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.