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.
I've got the full Water's Edge show (up through January in Memphis at Eclectic Eye) up with sizes and prices in case you're not local to go see it in person. It feels so good to have several years' worth of oils that I've been working on in a series out in public and hanging up for folks to see. It's been a long period of making art at home with no one to see, though I'm so grateful to everyone who follows along here or on social media. There's just something about having your art "all dressed up" and out on the town that is deeply satisfying. I've got a good range of sizes, including some pretty small, holiday-present sized ones, and they can come down before Christmas if needed. I've been working a lot and have more I can plug in.
If you scroll down from the show, there are some other small, recent oils that are also available. I'm in the midst of a series of deadlines at the moment, but I'm looking forward to doing more small, immediate gratification oils soon. I've got both sketchbook pages and some images from recent morning walks that are calling my name.
I've been working flat out on several corporate commissions this week, so I haven't had time to make any art for public consumption here (though that's a lovely problem to have). Here instead are a couple of small oils from the show at Eclectic Eye that's up in Memphis through January. These two are both 9x12" and $275. I have several small, Christmas present (for someone you really like) sized pieces in the show as well as some of the largest oils I've done in years. It felt good to stretch out to that size again (36x48"), but I've also deeply enjoyed doing the tiny, fast ones either from my sketchbook pages or from my recent morning walks while the memory is fresh. These two are from my summer out west.
My show at Eclectic Eye in midtown Memphis is up. I’ve been working on this series of water centric oil paintings for several years now, and the pandemic interrupted my search for a place to put them out in public. I’m grateful to Eclectic Eye for their beautiful space and the generosity with which they treat their artists. It’s a real treat to see these on the walls, and as a bonus, the green color scheme of the building is absolutely perfect for this body of work. The work will hang through January, so there’s lots of time to pop in and see it if you’re local. They’re used to folks coming through just to see the art, since they’ve become a really lovely art center for the community. A couple have sold in the first day, but most are still available. I also have a few pieces I can swap out (and some smaller canvases in the for-people-you-really-like Christmas present range) if you need one off the walls in time for the holidays.
I'm printing a lot lately, and I got this short video of my new(ish) press yesterday. For years my bed size was limited to 12x20". This is more like 30x40". I'm not sure offhand as I write this, but it can easily take the 18x24" blocks, even longways across, that I've been working on. I could get rolls of lino that are larger, but that's as big a sheet as I can get, and it's just right. Big enough to be eye catching and let me do a lot more detail, but not so big that it's ergonomically challenging to carve. I'm so enjoying expanding my horizons for my show at Walter Anderson Museum of Art. I always try to seriously up my game for a museum show, and this press, which I found second hand just before the world shut down last year, has seriously allowed me to do that.
This is one of my favorite pieces for the show, and I’m getting final prints of it this week. After struggling with several other recent ones, I was worried about the extreme intricacy of this one for printing, but it acted like a champ. I’m grateful. I think the base later of some solid color gives a stickier surface to work into. The really delicately carved block is the second one, and my current theory is that it sticks to the ink better than to bare paper. The ones that have had me tearing my hair out lately are smaller but similarly intricate and just black and white. So all that detail is going straight onto the bare paper. I think of multi colored prints as more work, and overall they are, but they may also be less headache in an unexpected way. Whatever it is, it was a good way to end the week, and I’m grateful. My deadline is close enough that I’ll work some over the weekend as well, but I’m giving myself a slower Saturday start, drinking tea, reading the paper, and a trip to the farmers market for the necessary Cherokee purple tomatoes. Happy weekend, y’all!
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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