I wrote yesterday about how much I'm watching the birds these days, and what a beautiful new awareness that is in my life. I've always admired them, but never sat still and long and really looked more than occasionally. The learning about birds been a huge gift of this quarantine season. And then this morning, an enormous owl flapped across my path in the forest and sat on a limb for ages, looking at me and chatting a little. I'd gotten over there very early (about 6:15), sadly without my smaller sketchbook today, since s/he sat so long. I wish I'd had it. It was still pretty dark to take photos, but I got a couple and locked in a little in my memory as well. Over breakfast I sketched out this page to help me remember in coming times. I loved the side to side head motion. I must have stood there 5 or 6 minutes. I think perhaps there was a nest nearby, or probably s/he would have just moved on. I finally decided I'd been an annoying presence long enough and took up my walk again, with such gratitude for the beauty of the forest and all its creatures.
I don't know if this is really a Quarantine Journal or a new normal journal. We're a long way in from what we used to think of as normal, though, so even though the shelter at home order is lifted, it feels like I'm still largely in quarantine from the virus if not the government.
My new garden, which has been giving me herbs, is now also giving me gardenias, and I could not be more delighted. They smell divine. One good friend has brought them to me before from her bush, and I've wanted one ever since. Our little midtown nursery is open air shopping, so I got there first thing a month or so ago. I also have my first hydrangea blossoms. It's been a joy to reclaim a bit of my messy yard for beauty.
I had lunch on the back porch today and watched a dove building her nest. With every beak full of straw, she stopped to perch on the fence across from me before she took it on to the nest. I finally got my sketching things and managed to draw her over several trips. After the Cardinal tragedy (though I'm happy to say they're still whizzing around the yard and seem to be mating again!), it's happy to see another nest being built. This one is quite high, so I'll have to just watch from a distance, but it's a joy. I've never watched birds the way I have this year. I feel like I'm turning into my grandmother, and it's really given me a lot of quiet happiness in the midst of the chaos.
I had a reptile kind of walk this morning. I got out early to beat both the heat and the holiday weekend crowds in the park, and I had the forest beautifully to myself. I had done a short walk with Mr. Darcy (who struggles with an arthritic hip these days) and then gone back out with my smaller sketchbook. I'm so glad I did. I found a turtle in the middle of the path, and he very obligingly hung around and let me sketch him. He didn't even pull into his shell.
Not five minutes later, I came across a pair of copperheads writhing together on the path. This time I took a photo but didn't stay in the vicinity long enough to sketch. I did the journal page looking at both my turtle sketch as well as reference photos for both.
These are the first snakes I've seen in ages, which is a little unusual for me. For several years now I've been a bit of a magnet for them, enough that the forester has joked about having the copperhead researcher (a professor at a local college) follow me around so she can find them more easily. I was beginning to feel like I might speak parseltongue without knowing it, though truthfully, a port key or apparition would be much my preferred form of Harry Potter magic. Today made up for the gap, however, since I saw two at once for the first time.
I’ve been slow on my journal this week since I’ve gotten back moving on prints, though truthfully, I’ve been slow on a lot of things. I’ve been spending a lot of time in my favorite reading chair with Wilkie Collins. I did at least draw the view. This is another corner I reworked recently in my push to get the house how I want to live in it. I found the little square stained glass lamp at a garage sale. It’s not fine, but it matches the wall well and cheers up to top of the cabinet. Hanging next to it is a Hatch Show Print I had bought years ago and never gotten around to framing. I love it, and it’s great to have it up on the wall. Less clearly visible to the left, on the oven with magnets, are a drawing from a friend for my birthday (which itself needs framing, but it came after my big order of frames and binge of work in that direction) and several show cards that inspire me and make me happy.
I’m trying to talk myself into more journal sketches again. I’m having a hard time finding the balance between cutting myself some slack and being even partially accountable for getting some work done. Today I carved after lunch and finally got this posted, so now I’m going to read a little more Woman in White.
I feel like most of us are having these most weeks. This week has been especially so for me. I had a lovely mother's day visit on the patio with my folks, from a safe distance. Then the baby Cardinals finally hatched. And then they died overnight in the nest, I think from cold. It affected me in an outsized way, although I imagine some of that is just the grief and stress of these times also showing up, and it's not bad to push a little of that out occasionally. Plus Mr. Darcy came over and gave me big sloppy kisses to make me feel better.
I found that I needed to physically turn the page on this page of my sketchbook, so I drew my dinner last night. I've never cooked beets before. Thanks to Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything (which I think is going to be key for my CSA journey), it was super easy, and I've had a couple of truly lovely beet salads with goat cheese and slightly candied walnuts.
Then today was lovely again. I met Dad and Pat at his grandparent's house, my great grandparents, about half a mile from their daughter's (my grandmother's) house where I live now. I never knew my great grandparents, or the house, and it's recently been bought by a lovely woman who is lovingly restoring it and who wants to know the history of the house and of our family as she moves in. It's beyond special to have someone there who wants to know and carry forward those family stories. We've had such a great series of emails over the last week, and it means a tremendous amount. I sat afterwards and sketched the house to have more happiness in my journal from this time. My favorite thing, aside from getting to see the place, was finding out that the sunroom off the main bedroom was called "The Joint" because it was jointly owned by my dad (with his bed there for weekend visits) and his grandfather, who kept his desk in there.
It's a glorious day, I got through the Farmers Market early enough to feel safe being there, and I came home with the most beautiful eggs I've ever seen. I sat on the back porch and sketched them, had my lunch, and watched Papa Cardinal chase off a Blue Jay and a mockingbird. I had grand plans to get back to my seagull block this afternoon, but I may take a nap instead.
It was a really good day. I put a commission I was pleased with in the mail to its new owner, I turned in three coloring book pages (my first ever) to the Memphis Flyer to see if they want them for a Memphis coloring book. I love the Flyer, it's a great idea, and they'll split proceeds with the artists instead of just asking for free art. It was fun to do a few of my favorite places and also play with a new format.
In even better news, my mama cardinal was back sitting on her nest. She'd disappeared for a couple of days, and she'd seemed bothered by me right through the window when I used my kitchen sink. She hadn't been sitting yet, so I'd been a bit worried they had decided just to start over somewhere more private. She's been spending a lot of time in the nest today, though, and she stayed while I sketched her. I'm delighted.
I rewarded my morning of work on a gorgeous day by getting on my bike and going to Elmwood, always one of my favorite places to sketch. There are MANY fewer people than in Overton Park these days, so I feel much safer and not at all crowded there. I rode a couple of loops around it, stopped to sketch, looped through Central Gardens on my way home, and ended up with an 11.5 mile ride, which felt great. A late sunshine walk with Mr. Darcy and a happy domestic evening (with asparagus brought by a kind friend after she got my email update!), and I'm living well today.
I'm still doing commissions (and thank you, good people, who want to celebrate your special days with original art!) along with a little slow carving, so nothing except journal to show just now. It's fun to have something quick to do when other projects take longer.
The international Urban Sketchers group has had a challenge going lately to bake something and then sketch it. That got me craving cookies. My baked goods are usually utilitarian -- good but not so pretty. I decided it would be fun to draw the ingredients before starting though, so that's what I did. And I added in the super simple recipe. Since it's got oatmeal as the biggest ingredient, it's got to be almost healthy, right?
I also sketched the book I just finished and really enjoyed. I'm finding that good fiction is what I want just now. City of Girls was great, and I also loved The Other Bennet Sister. I rarely read the Austen fan fiction follow ups, but I heard the author talking on npr and was impressed with her. I also fell in love with a play about Mary that Tennessee Shakespeare did this past Christmas, so I was primed for another investigation of her. The first part ran parallel to Pride and Prejudice, which I didn't like as much, but I felt it got better after it took Mary on her own journey. It definitely took some liberties with several of the characters, and some of the themes felt very 2020 (the research into personal happiness), but the writing was good, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was quite sorry to see it end and will now have to come up with another book I look forward to reading as much as this one.
It feels a little silly in April, but I've gotten chilly on damp evenings a few times lately, and I'm ongoingly grateful for these gas logs that bring happiness and coziness to just such days. Mr. Darcy is quite happy about them too.
I've been working on commissions the last few days. It's lovely to have some short term structure to supplement the very long term museum show I'm working on. It's surprisingly happy to cross a finished project off the list. So I took a break from the journal while I worked on a couple of those, but last night it felt good to get back to it. I froze some individual slices of my birthday cake last month when I realized it would be me and a whole cake alone in the house. Last night I got a slice out for after dinner. I'm glad I spread out the enjoyment of it. And so are my jeans.
The last two days I've had a pair of Cardinals building a nest JUST outside my kitchen window. I am delighted and hoping for babies. It would be a perfect spring to have a little extra company and something gorgeous to watch.
Yesterday I took Mr. Darcy for his walk through the forest and then went back. He's got a little older dog hip trouble, so he can't do my full walk with me these days, but I went back with my sketchbook and painted the fading wildflowers. It was a joy just to sit and paint and listen to the birds, who seem louder this year than I've ever heard them. But perhaps I'm just noticing more.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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