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.
I celebrated delivering my new show by sketching lots and also buying a new "I HAD A SHOW AT WAMA" tea set that will forever hold these happy memories for me. I had gone to Shearwater Pottery just looking for a cream pitcher, since I'd recently broken one of my favorites. But of course I ended up with a teapot too. Actually not "of course" -- teapots are hard to make, and they don't always have them in stock. This blue/green/grey glaze was so gorgeous I couldn't resist. In an added bonus, when I got it home, I found that my new favorite tea infuser fits EXACTLY into the hole with the lid going just inside it, so it's my easiest to use teapot of all the ones I now have. (Lots of them, sadly, are too narrow for my infuser, so I use them less than I used to, but I do still rotate through them for joy.).
Speaking of joy, they got my show up on the walls before I left, so I sat in the gallery and did a celebratory sketch of it. So much joy.
I also sketched this tall tree that I've been wanting to do a print of. It's good to have sketches as well as just photos to work from, though both are helpful in different ways, especially for more detailed subjects. And I'm adding in a second vertical that I did at my opening weekend to balance it out. My mom's three best friends have shown up for me at all the truly important passages of my life, acting as her proxies. They couldn't be at the museum in person, but they sent these gorgeous flowers to mark the occasion, and I couldn't be more grateful.
I went to Shearwater Pottery yesterday because I always do when I’m in Ocean Springs. It’s in its third generation of family potters. I was mostly looking for a cream pitcher, since I’d broken one of my favorites recently. But I fell in love with this set. They don’t have a full set very often, and it’s lovely, and I figured I would really enjoy having an “I had a show at WAMA” tea set going forward. Happy memories every time I use it. And it’s lovely. It’s earning its keep this morning by posing while providing tea.
It’s been beautiful to have a couple of slow mornings here. I’m usually walking the crazy puppy at least a couple of blocks before I bring in the paper and make tea. And it’s been a long, intense lead up to delivering this show. So I’m grateful for space where all I have to do is exhale and sketch for pleasure. Or read my
book for pleasure. Or have Second Tea. I’ll be back at work soon, but it’s a beautiful short break. Even though I helped hang Daffodil Season yesterday, I had a slow morning and evening to bracket the day. Deeply good.
My deadline for the last two years happened yesterday when I dropped off art at WAMA. I was delighted to see this sign waiting by the gallery slated for my show. It was huge just to unload the car and see the work here.
I celebrated by going down to the water, wading and sketching on the beach, and having a little actual gulf coast king cake. I always try the Memphis versions and am always disappointed. Driving down here this time of year is a big treat. Here are a few images from yesterday.
I’m having a slow morning today and will go to the museum later to help lay out the graphic essay for the small secondary show.
I took a whole day off today and spent the whole day outside. It was glorious. Mid 50's, but sunny and calm, so it was really delightful to be outdoors. I walked Gideon, shopped at the farmers market, walked Gideon, went to Dixon, and walked Gideon again, taking a nice long, poking-around-in-the-forest kind of walk at the end of the day.
Dixon was great. I met up with two of my favorite sketcher friends. We drew for ages and talked in the sunshine, ran into the cafe to get lunch to go, and sat at an outside table, drinking in the sunshine, talking art, cats, dogs, more art, balancing jobs and life, travel, cats again, art again. It was so deeply good. I've really had my head down working to frame and get final prints for the show ever since new year's. It was wonderful to sit in the sun with friends for a long, unhurried time.
I've been enjoying warm days again lately. A couple of times I've worked in the morning (good light on my work table for framing) and then taken off for the afternoon to go to the farm. The daffodils have started blooming, and I love bringing home a big bunch of sunshine. It's a little bittersweet this year to be without Mr. Darcy. We came so much last year for his last season, taking the time to enjoy ourselves together in his favorite place. Gideon is a doll and hilarious, but he and I don't have the history and emotional depth that I had with Mr. Darcy.
On the up side, we're making progress at the farm growing Gideon into an art dog. He usually just swarms me if I sit on the ground, so I've had to tether him to a picnic table at the park and then sit on top of it to sketch. At the farm, there is SO MUCH to smell and explore and get into that he's managed to poke around and let me sit on the ground to draw two times now. Both times he's come eventually to lie beside me but has let me finish the sketch. I hope that familiarity with this routine will add up and eventually transfer into city drawing too. Although the other big wild card will be people and dogs. He gets frenetically excited to see anyone, which will be a challenge if I have all my drawing stuff out. But it's been a nice start.
I haven't sketched outside the last week since Memphis has been living through an ice storm and some pretty cold weather, but here are the last couple of park sketches I did last week before the weather moved in. Hopefully we'll have some nice sketching weather again soon. I know others are more hardcore than I am about sketching outdoors in the cold, but I love summer and the South and have been enjoying my indoor work on my upcoming show while it's been frigid out. Plus we had limbs falling for a couple of days followed by ice raining down from the trees once it started to melt. I'm ok giving myself a pass on all of that.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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