Monday, February 27, 2012

Something Harder and Better

© Hannah Phelps
Evening Wave, Monhegan Island
white-line woodcut print, 8.5" x 17"

I know that it has taken me a long time to write about this. I think it is still sinking in. If you are a fan on facebook, get my newsletter, or personally know me, you know that my white-line woodcut print, Calm Day at Fort Stark, won first place in the 14th Annual Small Works Exhibit in August, hosted by the Washington Printmakers Gallery in Silver Spring, MD. The juror is a well-respected print dealer from New York City who has personally collected prints by Blanche Lazzell (my white-line woodcut hero). He knows the medium and is a fan of it. I feel beyond honored to have my work recognized in this way.
But there is more to this than just returning home with a gold star and bragging rights. Being the “national champion” means that I have more work to do now than I have ever had before. Strangely enough, a children's story can help me explain...
Most of you knew about C.S. Lewis’ story The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, before Disney made a movie out of it. Another book in The Chronicles of Narnia that less people know (and seems to have been skipped by Hollywood) is A Horse and His Boy. This fantasy is a little weird, but it contains one of my favorite quotes about success.
At one point in the story, the main character, Shasta, runs into an enemy army and his companion is wounded. Shasta struggles to help his injured friend reach the relative safety of a nearby hermit’s hut.  Once he settles her into a sick bed to start healing, he expects to enjoy a well deserved rest. But the hermit points out that Shasta needs to run off again immediately to warn the king of the foe’s approach. You can almost see Shasta’s shoulders slump when he realizes he will get no relief, for:
“He had not yet learned that if you do one good deed your reward usually is to be set to do another and harder and better one.” *
I have forgotten much of the tale, but these words resonated with me. And they perfectly describe the consequences of entering and winning at the National Small Works exhibit last August. 
The artists whose prints earned second, third and fourth place prizes won money or gift certificates to art supply stores. 
I won a solo show at the Washington Printmakers Gallery next August. I won the opportunity to make more prints and frame them and take them back down to Silver Spring, MD next summer. In essence, I won more work to do.
Luckily for me, creating more prints (like Evening Wave, Monhegan Island, above) is what I want to do anyway! Not that it is turning out to be easy - art making is always a challenge. Entering the Small Works show took one great print. Filling a solo exhibit means making dozens of great prints. 
And that is harder. And better.

* Lewis, C. S. The Chronicles of Narnia, New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2001, 272.