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.
I spent a couple more days doing intricate and steady work on my current prints, but tonight I was missing my sketchbook. The Memphis Urban Sketchers had a "virtual sketch crawl" today (Saturdays are our normal days), so I wanted to join in. I sit on the sofa a lot in the evenings, but this is my other favorite spot. I'm grateful, so grateful, that I had spent the last year working to make my house a warmer, more pleasant place to be. This corner is one of my new happy places.
I just framed the poster last month to remember a really pivotal show for me. It was a solo exhibition of Berthe Morisot, and she's my new art hero. She just flat out went for it. She was showing in the salon in her 20's and then showed at every Impressionist exhibition that they put together themselves. Frustratingly, fully half of the show was from private collections. Museums just weren't collecting her when they were sucking up every available male impressionist canvas. And her work is amazing. One critic called her "the angel of the incomplete" because of her confident, calligraphic style.
After I saw her show, plus another current woman artist show, also at the Musee d'Orsay, two different friends challenged me to go for it if what I wanted was another museum show. My first, at Dixon, was a career moment, but I'd been having this "what now?" feeling ever since. I don't see ever landing in the Orsay, but Morisot's gumption and drive made me redouble my efforts, and I was awarded a show at the Walter Anderson Museum of Art for 2022. Which, given the current world situation, is perfect. And I'm so glad for something really exciting to work towards just now. It's been a huge bright spot for me lately.
I felt really locked in for work again today. I’ve been so ADD in my work lately that I’ve got a bunch of different blocks in various stages of completion. This morning I decided I should get some final prints on the ones that are close, so I did 26 “rainbow rolls” (the technical term, which delights me, for multiple colors or shades hand rolled and blended onto a block with different rollers — time consuming but satisfying). The blue ones from today will be the background for my pelican block, and I’ll do another batch in yellow/orange for the starling block. I did a couple of pink/purple ones to try with the egret block I’ve been carving. You can see those sitting on the press in the photo. I love that the press is in that window with all the natural light coming in.
I treated myself afterwards with a bike ride since I was working so well yesterday that I worked right through my exercise window. I did not quite 10 miles around midtown, including a curbside pick up from Burke’s Books, which has been in business for 145 years. I’m making it a personal mission to help survive on to 146 and beyond. Burke’s is also doing mail order and free delivery in Memphis, in case anyone else would like to join in the fun. https://www.burkesbooks.com/
There’s baseball on the radio tonight. KMOX is replaying the Cardinals’ last seven weeks of the 2011 season while we all wait to see if there will be baseball this year. I love the story telling of radio, and it’s comforting to have my normal spring/summer companions keeping me company. Plus my memory’s pretty bad (of COURSE I remember Game 6 of the Series, but otherwise things are murky), so I’m enjoying it all over again. With that for company, I pulled proofs of the blocks I worked on yesterday. Both have problems and need a good bit of work yet, but it’s nice to see them beginning to take shape for the WAMA show. It’s been a satisfying few days being able to work more normally again. Sunshine and spring weather definitely help too. I’m really grateful for this show to focus on and look forward to.
This is a slightly dark snapshot of a watercolor color test. I’m back to a lot of print work today, and it feels great. I realized last night that one thing I haven’t been doing is lying in bed thinking about the prints I’m working on or want to start. Somehow doing that intentionally helps me wake up with a good vision of them and ready to go. So I did that, and today it worked. I’m back to carving on the hurricane tree I put aside ages ago, waiting for a problem to resolve itself a bit, and I also did the watercolor of this proof. I’d partly been waiting for the ink to dry, but I also just got distracted. I’ll carve the second block for the color behind, but I wanted to play with paint first and see if what i had in my head is the direction I want to go. I’m feeling pretty good about this one, though it certainly needs some cleaning up and thinning down. My concentration just couldn’t get there a couple of weeks ago, but I think I’m ready now, and it feels really good. There will probably be days when I’m not ready, but that’s ok too.
The work is flowing so well today I’ll probably skive off the Quarantine Journal today, but that’s a trade I’m ok with. It feels good to be working towards my WAMA show again. And you just never know when I’ll get in the mood to sketch anyway. It could happen after dinner. Though I’m also greatly enjoying my Harry Potter evenings just now...
I pulled a first proof of this one today. Almost always I get a block pretty fully done, then comes the proof, and then I tweak it. But sometimes, when I’m in uncharted waters, I want to do a test of a small area with a pattern and see how that is reading before doing the entire surface. So that’s what this is. There’s a lot of that dark area still to carve. You can see my original sketch next to it, though in that particular one, I didn’t fill in all the dark middle. Just enough to give me clarity on the tree trunk placement. So I’m carrying a lot of this one in my head and winging it at the moment. Watch this space for updates. I’m overall pleased with how it’s going, though the trees at the top are a little too defined at the moment. I’ll have to dull them down a bit if I can.
I’m also including a couple of close ups. Because it wasn’t a serious proof, it’s on newsprint, and I didn’t work hard to get that rich, velvety coverage that I prefer for finished pieces. It will be a lot darker as I get further into it. This is a super behind the scenes peek.
I've really locked back into my main print work in a satisfying way this weekend, and I've also spent some nice time outside, since it's been flat out gorgeous. But it was also good to get back to the QJ after taking yesterday off from it. I have a friend who uses the hashtag #dailyish, which I love. It has an intention of frequency, but with enough grace and flexibility built in for a little breathing space without guilt. That's what I aspire to for any project.
Below is the new print I'm working on for my WAMA show in 2022. It's a gorgeous place called Barnaby Slough (it could maybe use a slightly more poetic name) outside of Concrete, WA. I find that when I work on prints from places I love, I end up mentally still in that space while I'm working. So it's nice to take a mental trip at the moment while we're all sticking so close to home.
The weather was flat out perfect today. I'm trying to lock back in on my show, but with more rain coming, I decided to head to the forest first. I found a safe spot well off the path to sketch, away from both other people passing by and the now sprouting poison ivy. It was delightful to sit on a fallen log and draw wildflowers.
Then I took my bike out to enjoy the day further. My favorite bookstore, Burke's, in business for a whopping 142 years here in Memphis, has their building closed to the public but will do delivery, mail orders, or curbside pickup. So I picked up on my bike and did a lovely large loop through the neighborhood before starting carving on my new print block for the second half of the afternoon. A lovely day overall. I also took a little video of Mr. Darcy and the gorgeous wildflowers in the forest. Just for fun, and for anyone who isn't able right now to ge out and walk.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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