I’ve finally got a full proof of the Shearwater Diptych hanging in my work room. After several weeks it feels great to see it together, even if I’m still working on cleaning it up and considering a few smaller foreground additions. In the evenings I’ve continued to do some sketches of Mr. Darcy, so here are a couple of recent ones. I’m considering one or two for prints, so watch this space. Sometimes it’s nice to have a smaller print or two in progress to switch to when the big ones get a little overwhelming.
I’ve had quite a week. I’m a member of a letterpress sale group on facebook, basically a worldwide classifieds site for letterpress equipment. Which means that usually when I see something interesting, it’s in Belgium. Or Brazil. Or somewhere enough remote from me to make it impractical.
I was beautifully lucky years ago to stumble into a Line-o-scribe proof press when a friend of mine was upgrading. It’s expanded my range and ability exponentially from what I was willing to do rubbing on the back of blocks with a flat wooden spoon. But the press bed is limited to 14x21”, which means if I want any margin at all, I end up cutting the 18x24” blocks I buy down to at least 12x20” and maybe smaller. I just rededicated myself to prints over the new year after spending more of the last year and a half painting. I’ll always likely move between the two, but I do think my most original voice is in prints. And I’ve been longing to do bigger prints. Just before this press floated across my fb feed, I had started a diptych on the old one, to be able to have a larger image and impact, even if it was in two parts.
Then this beauty showed up. It’s a Reynolds Printasign model 40 with a 22x30” bed, a huge upgrade. And it was in Oklahoma City, just a 7 hour drive. So perfect. It also has a self inking system and a custom table with a foot pedal to release the paper gripper. So I drove over Thursday to get it. I’m feeling ridiculously lucky this week.
There’s going to be another learning curve. My brain is really not skilled at mechanical things, and this has a couple of serious differences from the press I’m used to. I’m not sure if I’ll be able to get the inking coverage I really want for my velvety black prints. I may keep hand inking a lot of what I do, but it would be beautiful if I can figure out a way to get that depth without hand inking the plate each time. Repetitive printing is my least favorite part of all of this. I love the designing and carving and tweaking to get the image I want, but once I have it, the rote printing is a chore for me. So fingers crossed.
This press was also made for use with its own type, which rests on rails, so regulation type (.918” for standard North American type) is too short for the inking rollers to even touch. I’ll have to build up the bed to use the type I have. It may be that my old press is better for some of the things I do. But having this size is just amazing, and I’m excited to have it placed in a window with lovely light to work in during the day time. I can’t wait to do a big print for it, though again, I’ll have to go out and find something to lay in the bed and raise the print up to the roller height. That should be easy enough though for a life changing kind of thing.
I played around with it after several really lovely friends helped me move it inside. Here is the first print, a celebration of the press and of this year when all my art ideas seem to be coming beautifully together. You can see that I used the heavy magnets that came with the press to hold the type steady in the bed. They’re not as totally firm as building wood all around it, like a jigsaw, but a lot faster. You can also see that I wasn’t getting a really sold, dark print. This faded look is really cool for some things, but for others I’m going to want something darker.
I was living my best life yesterday, which felt lovely. It was a glorious, warm day in the middle of a rainy winter, and I decided to enjoy it to the full. I worked on the print I’m excited about in the morning (see the bottom photo for a close up — I mostly finished the sky), had lunch, and then went out to enjoy the day. Mr. Darcy and I walked first. I packed my small backpack with sketching gear, so we hung out, painted this glorious curved tree that I walk past daily, and chatted to neighbors as they too got out to bask in the 65 degree weather.
After that I got back on my bike, which has been neglected the last couple of weeks. I did some loops around midtown, enjoying our neighborhoods and looking at the houses, and I stopped at Burke’s Books, Memphis’s 140 year old independent bookstore. Beautifully I happened on a $6 biography of Berthe Morisot. I just ordered a frame my poster from her solo show at the Orsay this past summer, so it was a perfect time to revisit my newest art hero. I looped back through the park for the sheer pleasure of the forest and logged right at 11 miles total. I only learned how to ride a bike this summer, and it has greatly increased my joy. I feel like a kid swooping around. It’s kind of nice to have some pleasures that are delayed to discover along the way.
In the evening I met friends for dinner and a concert by the New Orleans Dirty Dozen Brass Band. So much fun. I’m really grateful for this life I get to live.
I came home from Ocean Springs with three new print ideas in my head. (We’ll see how many look good once they’re actually drawn out on paper.) This was the first I dived into, from my morning quick study looking across from the marina to the Shearwater family complex. I’ve got both blocks drawn and transferred and am in the second (partial) day of carving the left hand one. It’s still going to be a hot minute before I have anything to proof. This is moving pretty slowly, but I’m trying to be really thoughtful and get it right.
Part of my sister’s wedding festivities were in New Orleans, and I just couldn’t get that close without heading to Ocean Springs and the Walter Anderson Museum of Art. I’m a homing pigeon for that place. It was a good choice. I stopped at my favorite antique mall on the way down, spent a lot of the afternoon in the museum, swung through Shearwater Pottery, and was out on the pier for sunset. I forget how elemental water is. I spent at least half an hour just standing and drinking in the sunset, the pelicans skimming right along the surface of the water, and the moon and clouds playing peek-a-boo overhead. I think I grinned ear to ear the whole time. It was a stunning evening. I did a couple of golden hour sketches before enjoying the sunset, one more successful than the other, but sunsets are dicey that way.
The next morning I took my walk by the water and spotted a row of trees looking across the water to Shearwater from the marina (the complex where Anderson’s family lived), so I walked back for my sketchbook. It was cold, but I did a quickish grisaille study for a print — to get the shapes and the black and white.
For those of you who haven’t had the joy of seeing pelicans lately, here is a small bit of joy for you. I’m home and happily working on the print I drew out now.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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