I went down over the weekend to Ocean Springs to take a painting workshop from the talented and delightful Ellen Langford and also to see my show at WAMA actually on the walls one more time before I go pick up work at the end of the month. It's been such a thrill and a joy to see my work in that space that I've visited and loved for years.
It was a last minute trip, and I couldn't find a reasonable place to stay in town, so I ended up in a tiny cabin about 20 minutes away from the museum with a meadow of pines at my front door. I love being able to just walk around town, but this was a lovely and peaceful spot, and I did a couple of sketches Saturday morning, drinking my tea on the porch and warming up for the workshop to come.
I ended the day at Tom's Extreme Pizzeria, which has an excellent seafood pizza and which also has roosters roaming around the property. Since I'm still only eating outdoors, Ricky was my dinner companion for the evening. He hung out on the back of the bench next to me for most of my meal, crowing at intervals and watching the world. He was a great model. Near the end of the meal, a girl across from me coaxed him down to take some food, and I sketched the two of them together very quickly. I need to get back out in public and draw more figures again. I've gotten very rusty through the pandemic.
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.
My favorite place on Dauphin Island, along with my upstairs balcony for the evenings under the sky, was the Bird Sanctuary. My sister and I cycled down to see it, and I took my sketching things along. It was gorgeous. A lovely variety of landscapes, from a lake with water lilies and a resident alligator to beach to pine forest. I had a ball sketching, though it was slightly disconcerting at first to sketch with an alligator gliding directly underneath the dock I was sitting on.
The pine trees above were at the fringe of the beach. I always love a beach that has trees as well as sand. A perfect combination. Below are two different takes on the lily pond lake. I did the one with more sky first and then circled around at the end to do a second one with more emphasis on the water. It got a little overworked and lost the looseness of the first one, but there are things I really like about both of them. I'm in the middle of Mad Enchantment by Ross King, a book about Monet's creation of his late, huge waterlily paintings, and it was fun to get to paint my own thinking of his.
I also did a little bit of dip pen drawing. I'd used the pen for the green ink on the other sketches, but for these I just left them at the line stage. The pine trees reminded me of Walter Anderson, so I was surrounded by art heroes as I worked.
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...
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.
I made a flying trip to Ocean Springs again recently and stopped to see Faulkner's home at Rowan Oak in Oxford, MS, on the way back. I hadn't been since I was a teenager and was struck by both the beauty and the lasting imprint of Faulkner's personality on the place. It was given to the adjacent University of Mississippi by his daughter, so all the original furnishings are in place, along with some well told stories in the individual rooms. I loved his study with the typewriter he used, the fan that blew papers off his desk, and the outline of a story written around the wall once the fan had blown his outline around one too many times. I tape things up on my wall to look at all the time in my work, so I felt a kinship to that approach.
But the thing that really grabbed me, as always, was the TREES. They called so loud that I went back down the next week to walk the forest path next to the house (leading, beautifully, to the university art museum) and to draw the trees I'd been thinking about. It was good to spend more unhurried time, check out the exhibitions at the museum, poke around in Square Books, and visit Faulkner's grave at the local cemetery. With my show up at WAMA, it's nice to have a new thread of art to start dreaming on, and we'll see what comes from these trees. My last few prints for WAMA had moved from water back to trees, so this feels like a lovely continuity to where my muse had been leading me already.
This last sketch is the last page in my sketchbook, and it has my Ohr museum sticker from down on the coast. I love to put those entry stickers from various museums right at the front or back of my sketchbooks. this tree just happened to need the one half page, so I went ahead and worked around the sticker that was already there.
The story of Emily Sutton was fascinating (and sad) to me. She owned a bordello, and her madam name was Fanny Walker. When the yellow fever epidemic hit Memphis like a brick in the 1870's, she turned her bordello into a hospital and nursed sick patients until she died, while many prosperous people fled the city instead. She was buried at Elmwood with a lovely marker, but the judgemental patriarchal society added not one, not two, but THREE large boundary stones with her madam name in large letters so no one would forget that she was "only" a prostitute. Jerks. You can see Gideon resting his chin on one of those while I sketched her.
My last sketch with the sketchers (Gideon was with me a different day for Emily) was a rapid walnut ink sketch with a dip pen back at the meet-up site waiting for everyone to gather. I'm really enjoying my dip pen lately. And the walnut ink.
Here is the final batch of sketches from my opening weekend at Walter Anderson Museum of Art. Beautifully my family stayed Wednesday to Monday, so I had some lovely long days to both visit and sketch. (My sister did say that if I'd had a show in, say, Omaha, they might not have stayed as long, but she was delighted to have most of a week at the coast.) Above is a quick post-sunset sketch done in the half dark that I'm not making a print from.
Next is the dinner I had with two artist friends. It was Melissa's actual birthday, but we pooled our celebrations and had a wonderful time catching up and talking about the business of having an art life, navigating self employment, keeping some time for yourself, taxes, and all the fun stuff... But I love talking to other creatives, and it was a wonderful evening that set the tone for the whole week. I also love being out with other people who pull their sketchbooks out with joy and abandon.
Next I noticed the moon walking home from dinner with the family a different evening. I was transfixed, grabbed my sketching stuff, and did this quick piece with a fat, water-soluble graphite crayon and some watercolor on top in near darkness. Hence the simple colors.
Finally the last day, my sister, her husband, and I cycled out the coast road to the Davis Natural Area. We took a breather at a picnic table right on the shore. I love that trees are right along the water line in so many places. Two of my favorite things. We poked around, did a shortish hike, and I made one more visit to the museum before heading home.
I celebrated delivering my new show by sketching lots and also buying a new "I HAD A SHOW AT WAMA" tea set that will forever hold these happy memories for me. I had gone to Shearwater Pottery just looking for a cream pitcher, since I'd recently broken one of my favorites. But of course I ended up with a teapot too. Actually not "of course" -- teapots are hard to make, and they don't always have them in stock. This blue/green/grey glaze was so gorgeous I couldn't resist. In an added bonus, when I got it home, I found that my new favorite tea infuser fits EXACTLY into the hole with the lid going just inside it, so it's my easiest to use teapot of all the ones I now have. (Lots of them, sadly, are too narrow for my infuser, so I use them less than I used to, but I do still rotate through them for joy.).
Speaking of joy, they got my show up on the walls before I left, so I sat in the gallery and did a celebratory sketch of it. So much joy.
I also sketched this tall tree that I've been wanting to do a print of. It's good to have sketches as well as just photos to work from, though both are helpful in different ways, especially for more detailed subjects. And I'm adding in a second vertical that I did at my opening weekend to balance it out. My mom's three best friends have shown up for me at all the truly important passages of my life, acting as her proxies. They couldn't be at the museum in person, but they sent these gorgeous flowers to mark the occasion, and I couldn't be more grateful.
This month has been so non-stop that I have most of a sketchbook finished and almost no scans done until today. I put snapshots on site up on my social media and sometimes here, but the scans show the sketches so much more clearly. Here are a batch from the beginning of the month when I got to stay in this lovely artist cottage at WAMA. I take down my traveling teapot and electric tea kettle and have breakfast (and lunch and sometimes dinner) on the little balcony. It's a beautiful, peaceful place to stay.
Driving down that trip my art delivery day was February 28. The day before Mardi Gras. So I got to pick up an actual king cake on my way in to town. They are SO much better down on the coast. The Memphis versions I've tried have been very pale imitations, even though we're a good food town overall. So here's my king cake along with my travel teapot. All the essentials.
I admire the artists who do full on collage. I've always felt that mine look more like 4th grade projects. But with this sketchbook, I've been making small movements in a multi-media direction, pasting in bits of ephemera that evoke the moment. The king cake label was one, and this lovely card from a kind friend is another. I got called up to the front of the museum while I was there, and a longtime friend had seen me down there delivering art on fb and actually sent me flowers to celebrate that moment. It meant so much. They sat with me on my little balcony and nodded gently in the back of my hatchback as I drove back home to Memphis.
I always try to draw flowers when I'm lucky enough to get them. They are a gorgeous but ephemeral gift, and having them in my sketchbook helps me remember the moment and the beauty long after the original flowers have faded.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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