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.
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.
I've been trying something different with my current print. I usually do a square frame for the key block (the usually black one on top) as well as for any colored blocks underneath. Lately I've been doing some trees that are cut out around their forms in a vertical arch background, and I thought it might be fun to see what such an image might look like in a landscape setting. I did the background in a blue/green and then printed the trees on top. I'm quite happy with the results overall. I'll get a better (less rough) version of the blue green block and clean up a bit of the sky, but I like the depth the foreground versus background have, and I'm going to play with this idea again. You can see the layers separately below, along with the tree block trimmed for printing. This is planned to be part of my WAMA show, Feb. 28 to Sept. 4 next year.
I’ve been slowly working on the element of these trees lately. I had the tree on the right first, then the background, and then I decided I wanted the tree to have a buddy. Today I printed the first batch of both of them. I’m also dreaming of a different background —- maybe daytime with clouds and birds. I’ve done a single, finished image for so long that I’ve really enjoyed playing around with blocks in different ways lately. I got a book about the three generations of Yoshida printmakers, and they often used the same blocks for both a day and a night scene. I’ve been thinking about ways to open up my own process and use blocks in a variety of ways. These are likely for my show at Walter Anderson Museum of Art in 2022. You never know for sure until you get all the work together and see what makes the cut, but I’m feeling encouraged about these.
Here is the first proof (on wrinkled-y newsprint, just to see how it is) of my companion tree for the recent one under the dome of the night sky. I’ll put this tree on the same background, and I may think of different backgrounds for both of them. I’m working towards my show at Walter Anderson Museum of Art, and I had a quote from Anderson in my head as I carved this one: "I took a long walk yesterday afternoon to the east and drew trees -- I like the wandering ones, not the absolute freaks but not just the ordinary healthy ones either." I feel exactly the same way, with a bulbous, burled tree at Overton Park being my absolute favorite one.
Speaking of that tree (in my P is for Possum book as well as in several prints), a friend of mine delighted me by telling me that her young grandson recognized that tree in the book as the same in a print on her wall. She told him it’s my favorite tree, and he’s now pondering what tree is HIS favorite. That is exactly the sort of nature excitement I hoped so spread with the book.
This tree, too, is a long time favorite. My family calls it the Hawk Tree, because hawks roosted there for a number of years. I’ve painted it repeatedly for the last 20 years. It’s good to have images that call to you in different ways across the years. I’ll clean this up a bit and then try it on the nocturne background.
I gave Mr. Darcy another farm treat after his latest treatment. I’d been thinking about this tree and wanting to draw it again. It’s one of the ones I always return to, and just afterwards, I got a four year old memory (second photo) of drawing it from Facebook. I’ve done one small print of it, but I’ve been working on a tree under night sky print, and I’d like a companion to that tree. So I drew this one again, and I started carving it this week. As I type, I realize that I haven’t shared that first tree print here. I’ve been in a spurt of printmaking work ahead of a call with the curator at WAMA to check on the state of my show. She’s delighted with the trees as well as the water prints I’ve been doing, and I feel really good about the direction I’m going now. That’s always a boost before a big show. But I’d been working to get prints far enough along to show her. Here’s the first one. The arch still needs a little smoothing out, but I’m overall really happy with it. This second tree will be in the same scale and will fit the same background, and then I might dream up some alternate backgrounds for them as well.
I've got a call with the curator at WAMA tomorrow to have a look at where I am for my 2022 show there, so I've been trying to finish or at least proof all the prints I've had sitting around in various stages of completion. I had printed all the backgrounds for this set back in the fall, and I had all the birds carved, but I hadn't finished the printing until today. It's fun to see them all together. I'm mostly doing landscapes for WAMA, so we'll see if these make the cut or not, but I really like them as a set. I'll try to get better photos of them with good light. I haven't been charging over to Kinko's to scan the bigger things in with the pandemic raging.
I’m excited to be refocusing on my prints in January after the bustle of holiday commissions. My show at WAMA will hang one year from now, and I’m glad to have something happy and positive to work towards through this dark winter. I’m hoping there can be a party to celebrate by then, since it will be a huge moment in my career. This one is moving slowly. I’d set it aside back in the summer, unsure how I felt about it. I’ve been thinning it out and balancing it while working SLOWLY on the trees, and today I wanted to see where I was with it, even though there are still trees to go. I have sunshine on my east facing work table in the mornings to help me see the delicate edges and bits of cutting. In the afternoons (for winter warmth, anyway), I take a walk. I took a couple of days of pure vacation, then I started easing back into sorting through prints and getting my head back in this work, but I’m still giving myself some time off in the afternoon to recover from December. Afternoons are also good for printing, since I don’t need the super bright light. So this is what January will look like for me, and I could do a lot worse.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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