I celebrated delivering my new show by sketching lots and also buying a new "I HAD A SHOW AT WAMA" tea set that will forever hold these happy memories for me. I had gone to Shearwater Pottery just looking for a cream pitcher, since I'd recently broken one of my favorites. But of course I ended up with a teapot too. Actually not "of course" -- teapots are hard to make, and they don't always have them in stock. This blue/green/grey glaze was so gorgeous I couldn't resist. In an added bonus, when I got it home, I found that my new favorite tea infuser fits EXACTLY into the hole with the lid going just inside it, so it's my easiest to use teapot of all the ones I now have. (Lots of them, sadly, are too narrow for my infuser, so I use them less than I used to, but I do still rotate through them for joy.).
Speaking of joy, they got my show up on the walls before I left, so I sat in the gallery and did a celebratory sketch of it. So much joy.
I also sketched this tall tree that I've been wanting to do a print of. It's good to have sketches as well as just photos to work from, though both are helpful in different ways, especially for more detailed subjects. And I'm adding in a second vertical that I did at my opening weekend to balance it out. My mom's three best friends have shown up for me at all the truly important passages of my life, acting as her proxies. They couldn't be at the museum in person, but they sent these gorgeous flowers to mark the occasion, and I couldn't be more grateful.
This month has been so non-stop that I have most of a sketchbook finished and almost no scans done until today. I put snapshots on site up on my social media and sometimes here, but the scans show the sketches so much more clearly. Here are a batch from the beginning of the month when I got to stay in this lovely artist cottage at WAMA. I take down my traveling teapot and electric tea kettle and have breakfast (and lunch and sometimes dinner) on the little balcony. It's a beautiful, peaceful place to stay.
Driving down that trip my art delivery day was February 28. The day before Mardi Gras. So I got to pick up an actual king cake on my way in to town. They are SO much better down on the coast. The Memphis versions I've tried have been very pale imitations, even though we're a good food town overall. So here's my king cake along with my travel teapot. All the essentials.
I admire the artists who do full on collage. I've always felt that mine look more like 4th grade projects. But with this sketchbook, I've been making small movements in a multi-media direction, pasting in bits of ephemera that evoke the moment. The king cake label was one, and this lovely card from a kind friend is another. I got called up to the front of the museum while I was there, and a longtime friend had seen me down there delivering art on fb and actually sent me flowers to celebrate that moment. It meant so much. They sat with me on my little balcony and nodded gently in the back of my hatchback as I drove back home to Memphis.
I always try to draw flowers when I'm lucky enough to get them. They are a gorgeous but ephemeral gift, and having them in my sketchbook helps me remember the moment and the beauty long after the original flowers have faded.
Y’all. I got this email from WAMA, and seeing my work side by side with Anderson’s made me tear up. I finished putting hardware on the very last framed piece today, and it’s all feeling very real and a little bit overwhelming in the best possible way.
Y'all, WAMA has made a gorgeous website for my exhibition! I couldn't be more pleased. Above is a screenshot of the top of it, but to navigate the images and read all the text about the show and see photos of me working, click here. They are doing a beautiful job on every aspect of this show, and I can't wait to see it hanging in their space. I deliver art on Feb. 28th, and I have 20 of 21 prints framed.
I'm partway through mounting all the pieces (20 watercolors plus text bits) for the separate graphic essay about Mr. Darcy that will hang in a separate space. It's their first time hanging just mounted art instead of framed, their first graphic essay, and their first time hanging in a salon style (a more informal, collage style grouping). I'm so grateful they're trusting me to do this new thing for them. Mattie Codling, the curator, had asked me if I wanted to write a bit of story about Mr. Darcy to go with his print in the show, knowing what a large part of my art making he had been to me. I told her I would love to and that I also had this graphic essay about his last couple of months called Daffodil Season. It doesn't go with the formal print exhibition, but she found a separate space for it in the museum and is diving into this new thing. I have so appreciated her enthusiasm and support in the two years preparing for this show. It will be special to honor Mr. Darcy in this way, and I think anyone who loves and loses a beloved companion will resonate with it. Anderson had a number of animals he spent time with and painted and called familiars, so it's appropriate for his museum to honor these muses.
I’ve been working to get my catalog for the WAMA show in to the printer, and yesterday I picked up the hard copy proof. The reproductions look great, so I’m really excited. I’ve got a few small things to fix over the weekend — it’s always easier for me to see mistakes on paper than on multiple pages on a screen, but I’m really pleased and so glad I decided to put the time in to do this. It’s 32 pages, so the length of a children’s picture book. It won’t be a hefty art book, but it’s a nice size at 10” square, and the plates of the art printed beautifully. It will mean a lot to have a book to remember this show.
My summer project for fun was to do several prints of my art heroes, kind of a household gods series. One of them, of course, was Walter Anderson. The tricky bit, though, was that I was away from my home library, so I googled images of him instead of looking in my books the way I would have done at home. He looked, at least when they were young, strongly like his brother Mac, and Google lied to me and told me a photo of Mac was actually Walter. I did the print on the left, using images from his community center murals to surround the figure, and I was really pleased with the print. Sadly, later the very kind curator at WAMA told me regretfully that I had used the wrong photo from that day. Walter was wearing a pullover instead of a cardigan, and his hair was a little different. Since the family will see the show at the museum, I needed to be more historically accurate. So I carved away the buttons and managed to add some ribbing at the bottom of the sweater in places where the shadows were reaching up. The thing about printmaking is that you can keep taking things away all day. You cut away for the white in the print, and you leave the dark bits. Once you’ve cut away the dark bits, though, you really can’t put them back. I would have handled the throat and neckline differently if I had been starting from scratch. It’s a smallish issue, and likely no one but me will really look at it, but I’m left with a print that is less satisfying to me than the original.
So I’ve done two editions. Once you make noticeable changes to a block you can re-edition it and call it a new print. I printed what turned out to bee 44 good ones of the one on the left with the buttons and wavier hair before I cut more away. The pelican eyes fill up with ink easily (I try to clear them out between each printing), so I threw a few out (which happens with most prints). I’ve set an edition of 100 of the newer one, because it will be for sale in the museum store, and I’ve printed a first good batch of them. But I still think of the first one as Walter too, and if I have one out at home, that’s the one I’ll choose for myself.
I’ve been trimming, signing, and numbering the final prints for the show. I have a first batch of everything even if I haven’t printed the whole number of ones allowed. And I’m starting the long framing process. I’ve never done 21 for a show before, and I’m having to be way more organized than if I’m only doing a few. It would be easy to get confused and cut too many of one board size and not enough of another. So I’ve made myself a checklist. The categories are having the finished print signed and ready (almost all there), having the mat board cut (today’s project, and mostly there), the prints mounted on the mat board, having the Foam core backing cut, having the glass and frame assembled together (held together with a glued in spacer), and having the final framing finished for each piece. It’s going to be a marathon, and my intention is to chip away at it methodically while still holding some time for me to do creative work as well. I don’t turn the show in till late February, so hopefully that will go well. Next I have to clean out some storage racks to hold safely the pieces I’ve framed, because I have an occasionally hyper golden retriever teenager in the house, so my usual method of lining them all up leaning against cabinets in my butler’s pantry is out.
I’ve been enjoying doing some small oil paintings lately, mostly 9x12”, of my morning walk, my recent trip to Ocean Springs, a lovely moonrise. They’re quick and achievable and images that are hanging with me from my daily life. Except for a couple of final print versions still needed, I’ve got my show set for WAMA and my Christmas commissions finished, and it’s fun to just paint for joy a little bit. An added bonus is that they are small and impulse purchase sized, so I’ve sent several off to happy homes, which also feels good. I’d like to keep doing these this coming year as my time allows, maybe have a show of small paintings toward the end of the year.
I just made out my list of goals for myself for the new year. Getting the WAMA show up and framed and hopefully properly celebrated (pandemic allowing) is the biggest thing, but I’m pondering putting together another book, trying to keep sending a monthly email (blog posts are more immediate and fun, but email reaches a different set of folks), I’m working on streamlining my website, and I’ve been asked to do my first public art commission, which I’m very excited about and will be able to share more on later once the ideas get approved and it’s moving forward. I feel so grateful to be making a life doing what I love and surrounded by a host of supportive and kind people who follow along and occasionally buy a painting or book or print. Thank you all of you, and happy new year!
WKNO has a great local show called Checking on the Arts every weekday and often twice. They interview actors, directors, musicians, artists, and anyone putting on arts events locally. I love listening and finding out about things going on around town (especially without the local paper's weekend guide that used to be so good). They're always kind to me and had me on before Christmas to talk about my current show at Eclectic Eye and my upcoming show at WAMA.
I drove down to Ocean Springs last week to meet with the curator, decide on the final pieces, and lay out my exhibition that opens in March. The nice thing about prints instead of large canvases is that I can take proofs of everything. We dumped them all out on the floor, laid them out, and moved them around in the actual exhibition space. It was thrilling to see it come together in a space with four doorways through to Anderson’s own work, visible in all directions. And it was deeply satisfying to see the whole body of work as a set after two full years of work on it. I had just the right number of pieces, which is a great feeling. The space was bigger than I remember (which is always how it happens). Prints are so detailed and take so much time for each piece that I had been wondering halfway through if I would have enough work. It was great to have the long lead time to make this show the best work I can muster for such a special place.
Now I have a nice couple of months for framing, which is good, because I’ve got 21 pieces to frame, easily double the number I’ve done before for any show. I have three more commissions to finish, and then I’m going to give myself some actual time off during the holidays before I start framing. I’ve done that successfully the last couple of years after several years of scrambling right up to Christmas. I’m looking forward to some down time after all the deadlines, but I’m so grateful for the work I’m doing these days.
I ran down to Ocean Springs, Mississippi, to meet with the curator at Walter Anderson Museum of Art to make the final selection for my solo show there next year. This is a career moment for me, and I'm ridiculously excited. It was wonderful to get to lay out all the prints I've been working on for the last two years in the space where my work will be hanging next year.
It was also really wonderful to get away from the deadlines that have been crowding me so hard lately, and to breathe, walk, and sketch again. I hadn't been drawing for myself in more than a week, and it felt so good to dive in. I walked down to the beach for sunset, after checking in at the museum and putting my stuff in my room. I was just in time for sunset, and it was glorious. I did two very quick sketches in the half dark, and after dinner I drew my teapot and the shells I had picked up and a lovely tangerine (?) that was a present from some landscaping workers I had passed on my way to the beach. Really kind.
I also drew (and ate) a lot of good food. I have a friend who says "Always get the pink drink", by which she means to celebrate an occasion with something special. After my meeting the next morning to lay out all the art and finalize the show, I treated myself to a grown up lunch. I sat out on the front porch of Maison de Lu, under the live oaks that line Washington Street, and had a flat out delicious lunch, including a celebratory mango margarita. And then celebratory (and ridiculously good) white chocolate bread pudding. I'm going to have to walk a LOT this coming week to get my equilibrium back.
There was also a French patisserie four blocks from the cottage, which was seriously dangerous. I tended to take an early walk, buy breakfast, take it back to my small balcony, make tea, and enjoy it all.
The weather could not have been more perfect for sitting outside and drinking in all the goodness of the coast. I sat out with my banjo a lot, which I also haven't had time to do much lately. I have several more commissions due soon and some final paperwork for WAMA, but the break was wonderful, and I'm planning to be able to give myself some time off around Christmas. I've done a decent job of that the last couple of years after several of scrambling so hard right up until the day that I couldn't enjoy the family time as much as I wanted to. It feels good to be able to see some time off coming.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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