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'm still working pretty hard on the graphic essay, but I did a few sketches while waiting for the copy edits to come back. One of my favorite treats is a chocolate croissant from Lucy J's, so I drew out the enjoyment by sketching it. I also took a little time with the wildflowers in the Old Forest. The watercolor crayons overall were a little too candy bright for them, but it was fun to sit and sketch in the woods.
I've been doing a little sketching alongside some work I can't show yet. It's been sunny the last few days, so Henry and I went to the park, walked a little in the forest, and snagged a picnic table for a quick sketch with clouds.
Melissa Bridgman brought me one of her gorgeous, tiny bud vases a few days ago with some gorgeous, tiny daffs in it. I did a still life this morning with my favorite farmers market chocolate croissant (from Lucy J's, for those of you in Memphis. So good) that is my favorite weekend treat. Celebrate the small things. And drawing it makes me slow down and savor it more.
I'm still struggling with my energy, so an invitation to sit in Overton Park in the sunshine and sketch a few blocks from my house is a wonderful thing. My friend Christina and I chose a picnic table and compared materials and caught up and enjoyed the afternoon. Henry did great tethered to the table and was rewarded with a trip to the dog park before we headed home. He might be growing up a bit. I'm grateful for art and for friends willing to meet me where I am (both physically and metaphorically) these days.
I've been playing with the neocolor II watercolor crayons at home in a limited way, but it was fun to spread out a full paint set and try them bigger (the top one) with more paint added. I did the drawings in crayon and painted on top. I like the thickness and texture they add.
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.
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.
I'm not managing to sketch every day with a house full of guests lately, but I do enjoy the reminder by inktober to pull out my pen and brush pen during my daily rounds. So here are two Overton Park sketches and one Henry sketch. Both a dog and a dog walk are part of my ongoing daily happiness and well worth celebrating in my sketchbook.
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.
I took a bunch of intentional time off in April, but I've been having trouble reconnecting with my work. So Saturday I happily went along to Memphis Urban Sketchers at Crosstown Concourse, our remodeled old Sears tower. Nicely it was one of the places we meet that I can walk to, which is always a pleasure. Seeing friends was primary, and I had a lovely time sitting on the upstairs terrace and sketching the reflections in the door and chatting with my friend Christina. It felt good to draw with no agenda, and I ended up happy with what I had done.
Afterwards we moved out to the front plaza to watch the fanfare of Puppy Palooza. It was delightful to watch all the dogs go past and sketch the ones that caught my eye. Sketching dogs is sheer joy, and I stayed for lunch and an extended visit at Global Cafe afterwards.
I was on such a roll, and it was such a beautiful day, that I kept my sketching bag with me as I walked Gideon over to the park after I got home. We went around the lake but then found an open picnic table under my favorite tree. Gideon spotted a stick he liked, so I settled in to sketch and enjoy the afternoon. The good feeling and good sketching has extended into my week, I'm happy to say, and I made good progress on my current commission today. I'm grateful for such a wonderful group of artist friends to meet up with regularly. It's always good for my work to get out and sketch with other people.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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