row of trees I've been drawing and painting for years. I never quite capture what I hope to, but I keep trying.
Another morning I went to get my sketching things to paint the pear tree that had been catching my eye all week. It's just outside the open air pavilion where the students at the school (and me, when I'm lucky enough to be there) take their meals.
I also did a sketch of Nancy while we were out together, and I did the two watercolors of the French Broad river that I already posted here. I'm working on the print now, and I'm happy to bring a little more North Carolina landscape into my work here at home.
I pulled the second block before dinner last night, and I'm mostly pleased with the results. I'm thinning out some of the darker marks a bit and cleaning up the letters, but this one is close to done. I'm also trying to decide about whether to cut bark pattern into the trunks or leave them solid. That's the last hard choice to make about this one.
I also tested it on two different colors of paper. You'll see that the lighter sheet is badly offset. I used the wrong form to align it on the press. In my defense, a dog we were babysitting for the afternoon had just peed all over the floor of my studio, and I was trying to just pull the block quickly while the ink was already rolled on the block so I could clean up after the dog. (They never mentioned issues like this in art school.)
Otherwise, I really like both papers, which each give the print a different feel, and I may do two smaller editions instead of one large edition.
Tower Grove print in progress
I did this watercolor last month in Tower Grove Park, not really thinking about anything except the sketch itself. After I got home, though, I kept thinking about it and wanting to make a print from it. When I started looking at it, though, I decided I didn't have quite enough information in my sketch to do a full print from. On my next trip to St. Louis, I did a more detailed pencil sketch to supplement.
I started carving this one on my vacation in the mountains and proofed the first block when I got home.
I'm trying two different colored papers to see which I like better.
Yesterday I spent most of the day carving the key block, and I'm continuing to work on it today.
Hopefully by dinner time I'll be able to put the two together on paper and see where I am. Stay tuned....
50th Anniversary Commissions
There's an absolutely lovely couple I've known all my life who really like the watercolors I've been doing lately. They have always been supportive of my work and bought pastels from my very first gallery show back in 1999, but the recent assignments were extra special. They are celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary this weekend, and months ago, they both happened to call me on the same day to order paintings for each other as presents. That's when you know you've been married a beautifully long time.
They both wanted their house (above) plus something else. I was asking when the wife might be gone so I could paint the house as a surprise, and the husband said, that's OK -- we'll tell her about the house, and then she won't be suspecting the other ones. Almost identically, when he told her about the house, she said that if he knew about that one, he wouldn't be expecting a second painting.
He asked for the church they married in, Trinity Methodist (a lovely stroll around the corner with my folding chair -- the best kind of commission)....
...and their current church, St. Francis of Assisi.
She asked for the Shelby County Courthouse, where he's a judge. It was fun to sit on the sidewalk for this one and have lawyers stepping over my legs and taking a peek as I worked.
This set of commissions taxed my always deficient verbal filter, but I managed not to blurt anything out and ruin the surprises. The best part was going out this week to do their home, the last painting due, and seeing them give all the paintings to each other early because they couldn't bear to wait. It was just lovely to get to be part of such a wonderful celebration.
French Broad River
I was mostly off the grid last week, hanging out in the mountains while Elmore took a class in coopering at Country Workshops woodworking school. It's on a lovely farm many of my paintings and prints have originated over the years. I went out sketching a couple of mornings with the printmaker next door.
My lasting image from this trip, though, was of the French Broad River. I had driven into the town of Hot Springs partway through the week and spotted this view as I crossed the highway bridge going out of town. I thought about it for several days and convinced Elmore (not too hard) to run this river on our last day so I could go back and paint while I was waiting for him at the takeout.
I did the top one first, with more pencil detail than usual, since I want to make a print from it. The pencil lines will help me decide where and what patterns to make my cuts in the block.
Then I decided I might like a vertical composition better, so I did a fast second sketch (below). It was not the most comfortable place to paint, perched on the narrow sidewalk of a highway bridge with big mountain pickups roaring past, so I kept the second sketch fast. I'm excited about the image, and it will be the next print I start once I finish a couple I have going now.
Tower Grove as Muse
I continue to learn new things painting in Tower Grove Park in St. Louis. I went back last weekend, just for a night, to treat myself after the craziness of getting my exhibition up on a tight schedule. I left Sunday morning at 7, was painting by 11:30, and did a whole new series of paintings while also getting in a dance that night. Great fun.
Above is the southern entrance to the park, just across from a gatehouse I love but couldn't get a great view of, since it's pretty socked in with trees. I might try to paint it once the leaves fall.
Below is a fountain in a lovely, quiet courtyard in the south-eastern corner of the park.
I love this pool pavilion. It always makes me think of both Fred and Ginger and the great Gatsby. There's a fountain and splash park in front, and a lovely vista down a long meadow behind. Another time I'm going to have to paint that vista more clearly.
I keep coming back to the Piper Palm House as well. This is one of the Victorian greenhouses, which is now a cafe on Sundays and a wedding venue. It sits right on a small lake with waterlilies and surrounded by lush plantings.
I tried painting a close-up of the water lilies, but I reconfirmed for myself that I am a landscape painter and not a flower painter. I need a little bit bigger scale to bring interest and depth into my compositions. This is just too close up. But it's always good to try new things.
I'm working more seriously on painting trees in watercolor. Buildings immediately were easier for me in this medium, but trees and skies (the backbone of all my previous work) were harder. I'm still not happy with my skies, but I'm beginning to feel better about my trees. These are my favorites I've done so far in watercolor. And it's lovely to have an excuse to just sit and look at the varied and lovely groves of trees in Tower Grove. The park is intentionally planted with many species, grouped into groves, and it's a charming place to walk.
Idlewild and Opening
The Memphis Urban Sketchers met on my home turf of Idlewild Presbyterian this past Saturday, and it was fun to get to draw with a whole group in the church I grew up in. It's a beautiful old Gothic church, built just before the depression, and it was fun to share it with the group.
I got my first peek at the Memphis Magazine City Guide issue that used my illustrations. It's on sale for the month of August, and it was fun to see my watercolors in print. I took one to my opening Friday night for folks to see.
It was a highlight week for me, art-wise, because the opening for my watercolor show at Playhouse on the Square was wonderful also. I really appreciated so many friends turning out to support me, and it was fun to get to share some of my favorite places with them through art. The show will be up through September 16th, and I hope people will see it and want to visit Greece and Turkey.
Richard Sheppard is a watercolor artist I admire greatly, and he and his dad took a trip to Greece where he did lots of sketching. His book about that trip inspired me to try watercolors in the first place, and my very favorite is his night-time painting of Delphi.
I had never painted at night before this trip, but Richard's painting haunts me. Then the guys at my favorite taverna were urging me to stick around late one night. (I always go to bed early.) I decided it would be fun to see the night life, and I thought doing a painting would help me stay awake. I love the lights they string in the grape vines overhead, so I hung out, drank a glass of wine, and painted. My star halos are way too big, but otherwise I was pleased and had a good time doing it, in spite of pretty dim light. (I waved the candle on my table over the painting every so often to check on it.)
On Crete we had a lovely balcony, where I could have some good light while still enjoying the reflections in the water below me and the glow of the towns across the water.
I warmed up with a very fast painting of the late evening light hitting the headland.
Then I waited for dark and did a true nocturne. It's darker than I wanted and ambiguous in places, but it made me want to try a few more.
We moved to Nafplio next, and they had a lovely harbor with a Venetian fort on a small island out in the middle of it. I managed to snare a cafe table on the harbor just underneath a street light and did another nocturne while having a glass of wine. Very civilized.
My last one for the trip was back in Athens. The Athos Hotel has a lovely roof garden overlooking the Parthenon, and my favorite room is the only room also up there on the sixth floor. I can open my shutters right out onto the roof garden. My last night in Athens, after the family had flown home, I got back to the hotel early and did one more night time painting for the trip. I didn't manage one in Bergama this time -- I was too busy hanging out with the Gobi family and going out to various social things. Maybe next time. Now I want to try some in Memphis.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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