Happy Easter Dear Friends!!!! A quick post today. This little piece represents lots of exploration for me. I am undertaking a huge study in Italian Hand as I prepare to teach an extended class over the summer. Italian Hand and walnut ink go hand in hand and as a result, I used it to letter this piece taking a break from my usual McCaffery Brown. The use of the walnut ink required a change in my usual line and wash technique. I also changed my trusted gilding medium to experiment with Instacoll and Miniatum Ink. Still not a fan of the Instacoll but I love the possibilities with the pointed pen and Miniatum ink. Other changes included experimenting with a porcelain rather than plastic palette, Sennelier Watercolour rather than Winsor Newton, the entire piece including the fur on the rabbit was done with a Kolinsky sable brush size 2 rather than my normal 000. All the greens were mixed rather than relying on altering Sap Green. A fun piece to play with and enjoy different techniques. I love Spring!
In 2011, I embarked on a year long project with my dear friend Dana Cochran of A Fine Line Studio in Asheville, North Carolina. Dana and I have been friends since meeting at The Spencerian Saga in Ohio back in 2005. There has scarcely been a day gone by that we don't email each other! You can read all about our year long project together if you follow my blog posts from 2011. Dana's work followed a botanical path. She would take an elegantly drawn Roman capital and embellish it with a beautiful botanical water colour. My journey started with traditional illumination techniques which I quickly got bored with. I wanted to design letterforms that could work with script lettering. I did not want to copy traditional illuminated letters. I wanted my designs to be unique and a reflection of my taste. I took traditional gilding techniques but throughout the year, I developed ways to make the letterforms more flourished. The resulting study year with Dana turned into The Enchanted Letter workshop. I was taking bookings to teach the workshop before the project was completed. Since 2011, I gave been delighted to travel to many locations to teach The Enchanted Letter. This past weekend, I spent time in Pontiac, Michigan at The Goldner Walsh Nursery teaching the class. One of the attendees sent me some pictures and I am delighted to share them here.
The workshop starts with an exploration of the influences that came together to create the letterforms. I start with Medieval and Renaissance illuminations and how they shaped my thinking. I also introduce my students to the work of my illumination teacher Debbie Thompson Wilson and my favouite Victorian Illustrators. Each letterform is designed by the student.
Nothing is copied, they all explore their own sense of design and learn techniques to critique their own work. The two days fly by at lightning speed and I hope that each student leaves with a sense of Enchantment in their own abilities to create something unique! Hope you enjoy the pictures. I had no idea that the year long study with Dana would end up being such fun to teach in a workshop. The workshop proceeds through various styles of letterforms as well as learning to design ornamental foliate extensions.
My mailbox is very happy today. I just received a rare Kate Greenaway print from 1884. Sent to me by my dear friends Ann and Terry Cobb, this will be framed and treasured! Engraved by my hero Edmund Evans and a beautiful example of the work of my favourite artist Kate Greenaway. Kate was an introvert through and through. She was heavily critiqued for her work, and although she listened to each critique carefully, she remained comitted to her own vision. She accepted that which she considered true and discarded the rest! She was determined to paint what made her happy and would not submit to the vision of anyone else. As I read through her biography this week I am amazed at her discipline. She was an early riser, and worked from just after her breakfast until her lunch time. Although she shared her home with her family, she was strict about being undisturbed in her studio unless the matter was extrememly urgent. She took a short lunch break and then worked for a few more hours in the afternoon. She allowed time each day for a walk outdoors and if she had a visit to attend to, she would take care of that at tea time. Evening hours were left to correspondence and reading or sewing the clothing that she would choose to illustrate. Her letters of correspondence were often illustrated. This example is from a birthday greeting she sent to John Ruskin.
She fought hard to retain her copyright to her work although she was shamelessly copied and marketed by her competitors in other countries. I adore her spirit and her work! This precious bookplate was created for one of the children who posed for her illustrations.
Along with my precious Kate print, I just received a tiny book from 1883. Muster Alphabete
is a beautiful representation of the Victorian forms that I love. Although they often border and surpass the realm of the excessive and can push the envelope of good taste, I admire their attention to detail and their love of ornamentation.
I am welcoming Spring today with this glimpse into the past.
There are some things you can never know until you start to go through them.
When I took on the role of IAMPETH President this year, I truly had no idea of all of the hours of work it would involve or the friendships I would forge along the way. The road has had some highs and some lows. Some stresses and some moments of pure joy. And we are only in March. Still plenty of road left to travel before the conference in Indianapolis. It all boils down to the love of the art form and working hard to promote and preserve that art. Today, IAMPETH takes a giant step forward in building our new database. Lots of hands and minds have come together to see this happen. I am so thankful for the support of family, friends, board members and colleagues and especially thankful for one dear friend's time and energy into this project. Dear Debi this is for you my friend. For those of you who know my process, there are no surprises here in this piece. I think in pencil and then paint.
The design took place during one of the busiest seasons of IAMPETH planning and working!
I have been asked to teach a workshop in Italian Hand at the Royal City Calligraphy Guild this coming Saturday. After back to back Spencerian workshops over the past several months it has been a challenge to work out the Spencerian tendencies to embrace this beautiful hand. Often overlooked because of its strange shading, and reverse shading on capital letterforms, I have found that this hand is challenging but not impossible. Many variations of the hand are found in George Bickham's Universal Penman. Right now I am taking a break from going through the Universal Penman looking for different letterforms.
My lettering today has been done on Canson Layout Paper with Walnut ink and an Esterbrook 556. Breaktime is over!!! Back to work!!!
I never ceased to be amazed by the mediative qualities that a simple pencil can bring out.
As it glides across the paper, there is no fear of making a mistake. The eraser is built in. Mistakes are easily eradicated. This simple, mindful process allows thoughts to flow freely. If you have read some of my previous posts, you will know that I love to keep a journal and pencil handy. This journal is particularly special.
It captures thoughts that come to me as I work out designs in pencil.
Often it is a thought that I need to try to expand and later finds its way into a workshop. It's just pencil on paper. Nothing incredibly difficult or complicated. But the action of putting pencil to paper does help hone my thoughts and ideas. The journal provides an added bonus that it allows me to return to my thoughts at any time.
Busy has been my default setting lately! I am making it a habit to find time for practice and for play even though my daily agenda is filled. I try to keep up with my handwritten correspondence and I am working on some very large projects at the moment. But in between the projects and the busy schedule the illuminated miniature has been a haven of peace. The sketch begins in my journal with a quick pencil drawing which is transferred onto my paper or vellum. The sketch usually takes me about 30 minutes and once I have laid down the gold size, the painting process takes about 2-3 hours for this small size.
My love of the painting techniques of Marie Angel, illuminated manuscripts and the only little animals I have seen on my walks in this harsh winter have provided the inspiration for the sketches and the paintings. In the midst of winter and an extremely busy schedule I find the quiet of painting to be a wonderful solace where I can recharge. The pen has been busy too as I explore new techniques and styles that are difficult. I will keep you posted on the pen progress soon!
January 23rd is a special day for those of us who love handwriting! Today I worked on a small batch of letters and got them ready to be posted. No matter how many or how few words I put on a letter to be mailed I can't help but feel connected to the people I am writing to. The process is peaceful and meditative for me. I sat down to write one letter, but ended up writing seven!
From start to finish, my project took 41 days! I started with the desire to really enter the working methods of the Boucicaut Master, an elusive and anonymous French Illuminator from the 15th Century. My portion of the border is far larger than the original. I worked at a size of 2 1/4" By 10 inches and I dramatically enlarged the image I found online to study the details. The purpose of studying this way and copying this manuscript was to see what I could absorb of the Boucicaut Master's attention to detail. I was not disappointed! By enlarging the original, I could see every detail. From the individual seed pods in the acanthus leaf centres, to the veining drawn on the stalks of the cornflowers to the curls and the part in the angels' hair! I learned how the shading was applied to the acanthus leaves. I could see several shades of lavendar and blue in the violets and I could see that how he painted the curves of the violet leaves, in fact he painted a ruffle on the violet leaf!
I invested over 30 hours in the project. The piece is almost entirely painted with a 000 Winsor Newton Series 7 Brush. Some of the larger areas were done with a 00 or 0 brush. It took 4 layers of watercolour to build up a jewel tone effect. My working method throughout the piece was moist brush rather than having a lot of water on the brush.
One of the techniques I discovered was in the facial features and in the hands. Usually, I don't outline my work before painting. I save the outlining until the end if it is necessary. At first glance and even enlarging and studying this piece, I felt that it had not been outlined except in a few areas. But as I continued to study and magnify the image, I could see that the facial features and hands hand been outlined, with the features fully drawn and then a light wash of pigment was placed over top of the outlining. They white of the vellum was left for the eyes.
A great technique to remember.
The final reward of this piece was the filigree work.
When I gilded the piece initially, it is hard to see a pattern or any sort of sense in the placement of gold. The gilding pattern in the filigree is random rather than repeated. But the Boucicaut Master took care to make sure each gilded leaf or orb was attached to a stem which in turn was attached to another part of the design. This gives such a continuity in the filigree. My illumination teacher always treats the filigree portion of a miniature as the reward for working through the piece. I felt very rewarded as I applied the filigree. I did not reference the manuscript for the filigree work. It is very intiuitive. In the end, the piece yeilded up some discoveries that would have remained hidden if I had not embarked on this journey. I enjoyed the study and the peace it brought over this festive season of the year. Although I invested time and energy, this piece feels as though it does not belong to me. I added one little touch ( other than adjusting the pug nose on the lower angel). Where the Boucicaut Master had further ornamented his filigree work with tiny drawn dots, I filled the dots with my Sakura Stardust pen! A little twinkle from this century, reaching back into his.
Wishing all of my friends, students and colleagues a very Merry Christmas. Thank you for all of the encouragment and inspiration. Hope this holiday season is filled with peace for you all. The video reflects my usual practice time...with Oscar either perching over top of my work or very close by. Merry Christmas!
There are mornings when the thought of writing wakes me up and I have to get into the studio to play. This morning as the sun rose slowly, I found a blue/grey piece of Canson paper and a Tennyson quote that has been rolling around in my head. The house is quiet in the morning and I can work in peace. I mixed a new batch of ivory ink and wrote the words.
My straight holder was nearby and the Esterbrook 128 still has some life in it. December is an odd month for me. Lots of holiday tasks to take care of. I love to visit the shops to see their Christmas displays. My classes wind down for the end of the year and I find time to breathe. This morning the quote helped me reflect on those who I have met this year. So many wonderful students who have become my friends. I am so grateful for my experiences, my family, my friends, students and colleagues. Grateful for time spent working with the pen. Grateful that I still have so much to learn.
I have spent my first week with the Boucicaut Master. I have spent 7 hours this week in the underpainting stage of the image. The underpainting stage consists of a light wash of the colours of the design. Traditionally, I paint the foliate features first but I started this miniature with the two features that will cause me the most trouble, the angels! Remembering that I enlarged this image quite a bit, I marvel at the skill of the Boucicaut Master. The first surprise that came to me was the angel at the bottom of the border. Without a doubt he is painted with a pug nose!
I will not include that nose on my little angel, but he brought a smile to my face when I saw that little nose. The top angel is painted in profile which is always a challenge for me. Each finger is accounted for. At least on the original.
I am struggling through the facial features and the finger positions, but I still have room to capture them properly. The underpainting stage is done to help capture the design before the details are painted in. The hands and faces of the angels are painted in Holbein Jaune Brilliant 1 and Jaune Brilliant 2. The underpainting was done in the following order and colors, Yellow Ochre, Olive Green, Cobalt Blue and French Vermillion. I am limiting my palette to my Senellier Pan colours and my Winsor Newton Pans. At the end of the week, I am still nervous about the angels but I am hopeful that I will find lots of joy in painting the foliate work!
I spend a profound amount of time in the illumination world. Next to my Ornamental Penmanship and Offhand Flourishing, studying and illumination take up the greatest portion of my time. This week, as I was going through my files, I had a crazy thought about trying do a portion of a manuscript that I loved. I wanted to do a Nativity or an Annunciation scene to mark this festive season but I soon found myself in the world of angel borders and settled on a small border.
Early in my illumination studies, we were taught how to transfer an image from an old manuscript and do our best to copy the design while bringing some of ourselves to the piece. I worked using that method from 2007 until 2011. In 2011, I started creating my own illuminations. This year's Christmas Card, The Gift Bearer is one such design. Based on techniques I learned in my illumination studies, but now drawing my own little creatures and foliate work.
But for this larger project based on the work of the Boucicaut Master, I wanted to capture the lines of the of the original illuminator and truly enter the piece. I have already made some discoveries about the piece that I wouldn't have found by observing it online. The first thing I did was enlarge the image to discover the treasues that it held.
Observe the little jewel like centre of the acanthus leaf! What a treat and a surprise that is lost in the small scale of the piece. I am still trying to confirm the original dimensions of this manuscript but my research is pointing to a size of 160 x 115 mm. Pretty tiny! The project I am working on is the angel border found on the right hand side of the manuscript. I enlarged the image to 2 1/4 x10 to explore the image. I am amazed at the intricacy found within this border. My first challenge has been to transfer and now gild this piece. I gilded this piece with Miniatum ink. I am using a piece of 140 LB Arches Hot Press paper.
As I paint it, I hope to update you on my trials and my discoveries as I try to enter the project. The thoughts I had at this transfer and gilding level were constant wonder at the eyesight capabilites of the original illuminator. How did he see those tiny little elements of his design. How did he apply the gesso so cleanly? He captured detail within detail brilliantly. As I transferred and gilded this morning, I worked in silence, surrounded by a sense of wonder and awe at the skill of Boucicaut Master. I hope to discover more about him as I continue to enter the project. Although I am using modern supplies to work on this project dating back to 1420, I will enjoy exploring this peaceful project. Might take me some time to complete but I will post my observations!
Thanks to the Penworld article a few months ago, my Mom phoned the local paper! They came for a visit last week and I had fun showing them my pens, nibs, inkwells, treasured envelopes and my work. Nice to have the mention of cursive handwriting!!!You can view the link here if you like!
Shaking off the excessive loops and frilly script of my Christmas envelopes. I found a steel blue piece of Mi-Tientes paper and some bleedproof white. The December words I found online seemed to match the unadorned script. I love Roundhand in all its splendor and when it is softly simplified. This piece was done with a straight holder and an Esterbrook 128 nib.
I spend so much time promoting handwriting and singing the praises of the written word that I had to share this story with you. I just came home from a teaching trip to Chicago and sat down with my cup of tea to open the mail. When I came to this letter, I did not recognize the lettering but stopped to admire the border design.
As I pulled out the contents of the envelope a little note fell out from Mary Grassi, the daughter of my friend Lucille. I have had the pleasure of knowing Lucille through IAMPETH. For years, she was a faithful board member and admired for her playful 'swearing in of officers' at the General Business Meeting. I remembered our last conversation at the convention in Phoenix. She grabbed my hand and showed me the envelope I had sent her in the envelope exchange and apologized for being late in sending hers to me. I didn't know she was struggling with cancer. I had no idea. When her daughter's note spilled out from the envelope with the message that she had found this addressed envelope along with her Mother's note, I was moved to tears!
I can still hear Lucille's voice in my head as I read her words and I can touch her handwriting. A kind message from a kind friend. I am so grateful that I have this letter to cherish along with her memory. Later today I will find the time to thank Mary in writing for this gift. Lucille wrote meaningful words on her note..."life gets in the way of my plans." I know that phrase well and take it to heart during this busy season. Just had to pass on this note with my blog friends to encourage you as you make plans to write. Cherish your friendships! Had to include a shot of the mail I opened along with Lucille's note! I am so grateful for my friendships.
I got an email several weeks ago through the Iampeth website asking if I would contribute thoughts about handwriting and fountain pens. I eagerly responded to the writer and soon found myself on Skype to a writer in England. She asked me questions about handwriting and using a fountain pen and both are becoming a large part of my daily routine. I didn't set out to collect fountain pens, but somehow found myself with three of them!
They beckon to me at Phidon Pens and I have my eye on a Lilliput pen which is one of the most adorable fountain pens I have seen! I am enjoying changing the colours of my ink and when the Rembrandt Visconti pen is my hand, I feel so privileged to be able to use it. The interview appeared online this week and my thoughts about handwriting and slowing down have been recorded. I feel like a walking experiment as I approach the busiest season that I have ever found myself in and still reaching daily for pen and ink. I still hold my position that in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the pre-holiday season, writing and calligraphic art is like meditating on paper. I can feel a physical difference as I slow down and tranfer thoughts and words to paper rather than get caught up in the speed of life around me. I may detatch digitally for periods of time in the coming year to catch my breath mentally and physically! I have found other calming projects to write about as well. Right now I am so thankful for paper, pens and friends to write to. Hope you enjoy the article.
Packing my travel bag now getting ready for level 2 of my handwriting class. Much of the backstory in putting this handwriting class together has come from Nicholas Carr's book The Shallows. The book prompted research into more books about neuroplasticity, multitasking, digital natives and mindfulness. A surprising link is handwriting!! Armed today, with fountain pens, dip pens, ink, stationery, an ipad and Monteverde Stylus pen I am ready to rage against the machine! I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I love the capabilities, the information, the tools it offers in my work and my sense of connecting with my colleagues and friends. But it comes with a price. It tasks our chief central resource...our ability to focus. This class is always exciting. I love hearing the stories of my students, and watching them reclaim their handwriting heritage!
As a calligrapher I get paid to write. From a birthday card to a large poem, with or without flourishes, sometimes with gold leaf and sometimes without. Whatever the commission, they have never felt like work to me. But beyond my routine of teaching and commission work, I write for the joy of writing. It may be in a journal. I bring a Blackwing journal and a Sky Blue .04mm Slicci pen with me on my walks. Sometimes I find a spot to sit and read the words of John Muir. I take a few minutes to record some of his illustrative passages. His words are peaceful and meditative and lend themselves to the gentle rhythm of handwriting.
This month marks nearly a year of teaching handwriting classes at Phidon Pens in Cambridge. I've lost track of how many students have gone through the program. This morning, we will continue our handwriting classes while a new class in Letter Writing is launched this afternoon. I can only describe the process of writing letters as magic, enchanting or charming. The thought to engage with a friend or colleague hits me out of nowhere. I pen my thoughts on paper. I letter an envelope to help carry the thoughts across the miles to my friend. As I walk the letter to the post office, it begins its journey. I never know when it will land on my friend's doorstep or what type of day they are having when they read the letter. A simple pleasure and a simple joy that we can share that is non-technical and so graceful. As much as I love the convenience of my computer, email and technology, my letter writing is a push back against the harsh digital glare of a screen. A glimpse back at a gentler time that I know I have romanticized.
I travel to my class this morning armed with dozens of letters that I have received over the years. Thank you to all who have written to me and thank you for the pleasure that you bring to me when I sit at my desk to write back.
Today I sat down at my cluttered work desk. I didn't have a lot of time to work, I should have been doing other tasks, starting with tidying my workspace but the pen called me! Spencerian Zen is a term my friend Michael Sull used at his Spencerian Saga. We would watch him approach a blank paper and work on a piece of ornamental penmanship from start to finish without any pre-planning or idea in mind for the look of the final piece. It is this process that is the root of true offhand flourishing. I try to tell my students this in as many ways as I can, but the truth of the matter is that while I flourish, I am not aware of any thoughts in my head. As Ralph Kramden would say" they can examine my head, and you know what they will find.......nothing!!!" True Offhand work is not pre-penciled. It is not designed. It just happens.
In this particular piece, I roughly centred the lettering with a chalk line and established my boundary the same way. The capital W was executed rapidly by throwing the stroke away from my body. The rest of the piece was done without interruption and finished in 15 minutes. The process is the reward.
While the pencil has a place in designed work, I was introduced to the art of offhand flourishing without even dreaming that the pencil might have been included in the process. There is a freedom and joy that comes from spontaneous work. In the end, if errors occur or you are unhappy with the result, it is good to know that this is ink on paper and you can try again in your next little window of opportunity.
October 1st already! Time to update the blog. My life is overwhelming at the moment as my classes are starting up again, I work on the Iampeth conference and watch my October calendar fill to capacity. I was reminded this evening of the time outs I often gave myself regularly to retreat to the coffee shop and just work with my pen in solitude. Something about the ambient noise of people chatting and hearing espresso brewing was condusive to my work. I need to take more of those time outs regularly! This evening, I shut my studio door and opened a new bottle of Edelstein Amber Ink. I was given the gift of a Visconti Rembrant fountain pen and the Amber ink matches it very well. But the first work out I gave the ink was with my Spencerian 1 and my snakewood straight holder on Maruman Imagination paper. The fountain pen ink feels different than McCaffery's as it flows out of the pen. It is transparent and rich in colour. It doesn't quite deliver the hairlines that McCaffery's does but the Maruman paper could take the pressure and the ink had very little bleed. Fun to play with these inks and enjoy their vibrant colours. Happy to fill my fountain pen with it. The hand that I was practicing is my English Roundhand. My caps were getting very loose as I progressed down the page. Happy October 1st.
Part of working outdoors this summer was getting to know the local families of birds. Not being able to distinguish the male jays from the female,I named every blue jay that came to the feeder Juliet.
There are still seven baby jays that frequent our feeder. These are the clowns of the bird world. They are very clumsy barely being able to balance themselves on the branches. I could have sworn that they had a little patch of pink on their cheeks but as they grew older, that patch has disappeared. They all try to feed themselves at the feeder, each waiting until their sibling has finished. I used to think they were quite aggressive but they have shown themselves to be patient and timid although their voices are very loud. I tried to capture the beauty of Juliet the Jay on vellum. This little piece measures 2 1/2" x 1 1/2". Still using Marie Angel's techniques to make the Jay as realistic as possible. I also used a magnifier to really see the details. This piece was done with my Escoda 3/0 brush and gilded with Miniatum Ink and 24K gold. Holbein Horizon blue and Lilac were integral to the palette. Shading was done with Prussian Blue and Payne's grey.I am learning so much in exploring this technique while still enjoying these tranquil days. Summer is definitely waning though. I will back in teaching mode in two weeks time.
I have spent every possible moment I had this summer in my little outdoor sanctuary. I love my studio but Oscar loves it too and his favourite thing lately has been to lie down on my hands while I am working. He also loves a fresh sheet of paper and thinks it is his job to bruise it before I start working. I still take him outside on the leash to let him explore and last week when I took him out I saw my first Carolina Wren.
The song from the little bird is positively enchanting They are loud, fast and very musical. There were at least six of them in my weeping pea tree before Oscar started climbing the tree. But one of them lingered for nearly 20 minutes.
I was able to observe him carefully and I wanted to try to capture him in watercolour. I first thought the Wren would be a good addition to my Enchanted Meadow series but I wanted to work slightly larger and capture as much detail as possible. This piece is on vellum. Finished size is 3"x2". I gilded the piece with Miniatum Ink and 24K gold. The colour palette for the wren was yellow ochre, brown ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber, sepia and payne's grey. I used a moist brush technique to build up the layers. There are several layers.
The piece is done entirely with my 3/0 Escoda 1212 Sable brush.I am enamoured with the work of Marie Angel and I used the limning techniques described in her book Painting For Calligraphers. The outdoor sanctuary has brought many birds for me to observe this summer. I hope to capture a few more with this technique to remember such a wonderful summer of sights and sounds.
All the offhand flourishing on this website is original and has developed over years as my own personal style. The designs cannot be reproduced, copied, traced or reprinted in any form without my written consent.
I am a freelance calligrapher specializing in ornamental penmanship and offhand flourishing. I live in a small village in Ontario, about an hour west of Toronto. I have been happily married to my best friend Chris for nearly 25 years and we have a precious daughter Holly.
I have studied extensively with Master Penman through the organization Iampeth and the Spencerian Saga. I am currently an active member of the Royal City Calligraphy Guild. If I am not working with the pointed pen, I am studying medieval and renaissance illumination techniques. I love to spend time alone in the studio working on my art. It is a very spiritual activity for me.