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 am having the best time drawing Henry with his fetching ears. These are both a big, fat, water soluble graphite crayon with some water wash. It's a super simple combination. All you need is the crayon (less that $2 at my local The Art Center store) and a water brush pen that has water in the reservoir. You just squeeze a bit and push out a little water through the brush. No open cups needed. It's genius. For watercolor, I take more time and get out a really fun brush when I have the space and time, but for something like this, the water brush is perfect. I'm keeping supplies in easy reach on the coffee table so I can grab them when Henry is settled with me on the couch. Drawings dogs 101 from David Hockney is having the art supplies stocked in their usual places so you can sketch without disturbing them. Perfect advice.
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.
The skies were amazing at the beach, and I so enjoyed sitting out under the sky and seeing the whole dome of sky there. I love our huge, hardwood forest in my neighborhood, but it does mean that I only see bits of sky at a time.
I had my big, fat, water soluble, graphite crayon with me, and it was pretty perfect for working after dark with just it and a water brush. No colors to try to decipher in the dark. It was fun to just put down a few impressions of the sky and the full moon.
I got lucky enough to see another owl up close. I'd been out early one morning and gone to the forest to see if I could spot one without any luck. When I got almost back to my house, though, I heard a whole group of birds kicking up a ruckus. One of the best pieces of life advice I've gotten is to listen for the birds going ballistic somewhere and then try to spot the owl they're fussing at. This time, unlike often when they're super high, she was sitting on a decently low branch in the alley just across from my house. Sometimes what you're looking for is at home all along.
She sat and watched Gideon and me for 7 or 8 minutes. Just watched, occasionally twisting her head in odd but lovely ways to watch other things and then looking back at us. I took a chance, put Gideon in the house, grabbed my sketchbook, and she was still there when I got back. So I spent another 10 minutes sketching her. The first two are a water soluble graphite crayon, and the second two are a fat felt tip pen and some lighter ink wash. I'm getting really close on my finishing my big commission, and I may have to do a print of this owl afterwards. I enjoyed doing the series of birds for my show at WAMA, and as much as I love owls, I think an addition to that series is needed.
There have been some awesome printmaking exhibits around recently. Brooks in Memphis put out their full complement of Durer's Small Passion, which is detailed and delightful. They can only show it every so often since it is fragile and on paper. I think the equation is something like "for every three months it's on show, it has to rest three years" or something like that. I didn't get over as often as I had optimistically planned to, but I did make it several times and spent some quality time sketching in the end. His use of line, like with all wood engraving, is what makes the print. But I was also fascinated by the details -- crucifixion tools lying at the foot of the cross, his signature not flat with the picture plane but in perspective (though he did get his D backwards a couple of times, which thrilled me to see --- even the top drawer printmakers can screw up the backwards bit sometimes!)
I loved the trees and the animals. Several pieces had small dogs in the foreground. I did notice it was the villains of the piece who mostly had dogs (Pilate, Herod, Caiaphus), but I wonder if they simply need the ministrations of dog angels more than the rest of the cast did. I also loved Jesus in his floppy gardening hat with a spade over his shoulder (but the stigmata noticeable). Most of all I loved the Adam and Eve in the garden underneath trees that have a through line down to E.H. Shepherd and with a badger (!) among the animals gathered around. I drew the tree carefully and the figures a bit less so, but I loved spending deep time looking at this one. Walking home, a tree reached out to me and called to be drawn, so I worked on using the character of Durer's lines to describe it (even if far less small and precise).
A second remarkable show is a set of Piranesi etchings at the University of Mississippi art museum. These are in their collection as well. None of the fantasy dungeons, sadly, but still some pretty delightful and whimsical details, like the figures up on the top of this dome with letters floating beside it. The letters, I realized later, corresponded to a list of building parts at the bottom of the print, but even so, their slightly wonky air felt whimsical as well. I also sketched a few decidedly whimsical (that was the word of the day) Mycenean pottery figures. I loved their stripes and happy expressions. I wish local museums would let us work in more than graphite, but the pencil did suit the engravings I was working from, and it felt good to do master copies again, even if only bits and pieces that appealed to me.
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.
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.
I've been doing more landscapes than anything else lately (which are always the primary draw for me), but I've done a handful of smaller scale, daily life sketches lately, and I really enjoy them as well. Here's a round up from the last month, since they haven't been fitting thematically into the posts I've made lately. I always enjoy opening sketchbooks back up later and remembering a favorite luncheon, a date at an ice cream parlor, or an especially yummy dessert.
Or even a medical check up...
And my very favorite -- Belgian torte from a dessert shop I had tried two years ago up in Bellingham on a day out up there. I was delighted that the place had made it through the pandemic. The torte was at least as good as I had remembered.
I actually took a little time off around the holiday from my regular work this year, but I spent a lot of Thanksgiving itself in the forest. We've had a lovely run of warm, sunny thanksgivings, and it's become a tradition for me. My usual family do isn't often on the day, due to scheduling conflicts for other folks, and this year, of course, it was a thoroughly quiet day with Mr. Darcy and me eating by the fire.
I've been doing book work and prints and having trouble getting myself into sketching lately, so I decided to mix things up and try some watercolor pencils. I always want to like them and then don't, but the Inktense (made near the Lake District in England, by Derwent) have a lovely strong color and depth. Local museums won't let me sketch with my water brush and colors the way I can in Europe, and I've been wanting a color medium I can use in museums too. These are fun. They mix line and wash, and I like the colors. I still like fountain pen and watercolor best, but it's good to play. The first one is two colors of green pencil plus water soluble graphite. Then I added pen to the last one of the four, just to see how that was too.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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