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!