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.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Wild Patience

Not sure where this quote came from. I had it jotted down in one of my journals and decided it would be perfect for a butterfly exploration. We planted a butterfly bush in the meditation garden and it has had many beautiful butterflies. One visitor was a Great Spangled Frittilary. I had never seen one before and wanted to paint it immediately. I did not have one in my specimen collection so I sort of created a composite butterfly based on a Comma Butterfly in my collection, a Painted Lady and my memory of the Great Spangled Frittilary. That is the beauty of The Enchanted Meadow. Our creatures don't have to be entirely real, but they do help to hone skills and develop keen observation skils. Since the Birmingham workshop launch of The Enchanted Meadow, I have had multiple requests to teach it at various guilds. I will keep you posted! I have been thrilled with student work too. I have received emails from students who have put Pandas in their Enchanted Meadow as well as a gorgeous chickadee. So exciting to see that enthusiasm for painted miniatures is contagious. My email inbox continues to be full. Lots of questions from various artists and new students to the calligraphic world. The new students seem to be captivated through all of the calligraphic art they see on instagram. I see this as a mixed blessing. There are lots of wonderful posts. There are lots of different styles to explore and so many different opinions of what is right and what is wrong. No shortages of opinions, including my own. Some great advice out there and some not so great. What I do see is a trend to create quickly and post instantly. My advice to students who have worked through the basics and are getting bored of just exploring a single word or group of letters is to start to develop a portfolio of completed artwork. You are never too young in your journey to do this. You will develop an eye for compostion and skills at working on larger pieces. I waited far too long in my journey to do this, thinking that my skills weren't worthy to be put on a piece of proper art paper. Let me assure you, this couldn't be further than the truth. Invest in some quality paper and work on a finished piece that intriques you. Learn the lesson that it has to teach, sign it, date it and then do another one. Develop a sense of awareness of all the things that can go right or terribly wrong on a piece of artwork and keep notes on your process. Dig deeper, challenge yourself and constantly explore. There is fine line between exploring subjects that are just a bit too difficult for your skill level and those that are too easy and will not challenge you. Find that balance and give it a try. The worse thing that can happen is that you don't like what you create. Just move on to the next project after learning the lessons of the previous one. I know I say this a lot, but I seem to have a lot of people feeling " stalled" or hitting a plateau. This is one way forward. We all hit those plateaus and we all feel stalled now and then. The only way I know to get through that is to keep showing up at your work space and trying something one day at a time. This painted butterfly piece taught me so much and challenges me to try another and another. I hope those who read this blog post find some encouragement to try a larger piece. Branch out from just practicing your favourite script and work on a finished composition. See what happens! Be wildy patient with yourself as you try new things and work through ideas. There is no race and no finish line that I have ever seen or heard of. Just more to explore! Happy exploring!!!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Living In Wonder

Right now I find time for botanical art work here and there. I would love to immerse myself in the process much more deeply, but I have so many other commitments to take care of. Lots of upcoming travel dates and lots of commission work. Not complaining....just trying to manage my time more effectively! The botanical art journey has been wonderful so far. Intriguing and mesermerizing. It has awakened my sense of awareness and a deep appreciation for the beauty that surrounds me. It has changed me. I am now impossibly difficult to walk with! I stop and look at leaves on the ground, crab apples that are slowly ripening or a grasshopper that is resting. Grocery stores and farmer's markets are equally distracting! I am not looking at produce now to consume, but to draw! It's really quite fun. I want to see everything. I want to take it all in. I have such a deep respect for those botanical artists who can capture every detail and still draw me inward for a closer look at what they are illustrating. The process is captivating. Some people just don't get it at all and think I should just take a photograph. That comment just totally misses the point. What I am learning in the world of botanical art confirms the process that I go through as a pointed pen artist. It is total immersion with your subject. When I look at a leaf, I am not trying to recreate every detail like a photograph would. I am trying to understand the subject. Trying to really see all the different colours in a single green leaf. Look at the veining patterns. Try to see every colour and shape that is represented. It is fascinating. It is endless. I can safely say that I am hooked! These studies help inform my calligraphic work. They help me appreciate the skills I have with a pointed pen and help me to see how much more there is to learn. Every day is an adventure and a challenge. Every day is filled with wonder. Pictures in this blog post are from my sketchbook and from my garden. Enjoy each day and each season as it comes and goes!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Enchanted Meadow Workshop

I started illumination classes in 2005. I was taught by an absolute master of the medium Debbie Thompson Wilson. I think her soul resides in the Medieval era. We learned more than just how to copy a medieval miniature. We learned about the meanings behind the minatures and the humour that was often embedded secretly within. I was captivated by the techniques and the subject matter. In 2011 I started to launch out with my own studies. I was not content to take an exisiting miniature and recreate it on vellum or paper. I wanted to combine my own ideas and perhaps some of my Victorian influences. As a result of those studies, I produces a series of miniatures called The Enchanted Meadow.
I did not keep an accurate photo record of those miniatures. Most of them ended up in the hands of dear friends over the years. I didn't make them to reproduce or to sell, I made them to share with others. I can't even remember where they all went, but there are a few owls, several rabbits, a squirrel, a butterfly and a fox in the hands of precious friends and family members. They have become the guardians of their miniature and I hope they still enjoy them. I have kept one or two over the years. The Gift Bearer started in my precious journal and then became my Christmas card one year.
This weekend, after years of study, and three years of trying to figure out how to teach this workshop over one or two days, The Enchanted Meadow will be launched at the Birmingham Calligraphy Guild. Birmingham seems to be my launching ground. Dana Jacobson first brought me there to teach in 2011. I was one of several teachers invited to teach pointed pen techniques over a one year study period. It was an honour to be part of that experience and such a talented group of calligraphers. It was my first guild teaching experience after my launch into the teaching world at the International Calligraphy Conference in Boston of 2010. In 2012 at the Birmingham calligraphy guild, Held Pens were launched. Chris's first designs were produced for that guild. I taughed my Enchanted Letters workshop for the first time in Birmingham and met lifetime friends at that guild. Packing right now is an adventure and I am taking a break to update the blog.
This class will go into the techniques for designing foliate scroll work as well as painting a charming little meadow creature. My head has been in books, vellum scraps, paint palettes and sable brushes for weeks as I put on final touches to this class.
I usually have an iron clad schedule for delivering a workshop but this one is a little harder to plan for. There is a bit of learning curve with the dry brush technique needed to develop the fur or feathers of the meadow creatures. I think I will be on a bit of an adventure as I teach it but I am so excited to launch this class. Painted miniatures, calligraphy, flourishing and now botanical studies are much needed times of slowing down for me. All of these studies force me to take time to really observe and notice what I am doing. It is a welcome practice in an age that seems to be speed driven. There is a definite balancing act that is needed these days in my studio, home, computer and studies. Still looking for a routine where I can work steadily on projects that need to be accomplished while staying in that student/explorer mode. I know that many of you are struggling with that same balancing act. I am right there with you and know what you are going through. At times it can be overwhelming. I find that those are times I need to "check out" for a time, go offline, and quiet down with a leisurely walk or a book on the backyard swing. This is a principle I will be sharing at the workshop this weekend. Painted miniatures require slow and deliberate techniques. They require a calming of the mind and the soul. I am looking forward to launching not only the techniques for painting the minatures but the thought process behind them. Happy painting everyone!!!

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.