Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Snowflakes and Flourishes..No Two Alike

Still enjoying the wintery flourishes in a very mild December here in Ontario. I enjoyed creating this large snowflake flourish this past weekend.
It is done on midnight blue cardstock with Bleedproof white, Swarovski crystals and an Esterbrook 358. The original will go into my portfolio and be included in a 2016 workshop for Festive Flourishes. I created a second design this afternoon and my thoughts came together about the individuality and creativity in both the snowflake and offhand flourishing. I apologize in advance that this post is more opinionated than most, but I get very passionate about this discussion.
In its height of form in the late 1800's, offhand flourishing was anything but unique. Most pen artists were utilizing and repeating the same designs. We saw birds, plumes, quills, scrolls, more birds, leaping stags, horses, swans, still more birds, a few angels and a zebra or two. The ornamental work was part of the skill set of the penmen of the day. Instructions in my 1884 edition of Real Penwork Instructor in Penmanship emphasize copying and tracing. The book states that"leading penmen and pen-artists" would use this method for a quick and easy way to make an exact copy of ornamental penwork. The book states that this has been kept "sort of a secret". It goes on to state that " a child can make an exact copy of any kind of ornamental penwork and do it to wonderful perfection." What struck me when I did the second snowflake flourish, was that the instructions given in the 1884 manual are still living on. I am seeing lots online of copied works utilizing the tracing process. I think it was bad advice in 1884 and remains an unnecessary and restrictive process to what should be a freeing and creative form. I also don't agree that the end result should be "wonderful perfection." If I wanted wonderful perfection, I would buy a rubber stamp. The process of offhand flourishing has an organic feel. The line is natural. It meanders. It can have many repeated elements and create wonderfully varied results. I have never achieved perfection with a design. I hope for excellence, but perfection and offhand flourishing just don't seem to go hand in hand in my mind. When I started flourishing back in 2003, all I had as a reference was Ornate Pictorial Calligraphy by Dover publications. Later I added The Ames Compendium. I loved the Victorian looking designs and tried to emulate the strokes I saw there, but my mind did not enter into the realm of thinking that I should trace them. I tried my best to discern the shapes and made some hideous looking flourishes. But the both the journey and the process were very authentic. It took time, it took brain power and it took determination. I had many failures. My recycling bin was always filled with the trials and errors. It didn't take me long to realize that I did not want to repeat the historic forms. I wanted to use them as inspiration but find my own voice with them. As offhand flourishing artists, we owe no allegiance to repeat those designs. Use them as a springboard. be inspired, but move beyond the tracing process. We are truly free to create what is in our heart and mind's eye. Experiment and play. Realize that just like snowfkakes no two will ever be alike. See what evolves naturally. You will like some and toss some. That is all part of the process. The tracing process recommended in the book is a straight jacket for the artist and shackles true expression. Just play!!! I really believe that playful exuberance was the beginning of offhand flourishing. Over the years, the true offhand flourish evolved into the rendered flourish which begins as a detailed pencil drawing. It is more formal, can be very striking and impressive, but is an entirely different skill than offhand flourishing which is not preplanned. To be even more technical, I see three types of flourishing. True Offhand which has no preplanning or pre-penciling. The Constrained Flourish, which still is offhand in that it is not preplanned but is constrained to falling with the lines of a shape such as my previous post with the peace border, or any of my cookie cutter flourishes. Finally the Rendered Flourish which is predrawn and then flourished over the pencil lines. The only way I see the Rendered Flourish as being successful is when the pencil lines are used as a light guide rather than slavishly traced. Whatever method you choose, be playful and free and allow yourself the time and patience to take the journey. Happy Playful Flourishing!!!!

Thursday, December 10, 2015


It's been a busy month so far. Always busy in December. This week has been particularly pensive for many of us here in St. George. We lost dear little Evan Leversage to his battle with cancer. His story can be found online. As I traveled this October and November, I was stunned that people in Columbus, Ohio and Victoria, British Columbia knew of Evan's story. He galvinized our community with his wish to celebrate Christmas early this year. St George has been touched by his story and he has left a definite impact on my thoughts this Christmas season. I put my Christmas tree up in October in honour of Evan. Back when I learned about his story earlier this year, I created an angel card called Evan's Hope.
Happy to mail one to anyone who writes to me with their address. Hoping my blog readers find time to slow down and breathe this season. It can be overwhelming and full of pressure. Do something just for you that brings you peace and joy this season.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

Welcoming December

It must be the mild weather we are experiencing these days that gives me the false impression that I have plenty of time to get all of my tasks completed this month.
Despite the Christmas tree being up, Christmas music playing in the stores and lights everywhere, the sight of shoppers in shorts and flip flops in December really throws one off track! But I am keeping that delusion for the moment. The Christmas Season is always a mixed blessing for me. I feel overwhelmed at times, pulled in multiple directions and on sensory overload as I see glitter and bling everywhere. Trying to remember to slow down this year and write to as many people as I can. Each envelope I address
has me cherishing that friendship while I write the note and finish their envelope. It is a small way that I can reach out and visit them this season even though we are miles apart. Hope my blog readers can slow down a bit this season, put pen to paper and revisit a friend.
If you want to view the Christmas video this year, it is posted on youtube.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Sneak Peek Just for My Blog Viewers!!!!

Chris and I have been working dilegently completing orders while trying to launch a new website which adds a feature for Held Pens..
It is an upgrade from our old site as it should be easier to view on ipads and iphones and it has the ease of being a wordpress site which I understand much more than my old site. I wanted to create some artwork specifically for the site and for the studio and began working on the Held Pens sign a few weeks ago.
My initial idea was to do an art nouveau style but once again the Victorian Muse took over!
So far Chris is being a good sport about all the pink Swarovski crystals and glittering stardust emebellishments. More to come soon!

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

My Desert Island Hand

I am home. It is safe to unpack and put all of my treasured supplies away in their proper spots. All of my workshop engagements are wrapped up until the New Year. Time to breathe. There is a huge workload here at home but it will be easier to see to it without a suitcase waiting by the door.
I just completed a week of classes in British Columbia.
Starting with The Victorian Pen, then The Artful Flourish and finishing with The Poetic Pen....my workshop in Italian Hand! Italian Hand remains my favorite script hand!
Historically, it has been around longer than any other script hand. It is firmly rooted in the Italic
and has a grace and beauty that completely captivates my soul.
I prefer to study the European influences and exemplars of the hand rather than the later American versions. My hand is now hybridized. It has some nuances about that borrow from my Spencerian roots and I definitely gravitate to the English Roundhand capitals over the reverse shaded capitals!
After three years of study and exploration, this is the script that I would take with me to a desert island. There is a sense of delight to it. A playful exuberance that is reflected in the bounce of the strokes. A lack of rigidity and preciseness that gives it a whimsical look.
Although Ambrose Heal may call it 'bulbous and degenerate" I choose to disagree and call it pure magic! All of my study sheets and exemplars stayed with the guild members in Britsh Columbia, but I did get a few shots as they were being written.
If you have never tried this hand, I recommend the starting place of The Universal Penman and Penmanship made Easy by George Bickahm. Both are available from Dover Publications. Also try the exemplar here by Becker.
You can see how he contrasts it with English Roundhand. I owe my study and passion of this hand to my friend Don Marsh.
 Don's passion for reviving the history of this hand sparked my interest a few years ago. Now I can hardly imagine my life without with this incredible hand. Let it into your soul...see what evolves. Remember this is handwriting...it will take on the quirks of the writer. Let that happen. In the end, you want a script that is positively dripping from your fingertips. Play, Breathe, Write.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Me and Strathmore

When I designed the Writing logo for Strathmore papers they were kind enough to send me one of everything in their Writing line!
What a treat! For a person with an already serious journal addiction, this was heaven!
Last week I had wonderful intentions to fill one of the blank journals with nothing but floral flourishes for my students to look through at an upcoming class called The Vintage Garden.
The class is designed around Victorian ornament that is inspired by their ornate curvilinear engravings. With our ink and pointed pens, we almost sculpt the dimensional flowers. I wanted the Strathmore paper because it is more ivory in colour and the pages are slightly heavier than my other journals. The black ink against the cream background reminded me of Toille fabric.
I thought that it would be an image rich journal for students to flip through. By page 2, my precious journal had met with a slight ink mishap! My McCaffery Black ink cap was not on quite right and the ensuing leak wiped out the edges of my new journal as well as 4 older ones!!!!!! So I have ink black edges on the journal. A few pages are less than pristine coming up, but I will continue to see what I can produce in the journal. More ornate designs coming as the curves meet lines!

Monday, October 19, 2015

Study, Practice, Reflect

It's been a little while since I touched on this theme but the emails I am receiving are calling me to comment. I am so thrilled at the enthusiasm and passion I see in the calligraphic world. I see young people who are becoming enthralled with pen and ink and passionately practicing. I get a lot of emails asking how to progress to the next step of their journey or how to "level jump" quickly. I would respond by recalling how one of my mentors responded to me in my penmanship journey. I credit Brian Walker as the penman who brought patience to my penmanship journey and gave me discerning eyes to really see my work. Practice is great. I believe in it whole heartedly. Early in my penmanship journey I often devoted 3 hours a day at least to practice. But the practice was not necessarily intelligent practice. I needed to step back from the practice time and really devote equal time to study. So the pen was put aside for equal time spent in truly observing letterforms. I made this a daily ritual until the letterforms were so clearly in my mind that I could see them before writing. After devoted time to study and practice, I would save time for reflection. I would look back over my daily and weekly practice papers and cast a critical eye over the work. Where did I need to improve? What was strong? What was weak? Were my forms consistent? It was through this three pronged approach that I finally saw improvement. There was no level jumping or quick progress that I could easily discern but there was steady progress. Occasionally I would hit a plateau and need to call in other eyes to look over my work. I can't recommend this process highly enough. It still helps me develop instincts and an eye for detail. As I continue to study new techniques, I never depart from what Brian instilled in me. Study, Practice, Reflect.  As autumn settles into my area of the world with its vibrant colours and cooler air, I am finding myself very reflective of changes that are happening in my work. I will keep you posted.

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. Seriously...my 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.