I've been in my 'new' studio for a year now, after moving from a small but delightful space in the convivial South Philly BOK building. I miss the companionship at times but it's great to have a space that is more than twice as big, with two rooms, one for the business side (printers, shipping, etc) and the other for ... whatever I want to do there.
I've added more things on the walls since these pictures were taken, giving it more atmosphere, and have begun to really enjoy the space to create more freely. At first facing the space was a challenge, like the proverbial scary blank page or canvas, but now it feels great to walk in and start to work.
I've just set up a new website to better show the range of my work, which has always focused on drawing and work on paper. I've been busy with my Philly and International Series for some time, but I also make, publish, and exhibit original works and fine art prints from a variety of subjects. A favorite subject has always been Still Life, or as I like to think of them, Domestic Landscapes. The works shown here are from a new series called Pots, Bottles, Jars.
My Philly and International designs, marrying the old - hand drawing on paper - and new - freehand digital color - are a staple of my work, always a joy to create, and I so enjoy sharing them with folks who enjoy having these works and giving them to friends.
But it is great to be working larger, more directly on paper, with ink, pencil, colored pencil, acrylic and watercolor, drawing and painting and seeing what hand, mind, and materials come up with together. www.mmacgregorart.com is the new site, where you'll find new work of various subjects, familiar scenes, older work-on-paper series, For the present it's primarily a portfolio site, though I will add some purchase options soon. For now please use www.macgregor-art.com for purchasing prints and cards.
Paris is always a good idea...
My series of Paris scenes covers a lot of ground, as I myself have done over the years, wandering and sketching this most intriguing city: gardens, parks, neighborhood, famous sites. A gallery of contemporary prints in the 11th arr., Slow Galerie, shows a nice selection of my Paris scenes; I'm hoping to give them this new one of the Pont des Arts, along with a few others, when I'm there this spring.
Here is the original sketch. I thought this would be fairly easy to finish, but it turned out to be more complicated than expected. The Pont des Arts, actually a 'passarelle' (pedestrian bridge) rather than a pont, is an engineering marvel. The superstructure is elegant and sturdy - my challenge was to broach the divide between accurate and fitting for my design. I took some liberties, with apologies to French engineers, who are renowned for their expertise. Here I'm working out a sense of intricate metal lacing while also creating a pattern that contributes to but doesn't dominate the scene.
The Pont des Arts, the first metal bridge in Paris, was famous for a few years as the center of the 'Love Locks' craze. I hated that fad because it was harming the bridge while also detracting from the timeless beauty of the river and the city. The side panels became so weighted down with padlocks (more than 45 tons) that they began to be a public hazard, so the panels were removed and replaced with sheets of plexiglass over the metal structure.
My last stage in a scene is the people, like seasoning for the architecture and landscape. Because my scenes are straight from my sketchbooks, I don't fuss with details - presence and participation in the moment are the important things. There is no shortage of love on the Pont des Arts, never mind the locks. It's a place where your heart skips a beat at all times of day and in all weather, with a lover, a friend, a dog, or by yourself. The beauty of the scene, a favorite place for sunset picnics, musicians, and a million photos, never gets old.
French Market morning
Saturdays mornings are special in Saumur, my town in the Loire Valley of France, when the beloved market spreads out through the town, offering a copious spread of essentials to fill stomachs and kitchens for much of the week to come. In France, a country still defined by proud agricultural traditions, markets offer gifts that define the taste of that month, that week, that season. The scene is repeated all over the country, but some markets are more special than others - Saumur has a great one. I'm getting new scenes ready for a show at a winery in early summer and knew I wanted to include this view of the market along with others from 2021.
Heaped tables of colorful seasonal produce always draw the eye (and cameras) but the constants - roast chicken hot of the spit with potatoes basted in the juices, local honeys and jams, fish and shellfish, sausages, candies, etc., are just as important. My scene focuses on two of these, a very popular patisserie stand (despite several fabulous, well-patronized boulangeries/patisseries in town), and a traveling rotisserie, steaming with rich aromas. The Loire region is famous for many good things - great wine of course, but also goat cheeses, and, especially in the area around Saumur, mushrooms, which benefit from the same caves in the hills that shelter the wines as they age. The local 'mushroom lady', (in her blue hat), is a popular vendor who totes her table and her baskets every week, dispensing her wares to long lines of eager shoppers from about 7 in the morning until the market closes at 1pm.
This was a complicated scene to finish, but fun to 'attend' the market even at a great distance and in the aftermath of an East Coast US snowstorm. You can see by the scarves and jackets that it was getting cooler in Saumur at the time I did the drawing, in late November just before I returned from a 3 month stay. What may not be obvious is that I did the drawing from a window in my house there. For us the market is not just a great weekly happening, it'ss a neighbor on the historic plaza where we live. It's always fun to say a quiet good night to the square on a Friday and wake up to find the market outside on Saturday morning, already bustling by 6 or 7am. My challenges for this scene involved the many colors - the heart and soul of this design - and conveying the range of people busy about their lives. Like most painters in any medium, I rough out my colors, fitting them to the lines in the original drawing, and then go back to refine and correct. Digital painting gives me a great deal of flexibility, but it requires organized thinking to remember, or at least figure out, all the different shades and variations I've used.
Marche St Pierre, Saumur (2022)
I hope you can believe that the finished scene, a riot of color and life, is as full of friendly people, good food, and great spirit as the Saumur Marche itself! I'd love to have comments - let me know what you think!
Ending the year...
No one has to tell anybody that these are weird times. 2020 might have been the worst, when the world shut down and came to know the meaning of 'global pandemic', but 2021 was no picnic, and no one can be sure what 2022 will look like. For a year-end post, in an effort to emphasize the positive, I thought to share some of what I worked on this year. Being an artist can certainly be frustrating at times, but it sticks with one through the tough times as well as the good.
INK BIRDS: my series of small original drawingpaintings, inspired by the birds in my new park-like neighborhood. The birds, and this series, were and are a great source of joy. (available as note card sets)
Travel Sketches - Incredible luck that we managed to squeeze in 3 months in France, between the summer opening of Europe and the slam of Omicron in late 2021. I did plenty of sketching, in the Loire Valley with all its beauty and history, and some in Paris, where I celebrated a birthday and got an idea for a book... Some of the sketches will be finished into colorful scenes (the Hotel de Ville of Saumur in progress at upper left).
FLEURS - additions to my ongoing series of fresh colorful florals, always so much fun to dream up and draw. Available as prints and note card sets
ORIGINAL WORK drawing and painting
Mad Cats - a new series, rich in color and whimsy, of cats with attitude. DrawingPaintings, like the Ink Birds, created on paper with pencil, charcoal, watercolor pencils. Better scans coming soon. I miss having a cat - these guys remind me why. More to come.
Commissions - As the year ends, I'm working on a couple of commissions. Too early to show those, but here are two recent results - a home in France (2021) and a birthday love letter to a favorite Philly place (The Italian Market - 2020) I know my loose, irreverent style is not for everybody but I love it when people appreciate what I do so much that they want a bit of it for their very own. If you have an idea, email me!
Stay tuned for more in 2021. Sign up for my newsletter on the Home page if you'd like to get the latest news straight from me!
Making the Holidays
It's hard to believe that 2021 is the 9th year of my line of Philly Holiday cards. Soon after I began my Philly series, 'Famous Sites & Favorite Places," a retail buyer for my regular cards suggested I make a Holiday card, and I've been grateful to her ever since. Sadly, her shop is no longer in business, but the Holiday cards have picked up steam. They've become a regular part of my life and, from what I hear, many other Philly-loving lives too!
All of the designs start with a b&w sketchbook drawing. In 2018 I chose my quick sketch of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway with the PMA in the distance. I wanted a cheery scene of the Holidays in Center City, along with the chance to celebrate Philly's cultural riches and its International connections in the flags from many countries. I fudged a bit, keeping the trees green under a starry, snowy sky - but the greens work perfectly to complement the reds in my Joy on the Parkway card!
Last year, in the midst of our 2020 locked-in lives, I chose a drawing of Reading Terminal Market. As many of you know, I was a weekly vendor there for a few years, so I know RTM - people and stores - well. Like all of us in 2020 the market was doing its best to keep its spirits up and keep going, so I wanted to celebrate it and send a message of hope and cheer. Although my sketch wasn't done at the Holidays, Bassett's and Market Blooms worked perfectly for a palette of seasonal reds and greens. RTM Festive has been a very popular card!
This year the new card is Billy Penn Holiday, starring the high-flying founder of Philadelphia who stands firmly atop City Hall at the center of his 17th c. creation. City Hall is a magnificent building at all times; at the Holidays, with the skating and the shops and the decorations, it becomes a magnet for fun and cheer and all good seasonal doings. Stay warm up there, Billy Penn, and enjoy the view!
Over the years I've added more Holiday cards and gradually reduced those that focus solely on Christmas In order to celebrate the celebrating of any and all variations of Holiday cheer.
My Philly Holiday cards are available through my website and from selected shops*. There are always eight designs to choose from, with a new card joining seven classics each year. Cards are A6 size and come with white envelopes. Order a mixed set of 5 designs (15 cards - 3 each design) or single design sets of 6 cards. Order now - shipping starts Nov 29. Happy Holidays!
*Look for my Philly cards, Holiday and regular series, at Paper on Pine (Sansom St) and Paper Moon (S 4th St)
I once had a dog I really loved, but I'm much more a cat person. Cats are endlessly fascinating: the way they look, the way they move, their little OCD cat habits. But the best thing about cats is the way they keep secrets. You just know by the look in their weird alien eyes that they are plotting something, and you may not want to find out what it is. At heart they all belong in Alice's Wonderland, charming but bonkers, mad beings in a mad world.
My joy in these drawing/paintings is not just about the cats (though a cat would tell you that should be enough.) All my work involves drawing - hand to paper - but instead of freehand digital coloring, here I'm working with tools I relish. Ink pens, charcoal pencils, watercolor pencils, brush and water: complete freedom in a few sticks, mixed with chance, luck, and lifetime practice - what can be better? My favorite pencils are Faber Castell Albrecht Durer - beautiful rich color that responds perfectly to the touch of a wet brush.
This series is a tribute of sorts to Mad Cat Excellent, Sir Toby, a furry beautiful rescue alien who allowed us into his world for about 14 years - he left us in 2020 at 18. Every cat I draw is at least a little bit about him.
Note: the images of the Mad Cat works are not perfect - I'm away from my studio for a couple of months so am making do with photos instead of high quality scans. I will be back in late November and will then provide better images and information about availability and pricing.
Let me know your thoughts about cats and about my Mad Cats!
I've been a tireless sketcher for most of my life, long before it became a popular thing. If you know my Philly and International series you likely know that all those colorful finished scenes start with free-hand on-site drawings straight from my sketchbooks. Not all the sketches make it to the finish line; there are plenty of outtakes, sketches just for my own pleasure or interest, or ones that don't call for a place in the finished series.
Take a scroll through a few - enjoy them with me.
A cold night in January 2020 - a long awaited chance to visit an empty Mount St Michel in France out of season, with a stop in stony, historic St Malo. We were happy to find this locals' bar, rich in good drinks and camaraderie. Who could know then that Mount St Michel - and everywhere else - would be without tourists for a long time to come.
Sketching - as opposed to finished drawing - should always be loose, spontaneous, in the moment, and happy with unplanned quirks of pen and hand. Below is the kind of sketch I do for my interest in all things art historical - a beautiful 16th c tomb in Nantes Cathedral. The sculptor is the awesome Michel Colombe - not well enough known, but one of the greats. My notes remind that I shorted the sculpture one niche. I took a picture too, of course, but sketching gives me time to drink it in.
Some sketches take a few minutes, some a good deal longer. The longer ones require a seat with a good viewpoint. (what you don't see is the nice lunch and glass of wine) Here's my view of the central square of Brussels, with the grand Hotel de Ville - that one may make a finished International Scene one of these days.
Paris is a sketcher's paradise; somehow every cafe seems to be peopled with the cast of an interesting art film. And who ever could get tired of the Seine and its bridges - here the Pont Neuf and the Vert Galant.
I was a high school art teacher for a long time - one of my mantras was that subject didn't matter. A kitchen counter, a pair of socks; small things are just as worthy of time and attention as a palace or a fashion model. The act of drawing - of seeing - is the magic. My daily housebound sketches in 2020 were as satisfying to draw as any grand scene. See some of them here
To end, one grand, one more comfy. On the left, the facade of the Rouen Cathedral - if you know Monet's Cathedral series this is his subject (his studio was just across the plaza). On the right, a summer day at Spruce Street Harbor Park in Philadelphia, with hammocks and fiber optic lights sprinkled in the trees.
Check out my finished Philly series here
Check out my finished International Series here
I'd love your thoughts! Are you a sketcher? Do you have favorites things and places to sketch? Leave a comment
I've just added an Original Drawings and Paintings page to my website, starting with a feature on a new series I'm calling 'Bird Games.' I'll continue my colorful prints of Philly, Travel Scenes, FLEURS, etc with enthusiasm, but I'll be adding more and more original works on paper.
My love of working on good paper with simple tools - in this case an ink pen and watercolor pencils - goes way back. I've always believed in the conversation approach to art - I have my ideas, but the paper and the materials get to have their say too. In the case of my Game Birds I begin with my characteristic loose ink lines corralled into a grid for a semblance of order, layer pencil colors for a rich background, and give a lighter layer of varied colors on the birds. What brings it all to life is water - careful brushing with a small brush on the background, and swifter, more impulsive flicks and swipes on the birds. I can never be completely sure what will happen until it does (though I have good sense of the possibilities) and am usually delighted with the result. A classic case of the whole becoming more than the sum of its parts. Knowing where to stop is essential.
Who are these birds? If you've seen my INK BIRDS series of cards you know the origin - the idea of birds just stuck with me. Birds are such an interesting meld of wild, cute, sweet, and sort of strange and savage; a bit like people, perhaps. 'Bird Games' - a play on board games and game birds - places birds in a kind of 'everyman' state, where every unconscious tweak of my pen gives a new personality, emotion, attitude. Or maybe that's just my crazy perception. What do you think?
Original Work: Drawings and Paintings
Pricing on request
My ongoing series of FLEURS is getting some new additions. These designs are a delight to create, so I wanted to share some thoughts about them and the steps to finished works. My intention is always 2-sided: having the pleasure of free drawing fresh organic lines and shapes, and making colorful, cheerful images that people - you - will enjoy as prints and cards.
These are the first two of six recent FLEURS line drawings. I always think of drawing as a dance, and never is this more true than with florals. I pull ideas from some kind of reference - living flowers or photos - but add freely from memory and imagination. As here, I like my arrangements to have a base - a pitcher, a vase, a bowl, maybe just a ribbon tie - to bring the exuberance of the flowers to a gentle conclusion.
After I scan the original drawings into my laptop I have free rein to digitally paint them into full color. My painting process, though digital, is as freehand and intuitive as with any other painting medium. I have a wide-ranging palette, with a concentration of favorites. The digital process allows me a truly unlimited world of tints, shades, overlays, and harmonies - all while letting me keep the clean integrity of the drawn line. As you can see, I approached these two drawings slightly differently: on the left I used the yellows of the daffodils as the anchor, while the right has the anchor note in the blue of the pitcher. The background color always comes first, but sometimes as I fill in the color I change that - again, with the digital process I can try out all kinds of variations without having to disturb what is in place and working well.
For the final stages I focus on harmony and contrast, making sure that every detail contributes to the balance and tenor of the composition. The little grape hyacinths in the lower third counterbalance the more assertive forms of the daffodils in the central band, and the slightly fussy decoration of the bowl adds some low key charm supporting the grassy greens at the rim.
For this I chose a closely related palette of bright aqua blues for the small climbing flowers to accent the dominant round forms of the peonies, with a few yellows and light oranges as middle notes. I follow my lines closely but not over exactly, prizing the loose sense of freedom that make the final design alive (but spend a good amount of invisible time at the end cleaning up any sloppy loose ends) People often comment that the loose nature of my work, as well as the colors, is what brings them so much pleasure.
Look for these new designs for purchase as cards and prints on my website and watch for the rest of the new FLEURS coming soon. Also watch for those original freehand drawings to be finished with watercolor, pencil, and gouache - that flexibility is another advantage of the digital process.
Comments are welcomed - let me hear what you think!
Ink Birds - Line and Wash
I moved recently, first my house, then my studio. I didn't go far, only a few miles south of Philadelphia to Wilmington, Delaware, close enough to keep my friends and my Philly loyalty. Some of the differences, however, are significant. I now live in a park. Well, not quite - in an urban neighborhood that is park-like (full of trees) and with an actual park - many more trees and a river - a few steps away. Nature is a welcome new neighbor and birds are now very present in my life. And what a welcome presence they are!
Our window feeder is a front row seat on the comings and goings, the swoops and darts, the pecking, the little spats, the nibbles and gulps, the busy busy life of birds. Late afternoon, especially, is an amazing rush of feathers and calls, all blurred activity and twittering song.
The birds have made a nest in my art too. The first series in my new studio is this flurry of bird life. As always with me, it starts with drawing, here a quick sketchy capture of shape and movement. The ink is water soluble, and I'm pairing it with water soluble colored pencil, a favorite medium that I've used in the past. I'm a great believer in art making as a conversation, letting the medium or tool have a say. With my birds, this approach allows them be a bit wild, untamed, even a little savage. My control only goes so far - I love the freshness of the ink and color as each creature springs to life under my wet brush. Knowing when and how to stop, how best to let the spirit run free, to keep it fresh, even a little messy, is the most important job.
Some of my Ink Birds will be found in a birding guide, but not all - some are pure spirit. But this one, this male cardinal, is a frequent guest at our window feeder. His mate, with her beautiful tawny color and orange beak comes too. They live in a cedar tree behind our house. Sometimes she's shy, so he will pick up food from the feeder and take it to her, feeding her himself. What a guy! As spring moves towards summer we're seeing more takers at our window - the latest is a big blue jay who lands with a thump each time, scaring the many house finches. Keep an eye on my website for more Ink Birds - the sky's the limit (ha ha)
Ink Birds is a series of small paintings. I'm offering them as Note Card sets - single designs and mixed - and am also offering a selection of the originals matted and framed (8 x 10 framed size) Ink Birds are not available as prints. Click here to see the Ink Birds page
Artist/Designer/Illustrator - Drawing is my way to see and think about life in all its dimensions, color, meanings, and pleasures