One of my important preparations for staying home a while was to stock up on sketchbooks. I was out of two different kinds of bigger ones, and I also wanted to support The Art Center, a fantastic local art supply store that is central to my life. I’m still really excited about my WAMA exhibition (and very grateful it’s scheduled for two years out with the way the world is going!), but I’m also having trouble focusing on that work. I’ve been working on my first large sized print (18x24”, my biggest ever), and it’s incredibly complex. My brain hurts, and I have been reluctant, in a way that is not at all normal for me, to sit down and carve. Art is usually a haven for me, and I’m remarkably lucky that my daily life is largely intact — I work at home and live with a great dog in a stable, welcoming space. I can still take walks and bike rides in the park and holler at friends from a safe distance. I’m remarkably lucky, but even so I’m struggling to digest the way the world has turned on a dime in the period of a week or two.
So yesterday, after a little work on the block, I decided to pull back and make cheerful art. My sister started the semester in a drawing class, which we’ve had fun talking about over the last few months. I haven’t sketched with waterproof ink in a long time, but I was recommending she try some pen sketches with washes of color. This is how I started in watercolor, but then I got more serious about the paint and minimized my lines to either more subtle fountain pen ink, that melds with the paint, or pencil. I decided it was time to play a little more and do some colorful, cheerful sketches of my daily life during these times.
Urban sketchers, known for sitting out on the sidewalk and doing “reportage drawing” from life, has a new hashtag. #uskathome. Sketchers around the world are shut in their homes and having to find new subjects, drawn from their daily lives. It’s been fascinating to watch these glimpses of quarantine around the world. I should still be able to sketch in the park some, though I’ll definitely be moving further off the trails before settling down. Not everyone is keeping the distance that I feel is safe, and when you’re sitting down with your art supplies spread out, you’re a bit of a sitting duck for what the world sends. I’ve known that for years. It’s usually wonderful to have unexpected conversations, but there are also predatory men who take advantage of the situation. This is a whole different level of threat, so I’ll be careful. But I also want to just document my days and how I’m spending them. Here are the first three drawings in my new journal. They helped. I felt tremendously better going to bed after sketching in the evening.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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