I’ve been doing a bunch of book work this week since getting the Apple pencil. It’s taken a bit of getting used to, but is so much better than scanning in and cleaning up huge blocks of text. I can also play with it and change sizes, wrap it around images, etc. It feels much more immediate, and while I’m working to keep my handwriting legible, I hope that energy will translate into the book. I see that the pencil somehow migrated in color a bit, but overall I’m getting the hang of things and am grateful for this new tool. This is a double page spread. Georgia and Walter were in the Oxford American essay, but no one who knows me will be surprised to see that I added Constable now that I have a bit more room. He’s my number one influence on work habits and art philosophy, but OA is about Southern culture, so I leaned into American artists for it. I’ve got a few more watercolors and a back cover to do, but I’m getting close. I forget how very much longer all this takes than I think it will, but it’s always worth it to have a book in my hands.
Depending on your point of view, I either got a new toy or invested in my work last week. I love making art on paper with paint or carving, but the text part of making a book is painstaking if I write by hand and scan in, cleaning up lines of text and trying to keep them in the correct area around the images and in a ballpark of the same size. So this week I got an iPad Pro and Apple pencil. Being able to write directly on the book page without the smudges and dirt a scanner can add in is a huge pleasure. I’m still getting used to the iPad version of photoshop and the feel of the pencil itself, but I’m feeling encouraged. I’ve got a couple of different book projects in mind, and I think this will be a huge help.
I’ll lose that variation of ink that a real pen gives you, but I’ll regain the energy and creativity of wrapping text around the images and playing directly with the spaces instead of trying to replicate that on a separate page. I’m still working to figure out sizes and keep my writing neater with the pencil, but I’m very happy with the early progress.
One of my big projects this year was the Oxford American graphic essay Memoir of a House. It's still on the new stands in the Summer issue, but once the Fall issue comes out, I'll be free to publish it as well. I'm expanding it just a little and making it into a book, which I plan to have out before Christmas. I'm adding in maybe a dozen more watercolors to go with the 30 that were in OA, with a few more tidbits about the history. One bit I'm adding is more of how I use my front room. It's always a gallery, but it has been known to double as a dance hall or a space for house concerts. The inimitable Joe Newberry played his songs and told his stories with Mr. Darcy lying at his feet, and I wanted a sketch of that moment for the book. I've also been known to have swing parties with a live band, as part of the local contra dance weekend we used to put on in town. It's been fun to revisit and expand this project a bit.
Oxford American is on newsstands and in bookstores (Burke's and Novel locally), and my essay is also up on their website. I'm so delighted to see it out in the world!
It was a great pleasure to have a physically small winter project to do through the worst of my long covid. I could be on the sofa, under a fuzzy blanket, with Henry on my feet, and work on the 30 small watercolors while watching British mysteries. It meant so much to have a hopeful, exciting project that was also manageable for me. I'm still not standing up to do oil paintings, but I'm back to doing a bit more print work again. This essay saved me through the worst of being able to do none of my regular, much loved activities.
WKNOfm hosted me to talk about the essay (and to announce my next big project), and that interview is here. They do such a great job supporting a whole range of arts in Memphis.
Here is one more painting from the essay. I had such fun doing a small portrait of Georgia O'Keeffe in her adopted landscape.
Y'all, I'm so excited. I've been head down working on this for six weeks or so. And it was amazing to be asked to do this. I had sent them my Greensward essay a couple of years ago, which found a quick home at Memphis Magazine, bless them. Then in late January, one of their newer editors was going back through old submissions, said she loved my style, and asked if I had any more stories to tell.
I've done over 30 sketches since we got a general direction in mid-February, and it's just about to go off to the copy editor and layout folks for approval. The last step will be for me to hand letter all the text to fit into the correct spaces, but I'm ahead of a pretty tight deadline. It's so good to know I can work this quickly when I need to. I'm still struggling with long Covid fatigue, and this has been the just the right project for this spring. It's all small enough to do sitting down and even in my lap on the sofa, but it's new and exciting and something to look forward to. So perfect.
National Dog Day is the best holiday on social media -- tons of sketches of dogs. I celebrated by taking Henry to the park for a long dog park session and forest walk, and I've spent the rest of the day working on my book about Mr. Darcy. His Gotcha Day was a few days ago, and Gideon's is tomorrow, so it's a dog-themed kind of week. I'm enjoying, in a still bittersweet kind of way, revisiting Mr. Darcy's photos to add some extra sketches to the book, but I also drew Henry on the sofa last night and am greatly enjoying his company these days. Dogs with their necessarily short lives, will break your heart, but they are so, so worth it.
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.
Darel Snodgrass of WKNO fm kindly hosted me again to talk about my show at WAMA, sketching (always), the new catalog for that show, and my graphic essay about Mr. Darcy. With all that, he also kindly let me go on longer than usual. I'm so grateful for this daily show about the arts in Memphis. It gives musicians, theaters, dancers, artists, and other creatives a way to get the word out about the things we're doing, and I always learn a ton when I listen.
Y'all, WAMA has made a gorgeous website for my exhibition! I couldn't be more pleased. Above is a screenshot of the top of it, but to navigate the images and read all the text about the show and see photos of me working, click here. They are doing a beautiful job on every aspect of this show, and I can't wait to see it hanging in their space. I deliver art on Feb. 28th, and I have 20 of 21 prints framed.
I'm partway through mounting all the pieces (20 watercolors plus text bits) for the separate graphic essay about Mr. Darcy that will hang in a separate space. It's their first time hanging just mounted art instead of framed, their first graphic essay, and their first time hanging in a salon style (a more informal, collage style grouping). I'm so grateful they're trusting me to do this new thing for them. Mattie Codling, the curator, had asked me if I wanted to write a bit of story about Mr. Darcy to go with his print in the show, knowing what a large part of my art making he had been to me. I told her I would love to and that I also had this graphic essay about his last couple of months called Daffodil Season. It doesn't go with the formal print exhibition, but she found a separate space for it in the museum and is diving into this new thing. I have so appreciated her enthusiasm and support in the two years preparing for this show. It will be special to honor Mr. Darcy in this way, and I think anyone who loves and loses a beloved companion will resonate with it. Anderson had a number of animals he spent time with and painted and called familiars, so it's appropriate for his museum to honor these muses.
It's been an exciting week around here. I worked on a graphic essay about the zoo's land grab for Overton Park's Greensward, the one huge, escape-from-the-city meadow, several years ago. Then the zoo and city backed off, despite the council having handed them several acres of it, and plan to raze about 85 trees and raise the parking lot up level with the meadow so everyone is staring at car bumpers instead of trees and sky. Then, in an underhanded Friday 5pm news dump, they announced they're going ahead with construction anyway. So I updated this essay and sent it off to a couple of publications. They're both in the same publishing family and BOTH decided to use it. I was delighted. You can read the full essay at Memphis Magazine or the Memphis Flyer (our weekly paper).
I'm sad for the reason but delighted to see this essay in print. It was the first graphic essay I had worked on, and I really love the story telling mix of paint and text.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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