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 feel like most of us are having these most weeks. This week has been especially so for me. I had a lovely mother's day visit on the patio with my folks, from a safe distance. Then the baby Cardinals finally hatched. And then they died overnight in the nest, I think from cold. It affected me in an outsized way, although I imagine some of that is just the grief and stress of these times also showing up, and it's not bad to push a little of that out occasionally. Plus Mr. Darcy came over and gave me big sloppy kisses to make me feel better.
I found that I needed to physically turn the page on this page of my sketchbook, so I drew my dinner last night. I've never cooked beets before. Thanks to Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything (which I think is going to be key for my CSA journey), it was super easy, and I've had a couple of truly lovely beet salads with goat cheese and slightly candied walnuts.
Then today was lovely again. I met Dad and Pat at his grandparent's house, my great grandparents, about half a mile from their daughter's (my grandmother's) house where I live now. I never knew my great grandparents, or the house, and it's recently been bought by a lovely woman who is lovingly restoring it and who wants to know the history of the house and of our family as she moves in. It's beyond special to have someone there who wants to know and carry forward those family stories. We've had such a great series of emails over the last week, and it means a tremendous amount. I sat afterwards and sketched the house to have more happiness in my journal from this time. My favorite thing, aside from getting to see the place, was finding out that the sunroom off the main bedroom was called "The Joint" because it was jointly owned by my dad (with his bed there for weekend visits) and his grandfather, who kept his desk in there.
I've never done a CSA before, and for years now I've traveled too much to even consider it. This year, however, I will be staying home, and I'm trying to shop as little as possible. Plus I'm tired of my same cooking, so it seemed like a good idea to branch out, support fantastic local farmers Whitton Farms, and learn to cook some new things. Boy howdy, it's a lot of food for one person though! I can see that I may be sharing some with my folks as we go along, but it's exciting and very beautiful to paint. This week I am going to learn to cook beets (which I usually just buy cooked and ready to go), and I think I'll try my hand at a beet/goat cheese salad. Or feta, depending on whether I can get some goat cheese easily. And I haven't had sweet potatoes in a while. It's good to bust me out of my routines.
I also did a nest sketch. The mama goes off occasionally for short periods, so I sat up on a ladder (inside my kitchen, not near the nest!) to peep down in. It's quite a deep nest, and I'm hoping another egg or two is hidden on the near side that I couldn't see. But it was fun to glimpse the one speckled one. I didn't even know what a cardinal egg looked like. I'm so excited about a baby or two.
It's a glorious day, I got through the Farmers Market early enough to feel safe being there, and I came home with the most beautiful eggs I've ever seen. I sat on the back porch and sketched them, had my lunch, and watched Papa Cardinal chase off a Blue Jay and a mockingbird. I had grand plans to get back to my seagull block this afternoon, but I may take a nap instead.
I'm still doing commissions (and thank you, good people, who want to celebrate your special days with original art!) along with a little slow carving, so nothing except journal to show just now. It's fun to have something quick to do when other projects take longer.
The international Urban Sketchers group has had a challenge going lately to bake something and then sketch it. That got me craving cookies. My baked goods are usually utilitarian -- good but not so pretty. I decided it would be fun to draw the ingredients before starting though, so that's what I did. And I added in the super simple recipe. Since it's got oatmeal as the biggest ingredient, it's got to be almost healthy, right?
I also sketched the book I just finished and really enjoyed. I'm finding that good fiction is what I want just now. City of Girls was great, and I also loved The Other Bennet Sister. I rarely read the Austen fan fiction follow ups, but I heard the author talking on npr and was impressed with her. I also fell in love with a play about Mary that Tennessee Shakespeare did this past Christmas, so I was primed for another investigation of her. The first part ran parallel to Pride and Prejudice, which I didn't like as much, but I felt it got better after it took Mary on her own journey. It definitely took some liberties with several of the characters, and some of the themes felt very 2020 (the research into personal happiness), but the writing was good, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. I was quite sorry to see it end and will now have to come up with another book I look forward to reading as much as this one.
It feels a little silly in April, but I've gotten chilly on damp evenings a few times lately, and I'm ongoingly grateful for these gas logs that bring happiness and coziness to just such days. Mr. Darcy is quite happy about them too.
I've been working on commissions the last few days. It's lovely to have some short term structure to supplement the very long term museum show I'm working on. It's surprisingly happy to cross a finished project off the list. So I took a break from the journal while I worked on a couple of those, but last night it felt good to get back to it. I froze some individual slices of my birthday cake last month when I realized it would be me and a whole cake alone in the house. Last night I got a slice out for after dinner. I'm glad I spread out the enjoyment of it. And so are my jeans.
It's not that I don't ever cook. In fact, I eat at home most of the time and cook chicken for salads/toasted sandwiches, and I have a go-to spinach/black bean/feta recipe that I make a lot. But I've been trying more new things lately, getting tired of my old standbys with no break. The NYT has been running some comfort recipes. My pantry looks as if I don't really cook a lot, so I had to substitute rice for small pasta and swiss chard for kale (better to my mind anyway). I was skeptical as this was cooking, but it ended up really nice and especially good with an egg on the side. So I marked the moment in my journal.
For anyone who would like to try it, I'm writing out the recipe as I did it below.
1 med. yellow onion (or a handful of white onion chopped in my case)
2 tsp. fresh rosemary (this I DID have, right out my door in the new herb bed!)
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1 can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
1 1/2 c. tomatoes (either canned or diced -- I used small ones cut up)
4 c. swiss chard or other greenery
vegetable or chicken stock as needed
cooked rice to add (or pasta, or whatever -- jasmine rice was lovely)
grated cheese for topping (which I forgot, and with the egg didn't need it)
Brown the onion (plus garlic, if you want it), add tomatoes and chickpeas and cook till soft. I probably did 10 minutes. Add rosemary, red pepper flakes. Smash about half the chick peas to thicken the stew. Salt and pepper to taste. Add in rice and swiss chard and wilt down. I added a little vegetable stock at this point to keep it a little liquidish, and I simmered covered for another 5 minutes or so while I cooked the egg.
I intentionally got back to more color today, and it felt really nice. Mr. Darcy and I walked over to the park and sketched Brooks after my bike ride this afternoon.
Today I carved a small version of the pelican block I did several weeks ago. I'd like to be able to do a note card too. I decided it was the right size to just paste on into the journal, so this is mostly sketches but with one real print added in. Print work is more and more what I'm doing these days. Sometime I need to sketch my press, but this was an easy way to add it today. I'd like to get back to more color. This one is very monotone, and color was the primary thing I wanted when I started this. But it does describe my day pretty well.
It was a cold, gray morning today, and I decided to extend my holiday a bit more. I've been needing to mark this moment, since I usually spend it with family and also with a very dear second "Easter family." So I played a lot of music last night, had a little champagne with my farmers market dinner, and today I got out my great grandmother's violets and daisies china that I love and lingered. It felt nice to draw through breakfast, read the paper, and spend some time on the sofa with a new book that came in the mail today from my sister.
Now the sun is out, which helps amazingly, and I'm going to lock into a little more work and a walk this afternoon. But I figure we all need to give ourselves a little self grace these days to be less productive than we might otherwise be. I'm grateful my WAMA show is a good ways off. I'll have plenty of time to do it well and still give myself some half days when I need them.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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