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.
I'm still carrying my sketchbook every day on my early dog walk. Mr. Darcy is feeling the heat, so sometimes I sketch to give him a breather, sometimes I see a bird I want to try to capture, sometimes something just catches my eye, like the first one above. I used up all my ink on that one, so now I need to refill my pens before tomorrow.
The book work has slowed down (and the journal work almost disappeared) as I've been trying to get the final layout/extra pages/last few letters done, and as I've started scanning in and cleaning up (mostly letters that got out of hand in thick fountain pen on bumpy watercolor paper). I'll have to do yet more digital work to put each on on exactly the right size file and make sure there's enough border and also make sure than ones like this with a little overlap will meet up in the right places. Definitely the less fun part to come. But I'm really excited and have drawn out all the pages now, with only three plus covers to color. It's coming. My printer is getting me proofs on the paper he intends to use, and then I'll just have to dive into the scanning more intensely.
About all that's going on over here right now is sketching in the forest on my morning walks and work on the forest ABC book from those sketches (and a bunch of old ones). I've also had a quieter weekend, visiting with my dad and a couple of friends from safe distances. I'm hoping to wind up the artwork for the book quite soon, and then I'll have to figure out all the digital stuff -- get the scans the right size, obtain an ISBN number, and all the less fun but still satisfying stuff.
Here's a shot of my back porch table (where I've been working except a handful of the hottest days, because the full summer heat makes me want to stop working and nap) with the line drawings for the book in the center surrounded by a host of older sketches I'm using for reference. I'm grateful for all the years of forest sketching I have in old books. It's proved more valuable than I dreamed.
And here's one more pair of recent morning sketches with my newish Sailor fude fountain pen that I'm still really enjoying. It's what I'm using for the book as well.
My Quarantine Journal is taking a serious back seat the last couple of weeks to this book project, but I figure it's always good to go with the thing that's strongly calling your name (unless you're on a different kind of deadline). It's good to be able to ride a bit of momentum on a project too. I'm having a lot of fun with this book and simultaneously trying to figure out how to push it on out into the world once I'm done. It's so local that I'll likely self publish, but I'm exploring a few options at the moment. It feels like a lot of years' worth of sketching in the forest have really come together all at once in my head. I'm grateful for the gift of that, unexpected and lovely.
I had a funghi kind of morning on my walk today. I caught a brief glimpse of the owl hunting as I walked (I heard the ruckus of the smaller birds trying to drive her off) but the fungi held still and posed for me today. I’m testing out the 55 degree angle Sailor fude pen. I’ve been using the 40 degree one, and this one feels very different. Thicker lines overall, but I can get the thinner ones if I concentrate. I also found out today that the Noodler’s permanent ink, which is supposed to be water fast to use with paint on top of, has a longer drying time that my fast sketching allows for. I got a bit of bleed when I moved straight onto watercolor. It’s doing great for the book project where I’m leaving it to cure overnight, but less great for sketching in the field where I don’t want to sit around and wait for the mosquitoes to find me.
I was supposed to go teach a workshop for the art guild in Mountain View, Arkansas, this month. I went last year and had a great time with the marvelous folks there, and they had been kind enough to invite me back. Obviously that's not happening anytime soon, and I've been thinking about that group on my morning walks lately. I decided to put up a new page on my website about the pen I've discovered this spring, how I'm using it, and a couple of different sketching projects that have been saving my sanity. All of that is on the page Sketching Tools if anyone else would like to play along. Sketching is a great way to notice new things in familiar surroundings as well as find new delight in those same places, something we all need at the moment.
I lived the first 15 years in this house without a screened in porch, and mosquitoes in Memphis are pretty fierce. A decade ago I finally tacked one on to the back of the house, just off the kitchen. The space was pretty small, so it contains a table and two chairs plus a one person hammock chair, and that's really all it can manage. But it has a blue ceiling, a ceiling fan, and lots of birdsong.
With the stay at home spring and my new-found fascination with birds, I've been eating more and more meals out there through the temperate part of the year. Sometimes it feels like a lot of trouble to carry things out, but I never regret it. Now I've got this new illustration project going, and, unlike my printing, it's beautifully portable. I've carried stacks of sketchbooks, my ipad, and my paints outside, and I've been spending all day making art on my porch. It's a delight. Yesterday, after my brain had shut off for serious work, I decided I wanted to put this period in my Quarantine Journal. The sketch isn't my best, but it does show you the chaotic, colorful process of illustration. The stack of sketchbooks are to look back at on-site sketches from the forest, done over years, to refresh my memory and keep the book vivid. I'm having a ball working on this project.
I've really been enjoying carrying a sketchbook and my Sailor fude fountain pen on my morning walks in the park. I'm mostly sketching the forest, but the above right is the newly closed, much lamented Memphis College of Art, where I took a couple of classes on printmaking that changed the trajectory of my career.
Today I saw a bunny skipping across the path in front of me. He didn't stay around for me to sketch, but I got my book out immediately, drew him from that image in my mind, and drew the path in front of me as well. Later in the walk I followed the owl around the forest, though again in fleeting ways. I wrote down the experience so I'd have it in the place where I'm recording these forest impressions this spring.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
Get occasional studio email updates.