Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Watching the Changes

Fall is a great time for changes!! My beautiful Pagoda Dogwood tree is giving me gifts of vibrant leaves every day! As I go outside, I find that I just want to pick up every one of them and bring them in to paint. kitchen counter has an "area" filled with acorns, conker chestnuts, leaves, bittersweet berries and maple keys! Usually I am not a fan of autumn because winter follows so closely and leaves us with grey skies for so long! But I feel like a squirrel storing up painting studies to get me through the winter!

This weekend, I spent time outside with my viola plant. I captured some sketches in my sketchbook and then went on to do a vellum study. I struggled on the paper as well as the vellum trying to get a smooth transition between the shades of purples and periwinkles and different yellows! Lots of mixing going on. I recognize the importance of a transparent palette when working on vellum. The Daniel Smith dot card is a great guide right now as I consider which pigments to eliminate in my palette as I try to create one that is transparent. My new favourite Daniels Smith Colour is Rose of Ultramarine! Here is the completed vellum study.
This is my first little leaf study as well.
As I painted outside. I was surrounded by so many bluejays! I keep their peanut feeder filled and they keep me entertained. I wanted to capture one of the young bluejays in a Victorian meets Medieval setting. The sketch and the foliate work were painted in the evening.
I used my dry brush techniques on the bird and traditional illumination and painting skills on the rest of the design. I am seeing these two worlds merge together. The little Bluejay is part of my Enchanted Meadow Series. More to come as I expand that series and prepare to teach that workshop in Birmingham next year. The pen work on this piece was done with Ziller Buffalo Brown. I appreciate that it is always as fresh as a brand new bottle without any of the surprises of McCaffery Brown. But the line quality is thicker so I use a very light touch and a very stiff nib in my pen holder. This was the final result of my painting day.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Progress so Far

I have been on this butterfly journey since early August. They are incredibly detailed to paint but I am finding that I love attempting the detail. I combined dry brush vellum painting techniques on this Peacock Butterfly. I was working from photographs for this subject rather than a specimen and I noticed a difference in how I could see the detail.
Much easier with an actual specimen! So much to learn and enjoying every step of the journey. Sometimes I find the vellum easy to work with and other times I need to coax it to behave. The dry brush technique is rough on the brush as well so I am taking extra care to condition it properly after using it. More soon with progress on my botanical subjects. I am looking foward to incorporating these techniques into my pen work.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

In Process

Busy fall for sure. Mulitple teaching trips and many workshops on the go. But I am loving this diversion into the natural world to study painting on vellum. My butterfly class took a little detour as we looked at other insects. Meet Chrysochroa Buqueti Rugicolis.
What a beauty!!! A coppery metallic head, metallic purple markings against a shiny flax coloured body. I am in awe of this creature. I wouldn't want to see him in the kitchen cupboard but we are friends in this format. I did the initial drawing on graph paper as I still find the measuring process to be a bit challenging.
Drawing straight lines has always been a challenge so the graph paper keeps me in line! Also part of the study process is testing the paint colours in a sketch book. I purchased the Stillman and Birn Zeta series hardbound sketch book for these studies.
The paper is heavy and very smooth and able to take watercolour washes. The process of testing the subject with a small sketch and colour swatches eliminates the process of trial and error at the colour stage. The thinking and planning are done in the sketchbook. It also slows me down and makes me much more deliberate in my thought process. A real change from the free forming of offhand flourishing. The metallic copper and russet in the head are not in any of my watercolour tubes but thankfully the Daniel Smith metallic dots came to the rescue.
They are awfully tempting to use but I can see that I need to be very careful in applying them. He is still in process. I am enjoying the process of learning new techniques and getting over my fear of insects at the same time!

Friday, August 28, 2015

The Learning Curve

I have learned that what I have not drawn, I have never really seen... (Frederick Franck) I am in my third week of a month long study in Butterfly drawing and painting. What a challenge. It has stretched me into an area beyond what I could have imagined. It is has changed how I take my walk in the morning. I look around at everything. Looking to see how the light reflects on leaves, trees and flowers. I stopped my walk to pick up a dead butterfly and successfuly rehydrated her and added her to my collection! I spent a morning chasing butterflies and bees and bright insects with my camera hoping to get a perfect image.
When I pick up a butterfly specimen, my eye tries to discern the underlying colours and I try to transfer those colours to a sketch book to test my painting. The learning curve is huge, but I am loving challenge. Vellum studies are next as I commit to this process for the next several months. My goal is to combine small, naturalistic spot illustrations in with my calligraphic work.Study images coming soon!!! I believe that all of these precise and technical skills will help all of my artwork in the future. I can sense an evolutionary stage in my work on the horizon and I am ready for it!

Thursday, August 20, 2015


I am currenlty enrolled in a 4 week butterfly illustration class. I started out working with photos but it became clear to me very quickly that I needed a specimen to really study. I took a trip to the butterfly conservatory to purchase a specimen but found that I would have to take the mount apart to really study it. I turned to Thorne's Insect Shoppe online. Wow!!!!!!!!!!! The real challenge was not buying too much. Bearing in mind that I only need one butterfly to study for this class, I purchaesd 11 butterflies!!!! Some from Africa, India, South America and North America. If I had stayed on that website any longer, I would have bought several more. I thought that would take care of the specimen problem until I realized that the butterflies I ordered had come dehydrated and would require hydration! Thanks to youtube, there are several tutorials about how to hydrate the butterflies, which I did over the past 24 hours. My next learning curve to face was the fact that the butterflies don't immediately spring back into their open wing form once hydrated!!!! They need to be spread out and pinned into place!!! I don't have a high tolerance for bugs even when they are this pretty! This evening, Chris made me some foamboard butterfly spreading boards where I could pin the specimens into place. It was easier than I thought. Only one of the specimens has a slight tear in the wing. I will have to wait another 24 to 48 hours for these to dry out again. Then the process of illustration can begin for me. I will need to study the front side and underside of the wings. No matter how the drawings and paintings turned out, I have already learned so much! I can see each little face on the the butterfly, really observe their scales and vein structure. I am captivated at this point and will hopefully get some good drawings to share with you!

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

August Study Days

August has been a strange month for me. Lots of work to sort through as I prepare for my busiest fall teaching line up I have had yet. I will be traveling to multiple guilds teaching the Enchanted Letter, English Roundhand, The Artful Flourish and finally Italian Hand. The gears switch slowly between Italian Hand and English Roundhand. Italian Hand has definitely become my default setting and I find that I want to retouch all my letters with Italian Hand shading!!! As I prepare for this workload, I took some time out to study. I will update you shortly with the outcome of a 4 week analytical study that is pushing my brain to the limit! I am not used to drawing things with mathematical precision but have found this to be a wonderful exercise for me! Results soon! But I wanted to show you these new brushes. They are from Rosemary and Co. I am very impressed with them. Love how they respond to my hand. Might just have to get one of each. You can find them online. More soon!

Friday, August 14, 2015

Powerful Words

I have never been so convinced of the power of the written word! This week, I received many beautiful letters. They all came for various reasons and with different messages but all of them brought a blessing to me. Reading them this time, I could hear the voices of my friends. I was so thankful that they took the time to put their thoughts down on paper for me. One of them came with little illustrations in it! Reminded me of the correspondence between John Ruskin and Kate Greenaway. Little illustrations often adorned their letters.
My friends at the post office take special care with my mail. They handle each piece carefully and show it off before they put it in my mail box!!!! When the mail comes home with me, it rests on my table until I have enjoyed the envelope for awhile. The mail waits until I am ready to sit down and open it! Thank you my dear friends for your caring thoughts this week. They came at the right time.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

The Pilot Custom 912 Fountain Pen

I made a very impulsive purchase at IAMPETH this year. I am the proud owner of Pilot Custom 912 Fountain Pen. The nib has been modified by pen genius Greg Minuskin.
If you have never seen his work, head on over to I was lucky enough to try out a modified pen that he had made for my dear friend George Dorsey. The pen nib was incredibly flexible and I could truly get the feel of the pressure and release of a pointed pen. When I sat down this year at IAMPETH and tried the Pilot pen, I instantly bonded to this beauty! I have used it every day since. It is a special treasure for me and has brought me so much joy. Thank you Greg for your Masterful work on this pen! I love it!!!

The Script in my Soul

I have been studying and practicing Italian Hand for the past three years. Never has a script been so mysterious and elusive. It is slow to reveal its secrets. Ambrose Heal in his book English Writing Masters and Their Copy Books, admits that the path to studying this hand remains largely untrodden. Yet through dedicated study and many conversations with Don Marsh, who I consider to be the greatest historian of Italian Hand, I have finally started to unveil the mysteries of this hand. What a ride this has been. In July, I taught my Poetic Pen class to 100 students in Franklin, Tennessee. This page was demonstrated during the class.
The response to the hand has been overwhelming! These capitals are from the hand of John Ayres and were penned in 1698. This page has influenced me more than any other in my study of the hand.
I have received numerous emails and now letters are coming through the mail addressed in Italian Hand. This beauty was sent to me by Kathleen Rollick.
I love her gorgeous lettering. My greatest joy is seeing this hand come to life through modern scribes. This script has captivated me body and soul. It looks strange with its odd placement of shades but as a mercantile script, this hand had the capabilities of building up speed while retaining its elegance. In my opinion, the "blob" shades are far easier to apply than the heavier pressured English Roundhand and the spacing is easier to achieve than Spencerian. It is pure magic to me and delight to practice. I will be bringing this historic hand to British Columbia in the fall and then to Binders in Atlanta in 2016. I look foward to more exploration into this script. It teaches me every time I pick up the pen. So glad to see the interest in it and watching it come back to life. If anyone wants further information about how to study this hand, I would recommend The Young Clerk's Assistant, by George Bickham. It is available as a Dover reprint.

Friday, July 31, 2015

Freeing the Caged Bird

Earlier this month I wrote about my portfolio purge. That has been a good and welcome change for me and begun the process of freeing my mind for new work. The purge started as a result of reading The Life Changing Magic of Tidying Up by Marie Kondo.
The theory behind the book is not so much about what you discard but about what you keep. I hang on to the things that "spark joy". The portfolio purge led to a studio purge and the household purge is still going on!!! The unexpected result of reading through the book was deeply personal. As the studio purge took place, I got rid of all notes and even workshop handouts that were no longer useful. Some of them had been sitting in untouched binders for over 10 years. They represented where I had been in the past and not where I wanted to go. The experience of being in the workshop is what I want to remember. Countless pages into the recycle bin. I can hear the collective gasp all the way here in Canada!! As they hit the recycle bin, my mind started clearing. I felt a freedom that I had not experienced since before I entered the calligraphic world. My only art background is my floral training. When you train as a florist, you learn how to allow each flower to express its own beauty...and show its own face. No flower should be overshadowed by another.
That philosophy was not true in the calligraphic world I experienced. Some teachers believed that their style and influence should dominate over another. I didn't realize what an effect this had on me until very recently. As a teacher in the calligraphic world, I work hard to make sure that I never pass on this sentiment. My motto is that each student is the king or queen of their own studio and when they leave my workshop, they should be free to find their own expression with their own unique style. As I continue to purge my studio, home and life of the things I no longer need, the caged bird inside is finding freedom. I fully expect that my artwork will change. I am so excited about this. This beautiful necklace was given to me by my dear friend Barbara Calzolari.
She could have no idea the significance of such a gift at this time in my life. I wear it daily as I find new paths that spark joy and let new ideas take hold in my mind. My studio is starting to feel quite different when I sit down to work. Let's see what happens next. I expect the Victorian Muse to continue to make her appearance but lets see what else she can do.

Friday, July 10, 2015

The Portfolio Purge

When I teach classes I carry a large leather binder full of my work to show my students.
Over the years, the leather has become warn and marked. But leather, no matter how old it gets seems to take on more character and warmth. The pages inside held a different view for me. I went through each page and carefully took out each page of artwork. Some of the pieces had broken free of their photo corners and needed to be put back into their places. Other pieces seemed to no longer have their place. As I flipped through the pages, I realized that there were certain pieces that were no longer a reflection of what I want to convey as an artist.My Spencerian of 2010 is very different than what it is today. Early pieces were my bird flourishes, done to imitate the work of the " Golden Age Penmen". I no longer pay homage to the past in quite the same way. I take their love of flourishing and try to bring my own style to it now.
It was an emotional cleaning up of the portfolio as well a physical clean up. I have a stack now of about 30 pieces that have been taken out of that portfolio. Each piece taught me lessons, each piece was part of my journey as an artist and every paper served its proper purpose. It was a blessing to go through that portfolio and remove pieces. Now I am left with a smaller portfolio but it is filled with originals that truly reflect where I am with my work. In the past, I have always filed a few representative pieces in a special folder that I keep to show my progress. My pen journey started in 2003 and the years of progress are fun to see in chronogical order. A few of these pieces may find their place in that file while the rest are recycled. I think they have served their purpose well and have taught me every lesson that they could possibly teach. As I closed the sorted out portfolio, I had a sense of freedom and optimism. Lots of room in their to create new work! Lots of room to see what changes I can bring to my work and welcome the next stage of seeing my work evolve. It was a good process for me to go through. The Enchanted Letter Portfolio is next on my list. While each Enchanted Letter in their represents my year long journey with my dear friend Dana Cochran so I will not remove and discard those images. But I will be creating a Book II of that alphabet which better reflects my understanding of drawn letterforms, gilding and miniature painting techniques.
So excited for the future and my next steps. It is always hard to let go of the past. But it is necessary to take the next steps as an artist. This was a healthy step for me.

Thursday, June 18, 2015

My Adventure with Isabey and Strathmore

I have a natural curiosity when it comes to art supplies. This has cost me dearly. I have invested way too much money in supplies that have not been suitable for my purposes. But sometimes my curiosity works out well! I invested in some Strathmore 400 Series Drawing Paper for sketching but quickly became impressed with its capabilities for ink. It is smooth 80 lb. paper and recommended for dry media.
I have not yet used this drawing pad for my sketches, but I did try my pen practice on it and I was pleasantly surprised. It reacts beautifully to both the pointed and the edge pen.
I can practice with walnut ink on this paper and it does not bleed. I loved the warmth of the cream colour so I tried small gilding experiments and it came through beautifully. I use miniatum ink on this paper without it buckling. Beyond that, it will take watercolour, pastel and coloured pencil. This past week I put it through a strength test with a very ornate piece. I applied mulitple washes of watercolour and detailed inking.
The paper did not buckle. I use a moist brush technique rather than a wet brush which worked perfectly on this paper. I even tried correcting work with a tiny bit of sand paper and pumice powder and the paper did not bruise. However, a heavier application of the sandpaper would likely erode the paper completely. This is extremely lightweight paper. I wish it was just a bit heavier, but it serves its purpose for me when I want a creamy coloured background. I was previously using Somerset Satin Paper for this purpose but it had its own challenges! I will continue to look for the perfect weight and texture of cream paper, but I remin impressed with the Strathmore Drawing 400 Series. My big surprise was the purchase of an Isabey Retouching Kolinskly Sable brush.
This winter I noticed that I needed to replace some of my tired brushes and started shopping online. I have never had to buy a sable brush online before. I prefer to see the brush before I purchase it. But sable brushes and art stores are scarce in my area now! I had seen an Isabey brush at the Dick Blick in Philadelphia and I have been regretting not purchasing it ever since! I ordered a size 4 retouching brush throug DeSerres in Canada and had to wait weeks for them to locate it. I was initially disapointed in the size of it. This brush is far bigger than any I use for miniature painting, so I gave it a cozy home until I finally tried it this week. What an awakening!! I am in awe of this brush. It has a tip that is fine and pointed enough for me to do precise lining and detail work. But the shape of the brush allows for incredible pigment and moisture storage. I could go on and on with a single loading of this brush and it was giving me more precision than my Raphael pointed round brushes. I have a new treasure in the studio!!! This little brush is worth the price. Yesterday I ordered the size 0 and size 2 to add to my collection. I will let you know how they work out. I think I have found the perfect least for my method of application on miniature work.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Hybridized Script

Early on in my penmanship journey I was instructed to have my Spencerian Script conform to someone else's style. I tried hard to do that and for years I tried to conform my writing to that of A.D.Taylor or Daniel Ames. They both have tighter spacing and slightly rounded turns in their script. But in my mind, I always wondered if this Spencerian is handwriting..why am I trying to copy someone else's script? I know others have the same question as I get lots of email inquries with similar thoughts. Somewhere along the line, I added English Roundhand into my studies. The forms of George Bickham were so appealing to me. I loved his freedom, I loved his expression. Now, when I work on a piece that is to be my signature is neither Roundhand or Spencerian but a blend of both.
It does not conform to the style of anyone else. It truly is handwriting. It retains the nuances of my own style while being subtly influence by Spencer, Bickham, Ames and Taylor. If there are Spencerian Police or Roundhand Police both would have warrants for me. But this is the script that flows from my hand naturally without conforming to any system. It evolves daily. It is a picture of the rhythm of my writing. I am sure it will look different in future years. I encourage my students to practice daily, work on being consistent in slant and texture throughout the page, bear the shapes of the letters in mind...and Write. See what happens.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Pens...Pens and More Pens

Creating custom pen holders was something that Chris and I were doing to take care of students in my classes. But we have been overwhelmed with requests for special painted designs and colour combinations. I love the ideas that have been coming from the customers. The designs are stretching me. We currently have a 12-15 week waiting list to get the pens done and shipped. Hoping to bring some to IAMPETH this year as well. Here are a few recent pens. I love the bunny pen!!!
It was created after I posted an Easter illuminated design. I will probably make one for myself in the future. Chris turned the pen out of Holly and it is a dream to work with.
The Pink Princess pen is done on Canadian Curly maple.
This Cyclamen pink pen is also done on Canadian Curly maple and embellished with offhand flourishing. Having fun with these designs.