Friday, July 3, 2020

Our Sacred Tasks

Happy July dear friends. Thank you for all of the kind emails, sign ups for private sessions and the beautiful garden photos that you have sent me. I love seeing your flower gardens, studio spaces and projects you are working on and I appreciate that you share them with me.
This is a bit of a tutorial about the process I go through for larger pieces of work. I was commissioned to write the wedding vows of a couple who are now celebrating their third anniversary. The bride had already purchased frames for the vows so I was restricted with the space I had to work with. I had to work on paper cut to 11x14. The bride's vows were going to take up 10 lines more of script than the groom's vows which presented a bit of a technical challenge. To accommodate the bride's vows, I needed to work with very narrow margins. Normally,  I would want more marginal space around all of the edges but I did my best with the spacing. The script is written in very tightly spaced Spencerian hand. I spaced it as if I was writing my Italian Hand but I kept the shading more intuitive and delicate like Spencerian. I line only the baseline of each line of script and let the guidelines be lightly projected underneath my paper with the use of my light table. This method was given to me by my dear mentor and friend Brian Walker. The pencilled baseline gives us a landing place that is fixed firmly in place and can alleviate the tendency to miss the baseline, or stop a bit too short. This gives the work an overall consistency without feeling the "iron bars" of penciling all of the guidelines. Brian always encouraged the letterforms to dance on the page. I always recommend that the baseline be pencilled in on your paper even if you are using a light pad. Sometimes I also rule in the waistline but for a tight Spencerian like this one, I didn't feel I needed that second line.

 As I went through the project, I wanted to post about the tasks we are entrusted with when we work on a commission such as this. The vows themselves are very touching and are so important to each couple. It is so important to be in a peaceful state of mind when we work on our projects. When ever I am lettering, I work in complete silence. I like to have the window open to hear the wind, the rain, the birds or whatever ambient noise that nature is providing for me in my studio. I definitely find that I get into a flow state where my breathing is in tune with the writing. It is such a blessing to write these special words for people and I cherish this time and try to complete the task without being interrupted. I definitely fail at this sometimes as I can easily skip a line or miss a word and then I have to start again. It's just something that happens, and I deal with it and begin again.
After the lettering is completed, my work is prepared for the colouring and gilding stage. I go through an extensive erasing stage.

I put the work under two different magnifiers. My desk magnifier catches obvious pencil lines and I will go over the entire piece with my Faber Castell Dust Free eraser. This eraser definitely produces the usual eraser debris but it is easily gathered and discarded. I use a drafting brush to clear all of the eraser debris. Once I make that initial pass over the paper with the Faber Castell eraser, I use my hand held magnifier to catch any stray pencil marks as well as see if I missed any punctuation or dotting i's or crossing t's. This process can take quite a long time as I am meticulous about the small details.  I try to never feel rushed or pressured. A kneaded eraser can be used if any pencil lines are particularly stubborn.

The x-acto blade is used if I have any  letters that caught a fibre of the paper while I was working and just need to be refined. I usually can easily make corrections with the blade. After the ink is scraped or sculpted a bit, I will use the back of the blade to smooth out the paper. If necessary, I will use a fine sandpaper over gum sandrac  to burnish the paper back to its original condition.
After the corrections are made, the piece is gilded and painted.
The piece is lettered in Old Word Iron Gall ink. I used watercolour to paint the florals. Final embellishment was a touch of gilding with Palladium and some Sakura Gelly Roll pen in Clear Stardust. There is also a very faint application of silver pastel and some Stardust Finetec. I honestly savour every step of this process because I am trying to keep my mind in tune with the artwork itself. These vows are so special to the couple and we as calligraphers have the privilege of being invited in to commemorate these words.  I try to clear my desk at every stage of the project to avoid any potential hazards on my desk. I find that after erasing stage, it is a good idea to completely wash down my desk to make sure everything is ready for gilding and painting. 

These days, I have several private students working on projects of various sizes. Whatever project you are working on,  remember to clear  a place in your heart for the project itself. These commissions are such a special task that we have been entrusted with. If you make a mistake when you are writing, just move on and start again if you can't correct it. It's part of the process. It's part of growing as an artist and a calligrapher. When I first started buying paper for larger commission work, I would buy several pieces of paper for the project. That allowed for a margin of error as I worked. When I was writing the groom's vows, I had to start over 3 times as I mixed up a sentence. I always salvage any part of the paper that I can and just immediately start on a new page without letting the error bother me. The bride's vows although 10 lines longer, was written without error.Maybe I was just so much more cautious with hers! With every project and every task we take on as calligraphers, I encourage you to enjoy and cherish the process. Enjoy the journey no matter where you are. If you are in full student mode and wouldn't dream of doing commission work, I encourage you to stay at that stage for as long as you can. Even though I have had pen in hand for 17 years now, I engage the student part of my mind as often as I can.We are never finished learning and there is no arrival point that we will ever get to on this path. That is part of the joy of being an artist.  This journey if filled with wonder, sometimes with frustrations and struggles and always with growth. I am here through email if you want to chat, inquire about private online lessons or if you want to show me your work, or your garden flowers!!! Let's encourage each other in this journey and cheer each other on as we put ink on paper. Sending lots of hugs this July.

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