I had several fun commissions for Christmas this year. One old friend asked me to paint Grace St. Luke's church because her husband is a reader there. I love painting churches, and it was peaceful to sit in the quiet sanctuary and paint.
Another old friend is a co-owner of the Irish pub the Brass Door and wanted me to paint it for her husband. It was a chilly day, and I got lucky enough to be able to pull my truck up just opposite it and paint from inside the truck instead of sitting outside in the elements.
Then I had to find a proper parking spot, though, because Meg had arranged for me to be fed lunch when I went down to paint, and I had some marvelous Irish stew and house made soda bread.
I also did something a bit out of my ordinary. Christian Stanfield of the band the Side Street Steppers wanted a handmade, personal card for his wife Vera, also in the band. They have stuffed animals wtih instruments in their house, so I set up a still life of those animals but also took photos of her banjo (one Christian made himself for Vera) and his guitar to add those details to the sketch.
Vera posted a photo on facebook and seemed quite happy with the result. "Got choked up over this last gift from @tntomcat... He had our local artist Martha Kelly do a watercolor of our banjo puffin and guitar monkey ❤️❤️❤️#truelove #spiritanimals"
I really love being able to give joy with my work. And it's an honor to get to be a part of special occasions for my friends.
I did this sketch just before dinner on my last evening in Cape May. It seems a good Christmas Eve one to share. I hope everyone has a marvelous Winter Wonderland kind of holiday with loved ones, wherever you are.
Our Memphis npr station WKNO fm has a wonderful twice daily interview show called Checking on the Arts. I listen to npr wherever I travel, and some of the stations occasionally have live bands in the studio or something, but I have never encountered such a frequent and broadly arts supportive show as we have here. I'm so grateful to Darel Snodgrass and Kacky Walton for their dedication to it, the research they do, the kindness to all of us trying to make a living at the arts, and the great questions they invariably ask.
I love listening and hearing friends, artists, musicians, theater directors, and a whole host of other people each day talking about the things that make Memphis so wonderful to live in.
Darel kindly had Elizabeth Alley and me on the first of this week to talk about our show of travel paintings at Memphis Botanic Garden (up till January 2). I was in Cape May at the time (we had prerecorded it) and completely forgot it was airing, so Darel was also kind enough to share the file with me.
Making art is a solitary and non-verbal process much of the time, and I find that I really learn things about what I do and why I'm doing it every time I go in and sit with Darel and have to think about the probing questions he asks. I also just love the whole crew down at WKNO, so it's fun to have an excuse to drop in the office and hug everyone. Anyway, we had a blast, and here it is if you'd like to hear about our travel paintings and what that process is like for each of us.
Here's an old sketch of Justin Willingham, the afternoon WKNO host, in their studios.
I met professional photographer Jackie Kane while I was up in Cape May. Since I'm working up there on my own largely (though the staff there always make me very welcome), it's fun to get to meet and talk to fun and interesting people. I met a couple of artists this time (I'm talking about you, Doug!), and it's always neat to talk shop. An added bonus was Jackie turning her talents to take shots of me while I was working. (The full set of them is on her site here.)
She found me on the coldest day I actually did work outside (middle 30's), so I'm embarrassed about the hat situation. I need my broad floppy hat instead of my cuter winter hat to give me shade while I work, so I had a stocking wool hat on underneath it. Sigh. A fashion plate I am not.
But it's kind of fun to get to see my set up through someone else's eyes.
Here's my favorite one. It really embodies the act of creation to me.
I had good light working today in the lobby of the Virginia Hotel and decided to document again the stages of a watercolor.
I started with the lights and the palest shades after I had the pencil drawing laid in.
I moved on to middle tones.
Then I started putting in the dark greens, hoping the contrast would make the lights pop.
I saved the rug for last. I try to do the bottom last because that's where I hold it while I work if I need to.
This one took a while with all the detail, but I was pleased overall.
I've been crazy busy the last few days trying to paint all the temporary Christmas celebrations and decorations. I've painted the outdoor market, breakfast with Santa, gingerbread house making with Mrs. Claus, the train, the food huts, the carosel, and decorations in general.
It's fun playing with the lights and trying to capture the feel of the magic at dusk.
One of the really hard things for me about learning watercolors is that they work in mirror image from the other kinds of art I've done. With pastels, I would rub black into the paper underneath everything but the sky. That way I would have a lovely, rich depth when I pulled lighter colors over the top. The lights were always the last thing to be added.
With watercolors being transparent, though, you have to leave all your light bits light from the very beginning. With this carousel painting, I wanted the gold lights to really glow. I did the gold first so I couldn't forget.
Halfway through I'd done the sky and gotten the middle tones laid in.
The last thing to do were the actual dark tones, to make the lights really pop. This has gotten easier over the last few years, but I still have to talk sternly to myself about remembering if I have a painting with the highlights needing extra care.
I painted a lot of pretty food in Cape May today. I even got to eat some of it.
And I visited my trees.
Cape Resorts, the hotel group I do illustrations for in Cape May, NJ, has a holiday slide show of my watercolors going across the top of their website. It is such fun to see my work being used.
I'm just about to head back up there, too, and paint their Christmas festivities for a second year in a row. It's a busy week, with the MBG Paris show a week ago (and still up till New Year's), my home show this past Sunday, and my upcoming departure Thursday morning.
The home show was great fun. I loved having so many friends come through, and I made some new ones as well, which is always lovely. The show wound down the last half hour when my friend and touring musician Andy Cohen showed up with his guitar. I got out my bass, and we played a little music before our respective evening engagements. A perfect way to end a fun day.
And now I'm gearing up to go back to a place I've really come to love. I just hope the snow is all gone by Thursday....
More screen shots from the Cape Resorts website:
I'm setting up today for tomorrow's Open Studio Sale from 12-5. It's only one day this year because of the marathon tying things up on Saturday, though it turns out that the race was cancelled after all due to ice and cold.
I'll be here no matter what the weather. I've got hot cider, and later this afternoon I'll be baking the cookies I mixed up yesterday. So come on over if you're out and about, or if you've got a little cabin fever built up. Hopefully we're through the ice, but I'll be open regardless.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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