It's been a busy week. My Celestial Paris show is now on the walls at Playhouse on the Square (up through Jan.1, and the reception is Friday, November 18 from 5-6:30). Then I went dancing with my sisters to celebrate and blow off steam. So I'm behind posting a bunch of sketches I've done in the last week or so. Here's a whole collection, starting with the Old Forest, of course.
The pedestrian section of the Hanrahan Bridge over the Mississippi River just opened. It's a great thing for Memphis, and everyone in town, I think, went down to check it out. I waited till Monday, to let the opening crowds thin out, and then I took a break from show prep. It's about a mile total, over the Arkansas side and out into their flood plain just a bit.
Here are the bridges (there are three together) from Arkansas. A quick line drawing.
And a stop at a downtown coffee shop after.
Tuesday I had an artist do at the new Halloran Center at the Orpheum. I tend to sketch as I listen, whether that's music or meetings.
Wednesday I took a lunch break adventure over to Arkansas again, right near Dacus Lake.
And met an amazing tree there. I'm going to have to go back and paint it more thoroughly. I can see it in a print.
I've got a busy couple of days coming up with seminary and newspaper projects plus a little bit of social life, and then I should be back to making more art.
Little Maggie, the original badass woman of blue grass, is one of my longtime favorite songs. It's about a strong woman with a banjo who picks herself up and marches forward as often as she needs to, and every woman needs a few songs like that in her back pocket. I made a little bit of art from it several years ago (below). Delightfully, I was called a badass wild banjo woman, and there are moments in life that you just have to make art to commemorate. This was one of those, and of course Little Maggie had to be in the print as well. But she hadn't had her own print, and it was more than time this week. I pulled out a carved block of my Unger banjo that I had first done for a series of Easter psalm prints. I layered that first and then set type that night, finishing the printing the next morning. I used several different fonts along with the nifty pointing hands that I found in a market in Paris last summer. It's not a great photo -- I haven't gotten this one scanned in yet. I only did an edition of 8. It was more for personal satisfaction. But I have a few bluegrass loving friends who might also appreciate it. And a few resilient women friends as well.
Sycamore Elementary is studying Tennessee, and each year they pick a Tennessee artist to do a project about. This year they picked me for their first living, breathing, current kind of artist, and I'm delighted and honored. Christy Lott says she wanted to show the kids that real people are making a living and making art right now, here in our town. So they asked me to film a short video and demo for the kids, answering several questions as I go along.
I was just wondering how on earth I'd manage a demo while juggling an iphone as I taped myself, when my excellent sister Erin called to bring me some cupcakes. She nicely bore with me as I collected my thoughts and stopped giggling nervously and finally got going. I don't think I could have done it without her. So if you're bored and want to see a quick printing demo and hear me talk about what I do, here it is. (And my, isn't that a lovely still the video froze itself on?)
It's Pink Palace Crafts Fair time again, which means I'm working till bedtime every night this week, but it also means I'll hang out with cool people and see a bunch of friends this weekend. Today was my set up day, and I also made some signs for my booth with my vintage wood type. It is such fun to be able to make your own signs saying anything you want them to. I dislike the word "empowering," but this is one instance where I feel a strong connection back to generations of people who found that having a printing press leveled the playing field and allowed them agency. There's something powerful about the ability to print professional, legitimate text, even if you're just making signs about postcards.
I've also been doing a bunch of printing ahead of this show, reprinting ones I'm out of stock on and also working to get new prints ready to have. It's lovely to see all my recent work coming together and to take stock of what I've accomplished as I get everything packaged and priced and headed for the show. Come see me if you're in Memphis! 10-6 Friday and Saturday and 10-5 on Sunday. I'll be on the back side of the demo tent area, facing the food tent and near Baucum pottery (for longtime fair goers).
I did several oil paintings for my exhibition at Dixon last year (at their urging, since the space was large and needed a few big paintings), but I went straight back to prints afterwards. They have been what I'm really excited about the last eight years or so. This past summer, though, I decided that I really missed the way I used to paint skies. I have struggled to do clouds to my satisfaction in watercolor, so around about June, I declared it my summer of skies. By happenstance, I ended up staying in that magnificent apartment in Paris with a two story window and a huge sky view (unlike my house in Memphis, which is surrounded by trees that have great beauty but also largely block my view of the sky). So I ended up watching the sky a tremendous amount over the summer and painting from windows both front (above) and back (below). Somewhere in that process, I felt an internal pull toward oil paint again, and I did several studies toward the end of the trip specifically thinking of a painting to follow.
For several years as I was starting out, my watercolors were much more line drawings with a splash of color. They didn't have the depth or richness to give me enough information to use them as sources for oil paintings, and I mentally wrote off that use for them. But I have been painting with more layers and richer pigment the last couple of years. I am delighted to have suddenly realized that both my full watercolors and many of my sketch book sketches are now strong enough to let me do paintings from them. Sometimes I write something off in my mind, and then it takes me a while to question that closed door and reassess the situation. Armed with that new perspective, I've been going back through a couple of other Paris journals to see if there are other sketches I might want to paint from. It's been a bit of a balance for me to spend more time in recent years with a sketchbook instead of making "exhibitionable" work. The sketches have pushed me into doing prints I wouldn't otherwise have thought of doing, but if I can also do oils from some of the sketches, that doubles the appeal and helps me feel less self indulgent spending time with my sketch journal instead of doing stand alone watercolors.
Here is a quick oil I started late in the afternoon. I didn't really have time, but I was on a roll and excited, so I ended up diving in. This was a sketch I did at bedtime one night in Paris. I was ready for bed and closing my curtains when I glanced out and saw this view. I had to run downstairs for my paints and sketch it before I went to bed. That place was just magic for me. You can see the sketchbook below sitting on the easel in the background, along with my self portrait watercolor I've also been painting from. I took photos along the way with this one so you could see my progress.
I just about finished the self portrait one yesterday as well. It's a different kind of piece for me, and I really enjoyed branching out into something a little more narrative.
Facebook art sites have this fun thing going the last several years called #inktober. The idea is to do and post an ink drawing daily or weekly or whatever you can manage. At the moment I am out of sketching mode (which I was in all summer while I traveled) and now frantically making paintings and prints from those sketches for my upcoming exhibition, so this isn't particularly well timed for me. But I did take myself to the theater on Saturday night to see Charles III, and given the state of the parking in Overton Square these days, I wanted to get there early to not walk blocks on my own after the play. So I had time to sketch the lovely moon I saw rising over what's now Circuit. It's good to live where you are a recognized eccentric instead of a cause for alarm. I was squatting under and against a street light to sketch when one lovely woman came up and asked if I were Martha Kelly and said she'd just ordered a couple of my calendars. Lovely!
I do fewer black and white sketches overall, so I'm largely doing inktober with foutain pen sketches as a base for watercolor instead of my more normal pencil, but it seems to be a fairly loose prompt for drawing, so that's always good.
I've been having a really, really lovely art weekend. Sometimes things just click and flow, and it's life passages like those that make me really happy to be an artist. Often you get bogged down in book keeping, packaging, arranging shows, promoting shows, creating calendars (big on my list lately), or even just work that is fine but having to be ground through a little bit. These moments where everything seems to be coming together are magic.
I'm continuing to proof the fountain block (my previous blog post), and it's almost done, and I'm really pleased with it, after a decent bit of anxiety during the carving stage. Then I spent some time beginning this oil on paper from a watercolor self portrait I did of myself in the Paris apartment this summer. That place was magical, and I spent so much time there sitting in this window, painting and watching the sky. I cemented old friendships and created new friendships in this space. I tried experiments and branched out in my art (this self portrait being one of those experiments). It was a transforming trip for me, though I am continuing to wait and see which of those blossoms continues to bring fruit for me. But yesterday I dove into one of those promising places and started this oil. I haven't painted figures in oil since college, and it felt good and right. I'm enjoying the possibility of further narrative in my work, and this feels like a powerful expression of my summer sojourn where I sat with the sky and listened to my heart. I'll keep working on this (there are stars to come), but it felt like a really good day's work yesterday, and I am so grateful to have this means of expression and way of making sense of my world.
I've got a new print going. Truthfully, I've been carving on it for a couple of weeks, and I've been kind of dreading dealing with the figures and not quite sure how it would go, so I've been doing a bunch of oils as well. I had proofed the underneath aqua block a couple of days ago, and yesterday I finally took a deep breath and carved the women fully and proofed the whole thing. There are definitely some things to fix, and I'm pondering a few white highlights on the statues (very thin) and a bit of light coming into the hedge (cutting down to the aqua block below in bits, especially up high). Since once you cut, you can't go back, I think I'll paint both options first on top of a proof and see if I really want that. But I'm feeling very relieved and happy about the way this one is going, and I'm so grateful about that.
Here's the original watercolor, done on site, sitting in gravel on site, and the underneath aqua block with it. I had to try to keep careful track of where the water spray bits were going so they would line up between the two blocks and show through to the white of the paper. There's a bit of room for movement in that kind of thing, but most of it worked nicely, which made me happy.
And here's a close up of the darker block as I was carving it last night. I've got a little way to go on this, but it's nice to be close.
I've been working hard on oils on paper and prints since I got home from Paris and only sketching occasionally, so it felt great to take a few days' vacation from the studio work and sketch a bunch instead.
And of course I spent some time sketching in Tower Grove Park as well, one of my longtime muses.
The next day was the Shaw Art Fair, which I'd been wanting to check out for several years. Thanks to Carol for the shout out to come visit for it, and also to her and Larry for joining me and hanging out at the fair a bit. I was there latish on Sunday to hear the band Cave States, which did a fun, much more modern music show with a great mix of instruments.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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