Sunday, December 10, 2006

Whoa! A private school (the Mary Erskine and Stewart's Melville Junior School in Scotland) is having students use fountain pens to do their work. They say good handwriting is as important as ever and helps build self-esteem. I love it! I am encouraged! There may be hope for the world yet!

excerpt from the AP article:

Ten-year-old Cailean Gall has been using fountain pens in class for two years. It took the keen soccer player one month to master the pen and, like all pupils at the school, still has regular handwriting lessons.

"At the start it was hard because I kept smudging, but you get used to it," he said. "I still have to use a pencil for maths, and now I find it strange using the pencils. I like it because it makes me concentrate much more on my work."

Cailean now uses his fountain pen even for non-school work, but classmate Katie Walker, 11, prefers to use ball point and pencil when not in class.

"I use it for schoolwork and homework only," she said. "It is quite easy using a fountain pen once you're used to it. My parents say it's improved my work enormously."

The children learn a handwriting style developed by teachers at the school, which charges $12,500 a year. New teachers are also put through a course on how to write with pens — as well as refresher courses on literacy and numeracy — before they are let loose in classes.


Some people in wealthy nations argue that handwriting is becoming less important because of the growing use of cell phone text messaging and typing on computers, but the school disagrees.

In August, for example, examiners at the Scottish Qualifications Agency complained they had difficulty deciphering the scrawl of many students on exam papers used to determine admission to universities.

"We talk of the paperless office and the paperless world, but this is not true," Lewis said. "You still need to have proper handwriting skills."

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Where is my sumi?

I once read an account written by a woman who went to Tibet to a Buddhist monastary for a period of time. She said that while she was there many of her personal items disappeared: hairbrush, lip balm, eyeglasses, things like that. But on the last night they were all given back to her by the monks who had removed them surreptitiously as part of her training. I suppose the lesson was that we don't really need 'things.'

I like to think there is a similar explanation for the disappearance of certain things since we moved three months ago. How two large bottles of sumi ink could have vanished I'll never know. That large brown bottle sumi is the workhorse of my inks. And some of my favorite books--the ones that were on top of everything else! And an entire box of my kids' toys. I suspect monks have been creeping about my garage--where all that stuff should be--when we're sleeping. I'm hoping they give it back soon.

In particular I really need the rest of the mat cutter to finish up a freelance job...

Friday, December 08, 2006

It was over a year ago that I did this piece. I was using it to see what pigments can go on top of other pigments, and learned that Rotring airbrush pigments bleed horribly when written over a thick acrylic fabric paint. These are all song lyrics from Coldplay, Keane, and the McGarrigle Sisters. All just music I was listening to at the time! I think I will redo this piece...some things were working out nicely and some weren't. What was I thinking using that lavender?! Actually, the lavender letters were the first ones I did and as I went along they became incongruent. I think I will work on this some more, in January, and then put a picture up of the whole thing, maybe even ironed.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Sometimes I do psalms. This is part of one. I liked the way it felt as I was writing it, but then the paper ended...these things happen! Actually, this was part of a book I was making as a calligraphy journal. I got carried away and started writing before assembling the thing, and now pages are all over the place and cut up. The point of doing calligraphy in a journal was to not have to use lines. Which is why this lettering is all wavy and crooked.

This morning I was diving in my flat files and I found this. The paper is called something like 'Indian river' paper; it is made in India, I think, and comes from Daniel Smith in Seattle. The background is black sumi ink with gouache brush lettering on top. It was a larger sheet of paper, but I cut something out so there was a hole...that is why you can just see a portion!

Wednesday, November 22, 2006


Doyal Lewis was a friend of mine when I lived in Decatur, in the late '80's to mid '90's, when he died of cancer. I could never invent a more Southern Character. He was raised somewhere in north Georgia on a farm, one of many children. As soon as he was old enough he escaped to a more urban life. He had been in the military and always appreciated it when someone sent him a card for Veterans Day honoring his service.

I knew him late in his life, when he was retired from his teaching job and had been with his partner, Charles, for over 40 years. I used to hang out at their house, for Doyal was a consumate teacher and always wanted to show me--or anyone--what he was up to. At this time of my life I was between jobs and only lived a few blocks away; I could easily walk over and stay for hours. He had had a fabulous studio built to house his elaborate silkscreen operation. He sold silkscreened cards of his calligraphy at a few shops around the city. They'd occasionally invite me to stay for supper, which was nice as my new husband's schedule at the newspaper meant he never got home before 10pm.

At Friends of the Alphabet meetings he always had a smile on his face and a twinkle in his eye. Everyone seemed pleased to see him, but not everyone liked him. He was full of jokes and witticisms, many so arcane they missed me entirely. He was also full of stories of growing up in Georgia, or the good life he lived with Charles in their grand house in Atlanta. Often the stories involved people long dead and wound all over with many asides, and it was a struggle to keep up, especially with his slow, drawling accent.

He affected to take me under his wing, I think, and advise me on the ways of the world. For I was hopelessly naive and ignorant. He brought me with him once to the the italic class he taught at Dekalb College, for he had decided to groom me to take over for him (although I didn't know this at the time). His world view involved layers of intrique and political sleight-of-hand among his friends and acquaintances. He spoke of our calligraphy guild, Atlanta Friends of the Alphabet, and the power struggle between the young and the old (which I never did see). He seemed to think the young were trying to wrest power from the old, but the old would never give it up. And now all the old of which he spoke are dead and gone. Or very nearly.

He surprised us all by having a poster printed up (25" x 33") of a bunch of quotations and words about the state of Georgia and Atlanta to sell to make a 'little money.' It was a high quality poster on heavy paper, and I still have mine. He really needed to have teamed up with an illustrator though, for the shape of Georgia itself is blank, and a huge blankness it is! But he had that kind of tenacity where he could sit for hours lettering. He said he took up calligraphy when Charles became so ill, and he had to wile away the midnight hours somehow as he stood watch and nursed him.

I eventually found a job and we bought a house a few miles away. I was busy between the fixing-up of the house and the new job, so I didn't see Doyal much anymore, and it came as a shock to hear he'd been diagnosed with cancer just months after Charles' death. Even more of a shock was his own death just two months later. He's been gone now for eleven years. I put the poster up here, with a detail, in memory of Doyal.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pointed Pen

There was a lively discussion on cyberscribes (around September 24,2006) about the history of pointed pen calligraphy and its merit. Some accused Edward Johnston of denouncing the pointed pen genre of the 1800's as atrocious and thus being directly responsible for its demise in the twentieth century. You could almost hear the pointed pen supporters sharpening their vintage nibs in preparation of doing battle to protect pointed pen's reputation.

There are lots--or at least several--pointed pen styles. The two with which I am most familiar are Copperplate and Spencerian. Copperplate is actually an engraving term. Spencerian is a style in which only the capital letters are given any weight; the small letters are entirely composed of hairlines. There are other interesting terms too: Zanerian, for one. I just love that word.

When John Stevens taught a workshop in Atlanta years ago he refused to used the term 'copperplate,' feigning ignorance of the word. He would only call the style pointed pen. He used a pointed brush to letter the most beautiful lettering, which we in the class really wanted to call 'copperplate.' (I have that piece.)

On the IAMPETH website there is part of a piece by Brian Walker that has a contemporary feel to it. Look at Mike Kecseg's piece too, especially at the lettering around the seal at the bottom. (see his website too.)

But otherwise I have to agree with someone on cyberscribes who said these sort of reproduction certificates have a frozen-in-time look. It is probably politically incorrect to say this; some find this sort of blanket statement an indictment of their work. I can understand doing such a certificate once, just to see if you can, but to do nothing but the same thing over and over without exploring new avenues of growth and exploration would be the death of me.

However, nothing is black and white! I greatly admire the work of many pointed penmen and women. I have come to know many in Atlanta who excel at pointed pen work. It quite takes my breath away to see the beautiful envelopes they do. (I wish people would attempt more pointed pen artwork though.) And I wish I could do what Mike Kecseg does; he has taken this letterform to a new level.

As for websites, Paul Antonio's stands out as one I visit frequently. He is quite hard-working, dedicated and has a thorough education and understanding of what he does, something that not many of us can claim.

Saturday, November 18, 2006

Hindsight being what it is, I should have done several things differently. But this piece is an experiment, as are all my current pieces. The paper is 8.5" x 11", the blackletter is 1/4" high. I was trying to emulate Friedrich Neugebauer's Fraktur, from his book The Mystic Art of Written Forms. The tiny italic lettering is the tiniest I can manage, about 3/16" high.

John tells me I should rename my blog. One of the names he has thrown at me, tongue in cheek, is 'The Germans Are Better Calligraphers.' (This I suppose because of my rants about E.J.) And it is true that I am enchanted by German calligraphers. Perhaps in part because I can't actually read some of the books I have by them! I have a copy of a little book by Rodolf Larisch, Unterricht In Ornamentaler Schrift, published in 1934, that I paw through occasionally, wondering if I can hold captive my Swiss friend who speaks five languages fluently and could translate the book for me if I locked her up for a few days...unfortunately she already has a full and interesting life. I really should have kept up studying German. One of life's regrets. At least I can pick out a word here and there.

I also enjoy looking at Karlgeorg Hoefer's Kalligraphie, Gestaltete Handschrift. And the recently published book about Adolf Berndt's work. The Germans are just so cool! They do this great bold work and they don't apologize for it. I feel more blackletter/textura/fraktur in my future...

Friday, November 17, 2006

This is part of a poem by Robert Bly, entitled The Eel in the Cave. I am using the acryla gouache on some handmade paper I bought at an art sale last spring. When I put down a wash using the acryla gouache it renders the soft handmade paper surface more suitable for writing on with a hard metal nib. Otherwise the metal nib just digs out the soft fibers--especially if it is a very small nib.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Ignore the Future!

I asked John Stevens once when he came to teach a workshop, "but how do you let yourself do these amazing pieces, when there is so much to worry about?" (I think we were talking about how freelance work is feast or famine, and during the slow times he gets busy exploring new creative options.) For he had shown us much work that was pure fun.

I am still puzzled. How do people let go of fear of the future? They say that it is this which distinguishes us from animals: our ability to perceive that a future exists, and then to either worry about it or plan for it or ignore it. I am still, all these years (and it's been at least 12) later stunned at John Stevens' offhand reply to my question, something like, "oh, you just don't think about it."

Wow. Compartmentalize worry. Block it off, chase it away, give yourself permission to have a little fun with pen and paper. Try not to think of the billion and one other, more legitimate things that should be done.

I was thinking I ought to do a piece to celebrate Cat Stevens' (his website is pretty cool) return to music! Or at least pull out the greatest hits cd and listen to it. And it just occured to me that I have referenced two men with the last name of Stevens in one post, quite by accident! spooky.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

the Edward Johnston Foundation website

"The Edward Johnston Foundation is dedicated to the promotion of public awareness of calligraphy, not only as an art form in its own right but also as the seed and reference point for many other lettering disciplines including modern typeface design. Based in Ditchling, Sussex the birthplace of the modern revival of calligraphy, the Foundation is working towards the establishment of a permanent centre for learning, research and education in the lettering arts."
(from the website)

And Hermann Zapf is the Honorary President! My hero. sigh.

"...freedom comes through discipline, structure and understanding."

They promote handwriting and have seminars and a library. Unfortunatly they do not actually have a premises yet, so I'm not sure how one accesses the books in the library.

However, the line-up for the Seventh Annual Seminar 'Pen to Printer' in 2007 looks very exciting. May 18-20; be sure to write it on your calendar in ink!

more on EJ

I like to think EJ possessed a modicom of humility. I like to think he would not have objected to calligraphy and its teaching methods evolving beyond him. It reminds me of the founding fathers of my country: they thought the constitution would last only a hundred years or so and that it would then be scrapped and rewritten to suit the evolving country. Yet here we are, still clinging to that constitution, unwilling to evolve.

I have been reading EJ's book Formal Penmanship, complied by Heather Child after his death. In it he explains that formal writing went from Rome to Ireland, from whence it was passed along to England, and finally, from England went to the rest of Europe. Hmmm. I wonder how the Romans prevented it from prematurely spreading to their neighboring lands?

There are those who complain that some of us are not giving EJ the respect he deserves. Could that be me? Am I being disrespectful to even broach these matters?

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Frog Prince

This is the whole piece--a full size sheet of Arches cold press watercolor paper. I have never indulged myself in the luxury of using a full piece before, all at once! But I have a lot of paper I've been hoarding...and for what? Might as well use it. I am going to leave it alone and do something else. I could go on forever, adding more and more text, painting over things I already did, and it is tempting to see how long I can stick with one thing. But it's worn out its welcome and it's time to move along.

Still using the Holbein acryla gouache. Amazing stuff! It mixes with anything! I mixed it with some casein I had in my palette and it didn't bat an eye. I really don't see the point in using anything else. Maybe eventually I'll get tired of it. Maybe not.


Whoa! Look what monster came out of the bag! It is so refreshing to see something I did that is not trying to be beautiful. It is like something that has crept up from underground. Something hideous. Something I did on election day. Somehow appropriate.

Honestly though--what a relief to just do something without needing it to be appealing. Perhaps art can only be art when it is something that bubbles up, given opportunity to exist, uncontrolled (although everything is somewhat controlled, isn't it?). Not something forcibly created to fill a certain bill.

Ideally, with calligraphy-as-artwork, the creator does a portion, stands back and assesses what is there, and then decides intuitively what to do next, does it, and reapeats the standing-back-and-assessing procedure again. The important thing is to know when to stop. (I learned this from Steve Skaggs.)

Monday, October 30, 2006

Holbein Acryla Gouache

I have been playing around with song lyrics from Keane's Frog Prince; trying out Holbein Acryla Gouache for the first time. It is hard to stop! There are Infinite possibilities!

Friday, October 27, 2006

Sacred Cows

On the left is Edward Johnston's Foundational (image taken from Formal Penmanship ed. by Heather Child); on the right is a humanist bookhand written by Arrighi himself, in 1520 in Rome (image taken from Stan Knight's Historical Scripts).

Is there anything more sacred among calligraphers (especially you Brits) than the name Edward Johnston? One always watches one's step when speaking of the revered Johnston. His great work, Writing and Illuminating and Lettering was published in 1906 and is referred to as 'the calligrapher's bible.' However, I am not the nice girl my mother so desired me to be and I just have to bring this up.

Foundational vs. Humanist Bookhand. The first, Foundational, is the hand 'rediscovered' by Edward Johnston in the later 1800s, polished up, and trotted out for the first modern generation of calligraphers to learn. Edward Johnston based Foundational on his study of a 10th c. English manuscript, the Ramsey Psalter. He taught his first class at the Central School in London in 1899, and the rebirth of calligraphy was on its way.

Humanist Bookhand, on the other hand, is a style of lettering used extensively in the 15th century in books. It was an influential style of writing. It is, in fact, the basis for the first typefaces ever designed.

Now, all of this is fine. I do not have a bone to pick with Edward Johnston. I respect his efforts greatly. The bone I have to pick is with those who came later, who picked up the Foundational flag and ran with it, to the exclusion of Humanist Bookhand. It seems to be left to me to remind people that Humanist Bookhand exists! It is not all just Foundational! I believe that when calligraphy book authors include Foundational in their books, they should also include Humanist Bookhand. Foundational is kind of like Neuland, in that both are alphabets designed by individual men (even though Johnston got it from a historical manuscript, he still adapted it somewhat and 'made it his own').

And 10th c. vs 15th? A difference of 500 years! How can anyone (and they do, in practice) lump Foundational in with Humanist Bookhand? It is a wierd process by which Foundational was propogated for a long period of time in the 20th c. and now somehow the general understanding among calligraphers is that Humanist Bookhand and Foundational are one and the same. So frequently people say 'Foundational' when they mean 'Humanist Bookhand.'

Honestly, I adore Charles Pearce. But in his book The Anatomy of Letters he has a Foundational exemplar which has distinct Humanist Bookhand characteristics. He has altered the bowl of the miniscule 'a' so it is nice and curved. And he has also 'fixed' the miniscule 'g' so its lower counter doesn't make me cringe; it is more balanced. Yet he has retained the built-up serif in the ascenders. I do actually like his hand here much better than Johnston's Foundational. I just think Maybe Mr. Pearce ought to have mentioned that he started with Foundational and made some adjustments so it is something of a hybrid.

And in the Speedball Textbook Foundational is represented but not the more general Humanist Bookhand. At least in Jacqueline Svaren's Written Letters she discusses and has an exemplar of Humanist Bookhand--and she has left out Foundational! Although she does talk about Edward Johnston.

Why should I care about all this? Maybe because my early training was in Humanist Bookhand, and it was only later I met other calligraphers who would refer to work I had done as Foundational. As I have never made a concentrated study of Foundational I really can't be said to write it! I have superficially studied it to notice its distinct characteristics. But I have been a irked by others' insistence in using the word Foundational as a blanket term to describe all hands that are not italic, but are sort of 'standard' (meaning not carolingian, uncial, gothic, etc.).

I think I finally understand why Marsha Brady made such a point of telling us to look at original manuscripts when we want to learn a new hand. I used to think that an odd thing to say, given how many great contemporary instruction books are published now. Personally I lack the funds (time/connections/language ability) to travel to various European countries in pursuit of knowledge. I have to content myself with Stan Knight's Historical Scripts and xeroxed exemplars from classes.

Of course we owe Edward Johnston a tremendous debt for all his work. However, when Foundational is altered, as in simplified and lightened, I think it should no longer be called Foundational. It has then become something else, something more basic and universal. The calligrapher at that point has, perhaps unwittingly, returned to Humanist Bookhand. And this is just evolution, and that's ok, but let's not always call it all Foundational, for crying out loud!

The other day I picked up a little beginner's calligraphy book/kit designed as a novelty for gift shops. Sure enough, there was something inside called 'Foundation.' Now it's Foundation?! Does anyone see what I mean? It's getting more and more twisted, and who can tell where it's going to end up.

Perhaps some of the British calligraphers are puzzled and a bit insulted when American calligraphy teachers teach Humanist Bookhand instead of Foundational. I wonder if there are any British calligraphy teachers who teach Humanist Bookhand instead of Foundational? (I know there are American teachers who only teach Foundational.) I have not yet noticed any calligraphy teachers who teach both, as separate classes. They seem instead to make a decision as to which way they will go. They seem to be saying, "really, who needs both?" If you have one do you need the other? And if you go with one should you pretend like the other never existed or was irrelevant? Maybe it is editors who say, "hey, these are so similar let's ax one."

I like to think that had Edward Johnston traveled around Europe more (maybe he did and I don't know it) and studied other manuscripts from other places and times more extensively; had he gotten some distance from the Ramsey Psalter and gained a stronger overview of historical writing he would have produced a rather different Foundational. But he did the best he could, and despite my whinings I really am grateful.

PS--my maternal grandmother was a Johnston, and I like to think Edward and I are distantly related. Actually, my maternal grandmother's uncle's name was Edward Johnston! Go figure)

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

The Accidental Calligrapher

I came to calligraphy by accident, sort of. It was offered as one of three electives (illustration, typography, calligraphy) at UGA in the graphic design department. Since I wasn't an illustrator, I took it. I was full of trepidation and Ken Williams, the instructor, did not make it better. He was quite stern, despite his hippy appearance. And I was intimidated by the fabulous work he did.

We were to fill up 12 legal size sheets of paper a day with italic writing, using a 1 1/2mm Brause nib, and black ink. It took at least four excruciating hours every day to do this, and I hated it. At the end of the quarter we could choose another hand to study and had to produce a final project in that hand. I think I chose 'Legend'. Our textbook was Jacqueline Svaren's Written Letters.

When the class was done (and I got an A or a B...can't remember) I gave a final shudder and resolved never to touch another calligraphy pen. THEN--a scant few quarters later, just long enough for the memory of the pain to fade, as in childbirth--Ken Williams (that's MR. Williams to me) said for the Cortona program this year (1987) they had a guy lined up to teach calligraphy whose work was amazing, "you really ought to study with this guy." Coincidentally, John was planning on going...and I really wanted to spend more time with John and get to know him better. My gracious mother paid for the trip as a graduation present and I went to Italy and studied under Steve Skaggs, and it turned out that I liked it. (I also got to spend a lot of time with John, and we eventually got married, but that's another story.)

Steve had an amusing study plan: he would teach us four hands in (somewhat) chronological order. We started with pen-made Roman Capitals (from about 100 AD), the most challenging hand. This went over really well with the rank beginners in the group! After two weeks we moved on to Humanistica, or Roman Bookhand, from about 1450 AD. Next came Italic (Cancelleresca, from about 1500 AD) and we ended with Rotunda (Italian Gothic) from the high middle ages: 1300s-1400s. I think he saved Rotunda for last as it is so much darn fun. Our class went of plenty of field trips and looked at many original old manuscripts and stone carvings. We even went to the Vatican library, and had the whole place to ourselves because it was the Vatican's summer break.

Meanwhile I could not believe the things Steve did! He wrote in color--lots of color! And it was bright! And he changed colors in the middle of a word or even a letter! I learned you don't always have to write just in straight lines! And it doesn't always have to make sense or be legible! Wow! I was blown away watching him work on large uncut pieces of paper, in front of us, so casual about it. Wow--you can do a project without freaking out first for weeks at a time, planning it, making sure it will be just right?! Without tons of tracing paper overlays? Endless tests on smaller pieces of paper to get the color right? What about perfection? What if it's not perfect? Aren't you worried? Steve was never worried. What a gift that man has for fearlessness.

(I also learned that until you can make letters and words without thinking about them there is not much point in trying the wild stuff. Well, for me it anyway.)

He said you just have to establish what the rules are in any given piece, and stick to them. I still have trouble with that: in any given piece I forget to establish any rules, or I change them as I go. It's always a grand free-for-all, and then I'm surprised that it didn't work out like I thought it might.

Monday, October 23, 2006

Every soul is a melody

Part of a large sheet of Indian River rough watercolor paper that was covered with marks, lettering, paint, etc. Just for fun.

Wage Peace

Mary Oliver is the author of this poem, which was circulated via Internet after 9/11. I keep writing it, over and over, feeling like if I write it enough times I'll get it just the right way, and than there really will be peace. It's such a long poem it's impossible to represent it here in such a way that you can really read the whole thing.

(I did this on canvas with airbrush pigments and fabric dyes and gold ink and it looks like colored pencils. But it is gaudier than I wanted it to be--too much pearlescent ink I guess. I've been striving for 'serious, but fun' which is evidendly near impossible for me.)

John Neal, Bookseller

John Neal, Bookseller is still my favorite place to buy calligraphy stuff. Sometimes I try other places, but I end up feeling like I've been disloyal. So back to John Neal I go. I love his website, I love the people on the phone when I call. They are always calm and helpful and send me my things as soon as they can. PLUS, he is in Greensboro, North Carolina, where I first went to college. I was at UNC-Greensboro; I am still not sure why (I thought you are supposed to go away for college--after two years I went back home, and to UGA). But on Friday nights in my freshman year (1981-1982) I used to walk up Spring Garden Street to a corner bar where you could get three Little Kings for a dollar--the drinking age for beer and wine was still 18 then--and there was loud music and dancing, and I thought it was alright. Much later in the evening my friends and I would stagger back to our dorm, passing John Neal, Bookseller, and I always thought, "hey that looks like an interesting place." but he was very sensibly closed at that time of the night, so I never stopped in. Perhaps this was even before he began hawking calligraphy supplies. We also used to stop at the Dominos pizza place and get a pizza, sitting on the sidewalk to eat it. Every time I order from John Neal my little freshman year adventures flash through my mind. And that is as close as I got to calligraphy at that time of my life.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

This is about 12" x 22". It is the result of a failed work on fabric. I cut up that work into blocks and alternated those with some batik fabric. This was one of the pieces I did when I participated in a arts and crafts sale a couple of years ago.

The thing is, you put soooo much time into a thing like this--and then you're going to sell it for $50-$75? This is why I only did the sale that one time! Maybe I'm just a slow quilter--and I do machine quilt--but it took just about forever to make this little thing.

Even though I have loved making quilts, I'm taking a haitus from that. Too much else to do calligraphically!

Monday, October 16, 2006


Cyberscribes is a fantastic resouce--calligraphers from all over the world contributing their knowledge and opinions on a listserv. I love the diversity of it all. I would be terribly bored if it was simply a sterile compendium of information, with a liberal peppering of cutsiness and rah-rah comments. So I don't mind when some pipe up with irreverent comments; comments that cause others to send scathing posts the gist of which is usually, "be nice" and "we don't need any of your kind here."

My train of thought led to Shakespeare, and how all the world's a stage. Never more true than on a listserv! And that led to thoughts of England, and the monarchy, and I came up with this: If Cyberscribes could be thought of as a royal court, then I proclaim Sheila Waters the queen (because of my great respect for her, plus she has proved herself over time besides which she never loses her composure) and Rafael court jester. I would not say this if I did not highly value the position of court jester. The jester can get away with pointing out things that others would be flayed for. It is a sort of social system of checks and balances. Someone needs to constantly make others question themselves.

The fabulous Teri Martin is the owner of Cyberscribes, and therefore ranks position as some sort of high lady (duchess?). There are many noblemen and -women too, and also commoners (I humbly claim position of commoner). But enough of that. Some will begin to think I am a creative anachronist!

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

colored pencils

Nancy Culmone came once to our guild and taught a workshop about calligraphy using colored pencils. That may have been the funnest workshop ever.

Gulliver was the name of my cat, a big sloppy affectionate lazy guy. And the 'you are a butterfly and my eyes are needles' is from a great song (Pulling Touch) by Poi Dog Pondering. It sounds like a cruel thing to sing to somebody, but the song sounds like a love song to me.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

This pretty planet

When my younger son was at Montessori he used to sing this song all the time--it is now my favorite song. I would make a card out of the lyrics (by Tom Chapin) but for worry of copyright infringement!

I did make an ATC out of it for an exchance through Cyberscribes.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Harvest Festival

Last Friday I went to the Lyndon House Arts Center in Athens, GA to demonstrate calligraphy for the Harvest Festival. I chose to do pointed pen, or copperplate. This is not my first love, calligraphically speaking, but it's growing on me. I had some new ink to try out and almost started jumping up and down and yelling at happy results...McCaffery's white on black Strathmore paper was stunning. And flowed so smoothly.

I was situated in a gallery with an exhibit of fabulous contemporary Mexican prints. It was a great place to be, although I was all alone! That's ok--lots of kids visited me, many of them friends from Montessori, for last year I was a substitute there. Sometimes I let the kids try it, when there weren't too many all at once. I would correct their hold on the pen and then stand back and try not mind the awful scratching sounds. None of my nibs were ruined, and only a little ink was spilled.

The folks at the Lyndon House were very good to all us demonstrators. There was food in the morning, and drinks, and someone coming around with cold bottles of water midway, and then they took my lunch order and brought me lunch. It was amazing.

Unfortunately the Lyndon House is government funded, and they are in danger of losing funding for this event, as the turnout was lower than in previous years. Why was it lower? Because the public school system in that county can't afford to send kids on field trips. Only two schools sent kids. All the other kids came in from surrounding counties or were home schoolers. (In the four years my son was in that system he only went on one field trip, and it was to the Harvest Festival. He had a great time, and I had high hopes that he would get to go the next year, but no.)

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Muscle and sweat and blood and bone

Detail from a work on canvas, done with pearlescent ink and Rotring airbrush pigments. Some day I will get beyond the need to write in spirals. I sold this to a friend at a craft sale almost two years ago--what an eye she had for my favorite piece! However, I am only showing a detail here because I am not happy with the overall layout. The words are lyrics from the Poi Dog Pondering song Fact of Life.

You're the most beautiful world in the world

A card design from when I participated in a craft show a couple of years ago. It is a wonderfully silly song which I love.

Humanist Bookhand

The last class I taught at the Georgia Center at UGA was a Humanist Bookhand class. To inspire the students (I hope!) I did a sampler of quotations, gleaned from Bartlett's. I worked on a a coldpress watercolor paper, which I covered with lines before I began. Then I got busy putting down lettering, with no master plan. Because all the quotes were sort of classical I made sure not to let any overlap for once. And of the three or four colors used I mixed them together some, so overall the quotes related to eachother colorwise. Mostly. Sort of.

I am still confused about what to call this style of lettering. Some calligraphers--the ones from England mostly--would call this Foundational, which was the hand rediscovered by the famous Edward Johnson, based on his study of the Ramsey Psalter (10th century). However, I've always thought his Foundational hand is more distinctive than my lettering here. His featured an odd g, and on ascenders an unappealing built-up serif. I much prefer no manipulation at all when I write in a humanist bookhand.

My humanist is a distillation of many humanist bookhands--hands (not fonts!) that were used to write books with during a period of time, primarily the 15th century, in Italy. I learned from Steve Skaggs in Italy in the summer of 1987 and from Marsha Brady over three weekend-long classes in the mid-90's. Steve called it Humanistica, or Roman Bookhand.

I cannot bring myself to call mine Foundational, nor can I bring myself to generically refer to all such similar hands as Foundational. Maybe I should just admit that I am not fond of Edward Johnson's Foundational, although he is credited with being the father of modern calligraphy, and I'm glad someone brought it back from the brink of the abyss of forgotten knowledge--if that is indeed where it was.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Gather ye rosebuds

A work in progress. At one time I had something perfect planned to add...I have since forgotten what it was...but eventually I will add some more writing. Originally I wrote out the 'Gather ye rosebuds' text, and then was bored with it, so I sort of washed it off--why is it so much fun to put lettering under the bathtub faucet? It is quite possibly my favorite thing to do with calligraphy! Later I wrote the other text on top...I have got to get better about adding the author credits, I know... The black scribble is actually some words too, but I can't remember what they say. This piece is a few years old.

Way back in 1998 or so Steve Skaggs and Eliza Schulte Holliday came to our guild in Atlanta and taught an experimental workshop, with the intriguing title of Jazzwriting. I was captivated, enthralled, delighted. It was a magical weekend away from my regular full-time duties as mother-of-a-two-year-old. Steve was planning to write a book about the process--whatever happened to that? Anyway, I love the idea of layering lettering; some remaining legible and some becoming completely illegible. This piece here is not there yet.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006


This is a resist piece I did once, for fun. After the liquid drawing gum is applied and dries completely, you can paint watercolor in between the letters. When it is dry you peel away the drawing gum to reveal the white beneath.

Carrie Imai

The above is a table tent by Carrie Imai. She made one for everyone!

Two weekends ago I took a one day workshop in Atlanta with Carrie Imai, who came from California to teach us. It was a great workshop: the subject was Neuland, which is the name of a typeface designed by Rudolf Koch in the 1920's. Carrie was teaching Neuland variations, lettering done by hand with large (1/2") Automatic pens. I was grateful to her for her extensive preparation. She gave each of us our own 50-page book which she had assembled, full of exemplars and samples. She had dozens of pieces of art pinned all around the room to inspire us. She was most affirming and positive and the room buzzed with our activity and attention.

Keep a green tree in your heart

This is a Chinese proberb with which I have been obsessed. I have written this out more times than I can count, and in many different ways. Would it be too hokey to get my husband to draw a little illustration of a bird in the middle?

Unfortunately I chose Dr. Martin's dyes with which to write, and they are highly fugitive. This will likely disappear altogether in twenty years! Hey, it's all part of the excitement.

I tore the edge of this in a circular shape, and even found the perfect round frame to put it into, but it is not even on my list of priorities to cut a mat and order a round piece of glass and put the whole thing together! Someday...

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

All you...

Lettering on fabric. The green letters were done with a 1/2" flat brush and Sennelier Silkcolor fabric dyes; the brownish letters were done with a steel nib and FW acrylic ink. I also applied fabric dyes to the background. I may yet do some sewing to render this into a finished piece. Currently it is just a loose piece of muslin.

Why do we do it?

I am not sure why I persist in doing calligraphy. I go through periods of mild depression and boredom over it, but I always return. Many think it is a ridiculous thing to spend one's time on, even if it is continuing an ancient tradition.

I like to think of the medieval monks in their cloisters, arduously copying out holy texts for 'the glory of God.' They froze in winter and roasted in summer. They put up with aching backs and cramped fingers. They worked on animal skins which had been processed so the surface was suitable for writing; there were many technical difficulties. When they made mistakes they could not start over, for vellum and parchment were precious. Mistakes, when caught, were corrected in often amusing ways. Without the monks much knowledge would have been lost--we owe them a great debt. (If I had three wishes one of them would be to go back in time and visit the scribal monks.) The only way I know how to repay the debt is by continuing the practice of the art, and doing my part to introduce others to this ancient craft. (See, it is an art and a craft--depending on your point of view and your place on the journey!)

I have never yet been brave enough to work on vellum. Instead, I work on paper, preferably fine cotton rag paper. The kind made for watercolor (such as Arches) or for charcoal/pastel drawings (such as Ingres). I do not like to stay in the lines. Yet I always default to that when designing a new piece...and slowly work toward getting out of the box. I love to do crazy pieces, things that are hard to read. I also like to write on fabric--100% cotton for quilting, or 100% cotton canvas.

All I know is, when the world starts crowding in I can go down to my little haven of a workspace and be in my own world, surrounded by favorite texts and tools and light. I like to spread texts that contain hope, and joy, and sometimes irony or acceptance of our fate. Occasionally I suspect what I do is a bit 'precious,' whatever that means, and I have to sigh and resolve to walk on the wild side more. I try not to take myself too seriously, although I can't help but fall in love with my own work sometimes. It is like one's children: you love them dearly despite their faults and shortcomings. There are always problems, and I have learned to take satisfaction in the problems as evidence of the distance yet to go.