I did several oil paintings for my exhibition at Dixon last year (at their urging, since the space was large and needed a few big paintings), but I went straight back to prints afterwards. They have been what I'm really excited about the last eight years or so. This past summer, though, I decided that I really missed the way I used to paint skies. I have struggled to do clouds to my satisfaction in watercolor, so around about June, I declared it my summer of skies. By happenstance, I ended up staying in that magnificent apartment in Paris with a two story window and a huge sky view (unlike my house in Memphis, which is surrounded by trees that have great beauty but also largely block my view of the sky). So I ended up watching the sky a tremendous amount over the summer and painting from windows both front (above) and back (below). Somewhere in that process, I felt an internal pull toward oil paint again, and I did several studies toward the end of the trip specifically thinking of a painting to follow.
For several years as I was starting out, my watercolors were much more line drawings with a splash of color. They didn't have the depth or richness to give me enough information to use them as sources for oil paintings, and I mentally wrote off that use for them. But I have been painting with more layers and richer pigment the last couple of years. I am delighted to have suddenly realized that both my full watercolors and many of my sketch book sketches are now strong enough to let me do paintings from them. Sometimes I write something off in my mind, and then it takes me a while to question that closed door and reassess the situation. Armed with that new perspective, I've been going back through a couple of other Paris journals to see if there are other sketches I might want to paint from. It's been a bit of a balance for me to spend more time in recent years with a sketchbook instead of making "exhibitionable" work. The sketches have pushed me into doing prints I wouldn't otherwise have thought of doing, but if I can also do oils from some of the sketches, that doubles the appeal and helps me feel less self indulgent spending time with my sketch journal instead of doing stand alone watercolors.
Here is a quick oil I started late in the afternoon. I didn't really have time, but I was on a roll and excited, so I ended up diving in. This was a sketch I did at bedtime one night in Paris. I was ready for bed and closing my curtains when I glanced out and saw this view. I had to run downstairs for my paints and sketch it before I went to bed. That place was just magic for me. You can see the sketchbook below sitting on the easel in the background, along with my self portrait watercolor I've also been painting from. I took photos along the way with this one so you could see my progress.
I just about finished the self portrait one yesterday as well. It's a different kind of piece for me, and I really enjoyed branching out into something a little more narrative.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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