On Becoming an Artist
People periodically ask how I knew I wanted to be an artist and when I knew. The how is easy. I wake up every morning thinking about what new print I want to work on or what place I want to paint next. Or just remembering beautiful trees or shadows that have caught my eye and need to make their way into my artwork somehow. I am hardwired to create art.
WHEN I knew I wanted to be an artist is a little trickier, but it was mercifully early. I know so many people who want to be creative and aren't quite sure how. I've felt blessed to always have a clear vision of what I want to do, even if making it happen is a big next step. By the summer after my high school freshman year, I was making up for an absolutely pathetic art program at my school by auditing intro classes at the Memphis College of Art (MCA) --- not for credit, but just to prepare myself to be an art major.
I think the actual moment I went from enjoying drawing to really wanting to be an artist, though, was in a summer MCA camp program I took at age 13. The class was painting outside the Brooks Museum, and I chose a statue in a birdbath that I painted again today.
My 13 year old version of it was much larger and closer up, and somehow the greens and blues I used for the statue melded on the paper in a way that I didn't expect and was much more beautiful than what I had planned. It was magic. I vividly remember the sheer amazement of that moment and wanting to take part in that magic again. I think that's when I decided seriously to be an artist.
Even now, years later, that particular magic only happens once a year or so. Every other piece comes out not quite matching the vision I had in my head when I started, even though I end up happy with most of them. But once in a great while, something even better than my original idea ends up happening, somehow, and it's still a transporting moment for me.
This print is one such piece. I did it for another audited class a few years ago, and I was so pleased with how it turned out that it almost single-handedly launched me onto the path of becoming a printmaker. Several years later, it's still the prints (most often) that I wake up planning in my head. I'm so blessed to know what it is that I want to do and blessed to be able to do it every day.
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Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
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