We've had some crazy freaking weather in Memphis lately. It was single digits overnight for about four nights, under freezing for a nine day stretch, tying a 1940's record. Really cold. Not my favorite. But I did take advantage of the situation to do some snow sketches that Memphis sketchers don't usually (thankfully) get the chance to do. The top one was done sitting inside looking out my front door with a lap blanket in my lap, but still a pretty quick sketch. The black and white tree sketches were done very quickly standing up in the park with a big, fat, water-soluble graphite crayon, and I added a little wash with my portable water brush. The bottom one was also quick and standing up, but with some watercolor added. Journal text back at home with a cup of tea.
I've been taking Mr. Darcy to the farm a lot lately. His cancer has come back, so we're on a farm trips and extra chicken regime. He's still feeling good at this point, so I'm going to enjoy everything we get.
I painted out here daily when I started my art career, back when I was doing large scale pastels and carrying a box easel. I felt like I really did all the art I could see for a while, but it's been good to revisit it with a completely different medium after some time has passed. I'm really enjoying our sketching getaways, and Mr. Darcy is too.
I finally made it to the virtual Memphis Urban Sketchers, and it was fun to catch up with friends I haven't seen all year. I sketched the daffodils I brought home from the farm while we were talking.
I did this sketch a couple of years ago, fast and loose, and it's kept calling to me. I decided to try it as a print even though it's not my usual format. I've gotten this far. It has too much "noise", the traces left of the carving. I always leave a bit more than I think I really want because you can take more away, but you can't put it back in again. Conservative carving is the way to go. I played with it in photoshop a bit just to thin it out more and see which version I prefer. I'm trying to decide now. Sometimes I need to sit with things a while.
I’ve been slowly working on the element of these trees lately. I had the tree on the right first, then the background, and then I decided I wanted the tree to have a buddy. Today I printed the first batch of both of them. I’m also dreaming of a different background —- maybe daytime with clouds and birds. I’ve done a single, finished image for so long that I’ve really enjoyed playing around with blocks in different ways lately. I got a book about the three generations of Yoshida printmakers, and they often used the same blocks for both a day and a night scene. I’ve been thinking about ways to open up my own process and use blocks in a variety of ways. These are likely for my show at Walter Anderson Museum of Art in 2022. You never know for sure until you get all the work together and see what makes the cut, but I’m feeling encouraged about these.
Here is the first proof (on wrinkled-y newsprint, just to see how it is) of my companion tree for the recent one under the dome of the night sky. I’ll put this tree on the same background, and I may think of different backgrounds for both of them. I’m working towards my show at Walter Anderson Museum of Art, and I had a quote from Anderson in my head as I carved this one: "I took a long walk yesterday afternoon to the east and drew trees -- I like the wandering ones, not the absolute freaks but not just the ordinary healthy ones either." I feel exactly the same way, with a bulbous, burled tree at Overton Park being my absolute favorite one.
Speaking of that tree (in my P is for Possum book as well as in several prints), a friend of mine delighted me by telling me that her young grandson recognized that tree in the book as the same in a print on her wall. She told him it’s my favorite tree, and he’s now pondering what tree is HIS favorite. That is exactly the sort of nature excitement I hoped so spread with the book.
This tree, too, is a long time favorite. My family calls it the Hawk Tree, because hawks roosted there for a number of years. I’ve painted it repeatedly for the last 20 years. It’s good to have images that call to you in different ways across the years. I’ll clean this up a bit and then try it on the nocturne background.
I gave Mr. Darcy another farm treat after his latest treatment. I’d been thinking about this tree and wanting to draw it again. It’s one of the ones I always return to, and just afterwards, I got a four year old memory (second photo) of drawing it from Facebook. I’ve done one small print of it, but I’ve been working on a tree under night sky print, and I’d like a companion to that tree. So I drew this one again, and I started carving it this week. As I type, I realize that I haven’t shared that first tree print here. I’ve been in a spurt of printmaking work ahead of a call with the curator at WAMA to check on the state of my show. She’s delighted with the trees as well as the water prints I’ve been doing, and I feel really good about the direction I’m going now. That’s always a boost before a big show. But I’d been working to get prints far enough along to show her. Here’s the first one. The arch still needs a little smoothing out, but I’m overall really happy with it. This second tree will be in the same scale and will fit the same background, and then I might dream up some alternate backgrounds for them as well.
On a sunny, windy day I took Mr. Darcy out to the country for a Christmas treat. I took my Inktense pencils that I'm still having a ball playing with. We had a great walk, and I found a few strategically sheltered spots to be able to sketch without my pages blowing backwards. I still love pen and watercolor best, but I really am having fun playing with the textures of the water soluble pencils. Unlike watercolor pencils, they have really rich and saturated colors. The greens are lacking, though, so I added green washes from my watercolor kit as I worked, as well as some smooth blue sky.
I actually took a little time off around the holiday from my regular work this year, but I spent a lot of Thanksgiving itself in the forest. We've had a lovely run of warm, sunny thanksgivings, and it's become a tradition for me. My usual family do isn't often on the day, due to scheduling conflicts for other folks, and this year, of course, it was a thoroughly quiet day with Mr. Darcy and me eating by the fire.
I've been doing book work and prints and having trouble getting myself into sketching lately, so I decided to mix things up and try some watercolor pencils. I always want to like them and then don't, but the Inktense (made near the Lake District in England, by Derwent) have a lovely strong color and depth. Local museums won't let me sketch with my water brush and colors the way I can in Europe, and I've been wanting a color medium I can use in museums too. These are fun. They mix line and wash, and I like the colors. I still like fountain pen and watercolor best, but it's good to play. The first one is two colors of green pencil plus water soluble graphite. Then I added pen to the last one of the four, just to see how that was too.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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