Tuesday, April 30, 2024

Pensive Thoughts

 Welcome May!

I am always so happy to welcome this blossoming month of the year.

The birds greet each morning with cheerful songs and the garden is filled with hope of a new season. Although my heart is filled with expectation for the season, I have been especially pensive and quiet. I am taking a few weeks off from teaching before I begin the summer and fall courses.  Taking time to rest and regroup is good for the soul of the artist. I am relaxing my studio hours for the next few weeks to allow more time in the garden, catch up on my reading and to take longer walks. There are still commissions to complete and tasks to prepare for my students, but I am definitely slowing down my daily studio work until the end of the month. I am determined to appreciate this season that I wait so long for each year. The rocking chairs are waiting for me on the studio porch for morning coffee break and afternoon tea and I can't wait to use them. While I am on this break, I have been working on techniques with coloured pencil.

I have been testing different brands, doing paper experiments, investigating the use of solvents and testing paper surfaces.  Part of this is to prepare for Blooms and Breezes in July  which will be a course that is meant to optimize your coloured pencil use for calligraphic work. The pansy is a very simple flower to draw and to bring to life with colour. This is a  two session class and I hope it will  demonstrate the richness that can be achieved with simple coloured pencils.  I want the students to find confidence and learn how to build effective layers of colours rather  that create a luminous and realistic effect. 

The process of studying and working on compositions has been mindful work. Although I work in silence most of the time, the slow process of coloured pencil work allows my mind to wander. I don't have to analyze every thought and movement. I don't need to worry about the timing of applying water glazes to paper and there is no danger of ink smudges on the paper. Although the process is slow, it is extremely rewarding. 
 One thing that keeps coming to mind is the concept of  he passage of time. This process cannot be rushed. Each part of the design will take as long as it takes. In fact, when I feel myself rushing, I have stepped away from the work rather than try to race to the end of the piece. I will put the coloured pencils away, reset my desk and work on something else. I have found that rushing is my cue to move on for a day or two. As an instructor, I know that so many students want to rush to the end result of having their skill set match the vision they have in their head. We always want our work to be far more advanced than it is. We want beautiful script, perfect gilding and illustrations that look like they will leap off the page. But each of these skills needs time to develop. They all will take as long as they take. It is ok to slow down and breathe. Take as much time as you need with each piece of art work that you are doing. Enjoy the creative process. During this month I will be preparing for June's Fainting Fancies Class at Ardington and for Blooms and Breezes and  Flights of Fancies for The Gentle Penman in July.

If you are considering the Flights of Fancy Master Class but have questions about your current skill level, please contact me. This will likely be my final offering of the course and it would be a pleasure to accompany you .The course is about finding your voice as a calligraphic artist, refining your skills and  giving you confidence and joy in the journey.  This is more of an experience than an online course. I am so proud of the work of that has been done by the students of 2023 and I am excited for the 2024 students. 

Remember to take time to  pause and breathe my dear friends. Experience the season that you are in. Appreciate each day. Thank you for your constant encouragement, your friendship and for supporting my classes. Happy May!

Monday, April 1, 2024

A Life in Letters

 What a beautiful April morning. It is so good to watch the robins and blue jays in the yard. Rabbits have been plentiful these past weeks and I always pause to watch them when I see them jumping by. The soft presence of nature through my studio window helps with all the tasks in front of me. I still have the ache of the loss of Oscar but never forget to appreciate the memories he gave us. Although the rabbits, squirrels and birds are not my pets, they still bring such a sense of joy to my day. I try not to take them for granted. March was very busy with teaching and commission work. I can only share a peek but I have loved working on these special pieces.

 I have a busy month ahead as I sort through the list of deadlines. Looking through the schedule, I realize that I have an abundance of drawn letter tasks as well as pure calligraphic writing. I have received some of the most gorgeous letters these past few weeks. The staff at the post office loves to see the mail that comes in for me as well as what I send out. They handle things with extra care. When beautiful letters arrive for me, they will often leave a note for me to see them in the office so they can hand it to me rather than risk bending it to put it into the post box. They recognize how special these letters are and it is always a chance for me to chat about the beauty of calligraphy. The gift of a letter truly touches the recipient and it is a wonderful way to practice your own skills. 

There always seems to be a sense of magic involved when you hand off a piece of mail, knowing you don't have control of the timing or even the course of its path as it goes out into the world.
As I prepare for my upcoming Italian Hand, Spencerian and Fainting Fancies classes, I have been using letter writing as a way to update my course notes. I seem to need something fanciful to write as I practice and rather than keeping my portfolios and file folders overflowing, the work is getting ready to be mailed out. It has been a joy to create this way. Fainting Fancies will be offered in June at Ardington School.

I have taught it once online and several times in person. The strange name was chosen from Harry Potter movies, as the first time I presented this course was for a Harry Potter themed calligraphy guild retreat. The students are encouraged to create fanciful embellished letterforms. The act of adding extra flourishes to your calligraphic work, whether inside the letters or as an extension of a beautiful word is the focus of the Fainting Fancies class. The sky is the limit with these small studies. I find them so freeing to create.

I have used the techniques on recent envelopes as well as monograms to be included in the envelopes. A life in letters does not mean any of your practice sessions need to be dull. I have never been one who could practice pages of lowercase letters or simply use black ink on practice paper. Once I understood the letter structures, I needed a practical output for the letters. Play is the beginning of knowledge and is essential for pointed pen flourishing in my opinion. 

It may energize your practice if you share your work in the form of a card, letter or decorated envelope. Most of us have a surplus of paper and envelopes and we all know someone who would love to receive a letter. I encourage you to enjoy the practice and feel delight of sending out a beautiful letter. Don't worry if your work is not perfect. Perfection is never an option.  Express your creative energy even if you only have a few minutes to write. April will fly by as quickly as March! Have fun with your pens, inks, colours and papers and see what emerges. If you want to hone your decorated letters or your flourishing skills, there is room in Fainting Fancies in June and a very few spots in Flourishing Club for April, May and June. Flourishing Club is always full of surprises and the work being produced by the students is outstanding. They are taking flourishes along pathways that I never dreamed of and it is so inspiring. 

If you want a deep dive into expressive flourishing I will be teaching Sweet Characters For Spring this month at The Gentle Penman. The Spring subjects are Foxes, Bunnies and Bears. 

This is a brand new class and it will be challenging but so much fun. And if you want an incredibly intensive study program, there are a couple of spots available for the 6 month long Master Class at The Gentle Penman. I am working so hard on all these courses to share what I have learned over these 21 years of study. This will likely be my final presentation of the Flights of Fancy Master Class  and I am so excited to share my thoughts with the class of 2024.

  As I finish this blog post, a gorgeous brown rabbit came into view. He seems to be enjoying the sunshine! I wish you all a most beautiful April on this Easter Monday Morning. May you Flourish dear friends. 

Friday, March 1, 2024

Attentive Appreciation

 February proved to be a very difficult month in our household. We had to say goodbye to our beloved cat Oscar who passed away one month shy of his 16th birthday. Oscar was a formidable force in our home. He observed everything. There was not a sound or a sight that he ignored. He investigated everything. He was perpetually curious, playful, observant, bossy and comical. He began to slow down extensively in November but still wanted to play and show us that he was in charge of everything. Up until his very last day, he wanted to walk around the property, inspect the catnip, look at his tree and bask in the sunshine.

He was an indoor cat but we had trained him on the leash and he liked to walk around the house every day.He did not care how cold it was, he would look for that spot of sunshine and I would bundle up and sit beside him on the cold ground until he wanted to go in the house.  On his last day, he continued his job of  supervising the cooking from his spot in the kitchen and even nudged me off the chair he wanted before we all went to bed. He passed quietly in his sleep and I felt he went out as a champion, choosing the time and place of his passing.

During the last several months I tuned more deeply into him and his needs. I tried to take in every detail of his fur, his eyes, his meow, the way he walked and his subtle expressions. Oscar was adored.  I knew he was going to pass away and I worked so much harder to appreciate every single movement he made.  All my priorities changed to accommodate him. I put deadlines off and the work on my desk started to pile up more than usual. But he was so worth it. I feel like these past few weeks have occurred through an expectant filter of grief. Nothing is forever and  we know the reality of the outcomes for our precious pets from the moment we take them into our hearts. The lingering lesson that Oscar has left me is appreciation.

Every day I choose what will get my attention. I have a robust schedule to maintain if I am to prepare for my classes and complete commissions. There is an incessant pressure to keep up with social media posts, answer email,  promote upcoming classes, practice my own skills and expand my horizons. But in the midst of the pressures and the tasks, I must stay focused on the beauty of the present moment. There is only one March 1st in 2024. This day will not come again. Some tasks will be accomplished and others will wait. It is important to appreciate this day and all that you have in it. Oscar gave us such joy and his memory will be forever cherished. He was a precious overseer and studio assistant forcing me to take breaks in my schedule whenever he thought it was necessary. I will miss that so much. Seasons in our lives come and go as quickly as the calendar seasons. In the cold of November I was dreaming of March. Now March is here and I want to slow it down to savour the Spring season. Never stop appreciating your present moment. Take time to be grateful for the joys that each day brings to you. Time is so very precious! I never want to forget that. Although my workload is heavy, rest assured that I take time to pause and appreciate the day. I completed a flourish on Oscar's last day of life. I called it Faithful Friend. It was created through the grief of his passing but I poured my heart into it as I dealt with my emotions and thoughts. 

I started it as an example for the Sweet Characters for Spring class for The Gentle Penman.  Oscar would constantly chase bunnies that dared to come into the garden and he loved trying to catch the butterflies. I was always amazed at how high he could jump and how quickly he would spot them. Faithful Friend is a testimony to Oscar, his spirit of curiosity and his constant playful wonder. It also shows my complete  belief in the power of creative work.  My palette has been blue for quite some time.

I think it has helped me process the expectant grief. Pink still comes out to play and when it does, I appreciate it so much more. Even my recent Belles Nouvelles Lettres design featured a butterfly with definite blue tones in it.

The overarching theme of wonder and nature is coming through in my work loud and clear.  The final piece I will share is part of a study for Spencerian Whispers. Once again, as I worked on the piece, I was reminded of Oscar and his constant sense of wonder. No matter how many times he had seen something, it was always a curious wonder to him. If a bee passed by he would stare at it but kept a respectful distance. He never ignored it. 

My approach to will be different. Spencerian can appear rigid if it is not infused with a sense of wonder and curiosity. It is simple to do but takes thought to become expressive and nuanced.  You will find that my lettering is slightly more upright, and pulls from influences of both English Roundhand and Italian Hand.  There is still room in Spencerian Whispers and Belles Nouvelles if you wish to register at Artdington School. Both classes are labours of love for me and a joy to explore.  There is so much to complete these next few weeks and I am forever grateful for the work and for the friendships. You are so precious to me and the time I spend with you means so much. I know some of you are going through grief and health struggles. I hope that you can find joy and strength as you continue to work with your hands. Our creative work is a blessing. It deserves the investment of your precious time and appreciation. I hope this first day of March is filled with blessings, beauty and sense of expectation. Hugs all around. 

Thursday, February 1, 2024

Launching my first online Study Day


Welcome February and all that this month may hold. January was a whirlwind. As I type this blog post, my mind is overflowing with thoughts and ideas as I wrap up a very robust teaching month and get ready to transition to new classes. As an instructor, I am perpetually studying, researching and figuring out ways to relay techniques to my students. There is always so much to learn. Several of my students have reached out to me over the past few months asking me how to study. The question itself is difficult to answer as we all respond to different methods. For some, reading books is the best way to engage with a subject and truly learn.
Others study through observation, while others prefer a slow and cumulative approach to study. I tend to study through immersive and extractive approaches. I will take a deep dive into the subject and truly observe it. I try to summarize what I am seeing. I spend long and quiet hours in observation before I put pen, pencil or brush to paper. If we want our hand to do something, we must first know what we want to achieve. The process takes time and cannot be rushed.

There is no substitute for observation or immersion in the subject. The extractive method takes the key elements that you have observed and puts them into practice. The difficulty for most students is that they will default to the practice of copying, rather than learning how to merge the things they like with their own ideas. This is the hardest part of study. Learning how to observe and extract without copying. Calligraphers are often trained to copy.There is a place for that as we start out. But as I study, I try to extract the nuances of what I am seeing and infuse it with my own heart and soul. This is so difficult to explain but this is the foundation of my study method. We also must learn how to put our study into context. Rather than being in perpetual practice mode, it is best to jump into creative mode in my opinion. This is where growth can truly been seen.  For years, I have been taking small time outs, or Study Days to enhance my skills. On March 16th, I will be sharing this for the first time. This is a very different online experience.  The March Hare Study Day will share my favourite study method with a very small group of students. Our special focus will be painting a white rabbit which is near and dear to my heart, especially for Spring. You can read more about it on my website. 

 This will be a real time work along day with me on Zoom. I don't have to rush, and I can talk to a small group of students and we can interact as we work together. My hope with this class is that students will break through that intimidation barrier of creating artwork and will just get on with it. These study days have been part of my regular practice for nearly 20 years and there is a special philosophy behind them. They are game changers no matter what you end up creating on the paper. I am really excited about this first Study Day and if all goes well, I will offer another seasonal opportunity in November. Registration is now open on my website and the spaces are very limited. I want this to be a quiet and intimate experience. I still have other class opportunities coming up which explore more study methods.

The Flights of Fancy course 2024 is longer term, intensive way to study. You will be dedicating nearly half a year of study, but there is distinct growth that can happen with this investment of time and practice. The students of 2023 had a lot of work to do, but those who did the work and took the plunge, made vast improvements.It was really quite remarkable and I am still hearing from the class of 2023 and watching their work blossom. This is a slow study program and utilizes both immersion and extractive methods. If you are interested in joining us for the 2024 year, I will be happy to accompany you on this journey. 

I am working on preparing the course demonstrations now for this new group of students.  Currently, I am working on a Fox to add to my menagerie of carousel animals. The course curriculum will be very close to the 2023 program but all of my demonstrations will be unique to the class of 2024. 

 Finally, there are the online class experiences that have been such a blessing since the pandemic years. Online classes that are presented over a few hours are meant to be digested after the class. It is almost impossible to work along with the instructor and create the same project. But the benefit of the recordings allows the student to go over that project on their own. Once again, the student must do the work rather than just observe. If you want to join the Belles Nouvelles or Spencerian Whispers classes at Ardington, there will be time for you to practice and get feedback for your work.Ardington keeps the class numbers very small and there is an atmosphere that is most welcome for any skill level. It has been a joy to present classes through Ardington and I truly feel like I am part of a family and building a sense of community. 

Belles Nouvelles will show you how I find the nuances of these special decorative letters  The letters are influenced by  antique Toile fabrics and based on the Art Nouveau style.. I will share the colour palette and the distinctions as I extract from other beautiful  Parisienne influences. Beyond the finished product, the classes are glimpse into my extractive study method. 

 Spencerian Whispers is not your regular Spencerian Script class. I work with a straight holder and my script has more expressively rounded forms than the norm. We will be chasing beauty rather than adhering to a system of penmanship.

Once again, the script itself if the product of study, immersion and extracting what I like, discarding what I don't like. Your Spencerian Script should be gentle and delicate while still bouncing with life. It will be a delight to dedicate some time to this whispering script.

 The use of books and extensive study has lead to a collaborative class is coming up with Martin Beek at Ardington with the Borders of William Morris. This is now my second straight year of immersive study into the life and work of William Morris and I am just skimming the surface of research.

Morris is an artist like no other and I am particularly struck with his dedicated work ethic. Currently I am reading about how many failures he had with his gesso gilding experiments. But his failures never stopped him from further experiment. It is fascinating. This presentation at Ardington will be presented in two sessions. We will have the benefit of hearing two different lectures from Martin and then the practical demonstration sessions will include the Indigo painting style of William Morris and his beautiful borders.I have been especially influenced by his birds, thistles and roses as I prepare for this class.

  The life of an artist and instructor is never dull. We are constantly working and constantly evolving. We go through dry spells, fatigue and failure all the time. But the passion for the art form propels us ever forward. To work with our hands is one of life's greatest joys and blessings. To be able to share the love of this work is such a privilege for me. Thank you for reading through so much on this blog post. I always want to share the upcoming study opportunities with you, whether or not you ever take a class. Study and sharing are both intrinsic to teaching. I am a perpetual student as I maintain my passion for this art form. Have a beautiful month dear friends. I hope you find so much joy with the work of your hands. Dust off some books that are on your shelf and see if there is inspiration hiding in the pages. Happy February. 

Monday, January 1, 2024

Precious Time

 As I sit at a freshly tidied and dusted desk, welcoming the first day of January, 2024 I am appreciating the precious beauty of this day. I have spent the last few weeks organizing, donating items I no longer use, cleaning up my portfolios, files and my calligraphy supplies. I see how much I have accumulated over the past  few years and how some things I have on my shelves have never been used. I am determined to do a careful check of my supply shelves before I purchase something this year and try hard to keep my desk tidy and welcoming even as the projects accumulate. As I  cleaned the studio  I found beautiful sparkling paints, fresh paint brushes waiting to be used and notebooks waiting to be filled. I found books that are still waiting to be read  and I looked through old guild newsletters that brought back warm memories. There is so much to appreciate and remember. Some of my dear calligraphy friends have passed away but their cards and letters remain in my scrapbooks. I have been especially pensive about the passing of time and how easy it is take it for granted.  I know my 2024 schedule is robust. There is so much to do and so much to prepare for. But the simple joys of each day cannot be overlooked despite the busyness of my schedule. I recommend flourishing as time to breathe and meditate and have taken my own advice as I work it into my own schedule for the sheer joy of the flourish rather than a finished piece as part of a class. The wonder and joy from the simple act of putting pen to paper cannot be overstated.

 With each offhand flourish, I am free from the pressure of creating a perfect letterform as the free form design unfolds. As I  continue with the Flourishing Club at  The Ardington School of Crafts for 2024, my greatest hope is that the students will partake of this precious time to flourish with the freedom of letting the flourish evolve on the page as it will. As 2024 unfolds, you will likely be inundated with upcoming class notices. There is so much out there for you to explore. My full teaching schedule is on my website or can be emailed to you if you are interested. Faded Love Letters and Alphabet Garden are up first this month. Both are beautiful takes on different types of drawn letters. I have talked about them in previous blog posts and continue to explore the delights of these different letter designs. As I worked on this initial O for Faded Love Letters, I was especially pensive.

Our little cat Oscar is getting older and appears to be slowing down. The O that meandered on this page was created as I continue to appreciate all the joy he brings knowing that our time with him is so precious. There is true beauty in all seasons.

These skills we have with pen, ink, paper and brush can help us work through our own thoughts and bring a sense of calm to uncertain days. I am feeling mindful and so appreciative as 2024 awakens. Once again, my word for the year is Hope.

Sending warm hugs and so much love and gratitude to my friends, dear students and readers.Thank you for being such a blessing to me. I hope you find joy with the work of your hands, peace as 2024 unfolds and abundant blessings throughout the year. Love you all. May you flourish!

Friday, December 1, 2023

May your days be Merry and Bright

 Waking up very early this morning with my mind overflowing with tasks that need to be completed. No matter how busy the season gets for me it is always a joy to work with pen, ink, gold and paint. I feel blessed to face the tasks in front of me and so grateful for all of your encouragement, kind words and support. Thank you for being such a blessing to me this year.  We have worked hard together. Many of you have attended numerous classes with me and you have kept me busy as I watched your work grow and evolve over time. It is an honour to accompany you on your journey. It helps me grow as an artist and an instructor and it means so much to me as I watch your own styles emerge on the paper. I couldn't be more proud of you and know that 2024 will bring more joy in the journey.

My 2024 teaching schedule is robust and filled with new classes, some encore presentations of letter design classes, as well as script hands to enjoy. Flourishing club will resume and I will host some Zoom study schools where we can work together on some illumination skills. So lots to anticipate and so much for me to prepare for. But I am determined to enjoy the passing days of December. I love the sights and sounds of this season even though I am not a fan of snow and winter. I do love the warmth of the lights in the window displays and the thought of sending and receiving cards in the mail. Taking time to pause and prepare a card and a note for a friend is part of the joy of this season for me. Thank you dear friends, students and readers of this blog to be part of the joy of the season. It is difficult for me to put into words just how much of a blessing you are to me. I am not quite finished wrapping up my teaching for the season. Still the Festive Squirrel class to complete, December's Flourishing Club and my private students to receive their December lessons. I will post my 2024 schedule on my website soon, but you can always email me to get a pdf copy of the upcoming classes. I will catch my breath as December wraps up but I am only ever an email away if you want to reach out. The flourishes on this blog post are from the White Christmas class that wrapped up last week. No matter how many times I flourish a festive style design, I find a new pathway, a new idea and a new appreciation for the craft.

All of us, no matter how far along we are in our journey are keepers of this craft and part of this calligraphic collective. We are colleagues together. My hope is that we will continue and to explore this art form together and find the joy and peace that it can bring us. I am constantly aware that I stand on the shoulders of those who have invested in me, mentored me, shared their skills with me and encouraged me to teach. I am forever grateful to my first teacher Michael Sull, who helped me to find my voice and my path as a teacher. Brian Walker who passed away in 2018 helped me hone my skills and gave me eyes to see. Bob Hurford was my first penpal and encouraged me to flourish. He saw potential where I only saw failure in my work. And Dr. Joseph Vitolo was the patient voice who answered all of my questions in the beginning and put the right ink, paper and pen points within my reach.

My ideas, thoughts, skills and designs have evolved over time and are what I share with my students now. But I never forget the pathway that I took and those who helped to bring me to this point. Feeling so thoughtful this morning as I reflect on the teachings of my mentors and continue to work here at this desk, in a career path that I could never have envisioned so many years ago. One step at a time dear friends. May you Flourish! And always remember that you are right where you should be in your artistic journey. Your pace is your own and no one can dictate that to you. Happy December.