Well, it's been a crazy start to the year. I had a cold after New Year's and was low energy for a week, then I went down to Ocean Springs for a few days, just to get out because it had been ages, and now Memphis has been snowed in since Sunday. Nuts. I'm so glad I got down to the coast and spent a couple of days fully outdoors before the crazy freeze got here. It was tempting to stay down there, but I figured my 100 year old house needed shepherding through single digit cold.
I've been using the time as an at-home writers retreat and starting a new book. It's been great to have an exciting new project to keep me company, and I got so distracted I forgot to post all of these Ocean Springs sketches. The first morning I made tea and walked down to the beach with a thermos and my sketching things and tried to paint the sunrise. It moves so quickly that I never capture what I hope to, but it was lovely to sit out and try.
Next I decided to drive out to Gautier. I'd never seen Oldfields, the family home of Sissy Grinstead Anderson. She and Walter lived with her parents and the two oldest kids for a few years after his round of serious mental struggles. He did gorgeous work there. The house had fallen into disrepair and is being stabilized and restored by Mississippi Heritage, thankfully. It has a truly glorious live oak tree in the side yard and a view of Horn Island. I was shocked to see a suburb had sprung up around it, but I guess that's not surprising with its bluff view. I sketched the tree (of course!) and a corner of the lovely house.
And while I was on a pilgrimage kick, Mattie Codling the curator at WAMA, suggested I visit the Evergreen Cemetery where the Anderson family is buried. It's a gorgeous old cemetery overlooking the bayou, begun in the middle 1800's, and the family section is lovely with modest flat stones that have matching trees carved into all the Anderson ones, with Sissy (Agnes) having a star instead. She certainly earned it. She raised four children largely on her own and tended to Anderson's legacy after his early death from cancer. Remarkable woman.
It's powerful to visit and sketch the graves of people you admire. I got to sketch Vincent and Theo's graves a few years ago, and I was glad to spend some time here as well. A live oak tree up the hill and keeping watch felt perfect for this artistic, nature loving family.
I’ve been doing a bunch of book work this week since getting the Apple pencil. It’s taken a bit of getting used to, but is so much better than scanning in and cleaning up huge blocks of text. I can also play with it and change sizes, wrap it around images, etc. It feels much more immediate, and while I’m working to keep my handwriting legible, I hope that energy will translate into the book. I see that the pencil somehow migrated in color a bit, but overall I’m getting the hang of things and am grateful for this new tool. This is a double page spread. Georgia and Walter were in the Oxford American essay, but no one who knows me will be surprised to see that I added Constable now that I have a bit more room. He’s my number one influence on work habits and art philosophy, but OA is about Southern culture, so I leaned into American artists for it. I’ve got a few more watercolors and a back cover to do, but I’m getting close. I forget how very much longer all this takes than I think it will, but it’s always worth it to have a book in my hands.
I've got three small prints of Henry (there will likely be more to come) ready to go for this weekend's Dog Days Open Studio Sale. Friday 4-8 for cocktail hour shopping and Saturday 12-5. This year we're at 719 Dickinson, a change of venue from years past, but still in the same neighborhood.
These prints are all on 8x10" paper and are $65 each. It's hard for me to be regimented enough to work on standard sized paper. My old press was 14x22, so I ended up with a lot of prints that size. And I'm always drawn to different shapes. But I know it's simple for people to frame if things are standard, so I'm trying to plan at least some of my smaller pieces to be more regular. My new coastal scene is 11x14", so I've managed it four times this summer. Definitely a record!
This last piece is Shoreline II, a smaller, one block version of print that was in my WAMA show last year. It's actually done from a more recent sketch and is a different shape, but it's the same view looking out from the beach at Ocean Springs, and the color scheme is similar. Instead of using different blocks for different colors, though, I wanted to keep it super simple. Repetitive printing is my least favorite part of the whole process. This block uses four colors and five small rollers to blend the colors on the block. The sky goes from pink at the horizon through grey up into the blue. There's enough space between the pink and the black to use a very small roller for the shoreline itself, and then I can put some gentler strokes into the water with that same roller to get the reflections. It's finicky to print but takes only one session instead of three. It's on 11x14" paper and is $150. I'll have these in the museum shop at WAMA once I get down there in September to deliver them and have a visit, but I'll also have some for the Dog Days sale.
I took my first trip since November last week, back to one of my very favorite places. I spent time in the museum, at the water, at Shearwater pottery, and just sitting and enjoying the breeze playing my banjo. It was deeply good.
One fantastic thing I got to do was go sketch in Anderson's cottage again. With my show last year, I've made friends with the museum staff (and enough with the family that they trust me too), so I can borrow the key and sit in the quiet of that space with extra murals and just sketch. It's a huge honor. Above is part of a half finished mural around the window in Anderson's bathroom, facing the wall of cows above his bathtub. It's faint. These colors are more robust than what's there, but I wanted it to be legible as a sketch.
Anderson couldn't always get permission to do murals. Earlier in his life he was living with his inlaws at Oldfields (the current show is all about that house and the work he made there). His father-in-law was emphatic that no painting on the walls was going to happen, so Anderson used large pieces of paper to make "murals." The piece below is one of those, and I was completely charmed. I sat and sketched it in the museum.
This is the second view I did of the cottage. You can see a smaller mural of two birds. I also loved all the shelves with small treasures, bits of driftwood and shells and stones. I have some of all of this in my own window sills at in bowls at my house, as did Georgia O'Keeffe in her New Mexico home. It reminds me of the "nature collection" my sister and I made with my grandmother growing up, but seeing these artists carry that habit throughout their lives makes me feel a deep kinship with both of them.
My museum lecture at Dixon Gallery and Gardens is today, and I'll be talking about my art heroes and all the things I've learned along the way about making an art centered life. They're between exhibits, so they didn't need me to tie into any particular show, as I did when I talked about the history of plein air painting to go with their Barbizon exhibition some years ago. So I'm going to be self indulgent and talk about all my favorite artists and what I've learned from them in a slight gallop through art history.
I'm also going to talk about taking the time to do small projects for yourself, just because you want to. This was one of mine a couple of summers ago -- a series of tiny prints (I think they're 3x5") of my most formative artists. Constable, of COURSE, on the top left, for painting outdoors and non stop and in his own home places. Walter Anderson underneath him for pretty much all the same reasons plus printmaking. Georgia O'Keeffe for charting her own path and claiming the right to live where and how her muse dictated. And Berthe Morisot for just GOING for it, in an age where women didn't much. And also making her own career against the advice of older, established male artists who leaned heavily on her not to exhibit with those ragtag Impressionists. She was remarkable.
The project fizzled there, and I hadn't even gotten a finished print of Constable until this week, but that also is good. Things you do because you want to but don't have to finish if you don't. The Anderson print made it into my show at WAMA, but the others were just because they sounded like fun.
Sarah Dutton does the marketing for Walter Anderson Museum of Art (she created the entire video about the show I shared earlier), and she kindly took some highly professional photos of my exhibition hanging in their beautiful space. I'm so grateful to have this record of the show, and she also, so generously, took a bunch of me as well. I have a new head shot I'm happy with, and some fun ones in the show itself (though honestly, I should learn to just look in the mirror first and check my shirt/hair/whatever else might be slightly askew -- maybe I'll learn eventually).
Anyway, aren't these lovely??
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.
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'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.
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.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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