Saturday, January 23, 2016

Putting Ink On Paper

January 23rd is National Handwriting Day!
A day to be celebrated and savoured for many reasons. I have shared my thoughts with my handwriting class students many times over the years. I believe that handwriting flows rhythmically with the thoughts and feelings of the writer. If you are tense and jittery, your handwriting will reflect those feelings. If you are relaxed and at peace, the connection between thoughts in the mind and the journey to the hand seem to flow unimpeded. No emotion can hide from the tip of the pen. Handwriting and calligraphy are my daily reset buttons if I should use such a digital term for an analog skill. Even the word analog looks out of place when I am writing about handwriting. The digital age has affected our minds. There is no way around that and some will argue that our minds are better for it and some will say that are minds are worse for wear. I recommend the book The Shallows by Nicholas Carr if you want to dive into his thoughts on the matter. My copy is tattered, heavily underlined and laden with post-it notes where I jotted some responses to his thoughts. His book caused me to stop to think about the effects of the digital age. My response to digital overload is that daily reset button of handwriting and calligraphy. Both skills allow my mind to rest, to pause, to breathe. Thinking back to my cursive writing lessons in elementary school, I don't think I would have agreed that handwriting was rest for my mind. We had daily drills, practiced letter forms on guidesheets, often did our drills to a metronome to keep us writing rhythmically. Our handwriting needed to match the guidesheets as closely as possible. We needed uniform slant of letters, consistent open loops and flowing exit and entry strokes. Every elementary school teacher I can remember had impeccable Palmer Penmanship skills. I wanted my cursive writing to look like theirs but it really didn't conform. We had to apply in writing for our Pen License before we could graduate from pencil to pen. The world of pen offered bright colors of ink, different sizes of pen tip and even a fountain pen option if we could prove we wouldn't have ink blots all over our work. The goal of achieving that pen license was monumental at the time and I remember feeling stressed, and worried that I would ever get that license! I eventually got the license and remember my favourtite pen was the fine Bic with the schoolbus yellow barrel and the blue cap. My penmanship skills in no way called me into my future career choice. My thoughts about handwriting are often different than those of my colleagues. I see beautiful cursive writing as well as beautiful italic writing. I believe that handwriting is a very unique extension of our own personality.
Each person's handwriting is as unique as their voice or their fingerprint. No two people will write identically even if they started with the same system of penmanship. My goal in teaching handwriting was always to increase legibility while helping each student find a practical rhythm and pace to their writing. If they can't read their own notes or keep up with their own thoughts on paper with ink, they are going to abandon the pursuit of the skill. I do find that the digital age can bombard my mind. The harsh bright screen of the computer, the beeps I hear it make while I am trying to concentrate on getting my thoughts on paper, watching little messages fly across the screen, and in the back of my mind, often wondering what else is on. So I temporarily switch from my writing document, see what is happening on facebook and instagram, linger there often longer than needed ,check my email, respond to those and then try to remember what I was working on before the diversion. I wonder..... is this healthy? When I pause and shut down that computer screen and can sit at my desk with only ink and paper, my mind breathes. It rests in the comfort that the paper will not distract me. The paper does not have a delete button. It does not autocorrect my words and thoughts. Errors are captured and recorded on paper but with the safety of knowing that the recycle bin can carry those mistakes into oblivion. I can rest and take comfort in the thought that I can create something on the paper that can bring joy to someone else.
I can brighten someone's day with a note of encouragement or a brightly flourished envelope. I can let the feelings I have for the recipient come to the surface and flow out of the tip of the pen. It is a unique experience. It is meditative, it is peaceful, it restores my focus and refreshes my mind. It is my daily push back against the bombardment of the computer screen.Neither my handwriting or my calligraphy is perfect. It is not a font. It reflects the human who picked up a writing instrument and united with the process of putting ink on paper.
It's a celebration of a skill that can be used to bless someone else. It is a practical way to say thank you that means far more to the recipient than an email. When a handwritten letter arrives for me, I savour the experience. I pause and breathe while reading the note. The note does not intrude. It did not beep at me as a text message. It waited quietly on the desk until I was ready to open it and read the thoughts of my friend. I feel connected to my friend as I read their words.It's an entirely different connection than what comes to me on my iphone as a text message. It feels different than a digital message. It did not get lost in a huge group of emails that came to my inbox. It found a quite place and soulful time to visit with me. The process of sending handwritten notes continues to be part of my life. In many ways, I think in ink. Happy National Handwriting Day!

Thursday, January 7, 2016

English Roundhand...My Personal Philosophy

I don't intend to be preachey all of 2016 but I feel the need this first week of January. Bear with me for now! When I want to convey something cheerful in script writing my default setting is English Roundhand. From the minute I picked up a pointed pen, my natural tendency was to produce rounded letterforms with weighted shades on the downstrokes. English Roundhand was not the first script I attempted. My first love of writing was Spencerian Script! My introduction to Spencerian Script came in 2003 at the IAMPETH convention in Cleveland, Ohio. That is where I had my first class with Michael Sull and my journey and love affair with the pointed pen truly began. I attended my first Spencerian Saga in 2005 and attended several more over the years. The Spencerian Saga continues to flourish under Harvest Crittenden and her directorship and I recommend the Saga experience to anyone who wants total immersion in the Geneva On the Lake experience of Spencerian Script in the setting of Platt Rogers Spencer's home base. It will not be forgotten. I worked with Spencerian Script alone for many years. It was my correspondence hand and worked well with my style of flourishing. But when I was exposed to the work of George Bickham in The Universal Penman, my heart skipped a beat! This is my worn and battered copy. I had the spine of it removed and a heavy duty coil binding added so it would open flat on my desk. It remains my most used resource in my studio along with Tomkins and Milns Ornamental Penmanship. Both of these monumental works are available as Dover Reprints. If you don't have copies of these I recommend you run to get them!!! Inside the books, I was mesmerized by the content. The forms are voluptuous and elegant. The lettering brings me so much joy. Both volumes contain not only fine examples of English Roundhand but also my beloved Italian Hand which has become my favourite lettering style. In the back of Bickham's book you will find pages with various styles of lettering. Terminology is a weird and scary ride in the calligraphic world. I have witnessed divisive and derogatory behaviour over terminology. I don't dwell in the land of division. My hope is to build bridges and encourage the lovely art form. If you are an educator or artist who is promoting the love of lettering and sharing your skills with others, I applaud you. As an educator I feel that part of my calling is to bring others into the joyful relationship that can be found with the pen. My personal love is the pointed pen. That being said I see work being done with the broad edge that is positively breathtaking. I love the beauty that can be found with that remarkable tool. Most of my time though is spent with the pointed pen as I flourish, practice English Roundhand, Spencerian or my beloved Italian Hand. Yes... Italian Hand is my runaway favorite and I will be commenting more about it in future posts!!! For anyone interested, I will teaching Italian Hand at Binders in Atlanta this coming March. I still consider myself to be a relative newcomer to the calligraphic world. Lettering holds surprises for me every day and I am still filled with the same sense of wonder and awe that I had when I first picked up the pen. It didn't take me long though to encounter opinions and ideas that some people found superior to others. I remember being taken aback at some heated discussions and opinions arising over the word copperplate. I didn't understand it then and I try to avoid the division over it now but I don't shy away from discussing it. I did dive into years of research over the term and I came across a variety of ideas and opinions. One book pointed to 'copperplate' as the reason for the decline of Western Calligraphy. I don't share that opinion and choose to elevate this script lettering as one of the most graceful and elegant styles that can be created with a pointed pen. I recognize that others think differently but see no reason to divide over vision of a script hand. Maybe I am missing something, but I think if we love lettering, we are on the same team and all do our parts in promoting the lettering arts. Each of us adds our own chapter to the story and we bring with us the ideas and experiences that shape our opinions. No one taught me or told me to use the term English Roundhand, I just landed there. I remain there because for me, it is the most descriptive and accurate term for the style of script that I want to emulate. This is just my opinion that I have arrived at through my own personal reasearch. I recognize that there are many incredibly talented script artists who have arrived at the conclusion that the best term to use is copperplate. I still love and respect their work. Despite all of us having our love of lettering, we will all possess diverse opinions. That is to be celebrated and encouraged but never feared.This plate from Tomkins and Milns explains it best for me. "Beauties of Writing exemplified in a variety of Plain and Ornamental Penmanship. Designed to excite Emulation in this Valuable Art." That says it all!!! Free the caged bird! Learn what you can from others but never think that is the only way to learn. Never shy away from original research, if your opinion is different even from someone you respect, its ok to express yourself. Never underestimate what can happen when you study for yourself. Take what has been printed before with a grain of salt..including this! You will come to conclusions that no one else can lead you to. Love what you do and do what you love!

Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Nurturing Hope

2016 has started off strangely. My Dad took a bad fall and is recovering from hip surgery now. I am no where near as caught up on my work load as I thought I would be but I am working hard. As I sat at my desk today I found myself thankful for those who choose to share their love of writing with others. Expressing yourself to someone who is on your mind is such an important step to take. Our friendships are precious and people's feelings are so fragile. I have been bombarded with emails from people who find social media overwhelming and don't want to post their work online for fear that everything they want to do or say has already been done or said by someone with more skill. Here is my word of encouragement to all of you who think you will never reach further in your studies of this art or who feel their skill level has reached a plateau.
Never give up! All that matters is that you enjoy what you are doing with the pen. The absolute desire and determination to go further will fuel your practice sessions. Continue to believe in yourself, look at what you create on the paper after each session, take what you delight in and discard the rest. This journey is a long one. Don't compare yourself to the skill of others! We all progress at different times and each journey is so personal. Enjoy each stage while it lasts! Weave your dreams as you work to improve, and nurture hope not only in your own work but in others. Forgive me for being preachy...... I just see so much potential in your work and dont' want to see anyone give up. I am reminded that on my own journey, I would have given up if it were not for some kind words of encouragement from those who have since become some of my closest friends and mentors!! Finally if you sense discouragement in someone else, send them a handwritten note to cheer them on. Love you all! Please write to me if you want an encouraging note sent out! I would love to do that for you!

Friday, January 1, 2016

Welcome 2016

Sending heartfelt blessings as we embrace the New Year. This flourish was done with Old World Iron Gall Ink on Rhodia paper. These days, I can only find the smaller blank pads of Rhodia paper here in Canada. But they are a great size for smaller flourishes. This design will be worked into my handouts for an upcoming workshop called The Vintage Garden which launches in Portland, Oregon. Although I am not one for resolutions, I am hopeful that 2016 will be filled with "Work From The Heart". Happy New Year!