Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Taking time to Study

My vellum studies are still in process. The current assignment is small round subjects on vellum. After a disastrous encounter with trying to paint a walnut, I switched over to a Mission Fig.
I have never really observed a fig! What a mysterious fruit! Absolutely gorgeous colours on the inside. I really should try to paint one that I have sliced! Nature is spectacular! Part of the study is to try to find the underlying colour in the fig and mix it appropriately. There are greens, golds, red purples and deep blue purples as well as the cloudy bloom that still needs to be painted. I am figuring out how much water to have on the brush. Almost none! The brush is very dry and this technique I can see is very hard on the sable brushes. I am using a size 4 Winsor Newton Series 7 Brush. The more I paint on vellum, the more I fall in love with the surface. It is so forgiving. And the work gets such an old world feel with that golden colour background! This has been a welcome retreat from my usual studies. I find the same meditative peace that overtakes me while I work as I do with pen and ink. This challenging art form engages more of my mind as I can't be on autopilot as I work. I hear the conversation in my head as I try to mix and match colours. It feels like such a luxury to take some time out to paint. But much necessary restoration. Yesterday's study day was in preparation for The Poetic Pen Workshop for Binders in Atlanta next month. Just a few hours with the letters reinforced that they are more a part of my soul than any other script alphabet.
English Roundhand is a close second but no other script alphabet seems to bring me so much joy! The study days are so important. They give you a chance to really tune into the artform and shut out the forces of the outside world even if it is just for a few hours. No matter what other work comes along to fill my schedule I am constantly reminded of the restorative importance of study. I hope that never changes. Beyond anything I achieve as an artist or a teacher, my happiest time is spent as a student, constantly learning and exploring.

Wednesday, February 10, 2016

A Personal Process

Early on when I began teaching in 2010 I had a dear friend question me about doing so. Why would I teach? Why would I share? Why not just keep it to myself? The only reason I teach is to give someone else the joy that the process of creating gives me. Back in my embroidery days, one of my first teaching engagements was to teach silk ribbon embroidery at a women's shelter. The women had been abused and many of them had fled their homes without anything other than their clothes. The director of the shelter wanted the women to make something pretty that they could hang on their wall or put in their room to add a spark of beauty. The class wasn't long. Just a few hours. But that's all it took with Silk Ribbon embroidery to make a little bouquet to hang on their wall. For those few hours, stress was relieved. Pain was gone for a little while and their minds were free. Now, when I teach calligraphic art, I know I meet people from all walks of life. Each has their story and many have incredible hurdles and stresses in their lives. The artforms I teach are therapeutic. Not overly complex. Hopefully the classes spark joy with the student and they go on to create their own artwork putting their own unique stamp on their work. That is why I teach. Every workshop I teach is a result of a personal process. The Enchanted Letter class is the result of personal study and exploration.
I see the little Victorian Letterforms as my own children! They have a personality that evolved over a year of study as my friend Dana Cochran and I both worked on illustrative letters throughout the year. We kept each other accountable. My process had many failures. I was not happy with my first attempts and the style of Victorian letterforms that evolved out of that year were my search for finding a style of illuminated lettering that would augment my pointed pen script. After I developed the letterforms, I started working on Victorian foliate extensions to add to them. The extensions could act as border designs or meander around corners.
The inspiration for the designs came from Persian illuminated manuscripts, Victorian scroll engravings and Florentine paper patterns. I love to create the designs and I love to share them with my students. I am happy when students take what the learn and create their own works of art. It does catch me off guard when I see others take the Enchanted Letter workshop and teach it as their own brainchild. If I can explain my feelings clearly, these workshops and their content are like an entry in my diary. Seeing my personal work taught by another is like having someone write their own notes in my diary. Do they have the same feelings for the work? Are they explaining my thought process? If they have their own process of creating the letterforms, why are they copying mine? I don't understand this part of my field. I don't think I ever will. The process of creating a workshop and taking care to pass on the elements of the style with passion and clarity are deeply personal. I asked a friend to share their thoughts with me about this. She is very wise. She was in an art class and the teacher took the students to the window and showed them the sun. She said..."this is the sun...and there is nothing new under it." So true. As artists we all borrow. Ideas and inspiration are all around. The ideas are all floating around out there and with the convenience of social media, work is being shared readily and the ideas merge together. I get that. I also see incredible influence from my embroidery days and floral days influencing the designs that I create. I recognize the derivative nature of the work. I also recognize the elusive nature of artwork and teaching. That being said, I am so grateful for the commission work that comes my way for these intricate designs. They are probably my favourite initials to create. Each design is a puzzle waiting to be solved. Although they start with similar elements they all take different twists and turns. I create every one the same way...starting with a detailed pencil design. I never rely on an initial that was previously created even if the client points to previous design as the one they want. I work it out carefully in pencil and then commit to the painting process. These days, I add more gilding and swarovski crystals than my previous work. This design was created for an upcoming child's baptism. A work of joy to share from my heart.

Thursday, February 4, 2016

The Connecting Thread

Many of you know that for years I spent hours of my time doing Victorian embroidery. Once in awhile, I still miss the the bright embrace of that wonderful artform. In the dead of winter one of my escapes is to visit antique shops. Every time I see a piece of lace or hand crocheted doily I stop to look at it. I have rescued dozens of vintage laces, handkerchiefs and doilies. I take them home and gently restore them to their brightest form. I seldom pass them up. I always feel a connection to the artisan who created the original piece. I want to give their work a life again. This little round doily was originally from Paris.
The crochet edging is done by hand. I wanted to revisit my freehand embroidery days and adorn it with flowers and glass pearls. As I worked on this piece, I realized that beyond my floral background, my flourishing technique is also based in my embroidery days. I seldom worked with a pattern. I just wanted to adorn things with some Victorian touches. The same is true of my flourishing. I stare at the blank page and see what emerges. With embroidery and with flourishing, you start with your biggest elements of the design and add your smaller elements around it, filling in with accent strokes and stitches as you go. The little visit back to my embroidery stash helped me to see the connecting thread between the two art forms much more clearly. Both require peace of mind. They both bring on a sense of peace and meditation while working. Both require you to completely engage with the medium. Both are very tactile. It was a bright diversion to revisit needle and thread. The heart flourish clearly reflects some of my embroidery experience.
Neither the flourish or the embroidery reflect perfection. They both meander freely and organically. Nothing is preplanned or designed. Both are the result of happy play and just letting the creation process happen. Happy flourishing. Just play!!!