Bard Cole of WKNO, our local PBS station, has done a series of nature videos this summer and fall. We both walk daily in the same park and forest, and several of the shorts feature the Old Forest. I was thrilled he asked me to do one with him, and we took advantage of a lovely day on Monday to go walking, sketching, and talking. Bard has a beautiful way with a camera, and if I had worn a better shirt, it would have been a thoroughly beautiful occasion. Sadly I didn't really consider sitting hunched over to draw. It looked ok standing up, so I walked out wearing it, but that's pretty true to life. I don't often think too hard about what I'm wearing, and I certainly don't pay much attention to anything else when I'm painting. Berthe Morisot's mother worried about her not getting a husband because of the fierce face she made when she painted. It's hard to make art and look presentable at the same time.
The sketch itself isn't my best. Bard did a slow circular crawl around me as I worked, and I ended up overworking it a bit while we talked. It's hard not to be self conscious about sketching on camera. But I loved the conversation we had, and I'm so grateful to get the chance to talk about the place that continues to be the very heart of my work. Watch the rest of the shorts here. I love the one about the birder. Bard's camera work is exquisite.
One of my important preparations for staying home a while was to stock up on sketchbooks. I was out of two different kinds of bigger ones, and I also wanted to support The Art Center, a fantastic local art supply store that is central to my life. I’m still really excited about my WAMA exhibition (and very grateful it’s scheduled for two years out with the way the world is going!), but I’m also having trouble focusing on that work. I’ve been working on my first large sized print (18x24”, my biggest ever), and it’s incredibly complex. My brain hurts, and I have been reluctant, in a way that is not at all normal for me, to sit down and carve. Art is usually a haven for me, and I’m remarkably lucky that my daily life is largely intact — I work at home and live with a great dog in a stable, welcoming space. I can still take walks and bike rides in the park and holler at friends from a safe distance. I’m remarkably lucky, but even so I’m struggling to digest the way the world has turned on a dime in the period of a week or two.
So yesterday, after a little work on the block, I decided to pull back and make cheerful art. My sister started the semester in a drawing class, which we’ve had fun talking about over the last few months. I haven’t sketched with waterproof ink in a long time, but I was recommending she try some pen sketches with washes of color. This is how I started in watercolor, but then I got more serious about the paint and minimized my lines to either more subtle fountain pen ink, that melds with the paint, or pencil. I decided it was time to play a little more and do some colorful, cheerful sketches of my daily life during these times.
Urban sketchers, known for sitting out on the sidewalk and doing “reportage drawing” from life, has a new hashtag. #uskathome. Sketchers around the world are shut in their homes and having to find new subjects, drawn from their daily lives. It’s been fascinating to watch these glimpses of quarantine around the world. I should still be able to sketch in the park some, though I’ll definitely be moving further off the trails before settling down. Not everyone is keeping the distance that I feel is safe, and when you’re sitting down with your art supplies spread out, you’re a bit of a sitting duck for what the world sends. I’ve known that for years. It’s usually wonderful to have unexpected conversations, but there are also predatory men who take advantage of the situation. This is a whole different level of threat, so I’ll be careful. But I also want to just document my days and how I’m spending them. Here are the first three drawings in my new journal. They helped. I felt tremendously better going to bed after sketching in the evening.
I was a guest on Memphis on the Mark this week, which was great fun. I've known Mark Jones my whole life, since we both grew up at Idlewild Presbyterian here in Memphis. He's a film maker with a number of movies (including Tennessee Queer, a small town family drama, which uses my house as one of its main sets) and several web series to his credit. His newest venture is an interview show with film makers, artists, and other creatives. I was thrilled to be on. We talked a lot about my printing presses and how they work, for those who are interested in that. And I found out that I talk with animation and apparently need to ask for a clip-on mike instead of a stick-on one. The stick-on one fell down my blouse quite early in the process and can be heard rustling throughout the interview. I'm not ready for prime time yet...
My friend Mark Goshorn Jones was shooting a movie short at the Annesdale Snowden mansion in Memphis not long ago and invited me to sketch on site. I submitted a sketch for my sketch feature in the Daily News, but I stayed a while and had a good time doing several sketches. Here is the full set. I enjoyed the juxtaposition of the cameras and working action with the grand old house.
The segment about me that was filmed by the PBS show Tennessee Crossroads is out and up on You Tube. You can watch the six minute segment at:
I'm always a little stunned at how Southern I sound outside my own head, and occasionally I feel like there's a reason I'm a visual artist instead of a verbal one, but they did a really nice job of putting together an overview of my life, work, and creative philosophy.
And they showed off Mr. Darcy....
The PBS show Tennessee Crossroads came to my house to film me yesterday. They said someone emailed them about me a couple of years ago, and they called out of the blue not long ago. A lovely surprise!
It was fun to sit down and talk about what I do. Mostly I just do things by instinct, more or less, and having to verbalize both my calling and my work methods is always an interesting exercise.
It was also fun just to show what I do. I had up close supervision:
After using the proof press to pull a big print, I also cranked up the 1909 Chandler and Price. It's a natural rock star. I love that it's a treadle instead of motor operated.
Mr. Darcy had fun hanging out with the guys and watching the proceedings. He should make the final cut.
They told me it will likely air around March, but they'll give me a heads up ahead of time, so I'll spread the word.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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