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 brush..at 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 script...it 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.

Monday, May 11, 2015

The Haven is Ready

Winter has given up and the outdoor studio is set up and ready for work!
Seasons go by too quickly here for me to stay indoors doing my work in my little studio. I love to be surrounded by the sights and sounds of nature as I work. This year, study time is with a new Botanical painting book by Muriel Thurstan and Rosie Martin.
The book has beautiful step by step instruction and is worth the price for the colour mixing section alone. I am not a huge fan of the double primary mixing system but I am giving it a try with their recommended colours.
I think the colour that always me threw me off in that system was having Cerulean Blue as my warm blue. The authors have recommeded Prussian Blue as the warm blue and I am enjoying the variations it is capable of. Spring and Summer are my busiest seasons but I am looking foward to the lessons I can continue to learn in my little outdoor haven.

Monday, April 20, 2015

A Mini Retreat

I recognize that I am in overdrive work mode seven days a week and sometimes looking for an eight day week! As an artist I am always gratful for the work but recognize the need to take a break.
I spent the afternoon with my daughter at the Butterfly conservatory. What a beautiful time letting the images soak into my soul!! Nature is so healing.
It's not quite warm enough here in St. George to open my outdoor studio for the season and I needed to be surrounded with the flights of birds and butterflies and see the bright flowers. Spring can't come soon enough!

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Feeling Blessed

Feeling so blessed after a weekend workshop for Capital City Scribes in Austin, Texas. What a delight to come to such a well organized guild!!! They took care of everything that I could possibly need and even had time to show me the Bluebonnets that line the highways and fields! It was such a joy to escape from the brownish muddy landscape of a still thawing Ontario and get into the warmth and full spring temperatures of Austin!!! Pure magic and so restorative to see the greens and the blooming plants. I was happy to share my Enchanted Letter class and look forward to the rest of my workshops this year. I seldom post pictures of myself but my dear friend Trish Taylor captured this picture and I will always cherish this memory.
A few more pictures captured from the weekend of the beautiful blooms on the roadside
. Austin you will be cherished in my heart and memories.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

The Room of Requirement

The artist's studio is their workspace. Their workroom. Their place of study. That space is sacred. My space is small. It is somewhat shared space. The workhorse computer is in there and is sometimes accessed by others in the family. It is my cat Oscar's favourite space.
He is often beside me as I work. He gets the most comfortable chair in the studio, and has a way of getting me to move off of it if he wants a nap. It is my library. I am surrounded by books that I love and reach for on a daily basis. It contains precious tools. Ones that I reach for every day, care for and depend upon. It is quiet. I can shut out the world here and become engrossed in my work. There are times when it is a battleground as I struggle with messes I have neglected to clean up or a task list that is too big to tackle. It has seen my greatest artistic achievements and my greatest failures. It is where the muse lives and I am grateful for this little space.I never apologize for the condition it might be left in if I am called away from it. For Hogwarts people...this is my room of requirement. Today I was up at 4 AM with an eagerness to tidy the space and get it prepared for the next project. I found the results of this weekend's work still strewn on the desk. Play pages of Vertical Script writing that loosened up my hand before I worked on a commission.
My journal opened to a page of favourite quotes.
A stack of books I looked at this week just for fun...just to draw me to a different place. Walter Crane's The Old Garden,
Irene Wellington's More Than Fine Writing
and Russian Lacquer Legends and Fairy Tales.
"" This is a place of creative incubation. At first, you may find that nothing happens there. But if you have a sacred place and use it, take advantage of it, something will happen." Joseph Campbell

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Gently Does It

Busy weekend. So thankful for an abundance of work. I spent most of the day working on this small gilded piece. I encountered some obstacles with it. My original design was lettered in a dense black ink. I felt that the lettering was too harsh for the gentle quote. I defaulted to my favourite McCaffery brown and used a split nib to tone down the lettering. This piece is gilded with 23K gold leaf. I used instacoll for the capital T and miniatum ink for the gold throughought the flourish. I was nervous about the instacoll but it worked and shone brilliantly when the gold was burnished. Swarovski crystals are embedded throughout the piece. On its way to its new home.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Hoping for Spring

The calender is into March but snow abounds!!! I took a little time out to work on this wingless cherub. Experimenting with glues to adhere the Swarovski crystals. Beacon's Gem Tac seems to be working well. This design went from sketch stage to inking with McCaffery brown.
It was then gilded with 23 K Czech gold leaf and embellished with watercolor.
Miniatum ink still proving to be a favorite in my studio. A delight to work on and a breath of Spring for me on a dismal day.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Tools We Love

As I was cleaning up my studio this morning I was struck by how ritualistic I have become with my work and my workspace. I have a very small studio. Not much more than a corner to work in. I am surrounded by books that I refer to constantly and very special tools. After each piece is completed in my studio, I clear off the clutter that has encroached my space during the working process and wash down the work surface. It seems to cleanse my mind from the previous project and prepares my little space for the next project. My Valentine card this year was created with some precious tools that I don't think I have shared before. Some small detail brushes and containers have been very helpful in my illumination work. The Size 1 Detail Sable Brush is from Dick Blick. I picked it up on my first trip to Philadelphia to teach Enchanted Letters. I had forgotten my brush box and although I don't mind borrowing tools when I am away, I am very particular about my brushes. Lucky to have a Dick Blick near the workshop it was my first trip into that store. I don't remember the brush being very expensive but it has held a perfect point for a few years now and is the best Sable brush I have ever owned. I realized how attached I was to it and it was only purchased out of desperation. I would normally have chosen a Winsor Newton Series 7 but the store did not have them in stock. It was a lucky purchase! The aqua Princeton Select 18/0 brush was purchased in Nashville this past October. Again, lucky to be teaching a workshop in an artstore and I needed a detail brush. This was a new discovery for me and now all outline work I do is done with this little brush. It too retains its point and is easier for me to manage than other liner or monogram brushes. The Royal & Langnickel 20/0 acrylic brush was recently purchased at Michaels. Another desperation purchase for applying gold size. The brushes used for gold size can deteriorate very quickly but this one is my new studio iron man! It has already survived multiple miniatum ink applications and the perfect point has been retained. I am very impressed with all of these very inexpensive brushes.
I also wanted to show you two of my favorite gilding tools. A little Victorian salt dish complete with mini tongs! I don't use the mini tongs for gilding but I do use the salt dish to capture all my stray bits of gold leaf. So far there has never been enough in there to much with but now and then it is exactly what I reach for if I only need a touch of gold or need to make a correction. It is always by my side! The leakproof widemouth Nalgene jar is my new best friend for the Miniatum ink. No more leaks or painfully sealed jar lids! A dream come true!!! Before I cleaned up my desk I wanted to share these gilding and miniature illumination favourite tools with you. Happy February 15th!

Monday, February 2, 2015

Believe in Angels

First in a special series I am working on that will be printed into note cards.
As I work on Designed Flourishes for my Victorian Pen workshop, I can't help but be guided by Kate Greenaway once again. She remains one of my biggest influences. Her biography is fascinating. She was highly critiqued for her illustrations yet she kept on painting. People thought her little children looked mournful but I found them serene an peaceful. Walter Crane was an outspoken critic of her work. I have often wondered what she thought when she heard Walter Crane's critiques. Yet she kept on. He was a powerful and influential illustrator who did not appreciate her work...yet she forged her own path. As I painted the face on this little angel, visions of Kate's little cherubs were in my head. The book that influences me is the Kate Greenaway Treasury.
I have had it since I was a child. It's not even mine!!! It belongs to my Dad who got it as a part of a book club. But I adopated in and in case he is looking for it....I absconded with it years ago! It teaches me and it instructs my students. Years ago, my dear friend Anne Sheedy gave me a first edition Kate Greenaway book. Engraved by Edmund Evans and very precious to me. This is the page that has influenced my embroidery and my Victorian Line and Wash techniques.
Recently, my dear friend Ann Cobb blessed me with a page from one of the first editions of Kate Greenaway's Language of Flowers book.
It should be framed and on my wall but this piece travels with me as I teach my workshops. The brown signature outlines of her watercolours influenced me to choose McCaffery Brown ink. It is always the perfect colour. It is not technically waterproof but it has never failed me in this technique.
The Victorian in me loves her gentle subject matter. I love the subdued tones of her watercolors contrasted by the brown outline. I could sense Kate's influence in this piece but the vinework and the cherub are coming from Baroque studies. My little angel is on his way to his new home. Gilded with 23K Czech gold and painted with soft watercolours, this piece measures 4 1/8" by 2 3/4".