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!
I’ve done a lot of carving over the last year, and I’ve done some printing too, but I haven’t at all kept up with the volume of blocks. So now is the time. I’m settling into printing at least the first batch of each edition for the WAMA show next year. Nicely I still have some months, so I can do it in stages and keep going on some more creative work as well. Friday, after my Thursday sabbath (see my last post), I printed the first 10 of this Skagit river print. It’s really detailed and delicate, and my regular, somewhat heavy paper was moving too much on the block as the press went across it, so I was getting blurry prints. I ended up choosing a lighter paper that will stick better to the wet ink and not smudge. I got 10 of 30, and that was plenty of work by the time I had puzzled through the earlier issues. Now I know, though, and the next batch will go faster.
Then yesterday I cut a blank block the same size as my show poster, a carved poster print to celebrate the fact of a museum show. I did one for Dixon and am now doing one for Walter Anderson. When you get to put your name and a museum name together, it’s worth doing a print to celebrate. As I did with Dixon, I’m doing a bunch of different color tests. It’s fun to have some rainbow options. So yesterday I cut the background block, figured out the paper size, cut a stack of paper, and then made a diagram to keep the block carefully centered on the paper so I can layer two blocks and not have them weirdly offset. Then I stopped and played with my new dog a while. Today I did a whole series of different colored backgrounds (each one requiring multiple color mixing and blending the colors on the block itself with rollers). They’ll dry for a day or two, and then I’ll print the intricate block with all the lettering on top.
I’m finding myself still in slow motion as I try to get back into my work groove. I think it’s been hard for everyone to stay sharp and focused through this whole pandemic period. So I’m giving myself some grace, taking more time off than usual, but getting one good printing session done each work day. I’ve got time, and that feels like a manageable approach for now, and I’m grateful to be able to do this.
Last year felt very slow as well, but I ended up with a stack of museum prints and also a book I wasn’t expecting to do, so sometimes I’m doing better than I think I am on the productivity front. Anyway, for now printing, plus dog time and some pleasure reading breaks plus extra trips to Dixon during the Thiebaud show (which feeds my work in a roundabout way). Solidarity to everyone doing a little slogging at this point in the world. And gratitude to everyone managing to make a little beauty along the way.
It’s been quiet around here as I made my way home across the country (2600 miles solo in the camper van), tried to wade through three and a half months’ worth of mail and necessaries, and FOUND A NEW DOG. This is Gideon. He’s an 8 month old Golden retriever , 62 pounds (so far — I’m hoping for a decent bit bigger), and one congenital heart condition discouraging folks from adopting him. He’s a sunny, sweet, attentive, smart love, though, and we’ll see what the vets say. We’re going to have us a good time for whatever time we get, though. That unscarred, love-the-world disposition can be hard to find in rescue dogs, who have tended to live through some tough stuff, and I just couldn’t leave him in a kennel. I still miss Mr. Darcy, but Gideon is going to be a quality companion too.
He started work yesterday as my studio dog and did great. He laid around in the floor and kept me company while I printed. I found out how out of practice I am though! I printed 40 small Walter Andersons, from a block I carved over the summer, but I completely forgot to reverse the direction on the color roll. I was watching the prints closely for crispness, but I totally didn’t notice that the colors were backwards from what I wanted. Now I’m not sure what to do with this batch. But at least I got my printmaking area cleaned up and going again. I’ll get locked in here soon I’m sure. You can see the proof in the top left, with the color the way I want it, and the others that just don’t match. (Feels like a Sesame Street exercise, doesn’t it?) Sigh.
I’ve been mostly working on commissions this week, but I’ve been carving a little and pulling an occasional proof of this one as I go along. This morning I used one of the proofs to watercolor on so I could see if I want to do a second block with a blue background. I like them both ways and am leaning toward doing sets of prints each way at the moment, but I’ll look at them a few more days before knowing for sure.
I've been working on a new print of Mr. Darcy this week from one of the farm photos I took. I've done a painting and several sketches of him in water before, and the subject continues to draw me. This one needs a little thinning and refining since it is the very first proof I've pulled, but I'm happy with where it's going.
I've also been playing around with watercolor, working on images from our farm trips this spring. I've been thinking of the series in my head as "Daffodil Season" and wondering about a graphic essay. I'm so grateful to have art as a way to work through grief and also memorialize times that are dear to me. Here is the watercolor version of that same scene.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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