I have a time honored tradition of finishing up a deadline/show/business stuff push and wanting to treat myself by doing the creative work I can’t do while I’m doing the business-y stuff. So this week I’m doing small, immediate gratification paintings after doing all the rote printing/scanning/deadline stuff (one round, anyway) for my WAMA show. It feels great to do small pieces with fat paint and just play. I’ve been mining my sketchbooks for images I’d like to play with in a different medium. I love the bright washiness of the watercolors, but it’s been fun to translate them onto small canvases. I’ve had trouble with this in the past trying to make them too big. I often lose the energy of a piece trying to size it up too hard, but these are 8x8” or 9x12”, and I’ve been challenging myself to use brushes a little too big except for the details, and I’m having a really good time.
They’ll be a good fit for my November show of waterscapes at Eclectic Eye. I have a bunch of large paintings for that, and it’s always good to have some smaller sizes too, but mostly I’m doing these because it feels like joy. Which is why I do what I do in the first place. And I’m so grateful for all of that.
I’ll probably do a bit more work on both of these as the base layers dry, which allows me to glaze on top or scumble light colors without them getting dirty in the darker paint. But today I’m easing out early and looking forward to reconnecting with old friends for the first time since I was gone all summer. All of that feels good after the push of last week.
It's been an exciting week around here. I worked on a graphic essay about the zoo's land grab for Overton Park's Greensward, the one huge, escape-from-the-city meadow, several years ago. Then the zoo and city backed off, despite the council having handed them several acres of it, and plan to raze about 85 trees and raise the parking lot up level with the meadow so everyone is staring at car bumpers instead of trees and sky. Then, in an underhanded Friday 5pm news dump, they announced they're going ahead with construction anyway. So I updated this essay and sent it off to a couple of publications. They're both in the same publishing family and BOTH decided to use it. I was delighted. You can read the full essay at Memphis Magazine or the Memphis Flyer (our weekly paper).
I'm sad for the reason but delighted to see this essay in print. It was the first graphic essay I had worked on, and I really love the story telling mix of paint and text.
I've been enjoying being back in my historic neighborhood of Evergreen lately. It's fun to have the mix of houses and buildings that an older neighborhood gets. I've also been taking more walks around blocks looking at houses since Gideon can't go as far, instead of just taking off for the forest and burying myself in it. I've been taking out my sketchbook occasionally to do some quick sketches on walks.
The other day I took my bike over to Victory for service (beautifully I can ride through the park to get there and not have to disassemble it to drive it somewhere in my tiny car). They were so fast that they were done before I even got my gear out and sorted to start sketching, but the day was so lovely I just stayed to sketch before riding home. That water tower is as iconic for Broad as the Sputnik sign at Joe's Wines is for Evergreen. We have such a funky mix of visual treats in Memphis.
These are the quicker, out-on-my-walk sketches with just a brush pen or two and my fat felt tip pen.
This last one is one of my favorite houses. I've done sketches and several prints of it over the years. The gables and arched windows along with that fantastic tree up front keep drawing me back.
Mr. Darcy slept about 20 hours a day for much of his life with me. He'd hang out quietly and let me sketch him often. Gideon is 7 months old and in much more constant motion. He's also solid yellow, so he's a challenge on several different fronts. He finally slept a little while I was still downstairs the other night, and I did a fairly full Inktense pencil sketch of him. Previously I'd only managed the briefest of pen sketches as he moved around.
He's fantastic entertainment. He makes me laugh a ton and is adorable, so very good for facebook snaps. I'll just have to get more practiced at the sketching end of things.
My last day of the trip was Missouri and Arkansas. I stayed at a different park in Missouri than the one I love (full after the last minute delay due to smoke), so I slanted down the state through the Ozarks. The stand out highlight of the trip was a small antique store in Knob Noster, MO, (that name!) that had a commercial kitchen attached and homemade PIE. A brilliant combination. I didn't buy anything permanent, but I did get a strawberry rhubarb pie with some of the best crust I've ever had.
It was a great easing into home, since I've come back to a fantastic exhibition of Wayne Thiebaud's prints and paintings at Dixon. I've been looking forward to this show for months. I went the first week with an artist friend and had such fun comparing our ideas about the work. Yesterday I went back to spend more time with specific pieces I love and do a little sketching. I plan to go at least once a week while it's here. I'm fascinated with how he uses hatching to define spaces instead of outlining all the time (the meringue below, or the man with the paper's shorts. Exquisite.)
One thing I thought about over the summer is how to take the slow down of the last few months back into my home life. Sadly fall is going to be less busy than I'd hoped, given the resurgence of the virus, but I still want to be intentional about giving myself permission to take days off without feeling guilty. I love working in my house and having studio space available right here, but it can be hard to take time off when work is in the next room hovering over your consciousness. Potter Melissa Bridgman, who works harder than about anyone I know, gives herself a weekday sabbath, since weekends get so crazy. I love that, and I plan to implement that for myself. I'd like to use it to do more regular museum visiting, since that really feeds me. Yesterday I took my first weekday off. I went to Dixon to sketch, had a leisurely lunch on the back porch with my journal, banjo, and the Thiebaud catalog, and visited a friend in her yard in the afternoon. It was marvelous. I've got time before WAMA to get my prints in order for the show, and I'm going to enjoy the lead up instead of stressing about it.
I got to Devils Tower, finally busted out of the smoke, and sat outside with a baseball game on the (streamed) radio to keep me company and PAINTED. The previous post was the first batch of these, and here are the rest. They're a mix of my smaller and larger sketchbooks, both of which are square and open out into a landscape format if you go across the page or give you two side by side squares. All of these went across the center crease to be landscape format. The sky was changeable and gorgeous. I also really liked the moment where the golden light raked across the side of the tower (top image).
The final Devils Tower sketch was from inside the camper the next morning in a light rain. I painted it just in time to get half the monument, and it completely disappeared except for the very bottom of the base almost immediately afterwards.
The pink moon rising is the one small sketch I did the next night at Lake Vermillion in South Dakota. It was a long driving day, so I took a walk, talked a while to a lovely solo camper who lives nearby and was giving herself a quiet weekend, and only did this small sketch of a gorgeous moon rising about the treeline behind my camper and away from the lake. It's neat to be able to sit on my sofa, turn on the small reading light, and draw the almost darkness out the window while still seeing what I'm doing on the page.
I take generally the same route home from Washington State -- there are well spaced state parks to stay at, and it's both the shortest and easiest to drive (I-90 across Montana and South Dakota is blissfully traffic free). But it is fun to vary things a little. This year the Keyhole Lake state park in Wyoming was full when I wanted to travel, but I could venture a bit further off I-90 and stay at the Devils Tower KOA instead. It was fantastic. I got a campsite with an unobstructed view, and I sat out at my picnic table and sketched a ton in the evening and a bit more in the morning fog. In fact, I sketched so much that I'll split the sketches into two different posts so things will load more easily.
The first couple of days driving were hard. Lots of smoke and a closed interstate in Montana due to one fire. I generally like to sketch at least a little bit each day of the trip as a mental break from driving, but the air quality was awful, so I just hunkered down in my camper the first night with my air purifier running, and then in a gorgeous guest room of a friend in Bozeman. Julie kindly gave me sanctuary from the heat and terrible air, so I spent an extra day to let a cool front pass across. Then I headed to Devils Tower and had lovely weather to sketch. I was so grateful for that kindness. It made all the difference to the trip. Otherwise I would have been moving across the country at the same rate as the heat and smoke.
These sketches are all in my larger, watercolor specific Handbook journal (an 8" square that opens up to 16" across the fold). The next entry will have sketches from my smaller 5.5" journal. It was my go-to for some years, but I've enjoyed being able to switch back and forth from the larger to smaller size lately.
This seems like the year to do a calendar again. Last year I did P is for Possum instead, and I love having a book. The book grew out of sketches I did to keep myself sane and happy as the world turned on a dime last spring. I needed bright colors and small daily joys to cheer me up. I had a ball with those sketches, and a calendar seems like the perfect way to share that ongoing joy in the small things with everyone else. I hope it brings joy and reminds folks of the daily good things that we can control for ourselves (unlike so much of the world outside).
You can preorder calendars in my online store. They'll print and mail out in September. Choose "local pickup" if you'd like to pick up in person in midtown Memphis, but otherwise please choose the shipping option.
I'm slow getting these scanned in (it's been a somewhat eventful summer), so here is a report on one lovely day taking the ferry out to Friday Harbor in the San Juan islands back in the middle of July. Jude's cousin Liz, an artist and photographer and all around delightful person, was visiting, so it was the three of us. I sketched on the ferry the way I did several years ago. I've been doing passenger seat sketches this summer, and the ferry is about the best version of that -- not as fast flashing past everything, but a kaleidoscope of a changing view. Such fun.
There were many more people in the way of the view in July than there had been in September, but it was still fun. I think my favorite ferry sketch was this simple one done only with green ink in a brush pen.
My last post was about Feature Show Falls, which was indeed a stunning feature (even if the name vaulted me back in time to my Rocky Horror Picture Show days). Almost as stunning, though, were the trees on the trail to get there. Especially this one, growing over a rock. After lunch at the falls, I left the others to explore a little further and came back early to sketch this one. Along the way I did a few other, much quicker sketches, of other gorgeous trees. Sometimes it's fun to just do line gestures and leave the paints in the box.
That original tree was so stunning, and my sketch of it so inadequate to convey its magnificence, that I'm adding a couple of photos from that day as well. The second one is for scale. It was just remarkable.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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