Elmwood has started something new! They had their first concert on Friday night, and it was total joy to sit out in the shade in a beautiful place, enjoy the breeze, and hear one of my favorite local musicians. I'm still not going to much stuff that's indoors, and an early, still-daylight show that's also outside was my total sweet spot. I took my sketchbook and had a ball. The top piece is a big, fat, water soluble, graphite crayon that I love with watercolor over the top. I'm still rusty drawing people (as I noticed during last Friday's impromptu porch concert), so I used a finer pencil to sketch out Amy LaVere and Will Sexton while they played.
Amy sang a bunch of good songs, mostly her own, and I love a woman with an upright bass. The crowd was really attentive, so she took the opportunity to do four songs that encapsulate her 11 song cycle about running away from home as a young teen. It was a cool piece (there's a full album to go with it that I'll need to get), and I love how she could take that episode from way back and make beautiful art from it. She also had a neat new song about a high school boyfriend that was beautiful and nostalgic. And she did a cool one about Memphis (always a way to my heart). It was fun seeing her play with her husband Will, who's an in demand guitarist and song writer in his own right.
I've done a motley collection of commissions lately. One from a sketch I did at Anderson's cottage, one of Rowan Oak for a friend who went to college there, and one of the river for a special 80th birthday. It's fun to get to help people celebrate their special moments in this way. I'm doing fewer than I used to, and I most enjoy making the art that is busting to get out of my head, but I do love it when people want to mark an occasion with art.
Very handily, the Memphis Urban Sketchers had their meeting at the Greenbelt park just when I needed to paint the river anyway, so I got to chat with friends while doing this one. So much fun to make art with friends.
I've been working hard on my first public commission and not sketching much, but here are a few bits of happiness from the past week that I wanted to make sure I recorded.
This morning I saw two owls before sunrise (we're walking super early to beat the heat just now). They were calling to me and flew, one after the other, directly over my head to a new perch. It was magical. I did my best to hold the shapes in my mind so that I could put them in my sketchbook when I got back home to breakfast.
And on Saturday I listened to live music for the first time in a good while. It reminded me that I need to get out and find some more outdoor music on a more regular basis. Some of my favorite guys had their wedding gig cancelled due to Covid, so they decided to do a last minute concert on a porch. They put the word out on fb about an hour early, and I grabbed a chair and my sketchbook and boogied on over. It was delightful. I realized how VERY out of practice I am drawing figures now that I don't go out to shows or theater for the moment. I made poor Doug look like a muppet in the bottom sketch (and honestly Willy too), but I had so much fun drawing musicians with their instruments again. And seeing friends out at a show. It was a small but lovely group of folks. I was so glad for the chance to hang out, listen to some fantastic musicians do what they do best, catch up with a few friends, and enjoy the evening.
This place --- these trees --- keep calling me. I'm not making any progress on the prints I have in my head yet, but I'm letting them roll around and seeing what develops while I work on several commissions and one "shiny object" (the term for a new project that draws your attention) that has spoken to me since the trees have. Just after a big show goes up is exactly the time to chase shiny objects and see which ones have long term projects. It's exactly the time to be a little ADD in your work, to play, to see what rises to the surface. So here are sketches of trees, and we'll see if the next shiny object even survives long enough to make the blog...
There have been some awesome printmaking exhibits around recently. Brooks in Memphis put out their full complement of Durer's Small Passion, which is detailed and delightful. They can only show it every so often since it is fragile and on paper. I think the equation is something like "for every three months it's on show, it has to rest three years" or something like that. I didn't get over as often as I had optimistically planned to, but I did make it several times and spent some quality time sketching in the end. His use of line, like with all wood engraving, is what makes the print. But I was also fascinated by the details -- crucifixion tools lying at the foot of the cross, his signature not flat with the picture plane but in perspective (though he did get his D backwards a couple of times, which thrilled me to see --- even the top drawer printmakers can screw up the backwards bit sometimes!)
I loved the trees and the animals. Several pieces had small dogs in the foreground. I did notice it was the villains of the piece who mostly had dogs (Pilate, Herod, Caiaphus), but I wonder if they simply need the ministrations of dog angels more than the rest of the cast did. I also loved Jesus in his floppy gardening hat with a spade over his shoulder (but the stigmata noticeable). Most of all I loved the Adam and Eve in the garden underneath trees that have a through line down to E.H. Shepherd and with a badger (!) among the animals gathered around. I drew the tree carefully and the figures a bit less so, but I loved spending deep time looking at this one. Walking home, a tree reached out to me and called to be drawn, so I worked on using the character of Durer's lines to describe it (even if far less small and precise).
A second remarkable show is a set of Piranesi etchings at the University of Mississippi art museum. These are in their collection as well. None of the fantasy dungeons, sadly, but still some pretty delightful and whimsical details, like the figures up on the top of this dome with letters floating beside it. The letters, I realized later, corresponded to a list of building parts at the bottom of the print, but even so, their slightly wonky air felt whimsical as well. I also sketched a few decidedly whimsical (that was the word of the day) Mycenean pottery figures. I loved their stripes and happy expressions. I wish local museums would let us work in more than graphite, but the pencil did suit the engravings I was working from, and it felt good to do master copies again, even if only bits and pieces that appealed to me.
A lot of my sketches over Memorial Day weekend were at Anderson's cottage, with so many thanks to Tony DiFatta of WAMA getting permission for me to go there and spend deep time. I did a smattering of other, quicker sketches. I cycled over to the national seashore several times, which was delightful. It's just a few miles down the coast road (so fun in itself), and there's a great mix of swamp/trees/water. I did the top one in the marsh land as I cycled through. The nifty, bent-double tree caught my eye, and the breeze was stiff enough to keep the no-see-ums away from me, so I seized my opportunity. Next is one from a picnic table right down on the waterfront. Nicely the table is shaded by pine trees that grow right to the water, which is not the kind of shelter you end up getting at a more traditional beach.
One of the mornings I had slept really well and got myself up and out and down to the waterfront for the sunrise. I watched the pelicans and the morning light and did some super quick sketching with an ink brush pen.
Last I sketched my glass of wine from my crab cakes dinner at Maison de Lu, easily my favorite restaurant down there. I treated myself to one lovely dinner out for my weekend of workshop teaching. Several days after returning home, I dug out my coronation teacup (and George VI coronation spoon) to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee, and I've been using them all weekend. I think my mom would approve. We were raised on BBC and British history.
I finally got my sketches from Anderson's cottage scanned in to show better than an iphone snapshot can. It's a miracle of a place. This top one is the wall of windows that flashed me back to Monet's first studio at Giverny -- that same porous sense of indoor and outdoors flowing together because of height and light and windows. Anderson built the window seats and cabinets, and the carved chair is a replica of his made by one of the talented family that still lives at and around Shearwater making art and keeping the legacy of all three brothers (and their mother, who first dreamed of an artist colony) alive.
Below are two from the bathroom. I loved his bathtub murals. Anderson had been cycling through Texas, and he would strip and bathe in ponds as he encountered them. At one pond, a group of cows came up to gently see what was happening in their accustomed watering hole. It was a magic moment for Anderson. He made a series of paintings about it, and he missed the cows when he got home to his own bathtub. His solution, genius and beautiful, was to paint them around his own bathtub so he could always remember and have their company.
I was so honored to get to spend time at Anderson’s own cottage at the family community of Shearwater yesterday. I sat and dreamed and sketched and drank it in. I also wanted to do a small video tour for friends I know would be interested, so here that is. I’ll do a separate post with photos and sketches, to keep things from loading too slowly.
The throughline for artist spaces fascinated me. The huge wall of windows in the main room reminded me of Giverny, and the collections of stones, driftwood, and bones made me think of the photos I’ve seen of O’Keefe’s home with stones along the windowsills. Light and nature collecting seem to sing to artists, especially the ones whose art is so much a product of their places, who tend to be the artists I most admire.
I've been reading Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist, and the idea of a log book really appealed to me. I'd been doing a gratitude list at night in my regular journal for a while and fizzled. I'm pretty bad with doing anything daily except dog walks. But I'd kind of missed that reflection and thought I'd try it. It's not a ton of writing about your day -- a few, quickly recorded highlights.
I'm teaching a Keeping a Sketchbook workshop at WAMA at the end of this month, as well as a Sketching Outdoors one. I keep food journals in sketchbook form, a regular sketchbook, and travel journals when I take trips. It felt like the right time to test drive a new thing and see how I like it -- and to have another option to show, even if I don't do this daily going forward, which honestly feels a little iffy even though I like it when I do it. I wrestle with "shoulds" and feel like there are enough on my list (house issues, commissions, etc.) without my gratuitously adding to them. I am enjoying getting reacquainted with markers, though. And it's fun to do something this informal. I like graphic storytelling, even though I don't see myself going into full-on comics.
A friend of mine uses the hashtag #dailyish to denote both intention and built in grace. I love that and feel that way about sketching, work, and all kinds of things. This type of journal may go in that category.
I took a bunch of intentional time off in April, but I've been having trouble reconnecting with my work. So Saturday I happily went along to Memphis Urban Sketchers at Crosstown Concourse, our remodeled old Sears tower. Nicely it was one of the places we meet that I can walk to, which is always a pleasure. Seeing friends was primary, and I had a lovely time sitting on the upstairs terrace and sketching the reflections in the door and chatting with my friend Christina. It felt good to draw with no agenda, and I ended up happy with what I had done.
Afterwards we moved out to the front plaza to watch the fanfare of Puppy Palooza. It was delightful to watch all the dogs go past and sketch the ones that caught my eye. Sketching dogs is sheer joy, and I stayed for lunch and an extended visit at Global Cafe afterwards.
I was on such a roll, and it was such a beautiful day, that I kept my sketching bag with me as I walked Gideon over to the park after I got home. We went around the lake but then found an open picnic table under my favorite tree. Gideon spotted a stick he liked, so I settled in to sketch and enjoy the afternoon. The good feeling and good sketching has extended into my week, I'm happy to say, and I made good progress on my current commission today. I'm grateful for such a wonderful group of artist friends to meet up with regularly. It's always good for my work to get out and sketch with other people.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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