I have news! The Presbyterian Church, U.S.A., is redoing its Book of Common Worship, which they do every 25 or 30 years, and they have asked me to illustrate it. I am beyond delighted. I've done some illustration work for a couple of different publications for them in the past, but it was always journals or a year long study guide (for the Book of Revelation -- my first ever illustration job, and I dived into the deep end). Nothing that would be in print for a long time. I've been hoping recently to get to do more illustrations, and I am so excited to be offered this opportunity to work with Westminster John Knox Press. I'll be creating about 15 two color block prints, a cover plus a frontpiece for each main section of the book. The work will be due in June, so along with my March show I'll be having a busy spring, but I love having meaningful work to do, so that will be just marvelous.
(The print at the top is an older one of a church in Athens, but it seemed appropriate for this post.)
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've been continuing to work on my creation triptych lately. It's taking me a lot more than six days for sure. I've got the sky piece done (that's first proof above, but it's quite close -- I just took more yellow out of the moon).
I've been printing a lot of blue skies lately.
Below is the final of the animal panel and a later draft of Adam and Eve for the third panel. I'm still edging blue back out of the figures. You never want to cut too much at once, since you can't put it back, and I'm hoping I didn't get too extreme last night. I printed blue today and will do the top layer to find out once that dries. This is definitely the slowest one, because the blue is the middle layer instead of the top one. With the other two panels, the only other layer is a light yellow/brown, so it's less of a crisis what happens in the figures with that. The blue is the top pattern layer. With Adam and Eve, the blue can bleed into the figures, so I'm having to really proof it, check it, carve some more, proof it again. Hopefully this last round will work, because I'm hanging the show at the seminary next week, and this is my centerpiece. I'll also hang the watercolor sketches of creation (five total, the number of Wednesday chapels back in September, not the days of creation...) that inspired this print series. It will be fun to have them shown together.
I'm not posting as much as I like to right now. Between the printmaking and some deadlines and seminary work and switching to a new (to me) computer which wasn't talking to the scanner well, I haven't been either sketching or scanning in what I do nearly as much as I like to. An ongoing crisis in my park, where so much of my painting happens, has also taken a ton of time lately. It's lovely to be able to schedule my own time instead of punch a clock. When something that important surfaces, I can take a lot of time to help. But it's all piled up to make me feel pretty frantic lately and to have less art creation time than I like.
I'm strongly looking forward to a return to Paris in a couple of weeks. It will be marvelous to have three weeks solo just to walk, paint (hopefully the weather will cooperate and I can bring home enough work for a show this fall), and look at art. I do love getting away. I always work intensively when I travel, but it's the best part of the work. The book keeping, matting, schlepping work around, and anything else is eliminated, and I just get to paint. So lovely.
Here's the first proof of a print based on the creation of the animals. I'm working on a triptych, if they look right together, or perhaps just a series of three, for my upcoming show at Memphis Theological Seminary. They're based on a series of watercolors I did for MTS worship back last fall.
The sky needs to be lighter and bluer and more gradated, but I'm overall happy with the carving. I started a second proofing round last night. Below you can see the carving underway and also the bottom block proof, with one main gold color but pink rolled in spots for the pig and cow udder. I've also got an Adam and Eve underway, with a moon and sun drawn out but not yet started.
Memphis Theological Seminary is celebrating African American history month in February, and I suggested a series of Exodus paintings for the chapel bulletins. I love how the chaplain, my excellent boss, lets me run with the things that are calling to me. She suggested that the phrase "Let my people go" has special resonance, so I used it as the background for each image, and I like the continuity it provides. It's nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of and to collaborate with. That's been a beautiful upside to this job.
It's chronologically out of order for the book, but I want to do a series of Biblical women for March (women's history month), so I ended with an image of Shiprah and Puah, to bridge that transition between the months. I continue to be amazed that we have remembered and celebrated the names of two midwives several millenia later. Powerful.
Memphis has a great public radio station that does something unique in my experience (and I listen to a lot of NPR as I travel). Every single day and usually twice a day, they have a short program called Checking on the Arts. They interview artists, actors, musicians, people putting on fairs and booking concert halls, anyone doing something artistic in Memphis. Lots of stations get occasional bands into the studio, but no one I've heard has daily features that include visual artists as well. As a listener, I've gone to a number of plays I might not have, once I've heard the director or actors talking about the production, and I hear about lots of things I want to get out and do.
As an artist, it is gold. Especially since I've gone solo and don't have a gallery doing publicity for me, it is a beautiful thing to have a station willing to put me on the air and let me talk to the city.
And they do an amazing job. I got in this time, and Darel Snodgrass had a printout about my new show sitting on his desk already. He always does research ahead of time, asks great questions, keeps things moving along, covers everything that needs to be announced (challenging this time, because I have a lot on this year), and he does it all with warmth and enthusiasm. Here is this week's interview about Dixon, MTS, my holiday sale, and more....
liturgical work has been in black and white to honor the budget constraints of the churches I work with. When I began, pen and ink was more comfortable for me anyway, but I've really been enjoying watercolor the last couple of years, so I'm excited to get to branch out a bit for MTS. Here is my Genesis painting for the first week of chapel. I'm looking forward to doing a series.
First Congregational, universally and affectionately called "First Congo," invited the Memphis Urban Sketchers to draw during their worship service this morning and show our sketches at the back of the sanctuary afterwards. They have a ministry position devoted to the arts, ably filled by Mary Button, and they change art installations regularly. We were invited to celebrate the beginning of a season where they focus on the creative spirit of God.
It was a neat invitation, and I enjoyed walking in and seeing so many friends and neighbors there. We sang a couple of neat hymns and had a lovely table service, and otherwise I concentrated on my drawings. I did one longer term watercolor and then did several quicker pen sketches.
I think I mentioned that I got some advice from Tom Pellett yesterday at our meeting, and I worked on implementing it today. I've been lukewarm about my marker sketches, even though I love his and like the idea of the quickness and ease (compared to setting up a full watercolor kit). Tom suggested I use the wash to pick out the lines around the edges of things -- not to fill in the entire drawing with tone. So I played with that in the sketches below and was excited about the results. I'll have to do some more people studies before I go cold again. He also makes me want to sketch in the Metro next time I'm in Paris. I may have to get up my nerve and try that.
This is the eighth and final print for the season of Easter. It's been a long time to do a weekly print series, but I learned a lot and especially enjoyed playing with the varied color inking.
I think I've written that I've done several art series for Lent but never for Easter. Lent seemed long enough (six weeks), and eight full weeks of Easter surprised me, but I do believe it's right that a celebration of the Resurrection should outlast the journey to the cross. Last year I read some excerpts of N.T. Wright about the way the church as a whole observes Easter. He is an Anglican bishop, but the observations are applicable to most denominations, I think.
Since his words affected my thinking so deeply, I thought I'd finish the Easter season by quoting a couple of passages here. Thank you for taking this Easter journey with me.
"It's a great step forward that many churches now hold Easter vigils, as the Orthodox church has always done, but in many cases they are still too tame by half. Easter is about the wild delight of God's creative power -- not very Anglican, perhaps, but at least we ought to should Alleluias instead of murmuring them."
"But my biggest problem starts on Easter Monday. I regard it as absurd and unjustifiable that we should spend forty days keeping Lent, pondering what it means, preaching about self-denial, being at least a little gloomy, and then bringing it all to a peak with Holy Week, which in turn climaxes in Maundy Thursday and Good Friday...and then, after a rather odd Holy Saturday, we have a single day of celebration."
"Is it any wonder people find it hard to believe in the resurrection of Jesus if we don't throw our hats in the air? Is it any wonder we find it hard to live the resurrection if we don't do it exuberantly in our liturgies? Is it any wonder the world doesn't take much notice if Easter is celebrated as simply the one-day happy ending tacked on to forty days of fasting and gloom? It's long overdue that we took a hard look at how we keep Easter in church, at home, in our personal lives, right through the system." (All quotes from Surprised by Hope, N.T. Wright)
This series of prints has been my attempt to live Easter this spring. For those of you who do not celebrate Easter, thank you for your patience, and I'll be moving on to travel painting quite soon. My family is taking a trip to England in June, and I'm looking forward to painting a country I love.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
Get studio email updates from Gideon and me.
To subscribe to this blog, by email: