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.
I had a lovely day going from Montana to Idaho. I had less mileage to go than any other day, so I decided to take a lovely looking two lane highway that followed the Clark Fork river a good way. It took a lot longer, and I was tired when I got there, but it was a truly lovely day. I sketched once along the way (top left, next to Mr. Darcy), and here are a couple of photos as well.
I feel like I've been working on this tiny print for ages, and today I got yet another proof done. It's not quite what I want -- the tunnel shape still isn't quite there, and I'd like more definition at the right hand side. But the main purpose of this is to do a test for doing a bigger piece, and I've finally figured out what is working and what isn't, so I think I'm ready to draw this up bigger and start carving. It was good to work out the kinks in something that was a lot less labor (and expensive material -- this was done on scraps I already had instead of a large sheet). I'm still working to get the seagulls finished, but this will be next up.
I think I’ve had “finish seagull piece” on my goal list the last three months. It’s a lot, and I’ve amazed at how much more work the larger size is. It’s also intricate, so if I see something I want to fix, I then have to figure out where exactly it is on the backward block in the middle of the swirl of motion. I also realized yesterday that I think my reading glasses are no longer getting me the clarity that they used to, so I ordered the next up strength today. Hopefully that will help. I’m also struggling to thread needles just now.
So for all these reasons, along with a general lack of mental focus, this one has been hanging about. I did a new proof the other day. It won’t have that huge white gap in the middle, but I needed to see if the color of the paper would do for the cuts in the distant water or if I was going to need another block or color. I think it will be good, but now I need to cut ripples into that whole section on the color block. The other option was to have a separate water color near the horizon, which you can see in a previous color test, but I don’t think I need it, and I actually think it detracts a bit. There’s still a good bit of way to go in carving the water and refining all the patterns around the birds. They’re too thick in this current proof, so I’ve been thinning them down. But I do finally feel that I’ve worked out exactly how I want to go about it, after staring at proofs and being unsure for a while now. That alone will help move things along tremendously. Maybe I really will manage to finish it this month.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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