Wednesday, October 19, 2016

In the Beginning

I was recently asked about what drew me into the calligraphic world. I remember being enticed by the world of offhand flourishing and the beautiful creative patterns that I saw in The Ames Compendium and Ornate Pictorial Calligraphy. I was hooked just by looking at the images. Skill came slowly and was hard earned. I practiced for hours a day and made very slow progress. I broke pen nibs, ran into trouble finding the correct pen point to suit the skills that I had in my hand at the time, paper surfaces challenged me and I wanted to use colour but didn't know what would work in my pen. I made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot of lessons. My daily practice included writing letters and decorating envelopes to mail out to friends and family.
Now and then someone will send me a picture of one of my early efforts to show my evolution as a pen artist. I laugh and shudder when I see the work. But such was my beginning. There was no substitute for learning those lessons. And there was a great joy in creating the envelopes and letters.
Every Sunday was letter writing day for me without fail. I would always write and always flourish envelopes to hold the letters. It was a wonderful time. I am grateful to the lessons I learned as a beginner. One paper that I loved to was Canson Mi-Tientes Stygian Black Pastel Paper. Densely black, slightly toothed on both sides of the paper making it a bit risky to go too fast, and an incredible background for white and gold. Back in 2003, it was wonderful to be able to find black paper for writing and flourishing. Things have certainly changed. The arts and crafts stores are filled with beautiful vibrant coloured papers and our calligraphic stockists have so many wonderful metallic products to augment our work. I never dreamed of the possibilities that I would see back in the beginning of my journey. A wise teacher and friend once told me not to rush that beginning process. I would only be a beginner once and I would be wise to cherish that time. I understand the meaning of that now. There is something so special about having those eyes that are constantly making new discoveries. Autumn heightens the sense of awareness and discovery.
Every walk is an adventure and every day new colours greet me. Enjoy the season you are in, whether you are starting out as a beginner, evolving as an artist or just becoming aware of the possibilities. Seasons come and go so quickly.

Monday, October 10, 2016

The Light Changes

Canadian Thanksgiving always brings changes. Store displays are very differnt. Full of bright orange pumpkins, scarecrows and Ontario's harvest. Flavours change to darker, richer, and more robust than the lighter fare of summer. Sounds change in the garden. There are different birds at the feeders, their chirps filling the air differently than in spring and summer. And light changes. Mornings bring a different type of light to the garden.
It is somehow brighter and more precious.
It hits the plants at different angles somehow and casts a different shadow on other plants.
I can't explain it. The green in the trees is starting to change to multiple colors and looks so different against the blue sky. My thoughts change to embrace the pace that fall brings. I don't exactly resist the fall changes but it is always an adjustment for me. In the studio, things change seasonally as well. My subjects are influenced by the sights and sounds around me. My work table gets filled with acorns, chestnuts, crabapples, coloured leaves and even twigs.
I appreciate them and watch them change even further as they start to fade. Notes that I mail to friends are more autumnal in their flourishes.
I am always more reflective this time of year but slightly unsettled and somewhat distracted. I think it is just the transient nature of this season. I have to be more regimented about keeping lists in my daily planner to stay on task. I always feel as if I am in state of half acceptance and half resistance as the days become so much cooler. The most important strategy I have in the studio is to completely clean up my work table betwen tasks. If I fail to clean my desk, put my tools away neatly and keep a tidy area, I will procrastinate in starting my next task. I tend to have lots of accumulated paper in the studio as practice papers pile up. I have to clear those out of my path and my mind to be able to work on the next project. Funny how seasons so easily affect my routines! But there is a deep beauty in this season that needs to be appreciated. As am artist, I cannot help but be influenced by these sights, sounds and colours. This year, my botanical studies take up a lot of time in my mind and in my studio.
I bought a goat skin to work on a larger piece as well as many vellum scraps to practice with.
Looking foward to the lessons they will teach me. Happy Canadian Thanksgiving! Happy October.

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Paper Observations

My usual approach for watercolour work is to just grab the closest piece of available hot press paper and begin working. I had some preparation to do for my upcoming Enchanted Letters workshop so I grabbed my pre-cut watercolour paper and began to work.
Thankfully I have still have a Paper Ink Arts plastic pouch that is filled with pre-cut papers. As a traveling teacher, I never really unpack. I keep pre-cut papers avaiable to pack quickly.
It just saves so much prep time. This little bundle was cut down from the large sheets of the old Arches 300 gm Hot Press Paper and old stock of Fabriano Artistico paper.I know both are old stock because the Arches is over 10 years old and the Fabriano is over 3 years old. Sadly, both of these papers have gone through changes which affect us as lettering artists. The changes in the paper led me to purchasing the Botanical Utlta Smooth paper. This FatPad was purchased through Ken Bromley Art Supplies in the UK.
I had three letters to prepare, and took the opportunity to test all three papers. I was quite suprised at the differences in them. I used the same colours in each of them as well as the same ink, nib, gold leaf and giding medium. Only one brush was used for all of the painting in the letters. The Isabey 6229 Cat's Tongue Brush.
This is my favourite brush for tight and precise work that is needed in The Enchanted Letters. The Botanical paper is 50% cotton watercolour paper and has optical brighteners in it. So it is very white. Also very smooth as the name suggests. It performs similary to a smooth finish Bristol paper in my opinion. I call these "fast papers." You can get quite a tight pointed pen line on the paper, but watercolour effects spread quickly and need to be controlled by using much less water. I was not happy with how the watercolour performed on this paper even though I use a dry brush technique. You have to be really careful with water on this paper. But it gilds beautifully and the real star of this paper is how Finetec Gold watercolour performs. I used a Gillott 404 nib for this piece, and the Finetec gold sits on the surface of the paper. The gold watercolour looks and feels raised. A great effect for the final touch if you can plod through the difficulty of using the paper with watercolour.
The Fabriano Artistico 300gm was used for the S.
Absoloutely no performance problem at all with the watercolor or gilding. But the Finetec Gold is not nearly so bright on it. The gilding is also a bit more subdued compared to the Botanical Ultra Smooth. No special technique required for this paper. It will take more moisture than the Botanical Ultra Smooth and seems to settle into the paper rather than sit on top. The Old Arches 300gm paper felt the best of all the papers to the touch.
It feels more substantial. It feels like it can absorb washes of water. It does not bruise easily and the colour is a warm white. The pointed pen ink line, in this case was Ziller Buffalo Brown and holds very tightly on the paper. No problems with gilding or painting. Of all three papers, the gold leaf is the least shiny on this paper. Interesting as the Miniautum Ink was used for all three specimens and the same float technique used on all the papers. The Diane Townsend Pastels perform perfectly on all three papers but a lighter touch is needed with the Botanical Ultra Smooth.
This was a fun experiment and it was great to see first hand how differently each of the papers react to the exact same techniques. Sometimes the struggle we feel with our work, can be as simple as changing the paper we are working on. Our techniques need to adapt the products we are using. It is difficult when we find a favourite surface and then the manufacturer changes it! I know the new Arches paper does not perform nearly so well. Rather than being " fast paper" I call it a "sluggish paper'. I can feel it resist the brush and almost pull hairs of the brush. To use the newer Arches, I usually prime the paper with a very light application of clear water and let it dry before I paint my letter. As artists, we need to have several tricks up our sleeves. And the only way to really know what you are working with is to mindfully practice, and be in tune with your materials. Know your products well. Find your favourites and play!

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Workshop News

September always seems to put me back on track! I am hard at work preparing for my final fall workshops. Taking a quick break from working on the handouts for my Festive Flourish
class in Birmingham to announce some Italian Hand Classes. The Poetic Pen workshop is becoming my most requested class. This freeing script hand has become my default setting when I write. I can get more speed with it than Spencerian and English roundhand. Both English Roundhand and Spencerian play a part in this incredibly playful hand. I will be bringing it to the Ottawa area in March of 2017 as well as to Guelph, Ontario on April 1st of 2017! Those are my only two Canadian classes for 2017. April 7&8th will bring the workshop to Ink.Academy in California
, and in July, I will be teaching it for a full day at IAMPETH in Louisville, Kentucky and then in Hong Kong in August. I will update my workshop schedule on my website as soon as I have more details. I am fully booked for 2017, 2018 and partially booked for 2019 and 2020! It seems surreal to me! I have several guilds who have booked me for their area, but have not chosen a topic yet. But as I get details, I will update the website. If any of these upcoming Italian Hand workshops are in your area and you would like to attend, please email me at and I will give you more details. Happy September!

Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Meditation Garden Has Begun

This summer's project was to begin a meditation garden.
Eventually, I want most of the back yard to be a bit of a walking path around garden beds.
I normally start my day with a walk around the neighbourhood but have found that I stop at a Meditation Garden at a local church for most of my morning solitude. It was time to start something in the back yard.
We plotted a path with a rope and kept changing the shape until we found one we were happy with. Then I dug the trench for the little border edging. That was a huge job!!! Chris created barriers with masonite board and then we poured cement into the trench. Again, a huge job and it was hot work. But I found I really enjoyed shaping the cement. It had turned out to be a little running path for our chipmunks! They love it.
This is just the beginning and it looks incredibly sparse at the moment. But the hydrangeas will grow and so will the butterfly bush. I will get some more ground covers as well. Right now there is a prostrate rosemary and flowering thyme plant that will start to fill in.
Icicle pansies have just been planted to bloom until winter and then come up again in the spring. It's a great start! It's made the riding lawn mower a bit of a trick for Chris on Saturdays! And I am trying to talk Chris into a water feature or small pond in the yard. All of my little projects seem to grow exponentially! But the garden has been a wonderful sanctuary for me and it does help inspire me with my art work.