The talk at Dixon was amazing. I was honored and thrilled that 70 fantastic people showed up, midweek at lunchtime, to hear me talk about my creative life and influences. I make art on my own in my house most of the time, so getting to go out in public and share the things I love and things I've learned was exciting and greatly fun. I had another hour's worth of conversations on my way out, and I loved hearing people's own experiences or what book or artist they might want to look into after hearing my favorites.
After working hard to put that together and spending the entire next day doing checkup and regular screening tests, I was ready for a couple of slow days. Henry and I took walks, went to the farmers market, had second tea, and spent a lot of time quilting or mending on the sofa and watching some British tv. It was lovely. I'm grateful for the pace of my life that lets me push when I have deadlines but also take time off afterwards. Here are a few sketches I did just to get back into art for pure enjoyment.
The top one is neocolor crayon with watercolor, and the bottom tested two new samples of De Atramentis document ink (waterproof and silky) and the four leaf clover in my classic Diamine water soluble ink that moves and melds with my watercolors. The watersoluble comes in a nice range of colors, but it stays really firm and almost harsh when I paint -- kind of like making your own coloring book. I'll try some more sketches with it, but I think I still love the soluble ink best. I've had fun with the crayons too, and I like the added texture, but I miss line in that top one. It's good to branch out and experiment but sometimes it ends up reinforcing your already favorite things.
My museum lecture at Dixon Gallery and Gardens is today, and I'll be talking about my art heroes and all the things I've learned along the way about making an art centered life. They're between exhibits, so they didn't need me to tie into any particular show, as I did when I talked about the history of plein air painting to go with their Barbizon exhibition some years ago. So I'm going to be self indulgent and talk about all my favorite artists and what I've learned from them in a slight gallop through art history.
I'm also going to talk about taking the time to do small projects for yourself, just because you want to. This was one of mine a couple of summers ago -- a series of tiny prints (I think they're 3x5") of my most formative artists. Constable, of COURSE, on the top left, for painting outdoors and non stop and in his own home places. Walter Anderson underneath him for pretty much all the same reasons plus printmaking. Georgia O'Keeffe for charting her own path and claiming the right to live where and how her muse dictated. And Berthe Morisot for just GOING for it, in an age where women didn't much. And also making her own career against the advice of older, established male artists who leaned heavily on her not to exhibit with those ragtag Impressionists. She was remarkable.
The project fizzled there, and I hadn't even gotten a finished print of Constable until this week, but that also is good. Things you do because you want to but don't have to finish if you don't. The Anderson print made it into my show at WAMA, but the others were just because they sounded like fun.
It's the last week for the lovely American paintings show at Dixon, and the director Kevin Sharp was giving a lecture yesterday as well, so I treated myself to another museum day. I'm getting out less than I used to with my separation anxiety dog (as well as a natural tendency to stay home a lot anyway), but I'm finding that when I do get good opportunities, I make them count more. Instead of saying, maybe I'll go to Dixon tomorrow or next week, if a friend wants to take Henry to the office for today, I jump right on that chance to do something really worthwhile. So Henry got to be an office dog yesterday, and I got a museum day.
I had one more painting I really wanted to sketch, this William Trost Richards painting of Maine. Once again, it's a bit darker and more vivid (especially in the water) than the original since I was working in low light with limited media. But overall I'm pleased, and it will also just help me remember better.
Then I had lunch outside (I'm still masking indoors) and started the tulip sketch but rushed back in to hear Kevin talk about the artist Walt Kuhn. I also worked a little bit on this Inness copy, toning it down some. It's not right, but I'm happier with it than I was. And I finished off the day sitting outside and finishing the tulip sketch at the top. I hadn't used my green ink lately, and the spring greens have had me itching to get it back out.
I keep going back to sketch in the Dixon show of American paintings. I think (hope) it has one more week for me to get back and sketch a little more. It's frustrating in some ways. You have to use dry media in the gallery (European museums are much more forward thinking about copying with paint), so I can't mix colors and gray things down a bit as I would like to. Dry colors (pencils, watercolor crayons, etc.) tend to be a bit more candy colored overall, so these colors are off a good bit, most especially on the lovely, subtle Inness. He's one of my favorites. But it's still deeply profitable as an artist to spend time looking at a painting deeply enough to sketch it even if the sketch is never what I hope it would be.
The colors were reasonably right for the Sloan, though (above). Sloan mostly painted cityscapes and was instrumental in the Ashcan school. I was drawn to this landscape, a summer holiday with his wife, precisely because he brought that fuller bodied intensity to a pastoral landscape. His colors are almost shocking side by side with the oranges and greens and a deeper blue green sea than I managed to convey here. It's an arresting piece, and I love the brushwork in it as well.
I put Henry in daycare today and did a twofer on local museums. I needed one really quiet day after getting in my final draft for the graphic essay, but then I was wanting to get out and see some great art, and we have wonderful shows up in Memphis right now.
The first was Harmonia Rosales at Brooks. Her show plays off of a lot of "Old Master" paintings and reimagines them to include heroines and mythologies rooted in West Africa. It is magic. I love painters with a strong sense of art history, and her cracking open those tropes to make room for the rest of the world is infectious and beautiful. She uses the gold of the Medieval icons and pairs it with the exuberant abundance of the Baroque, and she has a strong series of visual motifs that are meaningful and personal to her as a painter. It's a remarkable show.
I ran to the grocery and home for a sit down/have tea kind of lunch, and a bit after I went to Dixon. I love their show of American paintings. I've been three times now and have more pieces I want to go sketch, but today I worked from a huge landscape by Thomas Hill. I used watercolor crayons and inktense pencils since it's only dry media in the local museums. (I added paint to the Rosales copy when I got home while it was fresh -- I wanted that real golden feel to it.). That's limiting on colors and especially on skies, but it's so instructive to look at a painting long enough to replicate it and figure out how the artist made certain effects work.
The rain was holding off, and my favorite statue Ceres was surrounded by yellow daffodils and red tulips, so I did one more quick sketch before leaving. I love the graphic essay project, and it's wonderful to have someone want to publish you, but it's also fun to go make art purely for the joy of it on a day off. A perfect break.
I've been visiting some of my very favorite spots lately, and Inktober has given me an added nudge to sketch while I was making the rounds. I took some art to the Dixon sale (it's ALWAYS an honor to get to hang work on their walls), and I sketched both the Rodin out front and my favorite statue Circe. The next day I was having chai at Cafe Eclectic on the deck on a lovely day and took time to do a quick sketch there too.
Finally I did a flying trip to St. Louis and Tower Grove Park. I'd hoped to go for the whole weekend, but the wheels fell off the bus last week, so I ended up driving up Sunday morning, walking through the lovely Shaw Art Fair, and that evening doing a small book/music/art event with my friend Amanda Doyle, who has just written a huge, gorgeous book about the history of Tower Grove.
Monday I drove home, but I took a walk and did a couple of quick sketches in the park before I left. I'm dying to get back up there and do more work in the park, but my month of October is pretty spoken for, so we'll have to see how the later fall goes weather-wise.
I have a new studio dog. I've been wanting a black and white dog for a while, just for the graphic deliciousness, and I found a dog in foster care for Memphis Animal Services who is snuggly and loves people and walks well and hangs out next to me while I work. We're having a ball. I'm really grateful. He's nervous being left by his own, which I hope we can lessen over time, but he's a fantastic companion.
Henry has also been encouraging me to get back into more steady sketching, so here are a few scenes of daily life along with Henry.
I took a whole day off today and spent the whole day outside. It was glorious. Mid 50's, but sunny and calm, so it was really delightful to be outdoors. I walked Gideon, shopped at the farmers market, walked Gideon, went to Dixon, and walked Gideon again, taking a nice long, poking-around-in-the-forest kind of walk at the end of the day.
Dixon was great. I met up with two of my favorite sketcher friends. We drew for ages and talked in the sunshine, ran into the cafe to get lunch to go, and sat at an outside table, drinking in the sunshine, talking art, cats, dogs, more art, balancing jobs and life, travel, cats again, art again. It was so deeply good. I've really had my head down working to frame and get final prints for the show ever since new year's. It was wonderful to sit in the sun with friends for a long, unhurried time.
I went back to do some more sketching in the Thiebaud exhibit. I love the lines and almost abstract shapes of the black and white aquatint. And I love that he did a whole series called "Delights." That kind of small, every day delight has been an intention focus for me during the pandemic, and it's lovely to be seeing his take so beautifully and in person.
My second piece of the candy apples couldn't at all capture the richness of the painting, since I was working with a limited set of colored pencils. The Inktense pencils do have a lot more richness and saturation than the regular watercolor kind, but they, like any others, are pretty limited to the hues they give you. It's much easier to mix colors in paint instead. But looking at any painting long enough to sketch it really teaches you a lot, even if the sketch is (never, really) what you hope it might be. I had a ball, though. And I love taking that kind of immersive time with great paintings.
Sweets and sabbaths
My last day of the trip was Missouri and Arkansas. I stayed at a different park in Missouri than the one I love (full after the last minute delay due to smoke), so I slanted down the state through the Ozarks. The stand out highlight of the trip was a small antique store in Knob Noster, MO, (that name!) that had a commercial kitchen attached and homemade PIE. A brilliant combination. I didn't buy anything permanent, but I did get a strawberry rhubarb pie with some of the best crust I've ever had.
It was a great easing into home, since I've come back to a fantastic exhibition of Wayne Thiebaud's prints and paintings at Dixon. I've been looking forward to this show for months. I went the first week with an artist friend and had such fun comparing our ideas about the work. Yesterday I went back to spend more time with specific pieces I love and do a little sketching. I plan to go at least once a week while it's here. I'm fascinated with how he uses hatching to define spaces instead of outlining all the time (the meringue below, or the man with the paper's shorts. Exquisite.)
One thing I thought about over the summer is how to take the slow down of the last few months back into my home life. Sadly fall is going to be less busy than I'd hoped, given the resurgence of the virus, but I still want to be intentional about giving myself permission to take days off without feeling guilty. I love working in my house and having studio space available right here, but it can be hard to take time off when work is in the next room hovering over your consciousness. Potter Melissa Bridgman, who works harder than about anyone I know, gives herself a weekday sabbath, since weekends get so crazy. I love that, and I plan to implement that for myself. I'd like to use it to do more regular museum visiting, since that really feeds me. Yesterday I took my first weekday off. I went to Dixon to sketch, had a leisurely lunch on the back porch with my journal, banjo, and the Thiebaud catalog, and visited a friend in her yard in the afternoon. It was marvelous. I've got time before WAMA to get my prints in order for the show, and I'm going to enjoy the lead up instead of stressing about it.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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