Thursday, August 4, 2022

Unexpected Delays

 While I was greeting the month of August with a blog post my internet connection suddenly died. We started August 1st with the garbage truck hitting the cables attached to our house that connect our internet and phone. Here I am August 4th still without a connection. So I write hastily from a spotty connection but wanted to check in. The interruption and the close look at our utter dependency on the internet has been strange and frustrating. There is still tons of work to do in the studio but my usual method of research has changed out of desperation. I can't just conveniently look everything up online, visit the Victoria and Albert museum website or any of my illuminated manuscript sites online. But my bookshelf is getting a huge workout. I have actually read through the pages of my favourite books as I continue to work on the Flowers of William Morris class. The Ardington School will be running an encore presentation of the class and enrolment is now open although space will be limited. If you are interested in joining the class, you can register here.  I am continuing to study Pre-Raphaelite work as I prepare for this class. Some of the colour schemes are so intriguing and I can feel my palette changing as I work on the designs. I don't think William Morris would have approved of Schmicke Brilliant Purple, but pink will always be part of my work. 

 With or without internet, my morning routine is very special.  I am spending time each day in the garden and enjoying all of the blooms and the beauty that appears. Sitting in my garden swing beside the Japanese anemones, I can hear the bees buzzing. It is definitely music and so calming. I have baby bluejays and a family of orioles that visit daily and I find myself getting overwhelmed with just how beautiful nature can be. Beauty truly is everywhere, from the smallest observations of a petal or a leaf, or to the bright feathers of a blue jay. I played a bit with a whimsical feather and gilding design just to capture the magic. 

I just finished teaching Captivating Curves for The Gentle Penman online.

I am amazed at what I see the students creating and I am thrilled that I can be part of their journey. I talked about Core Skills for calligraphers. Lettering is always in the forefront of our work but there is so much more we can add to the page. Simple drawing skills, brush skills and adding a touch of gold leaf can elevate our work so much. Learning how to combine the letters and the decorative work is a lifelong journey and so rewarding. One of the books on my bookshelf is Walter Crane by Jenny Uglow.

One of the Walter Crane quotes that captivated me read" technical skill could give character, but beauty is not so easy to command." He goes on to say that beauty can be dependent on " a hair's breadth difference in the poise of a mass here, or a sweep of a curve there." When I dive deeply into that thought I realize how much he is saying. Even as I try to keep up with emails and letters with students asking what they can do next to improve, try to really let this sink in. Firm up the technical skills so you really have a command of the paper, inks, nibs, paints and your materials. But remember that honing those technical skills will be a lifelong journey of chasing beauty. It's never a race and there is no finish line. 

I hope that no matter what you have encountered so far in August, you will be able to find joy in the journey. Work with your hands, share what you love and love what you do. I may be slower to respond to email until this internet problem is corrected but I will catch up when I can. Happy August!

Wednesday, July 13, 2022

Remembering Brian

 Four years ago yesterday, my friend and mentor Brian Walker passed away. I still feel his loss so acutely. When I am embarking on a new project, I still want to talk to him about or ask his advice. He was always so patient with my slow progress and constant questions. Time and experiences are so precious my dear friends. Cherish the moments that you have. Beyond penmanship and calligraphy, Brian was a gifted artist. He helped me to understand that there is so much more to our work than ink on paper. We need to understand and explore the mediums we work with. We must patiently craft our work. We must try and fail, but constantly learn and evolve. We had fascinating conversations as we both worked on our artwork. Brian would make his own ink and if the batch was not to his liking, he would discard it and start over. He would make his own gesso for gilding. He patiently crafted his recipe until it was perfect. Nothing was rushed. It took as much time as needed until he got the result he wanted. Although Brian was not a huge fan of flourishing, he would often include a leaf or two with a small flourish alongside his penmanship. He encouraged me to try to make my own gesso and gild small parts of my flourishes. Yesterday, I worked on a small flourish with a hint of gilding in it. I worked on different paper and tried to figure out how the papers reacted to my gesso.

I tooled the gold and then reflected on the piece. Over the course of the day, I redid the piece several times until I was happy with the result. Once again, this was true Brian Walker process. He was so precise with his vision and the work on the paper, that he would continually re-do his work until it was up to his standards. The final piece utilized a rendition of a John Ruskin quote. The quote has different variations but it is along the line of "If you can paint one leaf, you can paint the whole world." Brian was a member of the John Ruskin society and would often talk of Ruskin's work.

The quote not only reflects some of Brian's philosophy,  it has become a cornerstone of my own teaching as well. My email inbox gets a lot of traffic with inquiries from students who want to progress more quickly. They have very specific projects in mind and want to create masterpieces that match the vision that they have in their head. My advice is always to proceed with patience and with passion. Rather than speeding up the process, try slowing it down. It seems as if every day, I learn a bit more on this calligraphic journey each day at my desk. Skills will catch up to your vision. I wish so much that I could discuss William Morris ideas with Brian. We talked about Beatrix Potter but not William Morris. I am sure we would have interesting discussions. And I would love to show him my research ideas. I will always miss him, but his influence continues to shine with each class that I teach and each avenue that I explore. I am amazed at how much I recall his lessons and recognize them when the crop up in a workshop that I am teaching. I am so grateful to have experienced such a wonderful friend and mentor. I will never forget him. I wanted to take time and post what has been on my heart as I have been working in the studio this week. I have heard from several students trying to register for the William Morris class at Ardington that sold out quickly. We will run an encore presentation. If you are interested in being notified when that class opens up, please contact Gemma at Ardington to be added to the list. The lecture portion of the class will be conducted by Martin Beek who reminds me so much of Brian. I hope you have a wonderful week. Even if projects you are working on are not quite to your liking, don't be afraid to start over. Learn the lesson that each piece teaches you! Hugs all around!

Sunday, July 10, 2022

More Thoughts

 Here I am am on another beautiful Sunday morning and just overflowing with ideas and thoughts. I have been so busy preparing for new courses and refining techniques and the ideas just keep coming! The William Morris class at Ardington School is sold out but I am sure we will offer other courses that cover more William Morris content. He is just mesmerizing and his work is prompting more and more studies. His colour schemes are subtle and he has a very distinctive way of drawing flowers. I am learning so much with this fascinating look. The blue/green colour scheme is not one that I am normally drawn too but his influence is definitely finding a pathway into my work. There will be Morris insights in the Captivating Curves class for The Gentle Penman later this month. 

The acanthus leaf is an absolute staple in my work. Along side offhand flourishing and pink flowers, I don't know what I would do without them. From the first time I started to explore them, they have captivated my interest. Just like offhand flourishing, they can meander over your page and augment your script. They are capable of any twist and turn and can be any colour combination you can imagine. What is not to love? I can't wait to share the strategies of these leaves with you and I hope you will find so much to do with them. As I continue to study these leaves, more projects come to mind. For years, I painted cherubs and putti in acanthus settings but haven't played with them for awhile. My private students had other ideas and we are exploring them for the next couple of months. An idea for an illuminated page seemed to spring out of nowhere and I started playing on Friday. 
Seeing the glimmer of gold on the page and the dance of the acanthus is helping me bring this page to life. There is always so much of learn and so much to refine. My students keep spurring me forward into deeper and deeper territory. I am loving the challenge. I am 19 years into this calligraphic journey. Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would use gold leaf on almost a daily basis. My first crude attempts at script lettering alongside awkward flourishing seemed like a perpetual uphill climb. But passion always spurs us forward as we refine our skills. This is a long process and we are always learning from our mistakes and our successes. The staples in my skill set along with a few script hands are offhand flourishing, drawing, painting and gilding. I work on all these skills and find ways to merge them together. I am getting lots of emails asking about my next courses. Please email me at for my teaching schedule. Ardington School has just posted my White Christmas class. This is a great start for flourishing! Cookie cutters are used as templates and the joy of the festive season offers endless possibilities to explore.

We will be using Bleedproof White on dark papers which is another key to improving flourishing skills. Even if you have never flourished before, this class will give you the skills you need. The Gentle Penman will be offering my Festive Flourishing class which has a bit more of a Victorian component to it and the flourishing is slightly more advanced. But the holiday season is the backdrop for both.

The class is not yet posted on the Gentle Penman website but will be coming soon along with a very special holiday painting class! I will have more to share soon but you will definitely see the William Morris influence alongside The Enchanted Meadow in that class. I hope you are finding joy on your journey whatever you are doing on this beautiful Sunday. Remember, that what we do with pen and ink can bring joy to others if we post it in the mail! This is such a special path and I hope you share your gifts. Happy July 10th dear friends!

Friday, July 1, 2022

Beauty and Grace

 These Summer days have be passing quickly and it seems impossible that July is here already. I spend time every morning tidying up the gardens, making sure everything is well watered and then sitting in the garden swing before my day really begins. The ever changing garden is a constant source of inspiration. Although I had great hopes for my Acanthus plants, the rabbits had other plans and have eaten almost every leaf. The clematis has been amazing and I appreciate it every day.

I have been studying so much as I prepare for a William Morris inspired class with Ardington School online. Be sure to join their mailing list to be notified of new classes.  The Flowers of William Morris class is open for registration. The class will combine a lecture with Martin Beek about the life and work of William Morris and then I will do a practical demonstration of some of Morris's floral work and how we can integrate it alongside our calligraphy.

 As I study Morris' work, the words Beauty and Grace keep coming to mind.

There is something just so timeless about his work and how he allows vines to meander gracefully yet there is a sense of restraint. I am  reading everything I can find about William Morris as well as Edmund Burne Jones. Two books by Fiona MacCarthy are keeping me busy.

But the book I have found most helpful is William Morris's Flowers that I bought at the V& A gift shop back in 2019.

Seeing the details of his florals and leaves, beyond his amazing acanthus work has been a delight. As I study and continue to dig deeper into his work as well as floral illuminated manuscripts, I am finding different approaches to integrate the details into my flourishes. As I observr his timeless designs my objective is not to copy but to extract details of the style or colour combinations. I see how he integrates the leaves around the florals and I can find hints of Persian and Chinese influences in his work. The process is fascinating. Observation informs artwork. Approaches get refined over time and with patient practice. I always appreciate the process which includes struggles and the occasional derailed design.  Whatever occupies you time these summer days, I hope you can observe the details around you. There is so much beauty and grace around us. It is so easy to be overwhelmed by the news of the day. It is ok to unplug and withdraw from it.  Believe there will be beauty in each day.

 Sending hugs to you all this July 1st. I know I will see many of you in Captivating Curves for The Gentle Penman later this month A little bit of William Morris influence will likely . I know the days are rushing by and I still have so much to capture on paper before the course starts.

Enjoy your July dear friends. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

How does your Garden Grow?

 It's June!!! How did that happen? It feels like a blink since March! But June is a welcome sight. There are signs of life in the garden and moments of quiet appreciation as I take more time to pause and observe. I am more aware of the songs of the birds and the quiet in the neighbourhood before cars and lawn mowers break the silence. Each morning I walk around the property to see how things are growing. I don't stop to pull the weeds, I just observe. 

My inbox gets questions on a daily basis and I do my best to keep up with all of them. I have been noticing a common theme of questions about growing as an artist. Students want to develop their own style and expand their skills. There is an absolute flood of classes online and such a huge temptation to take as many classes as possible. I have so many of my own classes to offer and love to share my techniques. But how do we grow? Is it through classes? Is it through intense study. constant practice and keen observation? Is it through passion or inborn talent? Is through all of these things, some of these things or none of these things? The question is so broad that I can never give a precise answer. In my own practice, just like my garden, growth comes slowly. I have learned to be patient. I have learned to wait. Although I want to walk around the garden and see all of the blooms in their full array at once, that isn't possible. Each flower will bloom in its own time. 

I don't want to over simplify things but we are all such unique people. We grow at different speeds and have interests that take us to very different places. Classes, studies and practice work wonders but realize that your rate of growth may be very different from those around you. I try to relay a sense of peace in my classes and an understanding that skills take time to build. But those skills will come in time. There is no precise path or timeline.  I have been playing with Enchanted Letters for 11 years now, and they still evolve. They still grow. They still teach me lessons that I have not learned before. They still hold a place of wonder for me.  This G was created for my upcoming Enchanted Letter class at Ardington. I was drawing flourished letters in a Flourishing class with Thomas Hoyer last weekend. This G took shape in pencil but it needed to blossom gold leaf and watercolour. 

This past week, I finished up teaching The Alphabet Garden for Ardington School. This was an encore presentation of a sold out course and although I had taught the same course a few weeks earlier, we took a different path in this class. 

As an instructor, I have to repeat courses for different groups of students, yet I still need to grow as an artist and expand my own ideas. I try to find different ways to work through the classes with each group of students. Sometimes there is a completely different style of letter waiting to emerge from the paper. 
Let your Garden Grow! Use the classes you are taking as spring boards for your own ideas. What is that idea that you have had in the back of your mind that you want to bring forward? What colours in your palette make you happy? What would you like to draw if you had more time? Don't let your current skill level hold you back from trying those ideas that you would like to explore. Instructors offer ideas and techniques. But your vision is so unique and creative and you can explore avenues that I would never be able to take. I hope you find your path! I hope you bring your creative ideas to the paper and explore the possibilities. Don' t worry about comparing yourselves to others. Follow your creative instincts and see where they can take you. I will be cheering you on from my garden and studio here in Canada. July will be here before you know it. I am preparing for Captivating Curves with The Gentle Penman in July and I finally found an acanthus plant at the garden centre! 
I hope I can keep it growing and watch it bloom. I am still working on the  new notes for the Captivating Curves class. Registration is open here with The Gentle Penman. This gorgeous plant is the inspiration for our stylized acanthus leaf studies and it is so welcome in my garden.

I am also working on a deep dive into William Morris for a November Ardington class and will update you later with this info. My garden keeps growing and there is so much work to do. I hope the words of this post will encourage you to grow at your own pace and explore the things you love. Happy June dear friends.

Monday, May 9, 2022

Still Enchanted!

 Seems like a blink since my last post but we are 9 days forward into the month of May. I jut had a glimpse of a gorgeous Baltimore Oriole and I am constantly amazed at their splendour. I got up early this morning to take a botanical art class through Ardington School online. Although I had to get up at 4:00 AM, I feel so blessed to be able to put aside some precious time to study. As an instructor, it is so important for me to refuel and refresh and enjoy the process of another artist. I spent the morning exploring a freshly picked Narcissus and hope to bring it to life in a drawing. One of the joys of drawing from life is really getting to know your subject and appreciating it for all it is worth. A flower fades quickly and deserves to be enjoyed for all the magic it brings to us. 

I am also so grateful to be able to teach for Ardington School. The classes are kept very small and the experience is like being part of a small community. For an introvert like me, it works wonders. This year, my only offering of The Enchanted Letter will be through Ardington in September.

This will be a very small class. For those of you who would like to build on the skills we explored in Fainting Fancies, you will love this class. I have been designing Enchanted Letters for eleven years now. I fell in love with illuminated letters back in 2003 at my first IAMPETH conference. Traditional illuminated letters are meant to enhance broad edge lettering are are usually on the heavy side. Although I love the beauty of broad edge calligraphy, I don't practice it enough to be really confident with it. I use it whenever necessary but  Pointed Pen scripts are much more intuitive for me and they are the scripts that charmed my soul. Over the years, I developed letterforms that could be drawn, gilded and embellished with florals and flourishes. They were delicate enough to augment script lettering and could carry the opulence of gilding. I wanted letters to sparkle and shine and dance with Victorian ornament. Eleven years of playing with these forms and I am still Enchanted and still Intrigued with what they can offer. I encourage my students to approach each of these designs as mini challenges.

Allow them to push your skills to a new level. Even if you are new to drawing, a script letter is fairly easy to draw. If the gilding process seems out of reach or too complex, these letters are the perfect entry level project to get you comfortable with that process. I feel as if one of the reasons that I have stayed so enchanted with these letters is that they are small and can be finished in a couple of hours. They have built up my confidence over the years and still bring a smile to my face. The Love is Forever piece was created for Gilded Age Greetings several years ago and it still sparkles, shines and brings me joy.

Whatever your stage of learning, I the work on your desk brings you joy. Stay Enchanted with the work you do and even if you have an hour or two for a project, it will teach you lessons that will stay with you for years. Registration is very limited for this class but I would love to share the beauty of these letters with you. If you are new to Ardington, explore their catalogue and see if there is something that interests you. Happy Monday May 9th dear friends. 

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Lessons from my paint box

 May welcomed me this morning with grey skies and rain. Slowly buds are emerging on the Pagoda Dogwood tree and the rain seems to illuminate those buds. No matter how busy the days are for me, I take time to pause and look at the changes each season brings. Spring is my favourite season. I feel a bounce in my step as I walk around the garden and a sense of relief that the winter season has passed.

Here at my desk, there is an unending stream of work. I am so grateful for my private students and my online classes that allow me to work from home. Commission work has come in and I am catching up on pen orders as well. Now and then, despite the work load and deadlines, I encounter creative blocks. Sometimes, there are just too many things going wrong to work in any sort of practical way at the desk. Recently, my paint box taught me a valuable lesson. 

My paint palette has travelled to my teaching locations with me. It has been to Europe, Asia and all over North America. When I worked  in my little Harry Potter Cupboard Under The Stairs, Oscar would sleep on top of the palette as I painted. It was constantly filled with cat hair but I never had the heart to wash it out. I would top up paint as needed,  but I would never remove paint that was giving me a hard time as I worked. It just seemed wasteful to get rid of it, but even as I demonstrated on camera, I could feel the paint giving me trouble. But this past week, I actually cleaned the entire palette out removing the good paint along with the bad paint. It took me two hours to remove the old paint with hot water, paper towels and a butter knife. I scraped off what I could and then scrubbed the rest off. I was actually procrastinating from working on a challenging pen request when I decided to clean the palette. After the paint was removed, I refilled the paints with the understanding that I would never get my palette back to exactly the same way I had it before. I did not have to purchase new paints, I refilled my palette from tubes of paint that I have accumulated over the years. 
The palette is now free of all Oscar's cat hair, the paint is refreshed and responsive, and I have a general idea of the positioning of each dollop of paint. The refreshing of the palette helped free up the creative block because I wanted to try out the paint right away. I let the paint dry in the palette for full day before working but what a difference the fresh paint made to my work. No deadlines or pressures had changed, just the paint. I was not fighting with old paint. The new paint was flowing so well. I have many paint boxes and paint palettes, but this little Mijello palette is the workhorse of my studio and shows up for most of the jobs I have to do. If I want to use different paint, I pull out a different paint box with other pigment choices. I systematically change things up when faced with a creative block. Sometimes a new colour in the paint box is all I will need to work through an idea.
The first project of the refreshed palette was a Glittering Vine for my Edmonton Calligraphic Society class this weekend. I experiment with colour variations as I worked through some ideas for this vine. 
One vine led to another and the refreshed paint helped me finalize some ideas for my July Captivating Curves class with The Gentle Penman. Captivating Curves a more casual look at scroll designs with some Rococo influences while intensifying the drawing and painting techniques for acanthus. Fresh paint helped to refresh my ideas. The procrastinating detour was actually a time saver and frustration reliever.


It's ok to struggle and give in to defeat when faced with a creative block.   Sometimes " a change is as good as a rest." In this case, fresh paint worked wonders. As a teaching artist, I have to repeat my process and content to new groups of students over and over again. I have never been bored with my work but sometimes there are ideas I want to get out on paper that need to take a back seat to an urgent deadline. This can be difficult to manage at times. No matter what deadlines or pressures you are facing, sometimes you need to back off a bit and just do something else. Normally a stroll through the garden, a trip to the flower shop or browsing through antique shops will refresh my senses and bolster my soul. But this time, the sheer satisfaction of indulging in fresh paint brought an unexpected refreshing.  As I end this post and get back to work on another deadline, I hope you can hear me cheering you on as you go about the work in front of you. Remember to nurture yourselves in your creative process. Take the breaks you need as you go along.  Sending hugs across the world on this first day of May, 2022.

Saturday, April 16, 2022

Glittering Vines and Captivating Curves: Workshop Evolutions

 Happy Easter Weekend dear friends. I hope you are enjoying a beautiful weekend. We had lots of storms here yesterday but today the grass looks green and there are lots of birds at the feeders. The dogwood tree is starting to bud and the hope of Spring is here. The studio desk is cluttered but still my happy place. I am preparing to teach Fainting Fancies for The Gentle Penman next weekend. The updated handouts are completed so I was able to check that off my "to do" list. I look forward to sharing the flourished lettering techniques and hope they bring joy to the students. 

As one task is completed, it opens the way for the next task. As I begin to work on the course Captivating Curves which will open in July for The Gentle Penman, I started to think about how the course evolved. In 2011 I developed the course The Enchanted Letters. That course evolved out of my quest to develop an illuminated letter that would work with script. The letter C here was the one that helped me carve out my vision for these letters. It was one of the first foliate letter forms I created so many years ago.
As I expanded ideas for the letter forms, I wanted to be able to addd cascading foliate extensions that could form borders for the letters. 
When I was able to travel and teach for guilds, the ideal format for presenting these Enchanted Letters with foliate extension was over a 3 day period. That way I could go into all of the details for creating the foliate extensions as well as Leaf Script Letters and the Embedded Letterforms. I would often see students struggle to add the extensions to the letters, so I would teach the Foliate extensions on their own. When I taught the foliate spray as a separate element, I could see that the students grasped the concepts much more readily. My favourite expression of these foliate extensions was based on a delicate Florentine ornamental design which is pictured below.  It has a tiny bit of gilding added to it and remains one of my favourite designs. 

The concepts for the Florentine Foliate Spray were kept simple but the results were effective. I would be invited back to the same guild many times over the years and the Florentine Foliate Spray was often requested for the entire weekend focus. The guild wanted a deeper exploration of the acanthus designs so I developed a course called Captivating Curves. In the Captivating Curves class, we would look at the acanthus leaves historically and then over the two or three day weekend, we would design borders that were painted with different techniques. It was a way to explore all things acanthus without worrying about a letter form or even a final purpose for the ornamental designs. The designs were rooted in Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts but always had a touch of the Victorian era mixed in. A sketchbook study shows my clustered florals embedded in the Captivating Curves. 
The acanthus as a decorative element provides worlds to explore and the possibilities are absolutely endless. One curve leads to another and as you learn to see and leverage those curves in your designs, you will start to see the world of ornament with new eyes. I remember going out to dinner after the first day of the weekend workshops and watching the students see acanthus designs everywhere. I believe the image below is from a library in Milwaukee. 
The Acanthus is such a delight to explore and I am working on updating the Captivating Curves course to present online for The Gentle Penman in July. Lots of focus will be given on drawing the acanthus and learning how to harness the curves. Workshop info will be posted soon.  I think the curves for Acanthus Foliate designs look best when they are based on circles rather than elongated ovals but we will explore the possibilities of the designs. We will also learn how to paint the designs with an illusion of depth and form. Captivating Curves really singles out the acanthus as a point of study as we develop foliate designs. 
The acanthus shows up in my offhand flourishing, my Enchanted Meadow, my Glittering Vines and my Enchanted Letters. 

With each workshop evolution, I am able to focus more one one detail or the other. The Enchanted Meadow pictured above does a deep dive into the drawing and dry brush painting technique of the animals with only a nod to the foliate setting. The latest workshop evolution of the foliate ornament was Pencil Lines for Glittering Vines. I developed this course first fore Texas Lettering Arts Council when I presented The Glittering Vine for the Legacies Calligraphy Conference last summer. The recording is available up until June of this year. The Glittering Vine lets me share my gilding technique for very delicate designs that can augment pointed pen work. Opulent gilding, delicate colour schemes, filigree and straight lines are featured in this course.  The components that I get to drill into are really the pencil process and the ability to make a curve harness its power when it meets a straight line. The compositions are striking, yet very simple. 

I will be teaching this course online in May for the Edmonton Calligraphic Society. There is a common denominator in all of these courses. Curves create beauty. Curves can be explored in foliate forms. If you understand how to turn a curve into a foliate expression, a whole new world will open up to you. Simple drawing skills augment our calligraphic world and take us to new levels. Gilding puts our work over the top and does not need a complicated approach. You can transform your compositions into glittering pages as you learn these simple skills. All of these skills can be broken down into simple components that you will evolve for you over time Your eye will find ornament everywhere once you start looking for it. Start with one simple step a time and watch your confidence grow as you explore foliate designs. I hope you all have a Happy Easter Weekend. I will close this post with another bunny from The Enchanted Meadow. Stay positive and stay inspired dear friends.