I'm still finding myself completely obsessed with the trees at Faulkner's home Rowan Oak. I took a last minute trip down there recently to sketch before more rain moved into the area and knocked down what was left of the trees. I poked around Square Books, had a quick picnic on the grounds, and roamed around with both my camera and sketchbook for several hours. I'm deeply grateful I did, because Covid finally caught up with me, and I'll be holed up solo here for a good while before it's safe for me to be around other people again. So I'm watching a bunch of guilt free BBC television and drawing out new prints in my lap. It's so good to have an absorbing project and a pile of good books.
I'm not managing to sketch every day with a house full of guests lately, but I do enjoy the reminder by inktober to pull out my pen and brush pen during my daily rounds. So here are two Overton Park sketches and one Henry sketch. Both a dog and a dog walk are part of my ongoing daily happiness and well worth celebrating in my sketchbook.
I've been visiting some of my very favorite spots lately, and Inktober has given me an added nudge to sketch while I was making the rounds. I took some art to the Dixon sale (it's ALWAYS an honor to get to hang work on their walls), and I sketched both the Rodin out front and my favorite statue Circe. The next day I was having chai at Cafe Eclectic on the deck on a lovely day and took time to do a quick sketch there too.
Finally I did a flying trip to St. Louis and Tower Grove Park. I'd hoped to go for the whole weekend, but the wheels fell off the bus last week, so I ended up driving up Sunday morning, walking through the lovely Shaw Art Fair, and that evening doing a small book/music/art event with my friend Amanda Doyle, who has just written a huge, gorgeous book about the history of Tower Grove.
Monday I drove home, but I took a walk and did a couple of quick sketches in the park before I left. I'm dying to get back up there and do more work in the park, but my month of October is pretty spoken for, so we'll have to see how the later fall goes weather-wise.
Then I went to the museum and sketched some more. They'd put a beautiful wooden chair in the gallery, and I've always liked my work combined with wooden furniture or sculpture, and I wanted to mark its being there one more time. Drawing for me is a way to savor things.
I stayed at a small cabin right on the bayou with a wonderful breeze off the water. I sat out both evenings and watched the crescent moon set over the live oak trees. The second evening I had just one more page left in my sketchbook, and it seemed to be a perfect way to end the exhibition and the summer both by finishing the book right on the cusp of Labor Day weekend. I drew the moon in the half dark and didn't get all the colors quite right since I'm using a new palette I'm still learning my way around, but that also adds some energy and life to a sketch that might otherwise have been too one tone.
Friday Mattie wrapped the work as I packed the car, and I drove it back to Memphis. I'm sad for the show to be down but so grateful I had it, and so grateful also for the friendships I made at WAMA. They're going to keep having my prints and books in the museum store, which is wonderful, and it will also give me an excellent excuse to pop down to the coast fairly regularly. I'm still feeling the afterglow of this whole wonderful experience.
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.
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.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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