Tower Grove Park is always one of my most inspiring places. It's one of a handful of places that has called to me immediately as an artist and keeps calling me back. I walked and sketched and picnicked and dreamed there last week. I've been on a huge work streak since I got home. I'm working on two new books now, with a third I'm dreaming on about Tower Grove itself, but it makes sense for me to do a Memphis one first. I've had requests for it and know the bookstores here. But sometime I may do a TGP one as well.
In the meantime, here are some of the sketches I did while both enjoying the park and mentally exploring the possibilities.
I went down over the weekend to Ocean Springs to take a painting workshop from the talented and delightful Ellen Langford and also to see my show at WAMA actually on the walls one more time before I go pick up work at the end of the month. It's been such a thrill and a joy to see my work in that space that I've visited and loved for years.
It was a last minute trip, and I couldn't find a reasonable place to stay in town, so I ended up in a tiny cabin about 20 minutes away from the museum with a meadow of pines at my front door. I love being able to just walk around town, but this was a lovely and peaceful spot, and I did a couple of sketches Saturday morning, drinking my tea on the porch and warming up for the workshop to come.
I ended the day at Tom's Extreme Pizzeria, which has an excellent seafood pizza and which also has roosters roaming around the property. Since I'm still only eating outdoors, Ricky was my dinner companion for the evening. He hung out on the back of the bench next to me for most of my meal, crowing at intervals and watching the world. He was a great model. Near the end of the meal, a girl across from me coaxed him down to take some food, and I sketched the two of them together very quickly. I need to get back out in public and draw more figures again. I've gotten very rusty through the pandemic.
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.
The skies were amazing at the beach, and I so enjoyed sitting out under the sky and seeing the whole dome of sky there. I love our huge, hardwood forest in my neighborhood, but it does mean that I only see bits of sky at a time.
I had my big, fat, water soluble, graphite crayon with me, and it was pretty perfect for working after dark with just it and a water brush. No colors to try to decipher in the dark. It was fun to just put down a few impressions of the sky and the full moon.
My favorite place on Dauphin Island, along with my upstairs balcony for the evenings under the sky, was the Bird Sanctuary. My sister and I cycled down to see it, and I took my sketching things along. It was gorgeous. A lovely variety of landscapes, from a lake with water lilies and a resident alligator to beach to pine forest. I had a ball sketching, though it was slightly disconcerting at first to sketch with an alligator gliding directly underneath the dock I was sitting on.
The pine trees above were at the fringe of the beach. I always love a beach that has trees as well as sand. A perfect combination. Below are two different takes on the lily pond lake. I did the one with more sky first and then circled around at the end to do a second one with more emphasis on the water. It got a little overworked and lost the looseness of the first one, but there are things I really like about both of them. I'm in the middle of Mad Enchantment by Ross King, a book about Monet's creation of his late, huge waterlily paintings, and it was fun to get to paint my own thinking of his.
I also did a little bit of dip pen drawing. I'd used the pen for the green ink on the other sketches, but for these I just left them at the line stage. The pine trees reminded me of Walter Anderson, so I was surrounded by art heroes as I worked.
I took a week last week to go to Dauphin Island with my sisters and their families. We rented a house just off the beach and hung out and read and took naps and walked and rode our bikes. It was marvelous. One of the best things for me was the upstairs balcony in the evenings. It was too sunny during the day, but I sat up there for a while most evenings and watched the sky. Memphis is into the season of largely flat skies for summer, but at the coast, the air is so variable that the clouds are spectacular. It was super windy, and there were only three days of the week I could really paint outside at all, but I enjoyed them. And I loved watching the pelicans fly past me up on that high balcony.
I also took my sketchbook down, one of the still(ish) days to the beach at the western end of the island, where there was just sand and dunes instead of houses built out blocking the beach every so often on piers. It was unaccountably soft for walking -- there seemed to be no packed down part at the water's edge. But the views were lovely to sketch.
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.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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