It's been an exciting week around here. I worked on a graphic essay about the zoo's land grab for Overton Park's Greensward, the one huge, escape-from-the-city meadow, several years ago. Then the zoo and city backed off, despite the council having handed them several acres of it, and plan to raze about 85 trees and raise the parking lot up level with the meadow so everyone is staring at car bumpers instead of trees and sky. Then, in an underhanded Friday 5pm news dump, they announced they're going ahead with construction anyway. So I updated this essay and sent it off to a couple of publications. They're both in the same publishing family and BOTH decided to use it. I was delighted. You can read the full essay at Memphis Magazine or the Memphis Flyer (our weekly paper).
I'm sad for the reason but delighted to see this essay in print. It was the first graphic essay I had worked on, and I really love the story telling mix of paint and text.
I'd been feeling a little wonky for a few days, so it was nice to get out and go walking and sketching today. "Plein Airpril" is happening on Instagram, and I'm a sucker for a punning, art-themed month (see also "Inktober"), so I jumped in today. I love this sycamore and paint it every so often. I didn't feel like I really locked in today, but it was nice just to get out and work. I decided to change it up and do a real close up once I got in the forest. The mayapples are in full bloom, and I love their sculptural umbrella shapes and shy flowers hiding underneath.
It's gorgeous weather for park visits lately. I took my bike out to Shelby Farms (brown fountain pen plus watercolor) a bit ago, and more recently I took a little bit of time for wildflower sketching (green ink in a brush pen with inktense pencils) on my more regular walk in Overton Park. I'm so grateful for spring after all that awful February weather.
I've been trying something different with my current print. I usually do a square frame for the key block (the usually black one on top) as well as for any colored blocks underneath. Lately I've been doing some trees that are cut out around their forms in a vertical arch background, and I thought it might be fun to see what such an image might look like in a landscape setting. I did the background in a blue/green and then printed the trees on top. I'm quite happy with the results overall. I'll get a better (less rough) version of the blue green block and clean up a bit of the sky, but I like the depth the foreground versus background have, and I'm going to play with this idea again. You can see the layers separately below, along with the tree block trimmed for printing. This is planned to be part of my WAMA show, Feb. 28 to Sept. 4 next year.
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.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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