Thursday, April 1, 2021

These Sacred Tasks

I had a brisk walk today and noticed a few snowflakes but the calendar assures me it is April. Thankfully the studio is warm and there are signs of Spring in the garden. It looks like we are entering another month of lockdown here in Ontario. I won't be far from my desk or garden for the foreseeable future.  Sometimes  it just feels so overwhelming and surreal which can make working at the desk a bit difficult. I have so many beautiful commissions to work on as well as a very special design for my daughter. Pointed pen work can easily pick up any hints of stress or uncertainty in your hands but sometimes the surrounding world can affect every part of your process. I am usually so methodical about my design process. I like to keep all of my sketches in a journal where I can refer back to them and allow them to springboard other ideas. But this past week, adherence to a journal sketch seemed like another hurdle I needed to overcome. When I find myself a bit stifled at the beginning of a project, I take some time out to tidy the studio. Clearing the desks often helps to clear my mind.  One of my designs this week was a monogram utilizing an H and S. Enchanted Letters are usually the easiest to work with for me as script letters merge so beautifully. I consulted my library and pulled some books to see how the initials were handled historically. 



I have several books on my shelves dealing with monograms so there was lots to observe before I started to work. 
 Monogram designs are like little puzzles to work through. I don't consider myself to be a very analytical person so I usually just dive into pencil sketches and see what happens. During my studio tidy, I found several pieces of Maruman Imagination paper that I had torn from the pad for online demos. As I shift papers all over the studio, this wonderful paper can get lost in the shuffle. Despite a few ink stains, the paper served the wonderful purpose of catching my thinking on paper. Once the pencil starts to hit the page, my mind starts to really engage with the task at hand. 
Maruman Imagination paper is my favourite practice paper because the grid lines are such a gentle colour. The grid never impedes my vision and the paper is very smooth and easy to work on.Whether I am flourishing, writing or drawing, I try to use tools that make the process easier for me rather than cause a barrier to the work. The sketch process usually helps solidify my design but when I get to the inking stage, I depart from pencil and freely flourish the ornamental elements in the letters. 
Once I get the design on paper and inked, the rest of the design is my usual process of gilding and then painting. Despite my shaky start for the design, as soon as my mind engages with the process, the joy of working on this sacred task really takes over. The work is for a special client and a very special occasion. Although I have a large list of tasks to accomplish this month in the studio, at the moment, nothing is more important than this design. I utilized methods that take a bit more time with this particular design. I brought more than one sketch to completion. I used  my own gesso recipe rather than a commercial gilding size and I finished the design with shell gold I had made myself rather than Schmicke gold or Fine Tec. 
 I often tell my students that calligraphers are entrusted with such sacred tasks. What we do matters to our clients. The process of creating can be daunting at the best of times so when outside influences encroach on your thinking patterns and your process, cut yourself some slack and wait until your mind can engage with the project in a peaceful way. The desk/studio tidy strategy works really well for me but what if it doesn't? Sometimes I relax with a cup of tea as I sit in front of the bookshelves and just glance through the material there. Other times, I take a walk or a drive. Sometimes, getting your head out of a task is just as important as working on the task at hand. Whatever sacred tasks you are faced with this April, I want you to know that I feel grateful for your company and friendship. I know it has been difficult, if not impossible to meet in person, but I feel like I have connected with so many of you through tea time online, notes in the mail, emails, phone calls and texts. I will be working hard on my 10th Anniversary edition of my notes for The Enchanted Letter coming up in May so this might be my only post for a few weeks.  As we work at our desks this month, let's keep believing and hoping for brighter days ahead. Sending hugs all around. I am so grateful for your friendship!

Saturday, March 13, 2021

Finding a path...

 Here we are right about in the middle of March. The snow has melted but this Saturday morning is quite cool. Spring will be here shortly and I will be spending more time outdoors. This morning I bought some beautiful roses and carnations for my desk. It seems that I have grown quite dependent on bringing bright flowers into the studio. It is good for the soul!!!


 Life has been busy here in the winter with so much teaching. I have enjoyed every minute of it and have had the joy of creating new courses for students. What a delight. I will be announcing new courses shortly for private students as well as some group online classes.My pen, pencil and brushes have been given quite a work out lately.  As I continue to create content and hone courses of study for individual students I have been reflecting on some of my own experiences. I have taken several large format online courses, some pre-recorded courses and some that were open to only a few at a time. All of them have their good points and bad points. One thing that I found so inspiring in a very small format class was feeling part of a group of people and seeing what work they created week to week. The care that these individuals put into their projects was so inspiring to see and there was so much respect for their efforts and interpretation of the assignment. I do sense levels of discomfort as students are asked to share their work. Sometimes that is such a hurdle to overcome or endure. Taking these various online courses can be a great way to expand your skills at a more reasonable price than private instruction or the eventual return of in person instruction. But as I have explored various methods of study over this past year, I recognize that there is not a one size fits all method for each student. There are multiple paths and so many ways to navigate in this creative life.  Let me offer a few thoughts here for those of you who have written and feel like they have met with a bit of a plateau. 

I hope you realize first and foremost that you are unique and one of a kind. You come with your own default thinking patterns, visualization processes, likes and dislikes. You are you! And that is something that will never change! Your vision, voice and ideas will have an expression that only you can give. My biggest encouragement I can give you is to follow the paths that spark a sense of joy and delight in you. Most of my learning and advancement in skills has come from going down rabbit holes that seemingly make no sense. I will spend days looking at illuminated mansucripts, or the manuscripts of writing masters looking for some spark or detail that sends me down another rabbit hole.Sometimes I need to just walk in nature and the curve of pinecone or branch can be enough to send me to my desk with a spark of an idea Hone the skill of observation and study the things that you want to excel at. Self study, self care and independent research is the backbone of personal artistic growth. I can't recommend this highly enough and I hope this maybe alleviates some pressure of thinking you have to check of a list of courses to study before you can get anywhere. 
I also encourage you to remain true to your vision and ideas. One of my greatest inspirations is  seeing the work of Kate Greenaway. She was often told to abandon her vision and ideas of illustration children and simple florals in pastoral landscapes. She heard this over and over and still created what she wanted to create. Her story never fails to inspire me. 
Taking a cue from Kate Greenaway means that sometimes I know that when I sit at my desk, I am not going to create something huge and magnificent. That day or hour I might just need to paint a flower or write a note to a friend. Kate wrote letters as part of her daily routine. I know it is part of a bygone era but many times getting a note into the mail to a friend is food for your soul as well as theirs. 
Finally, remember to take breaks. We are all carrying large workloads, juggling tasks, dealing with physical limitations and we have been navigating a very trying year. Even though our activities have been greatly reduced we still need to respect the needs of our body and spirit. You might need a mini retreat even within the confines of your own home. Maybe you need to schedule a beautiful cup of tea in your favourite tea cup and just breathe without any pressure for awhile. Stepping back and taking a breath is enlightened self interest. Don't think of it as falling behind on anything. Think of it as part of a natural rhythm in this artistic journey. 
 We are starting to circle another Season and in your corner of the world I hope you are taking good care of yourselves and finding moments of solace, joy and peace. I am cheering you on as you step back to breathe or if you sitting at your desk immersed in a huge project. You will find the path that makes your soul sing. Hugs all around!!

Thursday, March 4, 2021

Welcome March!

Hello sweet friends. I hope you are doing well in your part of the world. Here in Ontario I see snow on the ground but the trees are sounding increasingly more cheerful as more birds start to gather. Every morning I hear the sweet song of the cardinals and it is such a cheerful sound to wake up to. I bought a lovely pot of daffodils for my desk as I prepare to teach my Spring Symphony course this weekend. They are such a vibrant burst of colour and they bring some warmth to the desk. 


I worked so hard preparing the handouts for this new course and I am excited to bring these new ideas to my next set of students. It was refreshing to work with such a joyful palette of colours.


It's been nearly a year since we went into our first lockdown here in Ontario. Things changed drastically for all of us. I remain so grateful that I have been able to work and teach from home. There have been blessings in disguise with this adjusted lifestyle and I know many of you feel the same way. I have had much more time to work at my desk and it still feels like such a joy to open the studio door each morning. One of the things that struck me as I worked this week with my faithful pointed pen is that no matter how long I work with this tool, it still teaches me something. A lot of things have to go right for it to work properly on the page. Nibs expire as they are pushed to their limits.Ink sometimes has a bad day where it is just a bit too thick and seems sluggish. I can have shaky moments as the pen doesn't do exactly what I want it to. Even though I have been doing this work for 18 years now, I still feel as if I have to pay my practice dues. There is always something new to learn and a skill to refine. I am continuing to work through my Enchanted Letter alphabet as I work on new course notes for the class in May. Even though these letters have been with me for 10 years now, they are still bring me challenges and wonder as I work through them as little puzzles.

 As Spring approaches and we come full circle around a very trying time I hope you can find peace and calm as you pick up your pen and play. Bring some brighter colours into your palette as we start to shake off the dark winter. 

Sending hugs all around. Thank you for reading through the blog and showing me what is blooming in your garden or what flowers are gracing your desk! I appreciate the emails and photos so much. Keep sharing your calligraphic gifts with others. It really does make a difference!

Monday, February 22, 2021

The Reason for Flowers

 This morning I am sitting in my studio and watching another batch of snow fall into the yard. I am warm and quiet at my desk just wanted to send out a few thoughts. One of the books I dusted off from my library shelf this month is The Reason For Flowers by Stephen Buchmann. It is a fascinating read, going far beyond the beauty of flowers into their many uses and just how deeply important they are to our world. As a florist, I was always aware of their uncanny ability to lift spirits at a glance and have a calming presence. As I continue to work on my Spring Symphony notes I found myself buying flowers a little more often than usual.


Even one or two stems nearby just brighten the room and rejuvenate my focus. I never fail to be in awe of them and appreciate the joy they bring. Things are so strange in this pandemic world right now, but if you have a way of getting some blooms into your house, I would encourage it as some self care. If not, I think even looking at pictures of flowers can be soothing! Thank you to all of you dear friends who send me photos of flowers that are blooming. They have been a delight. My course notes for Spring Symphony are just about completed and there will definitely be an emphasis on florals as I present the course. 

The registration info is available athttps://www.acornartsclassroom.org/spring-symphony. That being said, I want to continue to emphasize that I realize there is an absolute abundance of courses available online and it can be overwhelming. I find myself wanting to sign up for many things as well but realize that practice and studying on my own is also so valuable. Even though our lives have been disrupted from what we normally do, the concept of time remains the same.  I hope whatever decisions you are making about courses, that you are finding time to practice the techniques you enjoy doing and explore the possibilities with those techniques. 
Finally, I want to thank you all for continuing to post your beautiful work from Notes for the New Year and Works of Heart. I am so thankful for the European Pointed Pen Collective and The Gentle Penman for hosting the courses for me. They do the administration work behind the scenes so I can do the work of getting ready to teach. More soon in my March post dear friends. Sending hugs all around. 

Monday, February 1, 2021

Works of Heart




I can hardly believe it is already February and I have turned another calendar page. Here in Ontario, Canada we are still in lockdown but I feel grateful for my quiet little studio with a view of the back yard. The squirrels are entertaining to watch and bright cardinals and blue jays still frequent the bird feeders. I feel so refreshed when I see the colourful bird next to the snow. It seems like I just finished up my Notes for the New Year class. Thank you all for your response and for showing me the beautiful work you have been creating. I am so happy that these gorgeous Victorian notes are being sent all over the world and bringing joy to so many people. This coming weekend I will be teaching a special Works of Heart Flourishing class through The Gentle Penman. This is a short course where we constrain the shape of the flourished design to a heart. I just completed the notes for the course and I will share as much as I can during the class.The image above was done with Victorian Pen Etching technique with Madder Red Schmicke Gouache. I enjoyed the mindful process of ink etching and then gradually adding the shading techniques. Bilateral designs can present some flourishes. Many want to default to achieving perfect symmetry but I will offer alternative solutions to the design.




The 10th Anniversary Edition of The Enchanted Letter is progressing well. I am in the process of getting some of my new thinking on paper about these Victorian letters.  The pencil stage is always my most creative and playful stage of the letter. Everything is an open possibility. There is nothing I can do at this stage that cannot be undone. If you think you can't draw or embellish these intricate letters, let me assure you that we start simply and build up the designs through one simple step at a time.  I know that I have stated this in other blog posts, but I can't emphasize enough the relationship that can be built into your calligraphic pursuits with the simple, unassuming,  utilitarian pencil. When I am learning a new script, I can get the rhythm into my head and hand by using the pencil. Drawing has never come naturally to me and I am one who needs to do a lot of erasing as I work. If you keep a light touch on the pencil, this is never a problem. That light touch with a pencil carries over into your pen and brush work.  The eraser itself helps take some of the fear out of the design process. I have filled several journals with pencil sketches of these Enchanted Letters. Some were converted into finished designs, and others just sit quietly in my journal. I never look at those unadorned letters as a waste of time. All of these stages of my process are helping me as I  build skills. Remember that your journal does not judge you. It is really meant to be a holding place of ideas for your eyes only. 
Borders have been an integral part of The Enchanted Letter since it launched in 2011. This B initial has been gilded and I just completed the inking stage of the letter.

There are still lots of possible pathways I can take for this letter but the lines and the gilding are now permanent. I have been juggling multiple deadlines these days and I don't want to rush the painting process. I want to go slowly and enjoy the painting part of this letter. I will share the initial when it is completed. I know I have stated this before but I will reiterate it here. There are so many online opportunities for you to explore these days. I don't want anyone to be overwhelmed by signing up for too many things. Enjoy your studies and the opportunities that are available. Or take time to digest and absorb what you have already received. The 10th Anniversary Enchanted Letter is coming in May to The Gentle Penman. That gives me lots of time to prepare. I will share insights here on my blog as I work on the new notes and I hope you tune in for the updates. Sending February hugs across the miles to you my sweet friends. Thank you so much for your photographs, phone calls, emails and direct messages. You are such a blessing to me. Have fun with your pens, pencils, inks and papers. Explore possibilities, go slowly and enjoy the journey. 

Thursday, January 14, 2021

Knowing and Understanding

 This weekend I taught my Notes for the New Year course online. I had so much fun sharing the my insights into Victorian Scraps and I see so many beautiful letters of correspondence being creating. I am overjoyed to see the work. To see how a student will interpret what I teach and transform that idea with their own vision is just so inspiring. Dear students, keep up the wonderful work as you share your notes with others around the world. I have enjoyed the process of sending a few more cards and notes than I usually manage to send.

One of the advantages of preparing courses for students is the ability to spend time in research and study. My mentor Brian Walker always encouraged me to study. He would insist that time observing, thinking, reading, crafting, and time studying was as important as the time that I was working putting pen to paper at my desk. He always stressed that there was a difference between knowledge and understanding. As we continue this year of strange and unprecedented times, it appears that we may be in our homes again for long periods of time. It means we will have so many study opportunities if we want them. Let me stress that as you take in knowledge, also take some time to absorb what you are learning. Progress from the infill of knowledge to truly absorbing and understanding what you are doing. That does not mean that you will suddenly be able to do all of your artistic and calligraphic work flawlessly. But you will be always inching closer to refining those skills that you have been chasing. Be patient with yourself. You are right where you should be on your journey! If your studies take you down a rabbit hole of seemingly of artistic pursuits that make you happy...it is ok to dive in. I truly believe that so many of our creative pursuits have a deep connection that can relate to each other. So if you don't feel like putting ink on paper one day and want to play with your paints, go ahead and enjoy! If you feel like knitting rather than drawing, indulge the knitter inside you. If your script writing is stressing you out for a day or two, just put it aside and do something else. Lately, I found myself looking through my old embroidery books and being inspired by their gentle designs.  More than ever, we need these calming and peaceful pursuits to accompany us. I find that even when I read a few phrases, I can be inspired for my next project. Find the quiet, calm and joy that these creative outlets can bring to you. I know that these days we may have to dig a little deeper to find peace, but I know we can find it.
I have had so many emails for info about upcoming classes and private lessons. Indeed, I teach privately all the time and I have a pdf file of my online teaching schedule that is available if you email me at heather@heathervictoriaheld.com. One of the happiest celebrations I will have this year is my 10th Anniversary of teaching The Enchanted Letter. I am working so hard on revising the course, expanding content and sharing some lessons that I have learned along the way as I developed these letters. I will try hard to post some letters each month! Let's start with the letter A based on the shape of a French Round Cursive style.  Most of my Enchanted Letters are based on a Pink, Blue, Green palette but I started this design by working with a Periwinkle blue and lavender palette. I achieved the colour of the letter by combining Carbazole Violet with French Ultramarine blue. As I expand the course, the designs will become a bit more Victorian and ornate at times. As I continue to develop the letters and do further research I continue to do that dance between knowledge and understanding. 

Sweet friends, I am sending hugs across the miles. Have fun with your creative pursuits. Encourage one another on this journey. Email anytime! Thank you all so much for the kind words you share with me. Your kindness means so much to me. 





Saturday, January 2, 2021

Notes for the New Year

 Welcome 2021!!! The word on my mind this year is Hope.


Let's Hope together for a bight year ahead, I learned years ago, that I am not good at making or keeping resolutions. It seems that yearly goals are not good for me, but I do try to plan things on a weekly basis. I don't set huge goals, but continue to take small steps forward in the right direction. I realize that I am very methodical about certain things. I always use the same weekly diary to plan my days, weeks and months. I use a  Moleskine Pro Weekly Diary. It has enough space for me to write in each day and has a two blank pages in between each week where I can add extra notes or keep track of ideas. I have been using this style of planner for about 6 years I think.  The fountain pen I use in this diary is always the same as well. I use the Platinum Plasir Fine tip Fountain Pen. This was a very inexpensive fountain pen but it has been a workhorse for me since 2015. I use it daily, and the tip of the pen has been wonderful. ! I always use the same pink cartridge refills in it to match the body of the pen. I try to be methodical about this daily ritual. However, there are times when I just ignore the diary/planner in a sort of rebellious way and have days where I can let things just happen without being overly planned. This results in blank spaces in the journal which I also have to ignore without being stressed about it. Not every day will be productive. I will have days that I can't keep up to my tasks, but no matter what happens, I can turn the page and set up tasks for the next week with that same attitude of Hope.


I have just finished writing my new set of handouts for my Notes for the New Year workshop. I will be teaching through the European Pointed Pen Collective next weekend. In many ways, this course is taking me back to a mindful practice that I  did for years when I first began my calligraphy journey. Whenever I was studying some new aspect to include in my artwork, I would practice the techniques over and over again. Inevitably, I would create stacks of work on practice paper. Some of it was good and some needed to be discarded. However, when I started working on better quality paper, I found that I was much more mindful about the work I was doing and quite often, I could complete work that I was proud of. I developed the practice of working on paper that was cut down to note card size. Every Sunday, I would go through my note cards and let my mind wander a bit. Someone would come to mind and I would address an envelope and send out a note. I have never completely stopped this practice. Often I just feel to write to someone and come out to the studio and put pen to paper. I hope to continue to do this throughout the year. So many of you have written to me and will try hard to keep up with the correspondence as I create these Notes for the NewYear,  My first walk to the post this weekend will be with a note for Paul Antonio.

He has been such a blessing with his videos on YouTube and his social media posts. He is pascribe on Instagram if you have not discovered his work. I love watching his script variations videos.  His note was written on Strathmore Foldover Note cards.

I designed this logo for Strathmore several years ago. Strathmore blessed me with a few boxes of the notecards and I am rapidly going through them.  The paper is wonderful to write on and I found that I could apply watercolour washes as well as gold leaf. 

Happy New Year my dear friends. Please continue to keep in touch with me. You can email me at heather@heathervictoriaheld.com. I will be releasing a few new courses this yea and I am continuing to book private students throughout the year. I will keep the blog updated. Hugs all around!