Thursday, March 19, 2020

Spring Wreath Flourish Tutorial

I am always amazed at the meditative and peaceful process of offhand flourishing. Whenever I flourish, I am aware that my breathing gets a little deeper and all of my focus is on the paper in front of me. One of the definitions of flourish is "to bloom". Let me share this process of how to bring a spring wreath to bloom on your desk today.

The wreath design is just a suggestion. You can use any shape you want. A heart, a square, an oval. Absolutely anything. I used a circle template to transfer an outline in pencil. My paper was Strathmore vellum finish Bristol cut to 5" x 7". Supplies used for this design: Straight pen holder with  your favourite pen point, McCaffery Brown ink, Watercolour pencils, Watercolour, Pastels, Finetec Gold, Hot foil pen, Sakura Gelly Roll Clear Stardust pen and a little bit of stickles glitter glue for floral centres.

Once the outline is on the paper, I placed a small cluster of flowers randomly on the outline. The secret to clustering little floral bouquets is to allow the flowers to interfere with each other a little bit. I always tell my students to draw them a little too close for comfort. The florals are not predawn anywhere in pencil. I am using pure offhand flourishing techniques and building up the design one ink stroke at a time. 
You can see in the photo above how I begin to proceed around the outer shape of the circle. I am adding small cartouches in between the little clusters of flowers. The flowers themselves are very simple to do. You can go to my YouTube channel to see more of my flourishing which includes some florals. My festive flourish 2017 on the YouTube channel starts with a floral. 
Once the florals and flourished cartouche strokes are all the way around the design in ink you are ready for the colour stage of your design. I am using a Victorian Line and Wash technique for this wreath. The Line and Wash technique requires a waterproof ink which is why I used McCaffery Brown for this wreath. McCaffery Brown is always my favourite choice for this technique because the colour is so soft, Other inks that work for this particular technique are McCaffery Black, Old World Iron Gall, Ziller Buffalo Brown and Fox And Quill's Victoria Ink. If you are not going to use any watercolour on this design, you can use any ink at all.
The next stage of the design is to add your colour. I am starting with a very light application of water-colour pencil. I am using Staedtler Aquarelle for this wreath but any watercolour pencil will do. 
I started by colouring all of my leaves around the wreath in a medium spring green colour. I apply just a touch of the watercolour pencil near the base of each leaf. Once the green has been applied, I proceeded to add a touch of pink to the petals of the flowers just near the base. You want to avoid overly saturating the petals with the pigment.
You can see just how lightly the pigment is applied in the photo above. Once all of the petals and leaves have been given a light application of watercolour pigment, I use a very small watercolour brush and start to disperse the pigment with clean water. Once this first layer of colour is completed, you end up with a very gentle application of soft colour on your design. The ink will not bleed when water is added because you have used a waterproof ink.

My next stage is to heighten the colour a little bit. Using my watercolours and a very small brush, I will add just a touch of darker pigment near the base of each leaf and petal. I do this to start building a sense of dimension to the wreath.  My favourite green to use is Sap Green and my favourite pink is Quinachridone Rose. 

You can see how I coaxed some dimension from the petals and the leaves as I proceeded around the wreath. The question I usually get at this point is "when do you know you are finished?" There is no easy answer to that question. It looks fine the way it is but I know I can add a bit more sparkle to this piece. Using pastels, I then added a burnished background in soft pink and green. My final touches where to add some shadow strokes with Finetec gold ink. The last touches were a few hot foil dots in emerald green, some joyful strokes with the Sakura Gelly Roll Clear Stardust pen and some Diamond Stickles glitter glue in the centre of each blossom.  The wreath design is a bit more involved and time consuming than other flourishes. From start to finish I probably spent 45 minutes to an hour on this little flourish. 

The point is to enjoy the process and be absorbed in each of the details that you add to the piece. I hope you enjoy the process.  You can do this in so many different colours or experiment with your own favourite papers and inks. Just try it!! It is easier than you think. I am constantly reminding my students that offhand flourishing is the easiest of all pointed pen techniques to learn. It is far easier to learn than any script alphabet. I do teach this type of offhand flourishing online privately. You can email me at if you want details about The Artful Flourish course. Or, if you have any questions about this particular flourish, feel free to email me. I hope this flourish brings you joy and a touch of colour to your desk today. Sending hugs to you!

Sunday, March 15, 2020

The Gift of a Pause

I thought it would be good to add a second post this month. Many of my scheduled plans are on pause as my travel plans to teach 5 workshops this month have been postponed. Many of us are finding ourselves with some unscheduled changes to work with.  I have a very graphic imagination so I am being very careful about how much media I tune into right now. I want to share some joyful and very simple moments that might brighten your day as well.
The first crocus blooms are in the garden. They never fail to bring me a sense of delight. I worked as a florist for 18 years and never failed to see the wonder and beauty in a flower. Even now as pansy seeds continue to grow on my desk, they all contain such potential wonder as I anticipate their blooms. Delight yourselves in the beauty that surrounds you! If you look for it, you will find it.
For years, I did Victorian Embroidery, Needle tatting and crochet. I had a vague understanding of knitting but was not very proficient at it. This past winter, I have been revisiting it a bit and really have enjoyed the meditative moments it brings. This is a scarf in progress for my Dad. If you look closely you will see my cat Ron's feet on the coffee table. He loves pouncing at the yarn. It amazes me how long he can look at something and just sit and purr. Again, another moment of delight.
Painting pens is always a joyful activity but sometimes becomes stressful as I run out of time to do it. I have been able to take my time a bit more as I paint the pens and try new ideas. I still love the tiny details!
Finally, I had the pleasure of testing out a new detail brush. I am moving more toward synthetic brushes over sable and had so much fun painting this little sparrow. The words of the song " His Eye is on the Sparrow" kept going through my head as I painted the miniature. I remember singing it as a child  in Sunday school. Underneath the painting of the sparrow is a piece of hand crochet lace I found in our local antique shop. I still love rescuing old lace and was so thankful for whoever created this piece. Again, it brought me a moment of joy! I just wanted to share these few small things that brought me some joy and peace. I hope your day brings you some delight and beauty no matter where you are or what you are doing. Thank you dear friends for reading this blog, emailing me from time to time and being a huge part of the joy of my life! Hugs all around! 

Sunday, March 1, 2020

The Magic of March

I am so looking forward to spring. I couldn't resist planting some pansies on my studio desk and I am enjoying watching this emergent stage. Appreciate the little things...even slow beginnings. That seems to be the underlying wisdom and magic of March. As soon as I turn the calendar to March, I expect greenery and flowers but it will not be rushed.
Spring cleaning is just starting in my house and studio. I have just completed the IAMPETH 2020 workshop notes for The Alphabet Garden. Now I am working on the expanded handouts for my private students and guild workshops. It has been so good to study and glean from various sources. 
My style and technique continues to evolve as I work on this material but just below the surface of all the work that I do is a deep love of nature. It spills into all of my flourishes and painting. I just want to share the beauty and joy that it brings me. 
I am constantly reminded that the driving force of this work is really passion. Sometimes, inspiration is hiding and not easily found. Sometimes, we fail as we work on our projects or practice pages. Sometimes, deadlines feel like pure stress. Sometimes, we meet sadness on this journey that makes working difficult. Sometimes, it seems like I discard more work than I keep. So why do I keep showing up at my studio desk? I think the bottom line for me is that after all of these years with pen and brush, I remain intrigued. There is the desire to continue to learn. That desire has never diminished.
My encouragement to you this month is revisit the things you are passionate about. If you love practicing Spencerian in pencil, then practice in pencil. If you love drawing flowers, then draw flowers. If you love looking at books, then pull out an old favourite and go over the material again. My dear friend Brian Walker would constantly remind me that this was all "grist for the mill". Refresh yourselves in the things you are passionate about. Go slowly..and enjoy. 

Tuesday, February 4, 2020

This and That

Happy February dear friends. I hope you are all getting through the winter season and setting your sights toward spring. Here in Ontario, I can see my lawn and there are actually chipmunks outside getting some exercise. Surely usual  for February  but I am not complaining.
The opening photo of this blog post is a demo piece that I created for one of my private students. My online private tutorials are where I have been spending lots of time these days. I am working with a few students in a longer term mentoring program and I will talk a bit more about that in the future.

Today I wanted to share a few things on my desk that are making me really happy. Cornellissen's Walnut ink is my current favourite practice ink. It is not listed on their website yet as it is a fairly new product for them but this is beyond doubt the finest walnut ink for pointed pen work I have ever found. The hairlines and shades are pristine and it makes practicing much less harsh on our precious vintage nibs. Give it a try! You can send them an email and they will provide details.
The other two recommendations I want to share are the Faber Castell Dust Free eraser and the Taper Point Colour Shaper. The eraser is definitely not dust free. But as a white vinyl eraser, it does a better job than any others in my tool box. Even problematic papers for erasing are no problem at all with this eraser. I highly recommend trying it. The colour shaper is my new favourite tool for applying gilding size. Because there are no brush bristles to worry about, the gilding size is applied perfectly every time, I bought the smallest size I could find and can even apply small dots with the tip of the point. Another wonderful tool to add to your toolbox.
Have a wonderful month! Play with the pen, flourish a bit or a lot and enjoy the journey!

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

Sweet Hope for 2020

It's always exciting to turn a fresh page and begin a new year. The words that kept circulating in my mind on December 31st were Sweet Hope. I filled the flouirsh with all of my best wishes for the upcoming year. I hope there is is joy, health, happiness, love and hope in the coming days. Thank you for all of the messages that you have sent through email as you connect with me. I am glad that the blog gets read and that you find encouragement and inspiration from the posts.
This year expect lots of flourishing posts as well as some insights from beloved books on my shelf. I will keep the blog updated with workshop posts and projects I am working on. Here is a sneak peek of my Alphabet Garden workshop handouts so far. So many pages of artwork to create and I love the research part of every workshop. 

I hope to keep the content of The Alphabet Garden very lighthearted and whimsical. Buidling on concepts for the class I tried a more gothic style of initial. 
Finally,  I want to show you the first page of my agenda for the year.

 For the past several years, I have repeatedly bought the same style of daily planner. A large Moleskine week at a glance planner. The Plaisir fountain pen came to me in 2015 from a dear friend and it has been a daily staple in my planner. For some reason, I feel happier with the notes and tasks written in a bright cheery pink. Tasks seem less daunting somehow.  I hope as you begin this new year, you find some little treasure to spoil yourself with that brings you joy as you face the upcoming agenda! I am only an email away if you need to chat or just want to send a note. Happy January 1st. May you flourish this year!

Sunday, December 1, 2019

December Again!

Once again, it is December and I turn my calendar page. Outside my studio window, I see an ice rink! We are having our fisrt ice storm of the season. The birds and squirrels are nowhere to be found but I will fill their feeders just in case. For the past few days, I have been painting a small study piece. I get so inspired by seeing the birds in the branches and I want to capture that beauty. Nature is so elusive and I want to appreciate the small moments of peace and wondet that it provides. Even in icy weather, I find that I crack open my studio window just a bit in case I can hear a bird chirping in the background!
The pace of paitning is slow and methodical but very peaceful. I have been charmed by these versal style letters lately and it seemed to be a perfect resting space for my little bird. I will continue to explore these designs as I get ready to launch a new course called "The Alphabet Garden" based on a Victorian style of versal letter. 

My Festive Flourishing Students are coming into their 5th week of Bootcamp practice! It has been a delight to watch their work progress on Instagram and Facebook. I am so delighted to see so many festive flourishes. As I watched the work progress, I remembered some of my early flourishes and even went through some archived photos of my work. The struggle and the journey is very real! None of my current skills came easily to me. They were hard won with lots of practice, time on task and frustration. But underlying every practice session was the desire to acquire the skills I longed for. 
No matter where you are in your artistic journey, my reminder for you is to stay passionate. Love what you are doing and forget the notion of a finish line. It does not exist in this journey. Skills continue to build and evolve. Take all the time you need ( and then some!) Sending hugs across the miles and I hope you find time to pick up the pen or the brush and play a little! Happy December dear friends. I love hearing from you through email. You can reach me at Thank you for reading the blog and if you need to reach out, I am only ever an email away.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Magic of Place

I am officially home from my travels. My penmanship, gilding and painting tools have been cleaned, sorted and returned to their proper places in my studio. There is such a magic involved in returning home restoring the studio to a sense of order. I try to leave surfaces clean when I leave for travels but always seem to need to clean again when I return home.
My travel time to Europe was amazing. I loved the sights and sounds of Rome and London. I feel like part of my heart stayed there.

 I was able to visit the V&A museum in London to view the Beatrix Potter exhibit. What a delight to see her original work and to see the actual pencil lines she placed on the paper. Her ink lines were also so delicate but lively at the same time. What a treat to see true mastery.

Here at home, I will be working through the winter. I am designing my Christmas card at the moment while also putting final touches on a new workshop I will be releasing to IAMETH in 2020. Although this time of year is generally a bit slower for me as I don't need to travel, my daily planner is overflowing with private students and deadlines to hit for commission work as well as some personal goals. I am trying not to let the peace of my studio lull me to sleep! Wishing you all a beautiful November and hoping that you can find peace and solitude in your surroundings as you work on whatever projects bring you delight. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2019

Some Painting Thoughts

October is here in its beautiful glory. I appreciate each bloom in the garden, each bird sighting and the  rabbits that continue to visit the yard. I appreciate the view from my studio window so much. I am currently working on completing this bunny illumination. This painting process is slow, methodical and very meditative. I have painted everything so far with a Isabey 6229 size 3 miniature brush. I am using old stock of Fabriano Artistico Hot Press paper and grieving that the paper is no longer available with this amazing quality. It is perfect for this dry brush technique. I really have not found a paper that compares to this old stock of Fabriano.
The underpainting and drawing stage of an illumination take the most time for me. The painting technique is entirely dry brush. I am combining my tried and true dry brush hatching technique with more of a modelling dry brush stage to sculpt dimension.  Even the acanthus has been dry brushed. I was actually dreaming about painting this piece and the colour scheme for the acanthus came to mind. I believe the alstroemeria flowers on my desk influenced the colours. The leaves have been entirely underpainted in a soft yellow and then brushed with rose madder and sap green. I will continue to build up the layers. There are many hours left to go in this design and I don't actually want to rush through to completion. I am still unsure of what colours to add to the florals but that is part of this underpainting stage. It is ok to be unsure of a process and wait until you are ready to proceed.  I have often rushed to completion and been unhappy with the results. Looking forward to seeing what happens with this piece as I finish it up. Sending warm autumn hugs to you all and hope you enjoy whatever projects are on your desk. Take your time...enjoy the process. 

Sunday, September 8, 2019

The Studio in September

It already feels like fall here in Ontario, Canada. A drive through Cambridge yesterday showed lots of  maple trees showing their early autumn splendour. It is a gorgeous time of year although I always difficulty as the last of the summer blooms in the garden start to fade. This year, the morning glories were really late to bloom as our friendly neighbourhood group of bunnies must have thought the seedlings were delicious. But the bunnies are so cute, we forgave them instantly.

I thought I would show you a few shots around the studio today. The best morning light hits my studio window around 8:30 AM these days and starts my solar power rainbow maker. I love to see the  light dancing around the room and the sound that it makes is very gentle and peaceful. It is one of my favourite parts of the day.

My view from my desk is my meditation garden, the bird feeders and the bird bath. I continue to work in silence for the most part with the windows open so I can hear the birds. Sometimes the backyard is a bit too inviting and I take a break on the garden swing with a book. I restock the feeders with peanuts and the bluejays and squirrels are in the garden to entertain me within a few minutes. It's amazing how energized I get through the quiet and calm of the garden. I am always so thankful for this oasis.

 I believe I mentioned in a previous post how influential Randall Hasson's class at IAMPETH was for me. He really opened my eyes to so many possibilities and I have been in research mode ever since.  It's amazing when a one day class can have such a long lasting impact.
 Research for me is a winding road. I go off as many bunny trails as I can find and then a lightbulb just goes on for me. My path lately has taken me deep into Medieval Manuscript study, Typography of the 20's and 30's, Vintage Lettering styles and Art Nouveau influences. All roads for me eventually lead back to the Victorian Era and I am taking a fresh look at some very old things! It has been a wonderful summer journey and it will likely stretch way into the New Year and longer. I can't wait to show you some of the things I am diving into as I get ready to launch some new classes. Right now I will give you a peek at some Victorian style Versal Letters I have been working on.

Last July, my dear friend Brian Walker passed away. I have missed him so much but his influence over my thinking process remains. He always told me to study as much as I practice. Those words have really become my mantra as I teach others. Study is never wasting time. It is helping to inform your practice as well as kick starting the inspiration process. My words of advice in this post would be that if you feel a bit stuck in your work or your practice time seems like it has hit a plateau, change gears and take some time to study. Look at things that inspire you, read something that brings you joy, take a walk and study nature, observe your surroundings and breathe the air of the new season you are in. Don't fight against that plateau, just change your perspective about it and see what happens as a result.