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.
My last day of the trip was Missouri and Arkansas. I stayed at a different park in Missouri than the one I love (full after the last minute delay due to smoke), so I slanted down the state through the Ozarks. The stand out highlight of the trip was a small antique store in Knob Noster, MO, (that name!) that had a commercial kitchen attached and homemade PIE. A brilliant combination. I didn't buy anything permanent, but I did get a strawberry rhubarb pie with some of the best crust I've ever had.
It was a great easing into home, since I've come back to a fantastic exhibition of Wayne Thiebaud's prints and paintings at Dixon. I've been looking forward to this show for months. I went the first week with an artist friend and had such fun comparing our ideas about the work. Yesterday I went back to spend more time with specific pieces I love and do a little sketching. I plan to go at least once a week while it's here. I'm fascinated with how he uses hatching to define spaces instead of outlining all the time (the meringue below, or the man with the paper's shorts. Exquisite.)
One thing I thought about over the summer is how to take the slow down of the last few months back into my home life. Sadly fall is going to be less busy than I'd hoped, given the resurgence of the virus, but I still want to be intentional about giving myself permission to take days off without feeling guilty. I love working in my house and having studio space available right here, but it can be hard to take time off when work is in the next room hovering over your consciousness. Potter Melissa Bridgman, who works harder than about anyone I know, gives herself a weekday sabbath, since weekends get so crazy. I love that, and I plan to implement that for myself. I'd like to use it to do more regular museum visiting, since that really feeds me. Yesterday I took my first weekday off. I went to Dixon to sketch, had a leisurely lunch on the back porch with my journal, banjo, and the Thiebaud catalog, and visited a friend in her yard in the afternoon. It was marvelous. I've got time before WAMA to get my prints in order for the show, and I'm going to enjoy the lead up instead of stressing about it.
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.
Darel Snodgrass kindly had me on his Checking on the Arts show again this week. I'm so grateful to WKNO fm for promoting artists daily on the radio, everyone from dancers to musicians to actors to visual artists like me. I always get great ideas about what's happening in the community and new shows I want to see (in normal times). And he always pays attention, knows your work, and asks good questions. It's such a fun time to be invited to talk about something you love. So check out the interview if you live outside Memphis and didn't get a chance to hear it. I talk about making art during the pandemic, sketching in the Old Forest, the general awesomeness of local bookstores, and my upcoming show next year at WAMA.
Burkes Books and Novel both made sure they had a stack of books ready for when this went on the air, and you can also order copies from my online store. All of these copies will have an individual drawing in the front as well as a signature. I've celebrated by making each one special, since having a book to sign is such a delight.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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