The talk at Dixon was amazing. I was honored and thrilled that 70 fantastic people showed up, midweek at lunchtime, to hear me talk about my creative life and influences. I make art on my own in my house most of the time, so getting to go out in public and share the things I love and things I've learned was exciting and greatly fun. I had another hour's worth of conversations on my way out, and I loved hearing people's own experiences or what book or artist they might want to look into after hearing my favorites.
After working hard to put that together and spending the entire next day doing checkup and regular screening tests, I was ready for a couple of slow days. Henry and I took walks, went to the farmers market, had second tea, and spent a lot of time quilting or mending on the sofa and watching some British tv. It was lovely. I'm grateful for the pace of my life that lets me push when I have deadlines but also take time off afterwards. Here are a few sketches I did just to get back into art for pure enjoyment.
The top one is neocolor crayon with watercolor, and the bottom tested two new samples of De Atramentis document ink (waterproof and silky) and the four leaf clover in my classic Diamine water soluble ink that moves and melds with my watercolors. The watersoluble comes in a nice range of colors, but it stays really firm and almost harsh when I paint -- kind of like making your own coloring book. I'll try some more sketches with it, but I think I still love the soluble ink best. I've had fun with the crayons too, and I like the added texture, but I miss line in that top one. It's good to branch out and experiment but sometimes it ends up reinforcing your already favorite things.
and look at paintings I might otherwise have passed by, and I was so glad she could join me on the spur of the moment. I stayed behind to sketch a Grant Wood still life that I've fallen in love with. So unexpected from an artist I mostly know as the American Gothic dude. I love the curve and rich shadows behind the arrangement and the way the flowers reach right out of the frame. I could only use dry media (pencils and watercolor crayons without the water), but I had fun looking at it deeply enough to draw it even if I didn't quite match the lovely colors. (The photo also fails to do them justice.) I want to go back and sketch several more in this show as well.
Henry came home exhausted, as did I, so we snuggled into a fuzzy blanket and watched British tv and chatted with friends on the phone and knitted. A lovely birthday.
I love drawing tea things, and I'm still having a ball using the watercolor crayons as a drawing base under paint. My go to is ink, but the crayons have a fun texture. We had a rainy morning a few days ago, so instead of rushing out to get Henry to his playgroup at the dog park, I sat and enjoyed my tea and did a sketch afterwards. This is my newest teapot, from Potsalot Pottery in New Orleans (though Alex comes up to do the craft fair in Memphis every fall and is one of my closest booth buddies). I love all of his work, but this piece particularly sang to me. He told me he'd studied Japanese potters to get the spout right, and it's a beautifully precise spout (hard to find in handmade pottery). It's paired with a tiny cream pitcher I found in a brocante in Paris and a midcentury Frankoma cup and saucer.
Covid still lifes
I've been slowly recuperating, drinking a TON of water but also a lot of tea, and eating all the beautiful things people have been kind enough to bring me. I couldn't be more grateful for the folks around me. I'm doing very little work, and most of what I'm doing is a commission I have going, so I haven't had a ton to show. But I'm happiest when I'm drawing, so I've done a small series of still lifes, mostly of teapots, sitting on my coffee table while I watch some fun British mysteries on tv.
People have been wonderful. One sister brought me a tiny personal pie for Thanksgiving (in the little enamel dish in the first still life). My other sister mailed me a tea Advent calendar! A different teabag for every day in December, so I'm getting to try lots of new ones. Friends have brought food. I haven't had to cook a dinner in a week and a half. One dear sketching friend came to buy a book and brought me my VERY favorite Muddy's cupcakes. It's the season for Santa Baby ones, chocolate cake with peppermint icing. Another friend bought a different book tonight and brought me chicken soup.
It felt a little scary to be sick and living by myself right at first. Fortunately I wasn't very sick, and the outpouring of people taking the trouble to do kind things for me has truly meant the world.
This last still life is more real life. Instead of just drawing the tea tray, I took on the whole jumble of clutter that is my coffee table. I'd like to say it's because I'm sick and spending most of my time on the sofa, but truthfully the coffee table is usually a jumble of sketching things, books I'm reading, and sewing notions. I added in the new Gingerbread tea tin from Harney and Sons. I finally did a few errands yesterday (I've been driving mostly to the dog park to let Henry run up till now), and I fell for the seasonal display at Fresh Market. It's a quite good tea, and I love a pretty tea tin, so I added it in for one more small happiness to record for the week. This sketch felt a lot like the artist version of a gratitude journal. I've also restarted my practice of a daily gratitude list through this time to help me get out of the doldrums of feeling so exhausted. It's really helped. I haven't done a lot of sketching, but all of it helps. I think I'll try to do more as I go along. It's neat to document whatever is happening in your life, good or bad.
I had a wonderful dinner last night with two favorite art friends, plus Henry. Casablanca beautifully welcomes dogs on their patio, and they're always one of my favorite restaurants. We caught up and talked art and supplies and midlife sleep and travel and shows. It still, after the last couple of years, feels extra special to sit with people and share food and relax in public. It was extra celebratory last night with a birthday party near us. They nicely followed the kindergarten maxim of "bring enough for everyone if you're going to bring it at all" and shared cupcakes with everyone on the deck. Such kindness.
Henry had a ball and made about 15 new friends, especially the waiter who asked me to bring him back soon. We lingered and sketched as the evening lengthened. I was super happy with the Zinnies sketch. I often get too tight with my architecture, and this one was so fun to do. Less successful was my warm up sketch. I'm so out of practice on people that I did NOT do Christina any favors, and I felt bad about that. It's also odd spatially because I wanted both Henry and my friends, but it's a fun record of the evening for me to have in my memories. And I wanted to celebrate their yummy tea as well.
I took a mini break (as the Brits say) to St. Louis this past week. Tower Grove Park has been one of my very favorite places to sketch for years now, and I found a beguiling Airbnb right on the park. It was perfect. A small converted 1920's garage with bead board everywhere, the original doors sliding open and shut to reveal a small private patio, welcoming touches everywhere, and some really nice art. It's called the Rabbit Hole (and I've got a thing about rabbits anyway, location aside), and I will totally be going back.
My first stop, as always, was Ted Drewes frozen custard for my favorite Cindermint with hot fudge on top (not mixed in). I've had a ton of deadlines and commissions lately, and I let myself just do whatever felt good in the moment without scheduling anything. The only thing I was sure about (aside from spending a ton of time in the park as I felt like it) was visiting the St. Louis Art Museum for a contemporary print show. The collection was owned by Hall of Famer Ted Simmons and his artist wife Maryanne Simmons, and it was marvelous. Modern and edgy in places, with a huge variety of both styles and print media. So good to see a huge works on paper show.
I sketched not only in the park (the cypress tree in walnut ink below), but I did two sketches in the Rabbit Hole since I was enjoying the space so much. And, of course, a celebratory one at Ted Drewes.
I have a new studio dog. I've been wanting a black and white dog for a while, just for the graphic deliciousness, and I found a dog in foster care for Memphis Animal Services who is snuggly and loves people and walks well and hangs out next to me while I work. We're having a ball. I'm really grateful. He's nervous being left by his own, which I hope we can lessen over time, but he's a fantastic companion.
Henry has also been encouraging me to get back into more steady sketching, so here are a few scenes of daily life along with Henry.
This month has been so non-stop that I have most of a sketchbook finished and almost no scans done until today. I put snapshots on site up on my social media and sometimes here, but the scans show the sketches so much more clearly. Here are a batch from the beginning of the month when I got to stay in this lovely artist cottage at WAMA. I take down my traveling teapot and electric tea kettle and have breakfast (and lunch and sometimes dinner) on the little balcony. It's a beautiful, peaceful place to stay.
Driving down that trip my art delivery day was February 28. The day before Mardi Gras. So I got to pick up an actual king cake on my way in to town. They are SO much better down on the coast. The Memphis versions I've tried have been very pale imitations, even though we're a good food town overall. So here's my king cake along with my travel teapot. All the essentials.
I admire the artists who do full on collage. I've always felt that mine look more like 4th grade projects. But with this sketchbook, I've been making small movements in a multi-media direction, pasting in bits of ephemera that evoke the moment. The king cake label was one, and this lovely card from a kind friend is another. I got called up to the front of the museum while I was there, and a longtime friend had seen me down there delivering art on fb and actually sent me flowers to celebrate that moment. It meant so much. They sat with me on my little balcony and nodded gently in the back of my hatchback as I drove back home to Memphis.
I always try to draw flowers when I'm lucky enough to get them. They are a gorgeous but ephemeral gift, and having them in my sketchbook helps me remember the moment and the beauty long after the original flowers have faded.
Celebratory tea set
I went to Shearwater Pottery yesterday because I always do when I’m in Ocean Springs. It’s in its third generation of family potters. I was mostly looking for a cream pitcher, since I’d broken one of my favorites recently. But I fell in love with this set. They don’t have a full set very often, and it’s lovely, and I figured I would really enjoy having an “I had a show at WAMA” tea set going forward. Happy memories every time I use it. And it’s lovely. It’s earning its keep this morning by posing while providing tea.
It’s been beautiful to have a couple of slow mornings here. I’m usually walking the crazy puppy at least a couple of blocks before I bring in the paper and make tea. And it’s been a long, intense lead up to delivering this show. So I’m grateful for space where all I have to do is exhale and sketch for pleasure. Or read my
book for pleasure. Or have Second Tea. I’ll be back at work soon, but it’s a beautiful short break. Even though I helped hang Daffodil Season yesterday, I had a slow morning and evening to bracket the day. Deeply good.
My deadline for the last two years happened yesterday when I dropped off art at WAMA. I was delighted to see this sign waiting by the gallery slated for my show. It was huge just to unload the car and see the work here.
I celebrated by going down to the water, wading and sketching on the beach, and having a little actual gulf coast king cake. I always try the Memphis versions and am always disappointed. Driving down here this time of year is a big treat. Here are a few images from yesterday.
I’m having a slow morning today and will go to the museum later to help lay out the graphic essay for the small secondary show.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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