This place --- these trees --- keep calling me. I'm not making any progress on the prints I have in my head yet, but I'm letting them roll around and seeing what develops while I work on several commissions and one "shiny object" (the term for a new project that draws your attention) that has spoken to me since the trees have. Just after a big show goes up is exactly the time to chase shiny objects and see which ones have long term projects. It's exactly the time to be a little ADD in your work, to play, to see what rises to the surface. So here are sketches of trees, and we'll see if the next shiny object even survives long enough to make the blog...
A lot of my sketches over Memorial Day weekend were at Anderson's cottage, with so many thanks to Tony DiFatta of WAMA getting permission for me to go there and spend deep time. I did a smattering of other, quicker sketches. I cycled over to the national seashore several times, which was delightful. It's just a few miles down the coast road (so fun in itself), and there's a great mix of swamp/trees/water. I did the top one in the marsh land as I cycled through. The nifty, bent-double tree caught my eye, and the breeze was stiff enough to keep the no-see-ums away from me, so I seized my opportunity. Next is one from a picnic table right down on the waterfront. Nicely the table is shaded by pine trees that grow right to the water, which is not the kind of shelter you end up getting at a more traditional beach.
One of the mornings I had slept really well and got myself up and out and down to the waterfront for the sunrise. I watched the pelicans and the morning light and did some super quick sketching with an ink brush pen.
Last I sketched my glass of wine from my crab cakes dinner at Maison de Lu, easily my favorite restaurant down there. I treated myself to one lovely dinner out for my weekend of workshop teaching. Several days after returning home, I dug out my coronation teacup (and George VI coronation spoon) to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee, and I've been using them all weekend. I think my mom would approve. We were raised on BBC and British history.
I made a flying trip to Ocean Springs again recently and stopped to see Faulkner's home at Rowan Oak in Oxford, MS, on the way back. I hadn't been since I was a teenager and was struck by both the beauty and the lasting imprint of Faulkner's personality on the place. It was given to the adjacent University of Mississippi by his daughter, so all the original furnishings are in place, along with some well told stories in the individual rooms. I loved his study with the typewriter he used, the fan that blew papers off his desk, and the outline of a story written around the wall once the fan had blown his outline around one too many times. I tape things up on my wall to look at all the time in my work, so I felt a kinship to that approach.
But the thing that really grabbed me, as always, was the TREES. They called so loud that I went back down the next week to walk the forest path next to the house (leading, beautifully, to the university art museum) and to draw the trees I'd been thinking about. It was good to spend more unhurried time, check out the exhibitions at the museum, poke around in Square Books, and visit Faulkner's grave at the local cemetery. With my show up at WAMA, it's nice to have a new thread of art to start dreaming on, and we'll see what comes from these trees. My last few prints for WAMA had moved from water back to trees, so this feels like a lovely continuity to where my muse had been leading me already.
This last sketch is the last page in my sketchbook, and it has my Ohr museum sticker from down on the coast. I love to put those entry stickers from various museums right at the front or back of my sketchbooks. this tree just happened to need the one half page, so I went ahead and worked around the sticker that was already there.
I’m giving myself some vacation time this month after all the craziness but am also working slowly on this new print. I sketched after sunset one evening during my opening week. The family all walked down to enjoy the beach, but I got there first with my sketchbook to wait for them. You can see from the sketch on top that I need to lighten the pink and purple both, by a lot, and I’m keeping on carving on the blue block. I’ll whittle down those large blue splotches to more pattern. But I’m pleased with where it’s (slowly) headed.
Here it is with the third block that has both black and blue on it.
Here is the final batch of sketches from my opening weekend at Walter Anderson Museum of Art. Beautifully my family stayed Wednesday to Monday, so I had some lovely long days to both visit and sketch. (My sister did say that if I'd had a show in, say, Omaha, they might not have stayed as long, but she was delighted to have most of a week at the coast.) Above is a quick post-sunset sketch done in the half dark that I'm not making a print from.
Next is the dinner I had with two artist friends. It was Melissa's actual birthday, but we pooled our celebrations and had a wonderful time catching up and talking about the business of having an art life, navigating self employment, keeping some time for yourself, taxes, and all the fun stuff... But I love talking to other creatives, and it was a wonderful evening that set the tone for the whole week. I also love being out with other people who pull their sketchbooks out with joy and abandon.
Next I noticed the moon walking home from dinner with the family a different evening. I was transfixed, grabbed my sketching stuff, and did this quick piece with a fat, water-soluble graphite crayon and some watercolor on top in near darkness. Hence the simple colors.
Finally the last day, my sister, her husband, and I cycled out the coast road to the Davis Natural Area. We took a breather at a picnic table right on the shore. I love that trees are right along the water line in so many places. Two of my favorite things. We poked around, did a shortish hike, and I made one more visit to the museum before heading home.
I celebrated delivering my new show by sketching lots and also buying a new "I HAD A SHOW AT WAMA" tea set that will forever hold these happy memories for me. I had gone to Shearwater Pottery just looking for a cream pitcher, since I'd recently broken one of my favorites. But of course I ended up with a teapot too. Actually not "of course" -- teapots are hard to make, and they don't always have them in stock. This blue/green/grey glaze was so gorgeous I couldn't resist. In an added bonus, when I got it home, I found that my new favorite tea infuser fits EXACTLY into the hole with the lid going just inside it, so it's my easiest to use teapot of all the ones I now have. (Lots of them, sadly, are too narrow for my infuser, so I use them less than I used to, but I do still rotate through them for joy.).
Speaking of joy, they got my show up on the walls before I left, so I sat in the gallery and did a celebratory sketch of it. So much joy.
I also sketched this tall tree that I've been wanting to do a print of. It's good to have sketches as well as just photos to work from, though both are helpful in different ways, especially for more detailed subjects. And I'm adding in a second vertical that I did at my opening weekend to balance it out. My mom's three best friends have shown up for me at all the truly important passages of my life, acting as her proxies. They couldn't be at the museum in person, but they sent these gorgeous flowers to mark the occasion, and I couldn't be more grateful.
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.
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.
I drove down to Ocean Springs last week to meet with the curator, decide on the final pieces, and lay out my exhibition that opens in March. The nice thing about prints instead of large canvases is that I can take proofs of everything. We dumped them all out on the floor, laid them out, and moved them around in the actual exhibition space. It was thrilling to see it come together in a space with four doorways through to Anderson’s own work, visible in all directions. And it was deeply satisfying to see the whole body of work as a set after two full years of work on it. I had just the right number of pieces, which is a great feeling. The space was bigger than I remember (which is always how it happens). Prints are so detailed and take so much time for each piece that I had been wondering halfway through if I would have enough work. It was great to have the long lead time to make this show the best work I can muster for such a special place.
Now I have a nice couple of months for framing, which is good, because I’ve got 21 pieces to frame, easily double the number I’ve done before for any show. I have three more commissions to finish, and then I’m going to give myself some actual time off during the holidays before I start framing. I’ve done that successfully the last couple of years after several years of scrambling right up to Christmas. I’m looking forward to some down time after all the deadlines, but I’m so grateful for the work I’m doing these days.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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