Monday, July 18, 2016

The Ritual of Return

Just returning from my trip to Portland, Oregon for the 2017 IAMPETH Convention. What a week and what a process!!! Our convention was wonderful as usual. Filled with friends and all of the passion that comes when pen enthusiasts congregate together. Your obsession with ink is considered the norm and we can talk about snap shades and terminal lobes on exit strokes without drawing stares from others. It is a great week. Highlights for me were getting to meet Portland's Unipiper, Brian Kidd. He is a Portland icon and I was so happy that 2017 President Alesia Zorn brought him in for our opening reception!!!! He was a treat. I had requested that Alesia have him appear in his traditional Darth Vader helmet with the flaming bagpipes! He was wonderful!
What a great kick off to the week. Highlights of the convention are too many to mention. I spent time in the archive room studying the incredible collection that we had and throughout the week enjoyed walks around the river, taking classes and trying to adjust to their time zone which was never entirely successful.
This year I was commissioned to create two certificates for Ronald and Donald Tate in recognition to their contributions to IAMPETH. The certificates were on display throughout the week in the Archive Room which was such a special treat to see.
The convention recharged my love of the pointed pen. My class was on Wednesday where 115 of us explored Victorian Pen work techniques in my Vintage Garden class.
I loved every minute of the convention this year and hope others did too. This year was the first time I took a sketchbook with me. I have fellow botanical art enthusiasts there at the convention and a few of us wanted some time to compare notes. I was amazed at how many times my sketchbook helped me on my journey.
An 11 hour layover in Chicago was a great time to finish a sketchbook page I started with my garden pansy. I worked on water droplets and a side view of a pansy leaf. I made a mental note to keep a waterbrush pen with me in my tool kit as I had to improvise with lid from a water bottle in the airport!!! Morning walks in Portland were with my dear friend Joe. Along the riverwalk were beautiful flowers and foliage that I had to captured in my sketchbook. I picked one California Poppy and tried quickly to record the details.
So hard to work from life when the details change every minute! I also picked an Oregon grape leaf which reminded me of holly. The bush looks like a Holly plant with clusters of grapes. My pages were completed in OHare on my return journey and kept me awake after an overnight flight and a 7 hour layover! Now I am safely home and the ritual of return begins for me. I enjoy every second of the process. Tools are cleaned and carefully replaced in their designated spaces. I return to my usual walking path around the garden and in the neighbourhood. I carefully wash down the surface of my desk as I prepare not only to unpack my suitcase but also unpack my mind and layout fresh goals. I revisit my daily calendar to see what tasks are coming up but I also take stock of what needs to change. Every trip for me brings some sort of change but IAMPETH usually brings some major changes. It refueled my focus to complete my upcoming book on The Enchanted Letter and also planted seeds for a second book on Flourishing techniques. Now I have to decide which order to produce the work. The ritual of return for me is as important, if not more so, than the trip itself. This morning my cat Oscar was waiting for me expecting me to put him on his leash and take him for a garden walk. He has been with me throughout the morning and now took his his usual spot on my comfortable computer chair
while I have to make do with a hard wooden chair! I am home.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Small Blessings

Small details can make such a huge difference. I continue to study botanical drawing techniques and I often pause in wonder at the process. I love the subject matter. I love working with flowers. I love spending time outside in the garden or just walking. It all seems such a blessing to take this study time. I am still experimenting with both coloured pencil and watercolour. The coloured pencil process is easiet to control although much more time consuming than watercolour. I recently learned the difference between a sharp pencil and truly sharp pencil. I purchased a Rapesco pencil sharpener and was thrilled with how much better it was than my electric sharpener.
The sharpener has quirks. It doesn't particularly like thinner pencils and will break those leads quite easily. But the handle can be removed and the broken lead can easily be cleaned out. The polychromos pencils are my favourite for coloured pencil work. I spent some time getting them all properly sharpened.
Today is packing day for IAMPETH. I usually take packing days as a little break from my normal routine. Today after packing my bags, I spent some time sketching a pansy in one of my garden containers.
They look like they would be a simple subject, but the colour variations are incredibly complex. I need to spend more time working on my sketch but I was blessed with the company of one of our garden chipmunks.
He visited me faithfully as I sketched until all of the peanuts were gone! When he doesn't have peanuts...I suspect he is one of the culprits eating my geraniums and pansies. But he is forgiven. I enjoyed spending time just working on stome study pages with no clear goal in mind.Although I wasn't really happy with the pansy page, I was happier with the red currant study page in my Stillman and Birn journal.
Cherish your summer and the blessings each day will bring to you.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Fairy Tale Process

I have been working on my calligraphic hands since 2003. I rarely delve into the edge pen, but when I do, I usually choose German Text. My source material is an old booklet that is crumbling but it has one of the nicest German Text hands I have ever seen. The book was penned by L.H. Hausam and contains several alphabets.
I love the Victorian look of the text and how it contrasts with English Roundhand. I used Christopher Yoke's Historic Small Batch Japan Ink on the Strathmore Drawing paper and a Mitchell 3.5 nib as well as a Gillott 404. I love the ivory colour of the Strathmore drawing paper. The scroll design around the quote was drawn in pencil before inking the design.
Some offhand flourishing techniques were used with the flowers and leaves. The piece is gilded with 23 K gold leaf, painted with watercolour and then burnished with pastels. I used a few Swarovski crystals in the centres of the blossoms. This piece will be donated to the IAMPETH silent auction in Portland. The whole piece is part of a playful process.
The quote struck me as very Victorian and fanciful and in need of a lighthearted border. I find joy in the process of working on a design from start to finish. The piece is far from polished or perfect, but brought me a lot joy as I worked with the playful border design. Learn your lessons with each piece of artwork, clear your workspace, and get ready to start the next one. We are never finished with the learning process.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

New Eyes

I have come across some of the writings of John Ruskin in my studies of Kate Greenaway. Kate and John corresponded for years. John Ruskin was very encouraging of her work and some of his comments and critiques of her work are quite remarkable. This month I have been working on leaf studies in botanical illustration and Ruskin came to mind. One of his quotes... "PAINT the leaves as they grow! If you can paint one leaf, you can paint the world." has inspired me for many years but I feel like I am just beginning to understand it. There is a world of patience and understanding to find in a single leaf. I am still working on vellum and watercolour and will post more about that soon. But I have been diving into the world of Faber Castell Polychromos coloured pencils and finding a lot of lessons to be learned. Learning to tone, and layer colors and really see light and shade is mesmerizing. I stop and look at leaves on the shrubs and trees as I go on my daily walks. I am truly mesmerized. I am overwhelmed with the beauty in our world even in a single leaf. Today I worked on a sketchbook page and I look foward to expanding these pages and my studies.
As I closed my sketchbook to come into the house, this strange leaf rustled in front of me.
I have no idea what plant it came from. It almost looks like a dried geranium leaf but I am not sure. I don't see anything else like it on the property. But it seemed like almost a challenge from Ruskin!! Maybe if I can paint this leaf....I can paint the world.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Gratitude in May

Where has this month gone? Seems like I am full swing with teaching workshops and finishing final touches on my Enchanted Meadow Workshop which launches in August! So happy to be able to present that course and share the techniques that I have been honing for years. I created this little blue bird miniature
as part of the notes for the class. Lots of dry and moist brush techniques on him and happy to add him to my Enchanted Meadow series. The process of painting him was as peaceful and meditative as any time I spend flourishing with my pen. I will happily send him out as a note card of encouragement to anyone who feels they need a note from a friend. Now and then I get overwhelmed with the emails in my inbox. So many people in pain and struggling to find peace through mindful practice with the pen. If a little note will brighten your day, I am happy to send one your way! I am so grateful to those who read this blog, or follow me on instagram or Facebook. Now and then I even get a surprise in the mail! This week a lovely package arrived of gorgeous antique laces and linens! A beautiful and welcome surprise! Thank you dear Pat for thinking of me!
As May draws to a close, I want to be grateful for the blessings of friendships, peaceful creativity and the joy of sharing what I love with others.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Iluminated Alphabet Page

Last year I worked on an Illuminated page of the Armenian Alphabet
for an exhibit commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. I remember being very lost in the process as I cannot read or write Armenian and the Alphabet seemed very strange to me. But after the exhibit, the framed piece came home to me and it had become one of my most cherished pieces of artwork. In February of this year, I started working on a similar project but this time illuminating the Italian Hand alphabet. I need to be clear, that a pointed pen alphabet with a heavily illuminated border, raises questions and eyebrows. I was told from the minute I started learning illumination techniques, that it could not be combined with pointed pen. But to be honest, I really didn't care what anyone else thought as this is a personal piece that I wanted to work on for myself. I started with no clear plan. Just penned my hybridized Italian Hand alphabet on the Fabriano paper and then designed the border around the alphabet. I used measurements for the border that I had seen on other illuminated pages from the Renaissance as well as flower and foliage that are typically seen in Renaiassance manuscripts.
After the lettering, the next stage is always the gilding. I used Miniatum ink and 23K Czech gold leaf. The next stage of development is the underpainting. This is the stage where you start to bring life to the work.
This is always the trickiest part of the work for me as you really can't see a clear picture of what your colour choices will do to the final piece. I stuck with bold colours for the design but utilized pinks and olive greens rather than bold Cadmium red and Viridian or Hooker's green. I wanted some of the colours to be pulled back from what would be typical in Renaissance manuscript work. In hindsight, I should have used an Opera Rose instead of Rose Dore which would have given a more intense pink. Next time!!! This underpainting stage is known as the ugly stage of illumination. Nothing is clear. Paint looks dreary and the gilding looks flat and lifeless. Many students of illumination get discouraged at this stage thinking this will be their final look. But it is only a building stage. This work will continue to evolve.
Slowly the intensity of the colour is built up in layers. I try not to apply a thick wash of colour but prefer to gradually build the intensity. I added some Payne's Grey to the French Ultramarine Blue to add some depth. Burnt Sienna was added to the Quinachridone Gold to add depth to the gold tones and Alizarin Crimson deepened the Rose Dore. I should add that all of this is watercolour and not Gouache. I have been challenged by some artists to use Gouache rather than watercolour but it is absolutely my preference to build up these layers with silky appllictions of watercolour rather than the more velvety look of Gouache. The preference is personal and I feel I have more control with watercolour than with Gouache. The Olive Green was overpainted with Holbein Shadow Green to add depth to the leaves. Bleedproof White and McCaffery Brown Filigree work make up the final stages of the piece.
The Bleedproof white adds dimension to the foliage and the inking stage is the final clean up to the piece as well as making the design look more complex and ornate. It was a pleasure from start to finish and a learning piece throughout. The piece took me over 2 months to complete but I only worked on it for short periods of time. Skills evolved and changed as I worked on the piece. More skill was gained over the brush and consistency of paint. It was so much fun to be totally immersed in a personal project like this. And I still have the pleasure of searching for a frame.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

K is for Kathleen

This week I recieved a very precious gift from a wonderful artist. Kathleen Rollick is a talented calligrapher that I met at IAMPETH a few years ago. When I was president of the organization in 2014 she gave me a beautiful piece of her artwork that she had made into a necklace. I was so touched by her generous spirit and felt so privileged to have a piece of her artwork to wear. When I received a package in the mail from her this week, my heart skipped a beat.
Anything she would share with me would be a welcome surprise but nothing could prepare me for what was in the package. I knew of her incredible work of handpainted Easter Eggs. I had stumbled across an article about her Easter Eggs while I was looking up information for my Indianapolis conference in 2014. You can read the article here. Her prayerful process of the painting the eggs and and creating them for a specific person was so touching and heartwarming. I never dreamed I would have one of my own. She enclosed the fragile egg carefully in a tea container and sent along a very special note along with a key of the all of the symbols she used to paint the egg.
I can only imagine how time consuming the whole process was for her to complete. And to know that I had been prayed for while she painted the egg, brought tears to my eyes.
What a precious and special gift. Something I will always cherish. And now I have the joy of searching for the just the right egg cup for display! I will enjoy the hunt in the antique shops! I created this Enchanted Letter as a thank you for Kathleen.
Something from my hands and my heart with sincere gratitude for her artwork. I created the first design on the matte film, trying my Enchanted Letter techniques and gilding on the film. It worked really well and I was pleased with the results up until the Finetec gold was added for embellishement. The Finetec gold seemed to spread out a little too far on the matte film.
I continued to finish the piece but ultimately did a second letter to send to Kathleen. This time working on Somerset Satin paper with a slight texture. Both letters were created with a such appreciation for this amazing artist.
Her incredibly generous gift to me was a reminder of how healing and blessing our work can be to others. If the thought crosses your mind to send a piece of your artwork to someone else....act on it. Don't second guess yourself. Just trust your instincts and see what happens. You have no idea the chain reaction of joy that it can bring to someone else. It can be as simple as a decorated envelope with a note inside to let someone know you were thinking of them! Now I just need more hours in the day to get notes to those who have been on my mind. Thank you dear Kathleen for blessing me!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

April Awakenings

A is for April.... It's been a strange month here in Canada. After an unusually warm winter we were hit with a cold, icy and snowy spring. But slowly the garden is awakening.
The buds are forming on the weeping pea tree and the pear and apple trees are springing to life.
Signs of spring are everywhere. Spring is my season. Every thing wakes up!
The doldrums of winter begin to receed as the birds come back to the yard and the days get longer. I love this season. Lots of new things on the horizon for me. I will be shifting some of my responsibilites very soon to make way for new studies and pursuits. The more I paint the natural world and combine that with my calligraphic art, the more I realize that is the path that I want to follow for this next phase of my life. The winter season always seems to dull my senses and things begin to come into perspective for me in the spring! My outdoor studio was ready and waiting for me when I returned from my teaching trip to Albuquerque. While I was busy with the Victorian Pen class, my husband was busy preparing my outdoor space.
Just the thought that it is ready for me to start working makes me so eager for new projects!! I just have to wait for the weather to warm up a little! Wherever you find that sacred space, I hope spring brings you new revelations and starts to awaken new projects within! Enjoy the sunshine, watch the birds, be grateful for the space and time that you have and begin to create!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

April Surprises

April is starting out pretty chilly here in Ontario. Lots of snow on the ground, a brief ice storm and another blast of winter. But Spring will come! As I continue to navigate the time struggles I encounter each day, I am getting more balanced about time spent on the computer. I find it a necessary part of my daily routine as I respond to email, prepare for each new workshop with all of the necessary travel correspondence, work on new projects and updating handouts. It seems the artist gets delayed while the adminstrator does all of the necessary work. I am experimenting with a schedule change in my own routine, where the artist works first and then allows time for the adminstrator to take care of her tasks. I am reading through the book Daily Rituals by Mason Currey and it is encouraging to see the time struggles of so many others. Interesting reading, but bizarre in spots.
I am still trying to accomplish all of my necessary work, while giving the artist more free time. I will see how it works. One of the surprises I had waiting for me was Duralar Matte Film.
I had ordered it weeks ago and it sat patiently waiting for me to try it. It is full of surprises. For some strange reason, I bought it for watercolour work which it is not compatible with in the least. Although the packaging states it will work with paint, I can't see how as every technique I tried on the paper created small beads of unblended watercolour. So I pulled out my FaberCastell Polychromos pencils and gave it a try. I was encouraged at the results. My first experiment was a leaf drawing.
The polyester film will take several layers of a light application of the coloured pencils before a saturation point is reached. But then it seems to stop taking any colour. I did not realize when I was practicing on the leaf study, that I could turn the paper over and add details to the back. So I attempted a Hoefnagel inspired snail design just using neutral tones and slowly building up layers.
The Duralar is great for capturing details. It erases easily with kneaded eraser. It does dull the coloured pencils very quickly. Apparently it will take ink but I am skeptical about how well I can letter on this film. I look forward to more detailed experminents to see what I can do on this matte film. My suspicion is that Prismacolour pencils will be less successful because of their waxy nature. The quality of the Polychromos seems a good fit for this polyester film. I hope to learn more about the qualities of this medium as the artist continues to take time to question and study.

Friday, March 25, 2016

The Race of Time

Diving into different forms of studies to help augment my calligraphic work has been an eye opening experience. There are so many layers to peel back and discover. Whether I am studying a butterfly specimen
or trying to truly observe something as seemingly simple as a blueberry, I find myself mesmerized by the process. My study into Botancial art has led me to the work of an artist named Rory McEwen. His work is fascinating. Much of his work is done on vellum. Many paintings are a simple leaf
or flower placed on an oversized piece of vellum.
Every detail is captured and preserved. I find it so engrossing to just observe both the simplicity of the composition while seeing the magnitude of the detail. His use of vellum is extraordinary. Botanical work is for detail enthusiasts. There is no denying it. His book " The Colours of Reality' is wonderful if you are able to find a copy. Although I loved the paintings and the essays, I spent the most time on the end pages as I read through his work diary entries. He carefully dated each entry and noted his hours of work on each of the subjects he was painting.
I marveled at his routine. I applauded his discipline. I was stunned at how quickly some paintings were created while others took him so much longer and notes were added if he went back to rework them. So much is captured on that paper just by observing his routine! Back in self-reflection mode, I wonder at my own routine. Rory's journal entries are from 1981 and 1982. It was a time before instagram and facebook. Pretty sure he didn't have a cell phone sending push notifications. I notice that he gets interrupted in his work as he takes time out for travel, packing up his studio, cleaning his studio and photographing. I can relate to that. Just two end pages in the book but I feel as if I know something about his routine by reading his careful notes. As I reflect on my work routine, lately it is more gaps and interruptions than work. Something is out of order in my routine and needs to be put back in order. I think the journal entries are a great idea so I can get a snap shot of how my time is spent. Reading through the book, has brought more questions to my mind than answers but the time to question things is a welcome time for me. It's so funny what can be hiding unexpectedly in the pages of a book! Looking foward to trying the work diary entries to see what I can discover about myself. I will keep you posted.

Wednesday, March 9, 2016

The March Hare

It happens every Spring. It must be seeing all the Spring decorations in the stores or a touch of Spring Fever. I always start painting rabbits.
I love them. I don't mind in the least that they eat my vegetables in the garden while they are still sprouting. They also eat all of the dandelions!! One of my first study pieces I ever did with my teacher and Master Illuminator Debbie Thompson Wilson was a little Medieval Rabbit. I still have him framed and I look at him every day. When I see my first attempts at Illumination, I wonder why I ever continued. But there is something in adding tiny decadent touches of gold to work that is so appealing. I continue to get emails from people who are discouraged with their current progress. We've all been there. But I have learned over the years that the work itself is the reward. Every time I sit down to write or to paint I am investing in this creative life. I am pursuing something that I believe is so deeply personal. Be ok with the journey. Be ok with the time you need to invest in it. Just keep going and find the teachable moment that each piece of artwork has to offer you. There is a hidden gem in each piece that only you can discover as you continue to work. The fact is that although I study Medieval and Renaissance Illumination techniques, my work is far from it. The underlying influence of all my work is the Victorian Era. I couldn't stifle it if I tried. The March Hare is a result of my hybridized Victorian style blended with a touch of gilding. The miniature is painted on a scrap of calfskin vellum. Painting is done with watercolor. This past week I tried working with gouache and found that I fought the medium too much. Watercolour is my medium of choice. I am really enjoying my Daniel Smith dot card and I have drastically expanded my collection of their transparent pigments. Many of them appear on this little bunny and I amazed at their ease of use. I have been trying a variety of brushes that I received in the mail from a dear friend. I am learning that a larger brush can work even in tiny miniature painting as long as that point holds. I am finding that I prefer the larger brushes! Gilding is done with Miniatum Ink and Jerry Tresser's Czech 23K gold leaf. The gold is the brightest I have ever seen. The March Hare is designed for an upcoming workshop I will be presenting in Birmingham, Alabama. I have been developing the Enchanted Meadow workshop for several years.
Much of the study has come through observing the work of Marie Angel and her excellent guidance in her Painting for Calligraphers book. The foliate work presented is based on principles of Victorian Ornamental design which seems to come into all of my work no matter what medium I choose. Gilding techniques are simple in this workshop but the painting techniques presented are slow and mindful. But what a labour of love. This spring, as the robins return and the chimpmunks and rabbits start to make frequent visits I will be ever vigilant to observe them and try to jot notes in my study books. Quite a few Enchanted Meadow works may appear on my blog as I work on a new set of handouts for the class. There are still a few hours of work left to do on the rabbit but he is starting to shape up.
I know I am rushing the season...but Happy Spring!