It was a really good day. I put a commission I was pleased with in the mail to its new owner, I turned in three coloring book pages (my first ever) to the Memphis Flyer to see if they want them for a Memphis coloring book. I love the Flyer, it's a great idea, and they'll split proceeds with the artists instead of just asking for free art. It was fun to do a few of my favorite places and also play with a new format.
In even better news, my mama cardinal was back sitting on her nest. She'd disappeared for a couple of days, and she'd seemed bothered by me right through the window when I used my kitchen sink. She hadn't been sitting yet, so I'd been a bit worried they had decided just to start over somewhere more private. She's been spending a lot of time in the nest today, though, and she stayed while I sketched her. I'm delighted.
I rewarded my morning of work on a gorgeous day by getting on my bike and going to Elmwood, always one of my favorite places to sketch. There are MANY fewer people than in Overton Park these days, so I feel much safer and not at all crowded there. I rode a couple of loops around it, stopped to sketch, looped through Central Gardens on my way home, and ended up with an 11.5 mile ride, which felt great. A late sunshine walk with Mr. Darcy and a happy domestic evening (with asparagus brought by a kind friend after she got my email update!), and I'm living well today.
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.
2015 was the banner year of my art career, with my Dixon show and my residency and Memphis Theological. Personally it was incredibly painful for a good long time, with one small, last kick in the pants on the way out. There were also periods of exquisite beauty and over the top happiness. Such is life, I suppose, and I'm deeply grateful to have the art to carry me through the harder places. Art is healing and escape and meaning for me, and I'm so lucky to have such an absorbing focus for my life.
I started the new year with a dear friend in the house and a first sketch of Mr. Darcy. Begin as you mean to continue. I'll take it. And now I'm off for the annual new year's jam to play my bass and banjo.
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....
I don't want to add to the glorification of busyness because I am a moderation kind of girl, and I do build in good life breaks like sister lunches, girlfriend teas, and daily long forest walks with Mr. Darcy. But I had not taken a whole Day Off since the first weekend of October (which in itself was nice enough to carry me through the month by itself), and I did greatly enjoy myself yesterday. Truly, I'm not great at taking a whole day off unless I'm off dancing somewhere. I tend to draw a lot even on vacation, but that's the fun part of being an artist. I've been doing a lot more of the nuts and bolts work lately, though, and a day off sounded good.
So yesterday I treated myself to a massage to celebrate the end of the show. I got myself a Muddy's cupcake for lunch to celebrate National Chocolate Day. I took a long walk and a snuggly nap with Mr. Darcy.
And then I had a two hour design committee meeting for Overton Park. Sigh. So I sketched. Because what else are you going to do in a two hour design committee meeting? (Even though it was good, and I was glad to be there to have some input.)
I took my adorable teapot by my friend Melissa Bridgman (who will join me for my Holiday Open Studio Sale in December) plus a white cup and saucer to Memphis Theological Seminary yesterday to set up a still life for my art journal group.
I wanted them to easily see values (on the simple, white forms), and I also wanted to practice making grays with French ultramarine blue and burnt umber. That's one of my favorite things about watercolor -- that lovely gray that can be pushed from warm to cool and have a spectrum of colors in it. I also mentioned squinting to see value more clearly, getting rid of detail and color (an art class trick that doesn't necessarily trickle out to the wider world), and using one rich color to go with a mostly monochromatic sketch, like the blue above.
It took me a while to get going. My first sketch (below) didn't make me as happy as the second one, but that's also how things work when you're creating. Some of it isn't as exciting as other bits that happen how you want them to. It's just part of the deal.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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