We've had some crazy freaking weather in Memphis lately. It was single digits overnight for about four nights, under freezing for a nine day stretch, tying a 1940's record. Really cold. Not my favorite. But I did take advantage of the situation to do some snow sketches that Memphis sketchers don't usually (thankfully) get the chance to do. The top one was done sitting inside looking out my front door with a lap blanket in my lap, but still a pretty quick sketch. The black and white tree sketches were done very quickly standing up in the park with a big, fat, water-soluble graphite crayon, and I added a little wash with my portable water brush. The bottom one was also quick and standing up, but with some watercolor added. Journal text back at home with a cup of tea.
I’ve been slowly working on the element of these trees lately. I had the tree on the right first, then the background, and then I decided I wanted the tree to have a buddy. Today I printed the first batch of both of them. I’m also dreaming of a different background —- maybe daytime with clouds and birds. I’ve done a single, finished image for so long that I’ve really enjoyed playing around with blocks in different ways lately. I got a book about the three generations of Yoshida printmakers, and they often used the same blocks for both a day and a night scene. I’ve been thinking about ways to open up my own process and use blocks in a variety of ways. These are likely for my show at Walter Anderson Museum of Art in 2022. You never know for sure until you get all the work together and see what makes the cut, but I’m feeling encouraged about these.
Here is the first proof (on wrinkled-y newsprint, just to see how it is) of my companion tree for the recent one under the dome of the night sky. I’ll put this tree on the same background, and I may think of different backgrounds for both of them. I’m working towards my show at Walter Anderson Museum of Art, and I had a quote from Anderson in my head as I carved this one: "I took a long walk yesterday afternoon to the east and drew trees -- I like the wandering ones, not the absolute freaks but not just the ordinary healthy ones either." I feel exactly the same way, with a bulbous, burled tree at Overton Park being my absolute favorite one.
Speaking of that tree (in my P is for Possum book as well as in several prints), a friend of mine delighted me by telling me that her young grandson recognized that tree in the book as the same in a print on her wall. She told him it’s my favorite tree, and he’s now pondering what tree is HIS favorite. That is exactly the sort of nature excitement I hoped so spread with the book.
This tree, too, is a long time favorite. My family calls it the Hawk Tree, because hawks roosted there for a number of years. I’ve painted it repeatedly for the last 20 years. It’s good to have images that call to you in different ways across the years. I’ll clean this up a bit and then try it on the nocturne background.
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.
I've been loving the forest sketching lately with all the autumn colors and swirly vines, but it's a little socked in. Walking home from the forest the other day, I saw this sky and had to stop and paint a big wide open sweep. Such fun.
Bard Cole of WKNO, our local PBS station, has done a series of nature videos this summer and fall. We both walk daily in the same park and forest, and several of the shorts feature the Old Forest. I was thrilled he asked me to do one with him, and we took advantage of a lovely day on Monday to go walking, sketching, and talking. Bard has a beautiful way with a camera, and if I had worn a better shirt, it would have been a thoroughly beautiful occasion. Sadly I didn't really consider sitting hunched over to draw. It looked ok standing up, so I walked out wearing it, but that's pretty true to life. I don't often think too hard about what I'm wearing, and I certainly don't pay much attention to anything else when I'm painting. Berthe Morisot's mother worried about her not getting a husband because of the fierce face she made when she painted. It's hard to make art and look presentable at the same time.
The sketch itself isn't my best. Bard did a slow circular crawl around me as I worked, and I ended up overworking it a bit while we talked. It's hard not to be self conscious about sketching on camera. But I loved the conversation we had, and I'm so grateful to get the chance to talk about the place that continues to be the very heart of my work. Watch the rest of the shorts here. I love the one about the birder. Bard's camera work is exquisite.
It's been a kind of stressful week for the country, but the weather was flat out glorious yesterday, and I spent the whole day outside painting. It felt marvelous. I did two journal spreads for myself, one large and one small, and I did two commissions. My house portraits often get a little tight, but this was for a fellow artist, and I let myself play more than usual. I had been loosening up in the forest, and I intentionally went straight on over. Unusually for me, I did the paint first and added the lines after, something I'm trying more of lately to get more motion in my pieces. Houses are easy to get too tight and precise about. I was pleased with the results, and (beautifully) so was she. I love doing paintings for friends. I haven't got permission to share the other one yet (sometimes they're surprise gifts), but I'll post it when I can.
I got a precautionary covid test today before my upcoming camper adventure. I've got a fantastic house sitter booked, I'm trying to get the forest book done (at least the artwork) before leaving, and things are falling into place. It was an impressively organized experience. Fifteen minutes, start to finish, and you never leave your car. I did a couple of quick sketches in line, but then I was home again.
I also did a sketch this morning in the forest. I loved that arching grape vine across the path. It felt like a portal to somewhere magical.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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