I got to visit an art class this week at Memphis Hebrew Academy. It was delightful to watch the girls' enthusiasm as they leafed through my art journals. I took a bunch of my journals and travel sketchbooks and talked about what keeping these books means for my work and also my happiness. More and more I feel that my job is to spread the good news of keeping a sketch book and show the ease of using a brush pen in daily life. It's a rewarding thing to watch people think, "hey! I can do this!" That also happened recently at a women's retreat. Giving people the tools to express themselves and watching them play is a beautiful compliment to the time I spend at home alone making my own art.
The MHA art teacher Chany Fleischhacker wrote a blog post with more of her lovely photos at http://artbeatofmha.blogspot.com/2016/05/a-visit-from-martha-kelly.html?m=1
I so appreciated the joy in these images.
I spent the week at NaCoMe church conference center outside of Nashville with a group of marvelous women. It's a beloved place of my childhood. My sister and I went twice a year with our own church and once a year with our grandmother's church, to maximize our time there. One glorious year I also managed a week-long canoe camp. It continued to be special to me well into adulthood and is where I first learned to play music, though due to changes in my life (and changes in the camp, which stopped having single rooms for singles) I hadn't been back in some years.
My college roommate talked her church into getting me to lead an art journal workshop at her women's retreat. She also very kindly snagged the back bed around the corner to save for me. I've mostly stopped going with my church because now solo adults have to be in a bunk room of four or five, and that's just not an appealing option to me. I work and live alone and prefer one tiny, poky hole of my own to shut the door when I'm ready to sleep than a fancier cabin where I have to share. Sadly the camp has let their lodge with the smaller rooms fall into disrepair, so it has been a less attractive option to me lately.
Kathy's church took me in so very warmly, though, and made me very glad to be there. I had a ball making new friends and also exploring again the familiar and long loved terrain. Kathy and I walked over to the lake before dinner on Friday and did a little sketching.
of our park by the Memphis Zoo to make room for their overflow parking, it was good to see her cabin well cared for and used in a way that brings people joy.
One of my favorite places is the wildflower walk down the road a ways. There are a series of limestone cliffs with Dutchman's breeches and trillium growing on top and columbine dangling gracefully off the sides. I climbed up to check on the wildflowers and do a little sketching. The trillium were ENORMOUS.
The parts of the weekend you can't see from my sketchbook were the meals and discussions with fascinating women, sitting around and singing gospel songs on the porch in the afternoon (they actually wanted me to play banjo for them, which was great fun -- usually I just sit home and sing with it on my own), and a late night campfire out under a dome of stars.
On the art front, I enjoyed spreading the good news of the water brush, a nifty, self contained, easy to use tool that has changed my life. I can always have a tiny watercolor kit and brush ready to go in my purse, and I sketch so much more than I did before. Everyone dived in gamely and sketched with me (which can be an intimidating thing to do, since as a society we don't encourage people to draw after middle school). I think a few people may continue, which delights me. A lovely weekend.
Dixon Gallery and Gardens has their main museum building closed for renovations this summer and was looking for some classes to offer to keep the education program going during that process. They asked me if I would teach a printmaking workshop in my studio, since I have a printing press there, and they said they would bring the tables and chairs. I was delighted, and the workshop was this past weekend with eight students.
I hadn't taught it before, but the two afternoon format turned out to be perfect. I asked everyone to come in with a black and white image or two that they would like to make a print from, and I was impressed with everyone showing up with drawings or photos to work from. They progressed from tracing the drawings to cutting the linoleum blocks, transferring the drawings onto them, carving, prepping their paper and setting up registration, and printing. Everyone did one full print and went home with a small edition of prints, and some people started a second print to take home and keep working on.
Block printing is one of the few forms of printing that you can do at home without a printing press. I did three years' worth of professional prints rubbing on the back of paper with a wooden spoon, and I wanted everyone to be able to go out and keep printing if they wanted to. Everyone did some printing with the spoon to get the feel of that as well as trying my press, and the class materials included a set of carving tools and some other basic materials that they could keep and use at home.
It was such fun to have a whole group of excited and motivated students in my work space all weekend. I work alone at home for much of my work time, and it was such fun to have a neat group of people to spend the weekend (two four hour afternoon sessions, which was just about right) making art with me.
I was also deeply impressed with the quality of the prints everyone made. It was exciting to see all of these progress from the first drawings into finished prints. Here are the prints created by the class.
I would really enjoy teaching this workshop again and am pondering hanging out my shingle for it again in January. Let me know if you'd be interested in joining me for some printmaking.
I've kept thinking about that mayapples watercolor sketch, and I'd like to try a print from it. So I went back today on my dog walk to do a couple more sketches for some more information to work from.
It depends on the time I have available, but now that it's nice, I'm trying to carry sketching gear more regularly on my daily walk to just have when something catches my eye. I'm not a huge fan of butt packs, but I won one in a kayak race years ago, and it does do the job nicely without making my back hot while I'm walking. I've got one pencil case in there with pens, an ink brush pen, a water brush pen, and a teeny-tiny watercolor kit in a mini Altoid tin. I usually take the smaller square Handbook journal, which is my new favorite sketch book, and I put in my trusty Thermarest inflatable butt cushion. It's not only nicer to sit on, but it protects from both damp and cold as well. It deflates, folds in half, and rolls up. In a week where we've had a lot of rain, it's essential for sitting on the ground in the forest, although a folded up plastic sack would also offer the essential damp protection.
I'll be sharing these and other tips at the Dixon Gallery and Gardens when I teach a class on the practicalities of outdoor sketching on Saturday, May 30th from 12:30-4:30. More information here. I'm excited to get to teach at Dixon in their beautiful gardens.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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