I've cut way back on the commissions I take lately after a year of serious deadlines, but I did do this one for a cool young couple who want a portrait of them each year from an artist to reflect the year they've had. I loved the idea of this, and they let me play and try something new. Since it's an annual thing, I didn't feel like I needed to try to do a traditional portrait (not my strong suit anyway). I've never really mixed print and sketching, even though they feed each other all the time, sketches moving into prints, and prints pushing me to sketch specific topics. I felt that this idea could either be really good or go very badly indeed. I was pleased with the final outcome. I printed in sienna since black felt like it would overwhelm the painting underneath of one of the special places they went to this past year. I also printed out just the figures for them to have as well. The whole project is making me think more about combining blocks and other media in new ways.
I’ve been chasing so many deadlines this year that I told myself I would take it easy for the holiday season. I’ve only taken on a few commissions that are different and interesting to me. This couple really intrigued me though. They do some kind of portrait by a different artist each year that captures something special about the year they had. Because it’s yearly, they were happy for me to experiment a bit and not try for a traditional representation. So I decided it would be fun to cut a silhouette of them and then print onto a background painting of one of the places they went and loved. They approved the silhouette and know what’s coming, so I can show work in progress, which is also unusual for commissions, which are usually a secret present in the making. I’m under the weather this week but can carve smaller things in my lap as well as draw out some new, bigger prints. I’m excited to see how this prints when I get back to up and moving around work.
I don't do a lot of this. I have been known to sketch an occasional wedding, but I haven't wanted to get more fully into that business because it's mentally exhausting, and you generally have to book a year out, which my traveling life style simply doesn't allow for. However, when my church's new pastor said that the gift he wanted from the committee was for me to live sketch his ordination (they knew he liked my work and offered him several options within that framework), I was delighted. I've been hesitant about large live events, and we're still streaming church as well as having it in person, so for the first time ever, I could work at my art desk with a huge table next to me with the space to let sketch after sketch dry instead of trying to fit myself and my work into a pew somewhere. I was tied to the video and couldn't see the "offstage" stuff, but the offset was a LOT more freedom and range of movement to sketch and discard quickly instead of awkwardly balancing in my lap and having no drying areas. I'm still limbered up for dip pen and ink from Inktober, so a lot of the really rapid ones are ink. I feel like I did a better job of being nimble within the service than I ever have before. I wanted to be able to include all of David's special people who were invited to participate in the service. I haven't even counted, but I had a table full of sketches when I was done, and I think they might make a nice scrapbook for him.
I'm still scanning in work, but here's a preview of what I did.
I’ve been pretty quiet here lately because A. My art time has been doing a commission I can’t really show. B. Memphis has had two weeks of ice storm, unprecedented snow (at least in my lifetime), and now water troubles. We’ve been boiling water for days with no end in sight, and I’m washing my face at the kitchen sink with leftover tea kettle water. And C. Mr. Darcy is on hospice care in the middle of all this. His cancer is back. I’m hoping for a little more time with him now that we finally have good weather, but time is definitely short.
Above is a small detail of the commission. I’m designing the logo for the 2022 Music and Worship conference at Montreat, a huge Presbyterian center in Black Mountain, NC. I went to youth conference there every year as a teenager, and it was a really special place and event for me. I’m delighted to be asked to do this project. It’s taken a lot of sketches to get to the right place, a lot of carving, a lot of colors and rollers to print it this morning (I bought a few more small, 2” rollers to be able to use a bu ch of different colors together on the one plate and keep them clean), and there will be a decent bit of digital work this week once it dries enough for me to scan it in. They’ll need different shapes for all the various platforms (wide web banners, a vertical for the booklet, a square for IG, etc.). It’s been more of a project than I expected, but I need to just know to factor that in for church work, and I’m happy to be doing it. Above is a small detail of the finished print, since I can’t show the whole thing. It’s so nice to have your work sought out.
I’ve actually lost track of how many house portraits and other commissions I’ve done this season. It’s been lovely that folks want to give art, since none of my shows happened this year, and it means a lot to help people make this year stand out. I love getting to memorialize special places for folks. Over the years I’ve done houses people live in, houses from their childhoods, vacation houses, houses they’re letting go of to downsize, spots where they had first dates or got married or more wild places outdoors that mean a lot to them. It’s an honor to get to help people mark their transitions or celebrate milestones. One person teared up picking a painting up recently. I love that art can mean so much to people.
I’ve been really quiet lately online since I can’t actually show any of these commissions. They’re all surprise paintings for the holidays, but here are a few close ups that won’t be enough to tip anyone off. I’ve got one more to do, and then I’m going to take a week’s vacation or so. Which may mean that I start making the art that’s been in my head lately that I haven’t had time to get to, but that’s always part of my celebration after a show or a holiday season. I’ll also be reading some of the books I’ve been buying from Burkes, my favorite local bookstore. They have a curbside service, and they’re close enough to bike to on nice days, which makes a lovely outing. I have new yarn for a new project, an ongoing quilt, and a good dog who sleeps on my feet on the sofa. So I’ll be taking it a little easier and having a quiet, cosy holiday. I hope all of you have good ways to celebrate this year in spite of all the craziness. Be kind to yourselves and spread it around a little as you can. I figure some recharging on the couch with give me a little more bandwidth to do some of that myself.
Continuing the outdoor week
Day out painting
It's been a kind of stressful week for the country, but the weather was flat out glorious yesterday, and I spent the whole day outside painting. It felt marvelous. I did two journal spreads for myself, one large and one small, and I did two commissions. My house portraits often get a little tight, but this was for a fellow artist, and I let myself play more than usual. I had been loosening up in the forest, and I intentionally went straight on over. Unusually for me, I did the paint first and added the lines after, something I'm trying more of lately to get more motion in my pieces. Houses are easy to get too tight and precise about. I was pleased with the results, and (beautifully) so was she. I love doing paintings for friends. I haven't got permission to share the other one yet (sometimes they're surprise gifts), but I'll post it when I can.
I can safely post holiday commissions now. It’s fun to get to participate in people’s special occasions and help with preserveing memories. I did three versions of this house, one with its current paint color and two with the color the kids grew up with. I also got to paint one adorable dog.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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