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.
Martha Kelly is an artist and illustrator who lives and works in Memphis, Tennessee.
Get studio email updates from Gideon and me.
To subscribe to this blog, by email: