Tuesday, October 03, 2006

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.

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