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.
My sister was in town all week, which is always both a delight and a whirlwind, so I just blocked off the week for family stuff. We had a ball. And she came through with her movie quote oracle cards she's been making off and on since her teens. A friend has opened a store that leans heavily into both oracle and tarot cards, and I'm always intrigued by the artistry. All of this reminded me of my "full deck year" project of my own set of cards, personal motifs and nudges, that I had started last summer. I always do one off the wall project over the summer just for me. It's my slow period, and it's good to play. And then I allow myself to fizzle on it when it is no longer serving me. So I managed eight last year and shelved things. This week I did a 9th. We'll see if I pick up any steam again or just enjoy the reminder and memories invoked by this one of the two of us with Dad. Below is the batch from last year.
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.
I got the end campsite at Farragut State Park in Idaho, down in a nest of trees a little further away than usual from other campers. It's the same campground where I did the sketch for my "Explore" print of Alice (the camper van) under tall trees last year. It was gorgeous to sit out there, and again, I sketched the next morning before taking off. The light in the forest next to me really caught my eye. Of course, the sun went away as I started sketching and only came back out when I was done, but I'd seen enough to capture the feel of the place, if not the exact patterns.
I have done a couple of graphic essays that, for one reason or another, have never really made it out in public. I've been inspired to do one about this last season I got to have with Mr. Darcy. Very different from the children's book I also never managed to get right (although I'm thinking of seeing if the third time is the charm and taking it west for a summer project). I always seem to work things out on paper. Writing (in a new and gorgeous daffodil journal given to me to celebrate the daffodil season I had with Mr. Darcy by a kind and empathetic friend) has really helped me the last few weeks. I think it may distill out into these images with a little bit of text.
Last night I was reading poetry, looking for a title for my WAMA show, and I found this poem fragment. It took my breath away, and it will definitely be part of the essay.
Darel Snodgrass kindly had me on his Checking on the Arts show again this week. I'm so grateful to WKNO fm for promoting artists daily on the radio, everyone from dancers to musicians to actors to visual artists like me. I always get great ideas about what's happening in the community and new shows I want to see (in normal times). And he always pays attention, knows your work, and asks good questions. It's such a fun time to be invited to talk about something you love. So check out the interview if you live outside Memphis and didn't get a chance to hear it. I talk about making art during the pandemic, sketching in the Old Forest, the general awesomeness of local bookstores, and my upcoming show next year at WAMA.
Burkes Books and Novel both made sure they had a stack of books ready for when this went on the air, and you can also order copies from my online store. All of these copies will have an individual drawing in the front as well as a signature. I've celebrated by making each one special, since having a book to sign is such a delight.
We're trying to go to the farm every other day for joy. I'm so glad the daffodils are blooming during this period. It's been lovely to bring home a fistful of sunshine from these trips. I've been sketching around the farm, and today I decided to draw the daffodil hill itself. With a really quick, sketchy Mr. Darcy. I refilled a couple of fountain pens with favorite ink, so it was fun to use this cacao de Brazil ink that I haven't used lately. I've never been able to get a sketch of the daffodils that does them justice, but it's fun to try.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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