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.
I’ve been slowly working on proofs of this piece, since you have to leave the first layer to dry overnight before adding the second one. It’s from a sketch I did a bit over a year ago in Ocean Springs, the trip where I got on their calendar for an exhibition. I want to have a number of my own home places in the show, since that’s what Anderson did, but I always love sketching down there and would like to have a few pieces where I interpret the landscape his work sprang from in my own voice. I hung out on the pier sketching a good bit, bundled up against the wind since it was January, but land-locked folks need to take advantage of the coastline when they manage to get there. I’d actually hoped to be able to be down there a good bit more while preparing for the show, but none of us saw COVID coming, so I’m still working on early 2020 sketches.
You can see the top print set against the first one I did, which was too dark, and the second one, which was too light. It’s been a bit of a Goldilocks situation working my way toward “just right.” I want to try this level of blue with just gray clouds. I’m of a divided mind about the pink. It’s fun to be able to try different versions before printing the final edition. I’m always impressed with the printmakers who do reduction prints, which means they lay down one color (usually the lightest), carve away more of the block, lay down the next one, keep carving, and repeat. I’d have had the blue layer too dark, and the whole print would have been wrong. I just can’t imagine it before seeing it on paper, so I tend to do a separate block for each color, and that gives me a lot of options. And sometimes it’s fun to play later with a completely different color scheme.
Hospice for Mr. Darcy continues with almost daily farm visits. It's his favorite place, and he enjoys the ride with the windows down, sniffing out the window, as well as the actual walking time. It's also the best place for me to be able to evaluate how he's feeling. Plus I'm doing a good bit of sketching while we're there and getting some good print ideas going. It's definitely some time away from my main work, but I'm grateful to be able to be this flexible and really enjoy this last time with my boy and main muse.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
Get occasional studio email updates.