I’ve actually lost track of how many house portraits and other commissions I’ve done this season. It’s been lovely that folks want to give art, since none of my shows happened this year, and it means a lot to help people make this year stand out. I love getting to memorialize special places for folks. Over the years I’ve done houses people live in, houses from their childhoods, vacation houses, houses they’re letting go of to downsize, spots where they had first dates or got married or more wild places outdoors that mean a lot to them. It’s an honor to get to help people mark their transitions or celebrate milestones. One person teared up picking a painting up recently. I love that art can mean so much to people.
I’ve been really quiet lately online since I can’t actually show any of these commissions. They’re all surprise paintings for the holidays, but here are a few close ups that won’t be enough to tip anyone off. I’ve got one more to do, and then I’m going to take a week’s vacation or so. Which may mean that I start making the art that’s been in my head lately that I haven’t had time to get to, but that’s always part of my celebration after a show or a holiday season. I’ll also be reading some of the books I’ve been buying from Burkes, my favorite local bookstore. They have a curbside service, and they’re close enough to bike to on nice days, which makes a lovely outing. I have new yarn for a new project, an ongoing quilt, and a good dog who sleeps on my feet on the sofa. So I’ll be taking it a little easier and having a quiet, cosy holiday. I hope all of you have good ways to celebrate this year in spite of all the craziness. Be kind to yourselves and spread it around a little as you can. I figure some recharging on the couch with give me a little more bandwidth to do some of that myself.
I'm chasing my tail at the moment shipping books and doing commissions for Christmas, but I did do a sketch the other evening sitting by the fireplace. I've got out some of my Grandmother's madonnas for the season, tucked in amongst the family photos over the fireplace, and Mr. Darcy was on the rug in front of me, so I did a double sketch. It was peaceful and happy. I'm grateful that people want art for Christmas, and I will also celebrate getting back to doing a bit more sketching for myself and prints for my WAMA show once we get past the holidays.
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.
I've been loving the forest sketching lately with all the autumn colors and swirly vines, but it's a little socked in. Walking home from the forest the other day, I saw this sky and had to stop and paint a big wide open sweep. Such fun.
Bard Cole of WKNO, our local PBS station, has done a series of nature videos this summer and fall. We both walk daily in the same park and forest, and several of the shorts feature the Old Forest. I was thrilled he asked me to do one with him, and we took advantage of a lovely day on Monday to go walking, sketching, and talking. Bard has a beautiful way with a camera, and if I had worn a better shirt, it would have been a thoroughly beautiful occasion. Sadly I didn't really consider sitting hunched over to draw. It looked ok standing up, so I walked out wearing it, but that's pretty true to life. I don't often think too hard about what I'm wearing, and I certainly don't pay much attention to anything else when I'm painting. Berthe Morisot's mother worried about her not getting a husband because of the fierce face she made when she painted. It's hard to make art and look presentable at the same time.
The sketch itself isn't my best. Bard did a slow circular crawl around me as I worked, and I ended up overworking it a bit while we talked. It's hard not to be self conscious about sketching on camera. But I loved the conversation we had, and I'm so grateful to get the chance to talk about the place that continues to be the very heart of my work. Watch the rest of the shorts here. I love the one about the birder. Bard's camera work is exquisite.
It's been a kind of stressful week for the country, but the weather was flat out glorious yesterday, and I spent the whole day outside painting. It felt marvelous. I did two journal spreads for myself, one large and one small, and I did two commissions. My house portraits often get a little tight, but this was for a fellow artist, and I let myself play more than usual. I had been loosening up in the forest, and I intentionally went straight on over. Unusually for me, I did the paint first and added the lines after, something I'm trying more of lately to get more motion in my pieces. Houses are easy to get too tight and precise about. I was pleased with the results, and (beautifully) so was she. I love doing paintings for friends. I haven't got permission to share the other one yet (sometimes they're surprise gifts), but I'll post it when I can.
I printed in the morning, sketched in the afternoon, and ordered a hard copy proof of P is for Possum just before dinner, for a rare art trifecta today. I’d been waiting for the chance to order a proof since I uploaded my files on Saturday. I’m using Ingram Spark to self publish. Ingram is a wide reaching company that supplies books to libraries and book stores, and I wanted to support them instead of Amazon for self publishing. They also offer a hardback option, which Amazon doesn’t, but I’d heard nightmare stories about getting the formatting right for them. I did a bunch of research last week, and I was thrilled to get the email today that everything checked out. First try. It’s the small things.
Now that the book is turned in, I’ve been working on printing the blocks I carved this summer while I was away. Today’s theme was green (sounds like Sesame Street!), so I proofed two different blocks and also did layer two of the French Broad River print from several years ago. I’d printed the blue layer before my trip and then gotten sidetracked. Today, since I had green ink mixed and going, I picked the thread back up. Tomorrow I’ll get to proof on top of these gradated color layers with the much more intricately carved key blocks and see what things look like. Seeing it all together for the first time always feels like Christmas.
This afternoon I took my walk with the sketching backpack along and stopped in the Old Forest to sketch. I’ve been pondering more forest prints, and sketching helps me look deeply and think more clearly. We’ll see if anything comes of this, but it felt lovely to take the time to do it.
I've been running a little crazy since I got home, dealing with mail and other things that had been piling up, seeing people I've been missing, and trying hard to get the book published in time for the holidays. I had a whole plan that failed on me, and I'm regrouping. So I haven't sketched much, but I have done a couple. Above is the Shelby Farms dog park, at the east end of the park. I hadn't been there before (further into the park than I've ventured on my bike, and my dog isn't a dog park kind of guy). But it was just around the corner from the vet where I had to leave him several hours, so I took a walk with my sketchbook and did a bit of exploring. If I had a more social dog, it would be a wonderful resource to have available. I see why people drive out from midtown.
I'm also back at my local farmers market with joy. It was lively to have tomatoes, broccoli, fresh flowers, and bread (though that didn't make it in the sketch). I really like the rhythms of Saturday mornings at home, though there certainly things I'm missing about out west as well.
I've been working on P is for Possum non stop this week. My brain hurts from learning about Library of Congress numbers (mine came today!), ISBNs, bar codes, and hardest of all, the formatting needed to actually publish it. Yesterday I reworked every page to the specs at Ingram (margins, space left in the gutter, different color system, etc.) and reworked the cover.
Today I assembled the interior of the book into one file, lettered and did decorations for the spine, if it's big enough to take something (fingers crossed), and ordered the cover template. I've got to letter the LOC number and add it to my publishing info page, but I'm going to wait till tomorrow to assemble the cover (inside and out) into the template. Then hopefully I'll be able to upload it and order a hard copy to make sure all the margins and whatnot are right. When I get that in hand, I'll finalize pricing. I'm reluctant to do that before I see what it actually looks like, though I know I should be taking pre-orders by now. Next time around I'll know a lot more what I'm doing and what I'm getting. I'm a total newbie. My brain hurts, but it's also really exciting.
Burke's Books, Memphis's 145 year old bookstore, is going to carry P is for Possum, and I'm so excited. I know them well enough to ask in advance, and Cheryl, the co-owner, has been really helpful as I finalize the details. Once I have a hard copy in hand, I'll be asking around a at other places too. Burke's has carried my calendars, given me a signing/print sale night for them, and even got in my Book of Common Worship despite it's not being available through their regular suppliers. They are fantastic, and I'm delighted that my first original book will have a home with them. I'm hoping other places that feature Memphis made things will also want to carry it, but Burke's has my heart. I've been cycling down there all year for curbside pick up of books to tide me through this crazy year.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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