Sunday, August 28, 2016

Wild Patience

Not sure where this quote came from. I had it jotted down in one of my journals and decided it would be perfect for a butterfly exploration. We planted a butterfly bush in the meditation garden and it has had many beautiful butterflies. One visitor was a Great Spangled Frittilary. I had never seen one before and wanted to paint it immediately. I did not have one in my specimen collection so I sort of created a composite butterfly based on a Comma Butterfly in my collection, a Painted Lady and my memory of the Great Spangled Frittilary. That is the beauty of The Enchanted Meadow. Our creatures don't have to be entirely real, but they do help to hone skills and develop keen observation skils. Since the Birmingham workshop launch of The Enchanted Meadow, I have had multiple requests to teach it at various guilds. I will keep you posted! I have been thrilled with student work too. I have received emails from students who have put Pandas in their Enchanted Meadow as well as a gorgeous chickadee. So exciting to see that enthusiasm for painted miniatures is contagious. My email inbox continues to be full. Lots of questions from various artists and new students to the calligraphic world. The new students seem to be captivated through all of the calligraphic art they see on instagram. I see this as a mixed blessing. There are lots of wonderful posts. There are lots of different styles to explore and so many different opinions of what is right and what is wrong. No shortages of opinions, including my own. Some great advice out there and some not so great. What I do see is a trend to create quickly and post instantly. My advice to students who have worked through the basics and are getting bored of just exploring a single word or group of letters is to start to develop a portfolio of completed artwork. You are never too young in your journey to do this. You will develop an eye for compostion and skills at working on larger pieces. I waited far too long in my journey to do this, thinking that my skills weren't worthy to be put on a piece of proper art paper. Let me assure you, this couldn't be further than the truth. Invest in some quality paper and work on a finished piece that intriques you. Learn the lesson that it has to teach, sign it, date it and then do another one. Develop a sense of awareness of all the things that can go right or terribly wrong on a piece of artwork and keep notes on your process. Dig deeper, challenge yourself and constantly explore. There is fine line between exploring subjects that are just a bit too difficult for your skill level and those that are too easy and will not challenge you. Find that balance and give it a try. The worse thing that can happen is that you don't like what you create. Just move on to the next project after learning the lessons of the previous one. I know I say this a lot, but I seem to have a lot of people feeling " stalled" or hitting a plateau. This is one way forward. We all hit those plateaus and we all feel stalled now and then. The only way I know to get through that is to keep showing up at your work space and trying something one day at a time. This painted butterfly piece taught me so much and challenges me to try another and another. I hope those who read this blog post find some encouragement to try a larger piece. Branch out from just practicing your favourite script and work on a finished composition. See what happens! Be wildy patient with yourself as you try new things and work through ideas. There is no race and no finish line that I have ever seen or heard of. Just more to explore! Happy exploring!!!

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Living In Wonder

Right now I find time for botanical art work here and there. I would love to immerse myself in the process much more deeply, but I have so many other commitments to take care of. Lots of upcoming travel dates and lots of commission work. Not complaining....just trying to manage my time more effectively! The botanical art journey has been wonderful so far. Intriguing and mesermerizing. It has awakened my sense of awareness and a deep appreciation for the beauty that surrounds me. It has changed me. I am now impossibly difficult to walk with! I stop and look at leaves on the ground, crab apples that are slowly ripening or a grasshopper that is resting. Grocery stores and farmer's markets are equally distracting! I am not looking at produce now to consume, but to draw! It's really quite fun. I want to see everything. I want to take it all in. I have such a deep respect for those botanical artists who can capture every detail and still draw me inward for a closer look at what they are illustrating. The process is captivating. Some people just don't get it at all and think I should just take a photograph. That comment just totally misses the point. What I am learning in the world of botanical art confirms the process that I go through as a pointed pen artist. It is total immersion with your subject. When I look at a leaf, I am not trying to recreate every detail like a photograph would. I am trying to understand the subject. Trying to really see all the different colours in a single green leaf. Look at the veining patterns. Try to see every colour and shape that is represented. It is fascinating. It is endless. I can safely say that I am hooked! These studies help inform my calligraphic work. They help me appreciate the skills I have with a pointed pen and help me to see how much more there is to learn. Every day is an adventure and a challenge. Every day is filled with wonder. Pictures in this blog post are from my sketchbook and from my garden. Enjoy each day and each season as it comes and goes!

Thursday, August 4, 2016

The Enchanted Meadow Workshop

I started illumination classes in 2005. I was taught by an absolute master of the medium Debbie Thompson Wilson. I think her soul resides in the Medieval era. We learned more than just how to copy a medieval miniature. We learned about the meanings behind the minatures and the humour that was often embedded secretly within. I was captivated by the techniques and the subject matter. In 2011 I started to launch out with my own studies. I was not content to take an exisiting miniature and recreate it on vellum or paper. I wanted to combine my own ideas and perhaps some of my Victorian influences. As a result of those studies, I produces a series of miniatures called The Enchanted Meadow.
I did not keep an accurate photo record of those miniatures. Most of them ended up in the hands of dear friends over the years. I didn't make them to reproduce or to sell, I made them to share with others. I can't even remember where they all went, but there are a few owls, several rabbits, a squirrel, a butterfly and a fox in the hands of precious friends and family members. They have become the guardians of their miniature and I hope they still enjoy them. I have kept one or two over the years. The Gift Bearer started in my precious journal and then became my Christmas card one year.
This weekend, after years of study, and three years of trying to figure out how to teach this workshop over one or two days, The Enchanted Meadow will be launched at the Birmingham Calligraphy Guild. Birmingham seems to be my launching ground. Dana Jacobson first brought me there to teach in 2011. I was one of several teachers invited to teach pointed pen techniques over a one year study period. It was an honour to be part of that experience and such a talented group of calligraphers. It was my first guild teaching experience after my launch into the teaching world at the International Calligraphy Conference in Boston of 2010. In 2012 at the Birmingham calligraphy guild, Held Pens were launched. Chris's first designs were produced for that guild. I taughed my Enchanted Letters workshop for the first time in Birmingham and met lifetime friends at that guild. Packing right now is an adventure and I am taking a break to update the blog.
This class will go into the techniques for designing foliate scroll work as well as painting a charming little meadow creature. My head has been in books, vellum scraps, paint palettes and sable brushes for weeks as I put on final touches to this class.
I usually have an iron clad schedule for delivering a workshop but this one is a little harder to plan for. There is a bit of learning curve with the dry brush technique needed to develop the fur or feathers of the meadow creatures. I think I will be on a bit of an adventure as I teach it but I am so excited to launch this class. Painted miniatures, calligraphy, flourishing and now botanical studies are much needed times of slowing down for me. All of these studies force me to take time to really observe and notice what I am doing. It is a welcome practice in an age that seems to be speed driven. There is a definite balancing act that is needed these days in my studio, home, computer and studies. Still looking for a routine where I can work steadily on projects that need to be accomplished while staying in that student/explorer mode. I know that many of you are struggling with that same balancing act. I am right there with you and know what you are going through. At times it can be overwhelming. I find that those are times I need to "check out" for a time, go offline, and quiet down with a leisurely walk or a book on the backyard swing. This is a principle I will be sharing at the workshop this weekend. Painted miniatures require slow and deliberate techniques. They require a calming of the mind and the soul. I am looking forward to launching not only the techniques for painting the minatures but the thought process behind them. Happy painting everyone!!!

Monday, July 18, 2016

The Ritual of Return

Just returning from my trip to Portland, Oregon for the 2017 IAMPETH Convention. What a week and what a process!!! Our convention was wonderful as usual. Filled with friends and all of the passion that comes when pen enthusiasts congregate together. Your obsession with ink is considered the norm and we can talk about snap shades and terminal lobes on exit strokes without drawing stares from others. It is a great week. Highlights for me were getting to meet Portland's Unipiper, Brian Kidd. He is a Portland icon and I was so happy that 2017 President Alesia Zorn brought him in for our opening reception!!!! He was a treat. I had requested that Alesia have him appear in his traditional Darth Vader helmet with the flaming bagpipes! He was wonderful!
What a great kick off to the week. Highlights of the convention are too many to mention. I spent time in the archive room studying the incredible collection that we had and throughout the week enjoyed walks around the river, taking classes and trying to adjust to their time zone which was never entirely successful.
This year I was commissioned to create two certificates for Ronald and Donald Tate in recognition to their contributions to IAMPETH. The certificates were on display throughout the week in the Archive Room which was such a special treat to see.
The convention recharged my love of the pointed pen. My class was on Wednesday where 115 of us explored Victorian Pen work techniques in my Vintage Garden class.
I loved every minute of the convention this year and hope others did too. This year was the first time I took a sketchbook with me. I have fellow botanical art enthusiasts there at the convention and a few of us wanted some time to compare notes. I was amazed at how many times my sketchbook helped me on my journey.
An 11 hour layover in Chicago was a great time to finish a sketchbook page I started with my garden pansy. I worked on water droplets and a side view of a pansy leaf. I made a mental note to keep a waterbrush pen with me in my tool kit as I had to improvise with lid from a water bottle in the airport!!! Morning walks in Portland were with my dear friend Joe. Along the riverwalk were beautiful flowers and foliage that I had to captured in my sketchbook. I picked one California Poppy and tried quickly to record the details.
So hard to work from life when the details change every minute! I also picked an Oregon grape leaf which reminded me of holly. The bush looks like a Holly plant with clusters of grapes. My pages were completed in OHare on my return journey and kept me awake after an overnight flight and a 7 hour layover! Now I am safely home and the ritual of return begins for me. I enjoy every second of the process. Tools are cleaned and carefully replaced in their designated spaces. I return to my usual walking path around the garden and in the neighbourhood. I carefully wash down the surface of my desk as I prepare not only to unpack my suitcase but also unpack my mind and layout fresh goals. I revisit my daily calendar to see what tasks are coming up but I also take stock of what needs to change. Every trip for me brings some sort of change but IAMPETH usually brings some major changes. It refueled my focus to complete my upcoming book on The Enchanted Letter and also planted seeds for a second book on Flourishing techniques. Now I have to decide which order to produce the work. The ritual of return for me is as important, if not more so, than the trip itself. This morning my cat Oscar was waiting for me expecting me to put him on his leash and take him for a garden walk. He has been with me throughout the morning and now took his his usual spot on my comfortable computer chair
while I have to make do with a hard wooden chair! I am home.

Friday, July 8, 2016

Small Blessings

Small details can make such a huge difference. I continue to study botanical drawing techniques and I often pause in wonder at the process. I love the subject matter. I love working with flowers. I love spending time outside in the garden or just walking. It all seems such a blessing to take this study time. I am still experimenting with both coloured pencil and watercolour. The coloured pencil process is easiet to control although much more time consuming than watercolour. I recently learned the difference between a sharp pencil and truly sharp pencil. I purchased a Rapesco pencil sharpener and was thrilled with how much better it was than my electric sharpener.
The sharpener has quirks. It doesn't particularly like thinner pencils and will break those leads quite easily. But the handle can be removed and the broken lead can easily be cleaned out. The polychromos pencils are my favourite for coloured pencil work. I spent some time getting them all properly sharpened.
Today is packing day for IAMPETH. I usually take packing days as a little break from my normal routine. Today after packing my bags, I spent some time sketching a pansy in one of my garden containers.
They look like they would be a simple subject, but the colour variations are incredibly complex. I need to spend more time working on my sketch but I was blessed with the company of one of our garden chipmunks.
He visited me faithfully as I sketched until all of the peanuts were gone! When he doesn't have peanuts...I suspect he is one of the culprits eating my geraniums and pansies. But he is forgiven. I enjoyed spending time just working on stome study pages with no clear goal in mind.Although I wasn't really happy with the pansy page, I was happier with the red currant study page in my Stillman and Birn journal.
Cherish your summer and the blessings each day will bring to you.

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Fairy Tale Process

I have been working on my calligraphic hands since 2003. I rarely delve into the edge pen, but when I do, I usually choose German Text. My source material is an old booklet that is crumbling but it has one of the nicest German Text hands I have ever seen. The book was penned by L.H. Hausam and contains several alphabets.
I love the Victorian look of the text and how it contrasts with English Roundhand. I used Christopher Yoke's Historic Small Batch Japan Ink on the Strathmore Drawing paper and a Mitchell 3.5 nib as well as a Gillott 404. I love the ivory colour of the Strathmore drawing paper. The scroll design around the quote was drawn in pencil before inking the design.
Some offhand flourishing techniques were used with the flowers and leaves. The piece is gilded with 23 K gold leaf, painted with watercolour and then burnished with pastels. I used a few Swarovski crystals in the centres of the blossoms. This piece will be donated to the IAMPETH silent auction in Portland. The whole piece is part of a playful process.
The quote struck me as very Victorian and fanciful and in need of a lighthearted border. I find joy in the process of working on a design from start to finish. The piece is far from polished or perfect, but brought me a lot joy as I worked with the playful border design. Learn your lessons with each piece of artwork, clear your workspace, and get ready to start the next one. We are never finished with the learning process.

Thursday, June 16, 2016

New Eyes

I have come across some of the writings of John Ruskin in my studies of Kate Greenaway. Kate and John corresponded for years. John Ruskin was very encouraging of her work and some of his comments and critiques of her work are quite remarkable. This month I have been working on leaf studies in botanical illustration and Ruskin came to mind. One of his quotes... "PAINT the leaves as they grow! If you can paint one leaf, you can paint the world." has inspired me for many years but I feel like I am just beginning to understand it. There is a world of patience and understanding to find in a single leaf. I am still working on vellum and watercolour and will post more about that soon. But I have been diving into the world of Faber Castell Polychromos coloured pencils and finding a lot of lessons to be learned. Learning to tone, and layer colors and really see light and shade is mesmerizing. I stop and look at leaves on the shrubs and trees as I go on my daily walks. I am truly mesmerized. I am overwhelmed with the beauty in our world even in a single leaf. Today I worked on a sketchbook page and I look foward to expanding these pages and my studies.
As I closed my sketchbook to come into the house, this strange leaf rustled in front of me.
I have no idea what plant it came from. It almost looks like a dried geranium leaf but I am not sure. I don't see anything else like it on the property. But it seemed like almost a challenge from Ruskin!! Maybe if I can paint this leaf....I can paint the world.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

Gratitude in May

Where has this month gone? Seems like I am full swing with teaching workshops and finishing final touches on my Enchanted Meadow Workshop which launches in August! So happy to be able to present that course and share the techniques that I have been honing for years. I created this little blue bird miniature
as part of the notes for the class. Lots of dry and moist brush techniques on him and happy to add him to my Enchanted Meadow series. The process of painting him was as peaceful and meditative as any time I spend flourishing with my pen. I will happily send him out as a note card of encouragement to anyone who feels they need a note from a friend. Now and then I get overwhelmed with the emails in my inbox. So many people in pain and struggling to find peace through mindful practice with the pen. If a little note will brighten your day, I am happy to send one your way! I am so grateful to those who read this blog, or follow me on instagram or Facebook. Now and then I even get a surprise in the mail! This week a lovely package arrived of gorgeous antique laces and linens! A beautiful and welcome surprise! Thank you dear Pat for thinking of me!
As May draws to a close, I want to be grateful for the blessings of friendships, peaceful creativity and the joy of sharing what I love with others.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Iluminated Alphabet Page

Last year I worked on an Illuminated page of the Armenian Alphabet
for an exhibit commemorating the 100th Anniversary of the Armenian Genocide. I remember being very lost in the process as I cannot read or write Armenian and the Alphabet seemed very strange to me. But after the exhibit, the framed piece came home to me and it had become one of my most cherished pieces of artwork. In February of this year, I started working on a similar project but this time illuminating the Italian Hand alphabet. I need to be clear, that a pointed pen alphabet with a heavily illuminated border, raises questions and eyebrows. I was told from the minute I started learning illumination techniques, that it could not be combined with pointed pen. But to be honest, I really didn't care what anyone else thought as this is a personal piece that I wanted to work on for myself. I started with no clear plan. Just penned my hybridized Italian Hand alphabet on the Fabriano paper and then designed the border around the alphabet. I used measurements for the border that I had seen on other illuminated pages from the Renaissance as well as flower and foliage that are typically seen in Renaiassance manuscripts.
After the lettering, the next stage is always the gilding. I used Miniatum ink and 23K Czech gold leaf. The next stage of development is the underpainting. This is the stage where you start to bring life to the work.
This is always the trickiest part of the work for me as you really can't see a clear picture of what your colour choices will do to the final piece. I stuck with bold colours for the design but utilized pinks and olive greens rather than bold Cadmium red and Viridian or Hooker's green. I wanted some of the colours to be pulled back from what would be typical in Renaissance manuscript work. In hindsight, I should have used an Opera Rose instead of Rose Dore which would have given a more intense pink. Next time!!! This underpainting stage is known as the ugly stage of illumination. Nothing is clear. Paint looks dreary and the gilding looks flat and lifeless. Many students of illumination get discouraged at this stage thinking this will be their final look. But it is only a building stage. This work will continue to evolve.
Slowly the intensity of the colour is built up in layers. I try not to apply a thick wash of colour but prefer to gradually build the intensity. I added some Payne's Grey to the French Ultramarine Blue to add some depth. Burnt Sienna was added to the Quinachridone Gold to add depth to the gold tones and Alizarin Crimson deepened the Rose Dore. I should add that all of this is watercolour and not Gouache. I have been challenged by some artists to use Gouache rather than watercolour but it is absolutely my preference to build up these layers with silky appllictions of watercolour rather than the more velvety look of Gouache. The preference is personal and I feel I have more control with watercolour than with Gouache. The Olive Green was overpainted with Holbein Shadow Green to add depth to the leaves. Bleedproof White and McCaffery Brown Filigree work make up the final stages of the piece.
The Bleedproof white adds dimension to the foliage and the inking stage is the final clean up to the piece as well as making the design look more complex and ornate. It was a pleasure from start to finish and a learning piece throughout. The piece took me over 2 months to complete but I only worked on it for short periods of time. Skills evolved and changed as I worked on the piece. More skill was gained over the brush and consistency of paint. It was so much fun to be totally immersed in a personal project like this. And I still have the pleasure of searching for a frame.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

K is for Kathleen

This week I recieved a very precious gift from a wonderful artist. Kathleen Rollick is a talented calligrapher that I met at IAMPETH a few years ago. When I was president of the organization in 2014 she gave me a beautiful piece of her artwork that she had made into a necklace. I was so touched by her generous spirit and felt so privileged to have a piece of her artwork to wear. When I received a package in the mail from her this week, my heart skipped a beat.
Anything she would share with me would be a welcome surprise but nothing could prepare me for what was in the package. I knew of her incredible work of handpainted Easter Eggs. I had stumbled across an article about her Easter Eggs while I was looking up information for my Indianapolis conference in 2014. You can read the article here. Her prayerful process of the painting the eggs and and creating them for a specific person was so touching and heartwarming. I never dreamed I would have one of my own. She enclosed the fragile egg carefully in a tea container and sent along a very special note along with a key of the all of the symbols she used to paint the egg.
I can only imagine how time consuming the whole process was for her to complete. And to know that I had been prayed for while she painted the egg, brought tears to my eyes.
What a precious and special gift. Something I will always cherish. And now I have the joy of searching for the just the right egg cup for display! I will enjoy the hunt in the antique shops! I created this Enchanted Letter as a thank you for Kathleen.
Something from my hands and my heart with sincere gratitude for her artwork. I created the first design on the matte film, trying my Enchanted Letter techniques and gilding on the film. It worked really well and I was pleased with the results up until the Finetec gold was added for embellishement. The Finetec gold seemed to spread out a little too far on the matte film.
I continued to finish the piece but ultimately did a second letter to send to Kathleen. This time working on Somerset Satin paper with a slight texture. Both letters were created with a such appreciation for this amazing artist.
Her incredibly generous gift to me was a reminder of how healing and blessing our work can be to others. If the thought crosses your mind to send a piece of your artwork to someone else....act on it. Don't second guess yourself. Just trust your instincts and see what happens. You have no idea the chain reaction of joy that it can bring to someone else. It can be as simple as a decorated envelope with a note inside to let someone know you were thinking of them! Now I just need more hours in the day to get notes to those who have been on my mind. Thank you dear Kathleen for blessing me!