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.
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've done a motley collection of commissions lately. One from a sketch I did at Anderson's cottage, one of Rowan Oak for a friend who went to college there, and one of the river for a special 80th birthday. It's fun to get to help people celebrate their special moments in this way. I'm doing fewer than I used to, and I most enjoy making the art that is busting to get out of my head, but I do love it when people want to mark an occasion with art.
Very handily, the Memphis Urban Sketchers had their meeting at the Greenbelt park just when I needed to paint the river anyway, so I got to chat with friends while doing this one. So much fun to make art with friends.
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...
There have been some awesome printmaking exhibits around recently. Brooks in Memphis put out their full complement of Durer's Small Passion, which is detailed and delightful. They can only show it every so often since it is fragile and on paper. I think the equation is something like "for every three months it's on show, it has to rest three years" or something like that. I didn't get over as often as I had optimistically planned to, but I did make it several times and spent some quality time sketching in the end. His use of line, like with all wood engraving, is what makes the print. But I was also fascinated by the details -- crucifixion tools lying at the foot of the cross, his signature not flat with the picture plane but in perspective (though he did get his D backwards a couple of times, which thrilled me to see --- even the top drawer printmakers can screw up the backwards bit sometimes!)
I loved the trees and the animals. Several pieces had small dogs in the foreground. I did notice it was the villains of the piece who mostly had dogs (Pilate, Herod, Caiaphus), but I wonder if they simply need the ministrations of dog angels more than the rest of the cast did. I also loved Jesus in his floppy gardening hat with a spade over his shoulder (but the stigmata noticeable). Most of all I loved the Adam and Eve in the garden underneath trees that have a through line down to E.H. Shepherd and with a badger (!) among the animals gathered around. I drew the tree carefully and the figures a bit less so, but I loved spending deep time looking at this one. Walking home, a tree reached out to me and called to be drawn, so I worked on using the character of Durer's lines to describe it (even if far less small and precise).
A second remarkable show is a set of Piranesi etchings at the University of Mississippi art museum. These are in their collection as well. None of the fantasy dungeons, sadly, but still some pretty delightful and whimsical details, like the figures up on the top of this dome with letters floating beside it. The letters, I realized later, corresponded to a list of building parts at the bottom of the print, but even so, their slightly wonky air felt whimsical as well. I also sketched a few decidedly whimsical (that was the word of the day) Mycenean pottery figures. I loved their stripes and happy expressions. I wish local museums would let us work in more than graphite, but the pencil did suit the engravings I was working from, and it felt good to do master copies again, even if only bits and pieces that appealed to me.
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 took a bunch of intentional time off in April, but I've been having trouble reconnecting with my work. So Saturday I happily went along to Memphis Urban Sketchers at Crosstown Concourse, our remodeled old Sears tower. Nicely it was one of the places we meet that I can walk to, which is always a pleasure. Seeing friends was primary, and I had a lovely time sitting on the upstairs terrace and sketching the reflections in the door and chatting with my friend Christina. It felt good to draw with no agenda, and I ended up happy with what I had done.
Afterwards we moved out to the front plaza to watch the fanfare of Puppy Palooza. It was delightful to watch all the dogs go past and sketch the ones that caught my eye. Sketching dogs is sheer joy, and I stayed for lunch and an extended visit at Global Cafe afterwards.
I was on such a roll, and it was such a beautiful day, that I kept my sketching bag with me as I walked Gideon over to the park after I got home. We went around the lake but then found an open picnic table under my favorite tree. Gideon spotted a stick he liked, so I settled in to sketch and enjoy the afternoon. The good feeling and good sketching has extended into my week, I'm happy to say, and I made good progress on my current commission today. I'm grateful for such a wonderful group of artist friends to meet up with regularly. It's always good for my work to get out and sketch with other people.
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.
The story of Emily Sutton was fascinating (and sad) to me. She owned a bordello, and her madam name was Fanny Walker. When the yellow fever epidemic hit Memphis like a brick in the 1870's, she turned her bordello into a hospital and nursed sick patients until she died, while many prosperous people fled the city instead. She was buried at Elmwood with a lovely marker, but the judgemental patriarchal society added not one, not two, but THREE large boundary stones with her madam name in large letters so no one would forget that she was "only" a prostitute. Jerks. You can see Gideon resting his chin on one of those while I sketched her.
My last sketch with the sketchers (Gideon was with me a different day for Emily) was a rapid walnut ink sketch with a dip pen back at the meet-up site waiting for everyone to gather. I'm really enjoying my dip pen lately. And the walnut ink.
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.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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