I've been enjoying being back in my historic neighborhood of Evergreen lately. It's fun to have the mix of houses and buildings that an older neighborhood gets. I've also been taking more walks around blocks looking at houses since Gideon can't go as far, instead of just taking off for the forest and burying myself in it. I've been taking out my sketchbook occasionally to do some quick sketches on walks.
The other day I took my bike over to Victory for service (beautifully I can ride through the park to get there and not have to disassemble it to drive it somewhere in my tiny car). They were so fast that they were done before I even got my gear out and sorted to start sketching, but the day was so lovely I just stayed to sketch before riding home. That water tower is as iconic for Broad as the Sputnik sign at Joe's Wines is for Evergreen. We have such a funky mix of visual treats in Memphis.
These are the quicker, out-on-my-walk sketches with just a brush pen or two and my fat felt tip pen.
This last one is one of my favorite houses. I've done sketches and several prints of it over the years. The gables and arched windows along with that fantastic tree up front keep drawing me back.
Mr. Darcy slept about 20 hours a day for much of his life with me. He'd hang out quietly and let me sketch him often. Gideon is 7 months old and in much more constant motion. He's also solid yellow, so he's a challenge on several different fronts. He finally slept a little while I was still downstairs the other night, and I did a fairly full Inktense pencil sketch of him. Previously I'd only managed the briefest of pen sketches as he moved around.
He's fantastic entertainment. He makes me laugh a ton and is adorable, so very good for facebook snaps. I'll just have to get more practiced at the sketching end of things.
I went back to do some more sketching in the Thiebaud exhibit. I love the lines and almost abstract shapes of the black and white aquatint. And I love that he did a whole series called "Delights." That kind of small, every day delight has been an intention focus for me during the pandemic, and it's lovely to be seeing his take so beautifully and in person.
My second piece of the candy apples couldn't at all capture the richness of the painting, since I was working with a limited set of colored pencils. The Inktense pencils do have a lot more richness and saturation than the regular watercolor kind, but they, like any others, are pretty limited to the hues they give you. It's much easier to mix colors in paint instead. But looking at any painting long enough to sketch it really teaches you a lot, even if the sketch is (never, really) what you hope it might be. I had a ball, though. And I love taking that kind of immersive time with great paintings.
I’ve done a lot of carving over the last year, and I’ve done some printing too, but I haven’t at all kept up with the volume of blocks. So now is the time. I’m settling into printing at least the first batch of each edition for the WAMA show next year. Nicely I still have some months, so I can do it in stages and keep going on some more creative work as well. Friday, after my Thursday sabbath (see my last post), I printed the first 10 of this Skagit river print. It’s really detailed and delicate, and my regular, somewhat heavy paper was moving too much on the block as the press went across it, so I was getting blurry prints. I ended up choosing a lighter paper that will stick better to the wet ink and not smudge. I got 10 of 30, and that was plenty of work by the time I had puzzled through the earlier issues. Now I know, though, and the next batch will go faster.
Then yesterday I cut a blank block the same size as my show poster, a carved poster print to celebrate the fact of a museum show. I did one for Dixon and am now doing one for Walter Anderson. When you get to put your name and a museum name together, it’s worth doing a print to celebrate. As I did with Dixon, I’m doing a bunch of different color tests. It’s fun to have some rainbow options. So yesterday I cut the background block, figured out the paper size, cut a stack of paper, and then made a diagram to keep the block carefully centered on the paper so I can layer two blocks and not have them weirdly offset. Then I stopped and played with my new dog a while. Today I did a whole series of different colored backgrounds (each one requiring multiple color mixing and blending the colors on the block itself with rollers). They’ll dry for a day or two, and then I’ll print the intricate block with all the lettering on top.
I’m finding myself still in slow motion as I try to get back into my work groove. I think it’s been hard for everyone to stay sharp and focused through this whole pandemic period. So I’m giving myself some grace, taking more time off than usual, but getting one good printing session done each work day. I’ve got time, and that feels like a manageable approach for now, and I’m grateful to be able to do this.
Last year felt very slow as well, but I ended up with a stack of museum prints and also a book I wasn’t expecting to do, so sometimes I’m doing better than I think I am on the productivity front. Anyway, for now printing, plus dog time and some pleasure reading breaks plus extra trips to Dixon during the Thiebaud show (which feeds my work in a roundabout way). Solidarity to everyone doing a little slogging at this point in the world. And gratitude to everyone managing to make a little beauty along the way.
My last day of the trip was Missouri and Arkansas. I stayed at a different park in Missouri than the one I love (full after the last minute delay due to smoke), so I slanted down the state through the Ozarks. The stand out highlight of the trip was a small antique store in Knob Noster, MO, (that name!) that had a commercial kitchen attached and homemade PIE. A brilliant combination. I didn't buy anything permanent, but I did get a strawberry rhubarb pie with some of the best crust I've ever had.
It was a great easing into home, since I've come back to a fantastic exhibition of Wayne Thiebaud's prints and paintings at Dixon. I've been looking forward to this show for months. I went the first week with an artist friend and had such fun comparing our ideas about the work. Yesterday I went back to spend more time with specific pieces I love and do a little sketching. I plan to go at least once a week while it's here. I'm fascinated with how he uses hatching to define spaces instead of outlining all the time (the meringue below, or the man with the paper's shorts. Exquisite.)
One thing I thought about over the summer is how to take the slow down of the last few months back into my home life. Sadly fall is going to be less busy than I'd hoped, given the resurgence of the virus, but I still want to be intentional about giving myself permission to take days off without feeling guilty. I love working in my house and having studio space available right here, but it can be hard to take time off when work is in the next room hovering over your consciousness. Potter Melissa Bridgman, who works harder than about anyone I know, gives herself a weekday sabbath, since weekends get so crazy. I love that, and I plan to implement that for myself. I'd like to use it to do more regular museum visiting, since that really feeds me. Yesterday I took my first weekday off. I went to Dixon to sketch, had a leisurely lunch on the back porch with my journal, banjo, and the Thiebaud catalog, and visited a friend in her yard in the afternoon. It was marvelous. I've got time before WAMA to get my prints in order for the show, and I'm going to enjoy the lead up instead of stressing about it.
I got to Devils Tower, finally busted out of the smoke, and sat outside with a baseball game on the (streamed) radio to keep me company and PAINTED. The previous post was the first batch of these, and here are the rest. They're a mix of my smaller and larger sketchbooks, both of which are square and open out into a landscape format if you go across the page or give you two side by side squares. All of these went across the center crease to be landscape format. The sky was changeable and gorgeous. I also really liked the moment where the golden light raked across the side of the tower (top image).
The final Devils Tower sketch was from inside the camper the next morning in a light rain. I painted it just in time to get half the monument, and it completely disappeared except for the very bottom of the base almost immediately afterwards.
The pink moon rising is the one small sketch I did the next night at Lake Vermillion in South Dakota. It was a long driving day, so I took a walk, talked a while to a lovely solo camper who lives nearby and was giving herself a quiet weekend, and only did this small sketch of a gorgeous moon rising about the treeline behind my camper and away from the lake. It's neat to be able to sit on my sofa, turn on the small reading light, and draw the almost darkness out the window while still seeing what I'm doing on the page.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
Get studio email updates from Gideon and me.
To subscribe to this blog, by email: