I love sweets, and I love sketching them. It's fun to remember a really lovely treat later every time I open my sketchbook. Also the drawing of it increases the anticipation and enjoyment. Unlike a lot of meals, most desserts aren't hot, so they won't get cold and less appetizing if you take time to draw them. Ice cream is the super transient exception to this stability of drawing rule, so I rarely draw ice cream. But other treats are well worth celebrating. The caramel cake is from my come-have-cake-on-the-front-porch neighbors (even though we were inside this week with the wintry weather), so I'll remember the visit as well as the cake. They so kindly left me a second slice for the next day, so I didn't take time out of our visit to draw, even though I love drawing food with fellow sketchers when we get together and all draw at once.
Here are a random batch of sketches from about a week ago. I've had a super slow week, doing print and commission work in my lap on the sofa, so no really recent sketches. But I had a ball meeting a friend at this gorgeous Tudor revival for an estate sale and drawing a house we wouldn't otherwise have had access to.
Next was a misty morning at Shelby Farms with a pair of great blue herons flying overhead. After several passes, one sat in the top of a tiny tree and posed for me. Henry was patient while I got my sketching things out. He's learning to be an art dog as we go along. He would always rather walk, but he's getting more used to the stops.
Finally another graphite sketch of Henry from one of our sofa sitting sessions.
Saturday was our first Saturday of the month meeting of Memphis Urban Sketchers. I love having an artist meetup on my calendar, making art, talking art, and connecting in person with friends. We met at the pyramid yesterday. I wandered around the inside of the Bass Pro shop for a bit, but the fake cypress swamp, weird lighting, and all the dead, stuff animals just weren't doing it for me. Outside with the viaducts was equally visually overwhelming, but more what I wanted to sketch. I got lost toward the right hand side, not paying attention to which columns were in front of or behind which bits of road, but then it drizzled for a few minutes, and my ink ran a bit, and it all softened up. You can see some of the raindrops if you look. I reacted to the crazy complex scene by keeping my palette very limited. I love the blue green of the overpasses, so I concentrated on that, with a bit of blue gray to go along with it. It was fun.
I'm trying to draw more as I'm at the dog park, and I'm recognizing that for me, that urge is weather dependent. When the sun is out, I'm all excited about it. When it's gray and chilly, I stand around with my hands in my pockets and just laugh at the dogs. Both are good for getting me out to notice nature and stop looking at screens for a while. So here's the one recent sketch I've done, celebrating a sunny morning we had recently.
Soon after getting Henry I was excited to have a dog hanging out on the sofa with me again, and I wanted to take full advantage of his modeling opportunities. So I bought a 7x10" multi media spiral bound sketchbook, nothing fancy but pages thick enough to take a little water. I have a big, fat, graphite crayon that I love to play with, and it's water soluble, so you get a lovely depth when you brush water over it. With a water brush (almost a pen, but with a brush and a reservoir of water inside), it's a quick, not at all messy, easy to grab way to sketch, so I've got those three things (and, of course, some other sketching stuff too) within easy reach on my coffee table. I've filled up half a sketchbook at this point, and I woke up early today and scanned a bunch in. You can see from the shadows that the paper has buckled a little with the added water, so it's not totally flat on the scanner, but I didn't fiddle with these to get that all smoothed out. I just wanted to be able to share the progression. Here is the first batch of my favorites (plus one watercolor), starting from early September.
I had a wonderful New Year's Day. I'm slowly feeling more and more like myself again, and yesterday I started the day at the dog park watching Henry frolic. Then I had a walk and a visit with my sister in from out of town. And then I went to an all afternoon music jam. That's been my main new years celebration for years now, but like many gatherings, we took the last couple of years off. It was a delight to play tunes out in the sunshine of a 75 degree day and see old friends. I came home and sketched the graphite sketch above with a banjo, dog, books, and painting, to set my intention for the year and celebrate the day that had been.
NPR had a wonderful story on the difference between resolutions and intentions, saying resolutions tended to be both negative and specific (lose 10 pounds or stop eating certain foods), and they set people up to get discouraged and quit. Intentions are looser and more positive, like taking time to be creative or (and I loved this one) "being in your body", including taking a walk/run, reveling in a bath, breathing deeply, or remembering to check in with all your senses. Intentions feel like they have a measure of grace built in, like my favorite hashtag #dailyish, which I have always described as intention plus grace. It lets you focus on a goal without the self flagellation and pressure of absolute daily homework.
My intentions for the new year personally are to check in with my body regularly, breathing, stretching, using more senses than just my eyes (where I often get stuck), and hopefully working back towards more regular exercise. I had just been getting in shape when covid hit me, and I'm taking a long time to get my energy back. My word of the year, even before hearing this NPR story, is grace, though, so I'll take it gently. I'd also like to sketch more often at the dog park, since Henry and I spend 45 minutes to an hour there each day. It will be weather related and energy related and not daily, but I'd enjoy sketching more people again after the isolation of the last few years, and dogs are always happy to sketch.
I have a whole list of professional goals, but those are the more personal life ones (though, as always, personal life and art blend together pretty seamlessly). For my work, I want to keep working on the Rowan Oak tree print series I have going and find a place to exhibit it. I'd like to make an M is for Memphis book to go with P is for Possum. In a related goal, I want to figure out the handwritten font tool I bought last year and not have to hand letter the entire book. A font would keep all the words the same size, which I have trouble doing freehand. I want to keep working on "sequential art" (graphic essays or more narrative sketches that tell stories). And I want to get better at saying no to commissions that don't fit with what I want to be doing and that take me away from the art I most want to put my time towards. There are probably a couple of others since I'm not looking at my list, but those are the main ones. It's fun to look back at that goal page in my monthly art bullet journal and see how I'm doing as the year progresses. I met every goal this year except making a new graphic essay, so I felt really good about my year's work.
Yesterday and today I made a start at sketching at the dog park. It helps that this week is warm enough I don't want to just shove my hands in my pockets to keep them warm. But I've also been knitting hand warmers (fingerless mittens) to keep me warmer and leave my fingertips free to grip pens, so I'm preparing for the rest of winter. Here are the first three double page sketches. And happy new year!
I met up with friends today and painted in Overton Park. I've always loved both the Brooks building and the way-funky trees in front of it to sketch. Everyone else brought oils, so I was the outlier just hanging out with my sketchbook, and my dog. Henry hasn't graduated to settling in calmly beside me while I paint out in the world. I have to tether him to something so I can work, so my view was decided for me, with one small tree that looked promising for him to be tied to, but it was a good view.
When I finished, sooner than everyone else because watercolors are much faster, I did a couple of quick sketches of the crew. I haven't been drawing people much through the pandemic, and I'm trying to take advantages of opportunities to get more practice in.
Here's Christina, with her hair blowing in the pretty stiff wind we had, alongside a very quick sketch I did to celebrate the Solstice. More and more the day we turn back towards the light is one of my more important days of the year. The winter darkness is hard for me, so the turning point is always worth celebrating.
He doesn't have a huge range of sleeping-on-the-sofa poses, but he's just so much fun to draw. I also like the mindfulness and happiness of doing a sketch sitting on the sofa in the evening, and there he is. So I'm mixing up the materials some and just continuing to draw him.
Once again I'm doing mostly commission work that I can't show here, but I have been doing some Henry sketches in the evenings just for me, and last night, after a week of rain, we had an actual sunset. I celebrated by sketching it quickly from both memory and a phone photo when I got back in from a short pre-dinner walk. It felt like a moment I wanted to mark.
I've been slowly recuperating, drinking a TON of water but also a lot of tea, and eating all the beautiful things people have been kind enough to bring me. I couldn't be more grateful for the folks around me. I'm doing very little work, and most of what I'm doing is a commission I have going, so I haven't had a ton to show. But I'm happiest when I'm drawing, so I've done a small series of still lifes, mostly of teapots, sitting on my coffee table while I watch some fun British mysteries on tv.
People have been wonderful. One sister brought me a tiny personal pie for Thanksgiving (in the little enamel dish in the first still life). My other sister mailed me a tea Advent calendar! A different teabag for every day in December, so I'm getting to try lots of new ones. Friends have brought food. I haven't had to cook a dinner in a week and a half. One dear sketching friend came to buy a book and brought me my VERY favorite Muddy's cupcakes. It's the season for Santa Baby ones, chocolate cake with peppermint icing. Another friend bought a different book tonight and brought me chicken soup.
It felt a little scary to be sick and living by myself right at first. Fortunately I wasn't very sick, and the outpouring of people taking the trouble to do kind things for me has truly meant the world.
This last still life is more real life. Instead of just drawing the tea tray, I took on the whole jumble of clutter that is my coffee table. I'd like to say it's because I'm sick and spending most of my time on the sofa, but truthfully the coffee table is usually a jumble of sketching things, books I'm reading, and sewing notions. I added in the new Gingerbread tea tin from Harney and Sons. I finally did a few errands yesterday (I've been driving mostly to the dog park to let Henry run up till now), and I fell for the seasonal display at Fresh Market. It's a quite good tea, and I love a pretty tea tin, so I added it in for one more small happiness to record for the week. This sketch felt a lot like the artist version of a gratitude journal. I've also restarted my practice of a daily gratitude list through this time to help me get out of the doldrums of feeling so exhausted. It's really helped. I haven't done a lot of sketching, but all of it helps. I think I'll try to do more as I go along. It's neat to document whatever is happening in your life, good or bad.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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