My museum lecture at Dixon Gallery and Gardens is today, and I'll be talking about my art heroes and all the things I've learned along the way about making an art centered life. They're between exhibits, so they didn't need me to tie into any particular show, as I did when I talked about the history of plein air painting to go with their Barbizon exhibition some years ago. So I'm going to be self indulgent and talk about all my favorite artists and what I've learned from them in a slight gallop through art history.
I'm also going to talk about taking the time to do small projects for yourself, just because you want to. This was one of mine a couple of summers ago -- a series of tiny prints (I think they're 3x5") of my most formative artists. Constable, of COURSE, on the top left, for painting outdoors and non stop and in his own home places. Walter Anderson underneath him for pretty much all the same reasons plus printmaking. Georgia O'Keeffe for charting her own path and claiming the right to live where and how her muse dictated. And Berthe Morisot for just GOING for it, in an age where women didn't much. And also making her own career against the advice of older, established male artists who leaned heavily on her not to exhibit with those ragtag Impressionists. She was remarkable.
The project fizzled there, and I hadn't even gotten a finished print of Constable until this week, but that also is good. Things you do because you want to but don't have to finish if you don't. The Anderson print made it into my show at WAMA, but the others were just because they sounded like fun.
I've cut way back on the commissions I take lately after a year of serious deadlines, but I did do this one for a cool young couple who want a portrait of them each year from an artist to reflect the year they've had. I loved the idea of this, and they let me play and try something new. Since it's an annual thing, I didn't feel like I needed to try to do a traditional portrait (not my strong suit anyway). I've never really mixed print and sketching, even though they feed each other all the time, sketches moving into prints, and prints pushing me to sketch specific topics. I felt that this idea could either be really good or go very badly indeed. I was pleased with the final outcome. I printed in sienna since black felt like it would overwhelm the painting underneath of one of the special places they went to this past year. I also printed out just the figures for them to have as well. The whole project is making me think more about combining blocks and other media in new ways.
I went searching this blog for tree prints and realized that while I had scanned in this small trio of new prints, I hadn't yet posted them here. I've been working on a HUGE companion to these three (18x24", which is at least huge for me, and which took me multiple days to carve), but I had wanted to start small to make sure things worked visually before I invested that amount of time into a large print.
I went to Faulker's home Rowan Oak in Oxford, Mississippi, earlier this year for the first time since my teens. It's a fantastic house, full of his personality and creative spirit, but what grabbed me most (as always) was the trees. They are as full of character as Faulkner was himself. I sketched a whole series of them and have been back to sketch several more time over the last few months. The same first trip, I stopped at Eudora Welty's house in Jackson, and I was surprised and delighted to find a series of five Barry Moser carved prints of her at various stages of her life. I think those two experiences fused, and when I worked on this trio of prints, I was very much thinking about how Moser handles his backgrounds. These are portraits of trees instead of faces, but the prints felt similar to me in style and intention.
These small three are all 9" high and various widths, to suit the individual trees. I've got finished prints of them (even though my holiday show plans went off the rails this month). They're $60 each or $150 for the trio. I plan to do some color prints from Rowan Oak next, but I've been easing in with the black and white ones.
Here's the first proof of the 18x24" one. I'll have a black and white edition for sure, once I smooth out some edges and balance a few of the limbs for width. I'm also going to test it with a couple of different color backgrounds and see what I think about them.
More Rowan Oak
I'm still finding myself completely obsessed with the trees at Faulkner's home Rowan Oak. I took a last minute trip down there recently to sketch before more rain moved into the area and knocked down what was left of the trees. I poked around Square Books, had a quick picnic on the grounds, and roamed around with both my camera and sketchbook for several hours. I'm deeply grateful I did, because Covid finally caught up with me, and I'll be holed up solo here for a good while before it's safe for me to be around other people again. So I'm watching a bunch of guilt free BBC television and drawing out new prints in my lap. It's so good to have an absorbing project and a pile of good books.
I’ve been chasing so many deadlines this year that I told myself I would take it easy for the holiday season. I’ve only taken on a few commissions that are different and interesting to me. This couple really intrigued me though. They do some kind of portrait by a different artist each year that captures something special about the year they had. Because it’s yearly, they were happy for me to experiment a bit and not try for a traditional representation. So I decided it would be fun to cut a silhouette of them and then print onto a background painting of one of the places they went and loved. They approved the silhouette and know what’s coming, so I can show work in progress, which is also unusual for commissions, which are usually a secret present in the making. I’m under the weather this week but can carve smaller things in my lap as well as draw out some new, bigger prints. I’m excited to see how this prints when I get back to up and moving around work.
Playing with proof sheets
I have a bunch of proofs of prints that just didn’t print right — the paper moved on the block, making it fuzzy (the black and white one), or I didn’t get enough ink coverage (the base layer of the black under the blue). Usually I reuse those to test a block or do a first layer of ink on a throwaway sheet so I get good coverage on my better paper. Sometimes they get a number of layers of ink after sitting around the print shop for a while. I was printing my moon block in silver for the Black Feather Farm commission, and while I had the silver ink going, I wondered what would happen if I played with some of these sheets. I got out my pelican block and tried it on a couple of of proof sheets and then cut down to the part that worked. I’ll have to get creative about signing these, since there’s no white edge around them, but it was fun to move a little looser and seat-of-the-pants in my printmaking. These will be a 1/1 print, meaning it’s unique and unrepeatable, and I think I’ll take a few to the Pink Palace Crafts Fair later this month for fun.
Rodin used his small cast figures in different combinations and ways as he got older and had a whole range of sculptures already done and available. I’ve always planned one print from the beginning, done it the way it was in my head, and set the block aside. I’m realizing that I now have a good number of blocks that it might be fun to combine in different ways, so I’m starting to think about new ways to experiment with them.
Exhibition glamour shots
Sarah Dutton does the marketing for Walter Anderson Museum of Art (she created the entire video about the show I shared earlier), and she kindly took some highly professional photos of my exhibition hanging in their beautiful space. I'm so grateful to have this record of the show, and she also, so generously, took a bunch of me as well. I have a new head shot I'm happy with, and some fun ones in the show itself (though honestly, I should learn to just look in the mirror first and check my shirt/hair/whatever else might be slightly askew -- maybe I'll learn eventually).
Anyway, aren't these lovely??
Ocean Springs print
I’m giving myself some vacation time this month after all the craziness but am also working slowly on this new print. I sketched after sunset one evening during my opening week. The family all walked down to enjoy the beach, but I got there first with my sketchbook to wait for them. You can see from the sketch on top that I need to lighten the pink and purple both, by a lot, and I’m keeping on carving on the blue block. I’ll whittle down those large blue splotches to more pattern. But I’m pleased with where it’s (slowly) headed.
Here it is with the third block that has both black and blue on it.
More Ocean Springs
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.
I could not be more happy this week. I just got home from five days in Ocean Springs. My family came and stayed Wednesday to Sunday/Monday, thirty-three freaking friends showed up from out of town for the reception (most of them 6 hours away and some more than that). Several other friends saw the show the same weekend or came to one of the artist talks. I’m stunned and touched that so very many people showed up.
Very beautifully, three of Walter Anderson’s children came to the opening as well, sought me out, talked to me about my work, and told me that the movement and pattern and nature focus in my work was a great fit in this space and with their father’s work. Their father is one of my premiere art heroes, and that kindness from them meant more than I can put in words. Sarah Dutton from WAMA captured me talking to Mary with John in the background, and I was delighted that she caught the warmth and radiance of Mary’s kindness to me. John has been gracious over several meetings and always takes time to come talk to the children in the museum. The first time I saw my show on the walls two weeks ago, he was there talking to the kids, and I got to spend some time with him after talking art and hearing stories about his dad.
Melissa Bridgman took this photo of me and Leif, the other daughter, a dancer and dog lover and gently glowing person. I was delighted to meet her and her daughter as well.
I’ve mostly forgotten how to dress up and go out in public, but Kaleigh Donnelly took this photo of me in my favorite dress that made me feel exactly how I wanted to for this occasion, and I’m grateful.
Here are a few more shots by Sarah Dutton that I loved from the opening. The Old Ways from Oxford, Mississippi, played wonderful music that was just right for both St. Patrick’s Day and this traditional music loving woman. The whole night exceeded all my dreams, and I could not feel more lucky. It’s rare you get to say that. I finally went home, sat under the stars for a while, and wrote in my journal to help me remember in times to come.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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