I've been lucky enough to meet up with my friend Christina for a series of sketching meals over the last month. I love getting out with a friend or two, enjoying some food, comparing sketching materials, and drawing together. You're not ignoring your dinner companion if she is also sketching. It's companionable and full of joy for me. We met up at Cafe Eclectic on 901 day (September 1st mirrors the Memphis area code, for those of you out of town, and we have a bit of a civic celebration that goes on.) I had fun with the red umbrellas and then sketched Christina in graphite with my newish graphite Kaweko mechanical pencil I got out west that has a huge, juicy, fat column of graphite in it.
I sketched at the Slider Inn with a dip pen and the Ancient Copper ink by Diamine I've been really enjoying lately. I didn't have the mental energy for watercolor that night, but it was fun to record the evening and play with line.
Finally was lunch at Boscos after the Memphis Urban Sketchers meetup. The same dip pen with a warm purple ink, but we lingered longer and I enjoyed adding the watercolor.
I’ve been doing a bunch of book work this week since getting the Apple pencil. It’s taken a bit of getting used to, but is so much better than scanning in and cleaning up huge blocks of text. I can also play with it and change sizes, wrap it around images, etc. It feels much more immediate, and while I’m working to keep my handwriting legible, I hope that energy will translate into the book. I see that the pencil somehow migrated in color a bit, but overall I’m getting the hang of things and am grateful for this new tool. This is a double page spread. Georgia and Walter were in the Oxford American essay, but no one who knows me will be surprised to see that I added Constable now that I have a bit more room. He’s my number one influence on work habits and art philosophy, but OA is about Southern culture, so I leaned into American artists for it. I’ve got a few more watercolors and a back cover to do, but I’m getting close. I forget how very much longer all this takes than I think it will, but it’s always worth it to have a book in my hands.
Depending on your point of view, I either got a new toy or invested in my work last week. I love making art on paper with paint or carving, but the text part of making a book is painstaking if I write by hand and scan in, cleaning up lines of text and trying to keep them in the correct area around the images and in a ballpark of the same size. So this week I got an iPad Pro and Apple pencil. Being able to write directly on the book page without the smudges and dirt a scanner can add in is a huge pleasure. I’m still getting used to the iPad version of photoshop and the feel of the pencil itself, but I’m feeling encouraged. I’ve got a couple of different book projects in mind, and I think this will be a huge help.
I’ll lose that variation of ink that a real pen gives you, but I’ll regain the energy and creativity of wrapping text around the images and playing directly with the spaces instead of trying to replicate that on a separate page. I’m still working to figure out sizes and keep my writing neater with the pencil, but I’m very happy with the early progress.
I’ve done a little bit of evening sketching lately. I had so much fun drawing in this outdoor diner. You place your order at a window and eat out under the trees. I’m in love with their chicken pesto sandwich, which is generous with the basil and comes with a side salad. So good. They also had blackberry hard cider. I sketched with my new Diamine Ancient Copper ink. I’m really enjoying it. It’s highly saturated, and could easily be too much, but it really worked for this one. I love the rich warm lines peeking through the watercolor.
Then last night I sketched the new tea set I found. Small with violets, made my Spode. I’ve gotten rid of my own former wedding china and found a very happy recipient for my grandmother’s enormous set, but I kept the very incomplete set of my great grandmother’s that has violets and daisies and matching violet silver. But no teapot. This small one is just right for me to use for breakfast when I want to enjoy all the lovely things instead of just having them in my cabinet. I’m really happy. And then since I was having such fun with stripes, I kept on sketching during the (wildly unfortunate) baseball game. It’s been a tough year to be a Cardinals fan, but sketching makes it better. This ink is also Diamine, and it’s two different shades of purple. The darker shade, Eclipse, is my new favorite writing ink as well.
I went to a fantastic Coastal Landscapes show yesterday at the Whatcom Museum in Bellingham. I’ve always loved the arts and crafts era of western landscapes, and this was a great mix of California painters with some up the coast to Washington from the turn of the last century into today. I was delighted to see so many women represented. The first piece is by Mary DeNeale Morgan. It was my absolute favorite for light, tree shapes, color, and brushwork, and I hope to see more of her work in the future. Many of the paintings had super glossy varnish, and it was tricky to get photos without glare, so forgive funny angles and bits of glare.
A block away, right next to my favorite second hand bookstore with an enormous art department (Henderson’s) is a neat little letterpress/stationery store. Jude found a super nifty Kaweko mechanical pencil with a thick tower of graphite, fully retractable, instead of a skinny little lead. I love sketching in pencil but also hate having to remember a sharpener. I was delighted and headed back to the museum for further sketching while he took a longer lunch break and waited for me to surface again. A kind guard offered me a stool, since the benches are never next to the paintings I truly want to sketch.
That was all the sketching I had the time and energy for, but two other favorites from the show were this exquisite woodblock print by Elizabeth Colbourne from 1933 and the large landscape by Euphemia Fortune (VERY bad glare, but the best name ever! She was in a recent Dixon show of American Impressionists). If I were home I would be going back with colored pencils and sketching weekly in this show. It’s delightful.
I’ve been out in Washington State visiting my partner for a while, and I’m taking some vacation time, doing some book work, and doing a bit of sketching. We’ve had smoke off and on, but the Memphis air has been so steadily bad from different Canadian fires that I don’t feel like I’m missing much good air at home. Here it’s worse on bad days, but we also get break. It looks like the South has been pretty steadily blanketed with smoke pollution for the last month. For the first time in my life, which is deeply discouraging.
But I’m taking it one day at a time here, getting out to hike and sketch when I can, and doing a bunch of book work indoors when I can’t. Here’s a round up of some sketches around the Skagit valley.
I got tired of the bad air in Memphis, and I had a couple of really good weekend sales (thank you, friends!), so I decided to take a spur of the moment trip back out west. I’m still making up time a bit from being sick so long over the last year. I spent the first two nights of the trip, one day, in St. Louis and flew from there, bypassing all the connection dangers I’ve seen friends struggle with this summer. I love StL, so it wasn’t a hardship. I sketched in my B&B in the morning, went to the art museum in the afternoon, and saw a few friends. Such a lovely time.
The museum had a mid century Native American art exhibition that really grabbed me. A lot of art from teachers and students at the IAIA school out west. The exquisite small woodcut is by Edna Massey, and the three abstract landscapes are views of New Mexico by Fritz Scholder.
I had SUCH a good day out on Tuesday. I had errands to do, so I put Henry in daycare, but the air felt good and there's always a breeze by the river, so we went down and walked the Greenbelt park at Mud Island before I dropped him off. One of the big cruise boats was docked down there, so I tucked Henry's leash around my shoe and did a quick sketch. He's learning to settle in nicely while I work, which is such a blessing.
I'm trying to get back to more quick sketching in my daily life again, and I'm back to the bent nib fountain pen, a Sailor fude, that's satisfying with a lot of line variation. I've got some waterproof De Atramentis fog grey ink in it, which has a blueish cast. I hit an antique mall and the Goodwill as well as doing my more necessary grocery shopping, and I lucked into an awesome polka dot dress that I sketched that evening from the sofa. That one is in an "urban grey" ink with a dip pen. But first I picked up some fish tacos from Soulfish, sketching from the curbside pickup parking spot, and I caught a quick one of Henry on the couch with me as well. On the days I'm really in a groove doing work in the studio I'm not worried about getting something in the sketchbook too, but I am going to try to get back in a better habit of sketching out and about. All of this was fun yesterday.
I've got three small prints of Henry (there will likely be more to come) ready to go for this weekend's Dog Days Open Studio Sale. Friday 4-8 for cocktail hour shopping and Saturday 12-5. This year we're at 719 Dickinson, a change of venue from years past, but still in the same neighborhood.
These prints are all on 8x10" paper and are $65 each. It's hard for me to be regimented enough to work on standard sized paper. My old press was 14x22, so I ended up with a lot of prints that size. And I'm always drawn to different shapes. But I know it's simple for people to frame if things are standard, so I'm trying to plan at least some of my smaller pieces to be more regular. My new coastal scene is 11x14", so I've managed it four times this summer. Definitely a record!
This last piece is Shoreline II, a smaller, one block version of print that was in my WAMA show last year. It's actually done from a more recent sketch and is a different shape, but it's the same view looking out from the beach at Ocean Springs, and the color scheme is similar. Instead of using different blocks for different colors, though, I wanted to keep it super simple. Repetitive printing is my least favorite part of the whole process. This block uses four colors and five small rollers to blend the colors on the block. The sky goes from pink at the horizon through grey up into the blue. There's enough space between the pink and the black to use a very small roller for the shoreline itself, and then I can put some gentler strokes into the water with that same roller to get the reflections. It's finicky to print but takes only one session instead of three. It's on 11x14" paper and is $150. I'll have these in the museum shop at WAMA once I get down there in September to deliver them and have a visit, but I'll also have some for the Dog Days sale.
One of my big projects this year was the Oxford American graphic essay Memoir of a House. It's still on the new stands in the Summer issue, but once the Fall issue comes out, I'll be free to publish it as well. I'm expanding it just a little and making it into a book, which I plan to have out before Christmas. I'm adding in maybe a dozen more watercolors to go with the 30 that were in OA, with a few more tidbits about the history. One bit I'm adding is more of how I use my front room. It's always a gallery, but it has been known to double as a dance hall or a space for house concerts. The inimitable Joe Newberry played his songs and told his stories with Mr. Darcy lying at his feet, and I wanted a sketch of that moment for the book. I've also been known to have swing parties with a live band, as part of the local contra dance weekend we used to put on in town. It's been fun to revisit and expand this project a bit.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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