I'm doing a lot of getting-ready-for-shows work, but I managed to take a little time and work on my Will you?/Won't you? signpost self portrait. It's almost finished.
I also printed the invitations for the upcoming studio sale today on my treadle operated Chandler and Price. It's always great fun to run the big press.
Plus I had a deadline for the Memphis Daily News today for my monthly sketch feature, so I headed down to the Woodruff-Fontaine House to sketch it all decked out for Christmas. They're having an open house this Friday evening, so it seemed like a good moment to feature them.
Just for my own satisfaction a few weeks ago, I took some leftover strips of paper and made some signs with my vintage wood type. This was the first one, needed for me that week on a couple of counts.
The response on Facebook was strong, and I'm going to be in the Tsunami holiday market this Sunday, so I got some more paper cut and decided to make a stack of different ones. It's fun to have a few lower priced items to sell, so going to have these as a grab and go, as is (not packaged, which takes so much longer) for $10 each.
In the midst of the worst of the park heartbreak, my lovely friend Beth Rowlett sent me a letter (hanging now in my workspace) that said, "dance more!" since she knows that is my happiness. I decided others might also want this lovely reminder. And then my sister Erin and I saw a handpainted sign in Binghampton driving home together from dancing that said "Kindness is free." It was perfect, so I did it too.
Finally, I've been seeing "Memphis as fuck" tee shirts around town and really wanting one despite being unsure if I could actually bring myself to wear one in public. So a studio sign may be just right for me. And it seemed like the right one to really play with my fonts on.
One of the seriously fun things about having a printing press is getting to do your own signs. Even doing the most mundane things, I somehow feel connected to centuries' worth of printers setting type and taking power into their own hands, all the way back to Guttenberg and the brave Reformers daring to print Bibles in the vernacular for people to study for themselves.
Nothing so weighty tonight, but I did make signs for my Celestial Paris show at Playhouse on the Square. I've been allowing myself a bit of a soft opening since the reception isn't till Friday, Nov. 18 (5-6:30), and there is no play currently on at the theater either. I've been kind of wrung out the last few weeks, so taking my time has been almost mandatory. I'm definitely more scattered than I usually am hanging a show, but I'm proud of the work, and the last signs will be up soon.
I grouped the show in overall areas of Paris (and used the back of the gallery to also hang a handful of my Amsterdam watercolors from the spring), so I made signs to help orient people in the general areas of the city. I also made a "Je suits Charlie" sign, referring to the Charlie Hebdo massacre. That really rocked me. It was not only in a city I love, but it was an attack against artists for making the art that they do. I'm worried about the move away from tolerance and free speech across the world. That attack felt deeply personal to me.
Again, the printing press resonates. So many people have been killed over time for having the audacity to say what they think in print. Presses continue to feel dangerous (the one I have was attacked not many decades ago before being restored), and making typeset art about Charlie Hebdo felt right. I couldn't mount a Paris show at this time without trying to stand with the people there, at least in a small way.
In the spirit of printed words having power, and while I had the press set up for type and the ink out, I made myself a sign as well. Liz Gilbert often says, "Onward!" about marching forward in life, and the simplicity and force of it appeal to me. Sometimes putting things in print, even if I know I'm the one who has done the typesetting, feels authoritative. I make reminder signs and hang them up for myself when I feel stuck sometimes, and it is definitely a season for me to pick myself up and move forward. So a sign will be a good reminder hanging in my workspace somewhere.
Little Maggie, the original badass woman of blue grass, is one of my longtime favorite songs. It's about a strong woman with a banjo who picks herself up and marches forward as often as she needs to, and every woman needs a few songs like that in her back pocket. I made a little bit of art from it several years ago (below). Delightfully, I was called a badass wild banjo woman, and there are moments in life that you just have to make art to commemorate. This was one of those, and of course Little Maggie had to be in the print as well. But she hadn't had her own print, and it was more than time this week. I pulled out a carved block of my Unger banjo that I had first done for a series of Easter psalm prints. I layered that first and then set type that night, finishing the printing the next morning. I used several different fonts along with the nifty pointing hands that I found in a market in Paris last summer. It's not a great photo -- I haven't gotten this one scanned in yet. I only did an edition of 8. It was more for personal satisfaction. But I have a few bluegrass loving friends who might also appreciate it. And a few resilient women friends as well.
It's Pink Palace Crafts Fair time again, which means I'm working till bedtime every night this week, but it also means I'll hang out with cool people and see a bunch of friends this weekend. Today was my set up day, and I also made some signs for my booth with my vintage wood type. It is such fun to be able to make your own signs saying anything you want them to. I dislike the word "empowering," but this is one instance where I feel a strong connection back to generations of people who found that having a printing press leveled the playing field and allowed them agency. There's something powerful about the ability to print professional, legitimate text, even if you're just making signs about postcards.
I've also been doing a bunch of printing ahead of this show, reprinting ones I'm out of stock on and also working to get new prints ready to have. It's lovely to see all my recent work coming together and to take stock of what I've accomplished as I get everything packaged and priced and headed for the show. Come see me if you're in Memphis! 10-6 Friday and Saturday and 10-5 on Sunday. I'll be on the back side of the demo tent area, facing the food tent and near Baucum pottery (for longtime fair goers).
I had an intensive week of printing getting ready for the Dog Days studio sale this weekend with Melissa Bridgman. As I was wrapping and gathering, I realized I had four brand new prints, a new letterpress poster, and a good handful of recent watercolors. I decided to take a cue from bookstores with their "recent arrivals" shelf and have a rack devoted to new work. It felt lovely to have enough to do that, and it also rewards the repeat comers by making it easy for them to see the new things. It's a nice idea to have that to work towards for future shows as well.
Below is some of Melissa's lovely pottery. I have a tea tray with her moths (like those small plates) that I use daily. I was delighted when my parents bought both teapots in this photo, because I had been admiring them myself. We are a heavily tea drinking family.
Mr. Darcy was the perfect greeter all weekend. He's really relaxed in the three years since I got him from the shelter. He wore himself out, though. Here he is stretched out at the end of the show, which truly is pretty much how Melissa and I felt as well, though we didn't join him. I am so grateful to have friends and neighbors both show up for these shows and also send their friends, which happened a good bit this weekend. I love being able to do what I love for a living and also have this level of autonomy over my career. Thanks to all of you who read this blog, share my work on facebook, come out for a show sometimes, and wish me well in this. I'm truly grateful. It takes a village, and I feel very lucky.
I'm doing a lot of proofing this week, including the two small Paris prints above that I want to print on my treadle Chandler and Price once I get them finished. I did the cafe one in red too, since that's how I've been planning the print. It was time to see how that looked.
I also took time out for a sister project. Erin wanted this for an anniversary present, and I loved Princess Bride too. It was a fun afternoon project, and I ended up with an edition of 14, so 13 are up for grabs, starting at our Dog Days of Summer studio sale next weekend (the 15-16th). Holler if you want one, though. They mail nicely. $60, 14x22".
I have finally finished my Creation triptych, right up against the deadline of hanging my show at Memphis Theological Seminary yesterday. It feels good to see it up on the wall and hanging together as intended. The titles for the pieces are "Firmament," "Every Living Creature," and "And It was Good."
Unlike the vast majority of Adam and Eve paintings, where they are separated by the tree, already in the process of reaching for the apple, or being expelled from the garden in shame, I wanted to include their embrace as part of good creation, part of the full range of wholeness and celebration that God intended for us. As a church we have tended to shy away from Song of Songs and not talk about the bit of Ruth where she is sent in to the harvest floor to seduce Boaz. There is body positive, celebratory sexual space in the Bible, and I see that as one of the gifts of creation when used in loving ways that don't harm other people.
I appreciate working at a seminary that is willing to have these discussions and hang such art.
The show also includes watercolors and pen and ink drawings I did for chapel bulletins through my year at MTS. Above is the Creation series from back in September that the print triptych is based on, and below is Exodus.
One other body of work I included is my letterpress posters. I acquired a printing press and some type about the same time as I started making liturgical work from the Biblical text. I had always been a pure landscapist before, and I have so enjoyed playing with letters and words and images together. There's also a great power in putting words into print, one reason printing presses are so often attacked during revolutions of various kinds. It's meant a lot to be able to typeset and print phrases that catch my heart and my imagination at various places in my life. This work is different from the liturgical pieces, but I feel they are in conversation with each other artistically, and they come together to celebrate a new phase of my art making.
I'm getting ready for my Valentine Open Studio Sale, which will be Friday, Feb. 5th, from 5-8pm and Saturday, Feb. 6th, from 11-3. Melissa Bridgman will join me again with her gorgeous pottery.
I've been wanting to do some more note cards, and this year a valentine of Mr. Darcy seemed right. I got my press right around Valentine's several years ago, and a valentine block was the first thing I carved for it. I've tried to continue that tradition each year. I had fun doing the bigger block of him and decided to make a small one as well. Sometimes people ask if I can have a
smaller version of a given print. As you can see above, carved blocks don't zoom like a computer image, so I'm carving a small one from scratch. It's fun to think about simplifying a block I enjoyed doing large.
I'm also typesetting a postcard for the show. I had a leftover sliver of linoleum that seemed the right size to make a small border with. I continue to be grateful to Cheryl Parker, who traded me a cabinet type for paintings when I was just starting out. I would never have managed such a collection on my own, and it's delightful to have.
I did a watercolor commission this morning, but the rest of the day so far I've been editioning prints. This involves cleaning any ink smudges off the margins, and signing, numbering, and dating each set.
I also have a record book of prints in which I keep information on the details of printing (color mixes, how many blocks, what color and sized paper, etc.) but also a running tally of how many prints have been pulled for each image. You can see it open at the top left, with color samples of the ink I've used so I can match colors for the next batch. Unless it's a small run of letterpress images (like the letterpress "posters" below), I don't usually print a whole edition at one time, since I do all my printing by hand. My drying rack gets filled up, and I get tired.
I've printed a third to a half of each edition of the England prints above (editions of 30 each). It's been kind of nice to sign so many prints "2014" and realize how much work I've actually gotten done this year. And there are definitely more prints to come. I've also been scanning in all the watercolors from England and haven't even started on the Paris ones yet, so that's nicely affirming. In spite of all the travel (and also because of it), I have a good array of new work for the fall and holiday shows.
I'm sorting and counting and trying to figure out how many prints I need to do some more of before the Pink Palace Crafts fair in October and my show of England images in November. Next I'll have to start packaging them all....
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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