Not Morning Star

It was the first day of class, and we were introducing ourselves. Tell us your name and then let us know the name of your alter ego—your artist name and the reason for your choice.

Around the circle, students introduced themselves as Emerald or Raven or Morning Star with a related story about the significance of that particular name for them—a special someone or a special characteristic they would like to emulate.

Halfway around the circle, I was surprised to find my eyes welling with tears. I wiped them surreptitiously, hoping no one noticed. Unable to account for my tears, I would be mortified if someone drew attention by asking if I was alright.

I had no answer.

Before travelling to the conference, I had been preoccupied with projects at the office. Then boarded a cross-country flight. I spent a week hiking in the mountains and was rewarded with gorgeous summit views—and altitude sickness. And now I was meeting new people in new surroundings.

Perhaps I was low on resiliency and reserves.

My turn was coming up. Think quick! Fabricate a name for the sake of the exercise. No one would know.

Except me.

Rather than adopt a last-minute identity that I might have to live up to in a later class exercise, I chose to be authentic. When my turn came, I mumbled something about needing more time. I was ashamed at being so inarticulate about who I was.

When everyone had finished introducing themselves, they placed tent cards on their work table showing their artist name. Mine was blank.

Blank.

Later, alone in my room, I revisited the introduction circle. It was unlike me to be emotional without reason. I am normally even keeled and in control.

In the darkness, thoughts tumbled in confusion. The silence echoed with questions: who are you? Deep down, really, who are you? What uniqueness characterizes you—your art? Do you have talent? Under scrutiny, would your art hold up? Could it be you don’t have it? Are you a pretender, a con artist, a magician? An illusionist without substance? Blank? Oh…am I truly Blank?

More tears—sobbing now. In the absence of any other presence, the flood gates opened.

I thought about who I was. Am. I have always been confident about who I am. Maybe the inability to articulate it—to come up with just one name—was the problem. Maybe pinpointing a single characterizing quality was the stumbling block.

I thought about the qualities of Emerald—a gem…valuable…rare. Or Morning Star—bright light of Venus…morning light. I thought about the other class names.

In the stillness, a faint image emerged. Sparkling lights. Candles in paper sacks. What were they called? A Google searched turned up the word I chased.

Luminaria.

I liked the sound of the word…but exactly what was it?

Luminaria - candles in paper sacks

Luminaria (lü-mə-ˈner-ē-ə): a Christmas lantern consisting of a votive candle set in a small paper bag weighted with sand and typically placed with others along a driveway, sidewalk, or rooftop as a holiday decoration.

A simple candle that emits a flickering glow housed in a paper sack, set in sand, and placed on the ground.

Hmmm…hardly stellar. Definitely not Morning Star quality. But it was a happier option than Blank.

Luminaria. A simple votive—a disk of wax housed in a tin receptacle. One of many—not unique. Moderately decorative. Functional and adequate. Set on a sandy base in a paper sack. Conforming to the shape of the ground.

Hmmm…despite its appealing sound, the word signified something plain and simple. The search continued for grander possibilities. I spent the evening searching for my identity. On Google. Haha.

Into the wee hours, thoughts ran amok. Self-examination is like that. I wanted to be true to my character and personality. After all, I am who I am. As an artist who wrestles with concepts and texts, I have always sought to serve the message. To bring light to ideas. Or ideas to light. To illuminate. Or to question. My style is unfolding and my artiness is emerging. I am becoming. I am multi-faceted. Maybe one identity is too limiting. OK, peering deeper within.

The next morning, I quietly placed a tent card on my work surface.

Hello, I’m Luminaria.

Luminaria guide the way for others. They enlighten the lost, illuminating the path to a destination: a celebration! They remain open to the skies, drawing oxygen from the starry night to radiate their singular glow. They shine brightest when it is darkest. Firmly grounded and breathing deeply, luminaria are open to the heavens, the stars, the possibilities. So many possibilities…

I’m Luminaria.

For now.

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Studio Bootprint

Lately I’ve been thinking about ways to reduce my carbon footprint. I’d like to adopt recycling habits in the studio that have become second nature in the kitchen.

It all started in a recent class with book artist Suzanne Moore. She lives on an island in Washington state and is concerned about what is being dumped in the ocean. During the class, she peppered her teaching with environmental tips, encouraging us to:

  1. use every drop of media in our palettes before washing them
  2. use dirty water for lettering—great for tonal value
  3. work on good paper as a waste sheet (surprising marks might emerge that could be useful in the final product)
  4. leave tools dirty until we’re completely finished using them
  5. keep a wet rag handy for fingertip clean-up to save paper towels—and accidentally “fingerprinting” our masterpiece
  6. use small pieces of toilet paper instead of paper towel to dab, push paint around, etc.
  7. clean threaded tube paint before capping for a snug fit
  8. be fastidious about recapping fluid media to keep it from spilling or drying out

Inspired by these tips, I’m looking for additional ways to minimize art waste released into the environment.

Back home, while clearing basement clutter, I uncovered some treasures, like the cotton dyed at an indigo workshop at the Colour Vie studio several years ago. I stashed it away, intending to sew table linens on a rainy day.

Indigo-dyed tableware: placemats and runner

It’s been years since I’ve sewn anything, so the simple placemats and table runner I made were not likely to win any awards. However, I could count on them as a conversation starter at the next dinner party.

While tidying up afterwards, I stood over the trash bin holding the leftover pieces in my hand. I didn’t have the heart to toss the dyed scraps. Granted, they were small. However, I did spend two workshop days dipping, swishing, wringing and repeating to achieve the perfect shade of indigo. How could I let them go?

Google always has an answer! A search turned up patterns for quilted mug rugs. I had never heard of a mug rug, but surely my mug needed a rug. Especially a quilted one. In indigo.

As a paper artist, I always enjoy experimenting with pattern and colour. I discovered there’s an up side to working with fabric—no stained hands and no wet mess to mop up afterwards. I could see the advantages of quilting over wet media. This could be a new creative addiction…

My thanks to quilter Jeni Baker for sharing her free Scrappy Stack Mug Rug tutorial. Although her instructions were straightforward, it still took several tries for this novice quilter to square up the pieces. I sewed two mug rugs using every scrap of lovingly dyed cotton—without adding to my stash of clutter nor sending something beautiful to the scrap heap.

Indigo-inspired mug rug

I’m congratulating my environmentally-conscious self while enjoying a cuppa, coastered by an indigo-inspired mug rug.

I believe my environmental bootprint got a little smaller this past month.

Have you found creative ways to reduce your footprint in the studio?

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Dream Job

Do you have a vision for your art?

A Heritage Edition of the The Saint John’s Bible now resides at Regis College.

Affiliated with the University of Toronto, Regis College is a theological school located on Wellesley Street West in downtown Toronto. On my way home from work, I would pop into the lobby for a peek. Protected under glass, a two-page spread is displayed at a time. Sometimes there are two pages of pure calligraphy, but other times there is a gorgeous illuminated spread, gleaming with gold.

Several years ago, members of the Calligraphic Arts Guild of Toronto were invited for a closer examination of all seven volumes. While we were not permitted to thumb through the volumes on our own (not even a remote possibility), volunteers turned pages so we could peer closely at the lettering and breathtaking illuminations. It was hard not to drool!

Heritage Edition of The Saint John's Bible, 7 volumes on display at Regis College

Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible, 7 volumes on display at Regis College

The Saint John’s Bible is the first hand-written, illuminated Bible to be produced since the Gutenberg press began printing the scriptures in 1455.

Have you ever had a dream? A big dream?

In Wales, just after the Second World War, school boy Donald Jackson dreamed of writing the entire Bible by hand.

In 1995, he took a step closer to his dream—a leap of faith actually. He pitched the feasibility of such a project to the trustees at Saint John’s University in Collegeville, Minnesota. The project got off the ground several years later in 1998. The last word, applied to parchment using a quill, was penned in 2011.

As Artistic Director and Illuminator, Donald anchored the project from his scriptorium in Wales while guiding his international team of calligraphers, illustrators, and administrators.

Page from Heritage Edition of Saint John's Bible featuring the Beatitudes (Matthew 5)

Page from Heritage Edition of Saint John’s Bible featuring the Beatitudes (Matthew 5)

The original Saint John’s Bible is housed at Saint John’s University in Minnesota, but close to 300 sets of the 7-volume Heritage Edition were printed for a broader audience to enjoy. To date, approximately 125 sets have been claimed.

One set was on full display at Seattletters 2018, the international calligraphy conference in Bellingham, Washington, where over 400 participants could leisurely browse the full Bible and ask questions.

Page from Heritage Edition of Saint John's Bible

Page from Heritage Edition of Saint John’s Bible

It was my pleasure to catch up with Donald at Seattletters 2018. He and I were students in Suzanne Moore’s class. Now retired at 80, he spoke about the realization of his childhood dream to produce a handwritten legacy of the scriptures.

The other dream, which he also realized, was to be a scribe to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth.

Do you have a dream—or two—for your art?

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Studio Toss

Calligraphy lettering toolsOnce the dust had settled on the basement renovations, the boxes were crying to be unpacked. However, reno stress had taken its toll, and I turned a deaf ear to the clamour.

While working up my mojo, I listened to audio books with titles like Lighten Up, Essentialism, Let It Go, It’s All Too Much, and Designing Your Life.  Then I stumbled on two inspiring YouTube videos by Jenn from Origami Twist. She presents some novel perspectives.

Attach expiry date. While most art supplies are not perishable enough to have a shelf life, she suggests assigning items an expiry date. When an item no longer serves the purpose you intended; that is, when its functionality has reached its end date—for you—let it go.

Assess inventory. When sorting supplies, group like items together. Groupings help to assess inventory because it is visual. (What? I have four tubes of chromium oxide?) This seems so basic that I couldn’t believe I hadn’t done it in 30 years. I suspect it’s because I never had the inclination to sort my inventory. To my surprise—and delight—I corralled 100 sheets of Arches Text Wove!  Woohoo!

Curate collection. I’m a gatherer who is loathe to break up a collection. However, when an item is no longer useful, its history in the collection is not enough reason to keep it. Fine collections are curated regularly. If an item no longer serves the value of the collection, it needs to be moved out to make room for new items.

Fast forward two months. The boxes have been emptied and flattened, the charity truck has taken away treasures to new homes, and I’m comfortably settled in my workspace, surrounded only by the supplies I truly need and use. (OK, and a few trifles I simply want…)

Still, I feel lighter and freer; less encumbered. It’s a new era in the studio!

If you have a studio purge story, I would love to hear about your insights and experience.

Caged Bird

When Kelita Haverland invited me to scribe the words to her popular song “Caged Bird”, she generously gave complete freedom—both exciting and daunting for an artist! The poignant lyrics deserved special treatment, so I immediately got to work choosing lettering styles and images.

WillowLetteringWhat was the inspiration?

Lettering. I’ve always admired the classic work of Charles Rennie Mackintosh (1868-1928), a Scottish architect, designer, and water colourist. His projects were inspired by the flourish of Art Nouveau and the simplicity of Japanese forms. He was known for designing a simple and elegant letterform called “Willow”.

A graduate of the Glasgow School of Art, Mackintosh was commissioned to design the School’s new building, but also the furniture, artwork, and stained glass windows—unusual scope granted an architect.

Images. While researching song birds, I was intrigued by the Merops apiaster species—a richly coloured, wild, migratory bird with a mellow song. Its name is Greek and Latin for “bee-eater”. Merops feed on flying insects—but not before removing their stinger and venom. What resilient birds. As resilient as the subjects in Kelita’s song.

In the final design, “Caged Bird” combines the influence of stained glass with watercolour and the “Willow” letterform. I am imagining that the letter “o” resembles a birdhouse entrance with a perch! It was tempting to refine the lines of the birdcage with pen and ruler, but leaving it rustic gives the impression of forged iron, which provides a counterpoint to the soft colours.

IMG_1832

“Caged Bird” features watercolour, gouache, and ink on Arches 140 lb. watercolour paper. The piece was designed at the kitchen counter during studio renovation when supplies were in storage—a test of resiliency!

Have you been given freedom to design a project? What was your approach?

Viva Colombia!

Last Friday, I attended my first Parapan Am, 5-a-side football (soccer) match. The series was played by the visually impaired—that’s another story.

Innovative lettering for the word Colombia on jacketTeam players for Colombia and Mexico were battling for the bronze medal. Since I was there for the experience, I was impartial and cheered for both teams!

I happened to sit next to a veteran fan and admired the fabulous lettering on his jacket; it was characteristic of his country’s Andes mountains.

Although I did not speak a word of Spanish, nor he English, we shared snacks and the international spirit of the games. He allowed me to snap a photo of the terrific logo on his jacket.

In the end, Colombia lost in a shoot-out—a heartbreaking loss for him. Nevertheless, the Colombia logo is a clear winner with me!

Have you been inspired by a cool logo?

Seeing Clearly

Several things happened this past week that got me thinking.

eye examIt seems my vision is not what it used to be.

My optometrist sent me for a “glaucoma work up”. One of the tests—a field of vision test—required me to focus on a central spot and use a clicker to register quick flashes whenever they randomly appeared in my peripheral field. In exuberance, I was wildly clicking—apparently seeing sparks that were not there!

Life is like that. It is easy to get sidetracked by the flashy, shiny diversions that detract from the central focus—even to the point of pursuing distractions of no substance!

The Parapan Am Games in Toronto are coming to a close. Yesterday, I attended one of the medal games for 5-a-side football (soccer).

_DSC0602The fascinating aspect of this sport is that the players are visually-impaired; they wear eyeshades—blinders—to even the playing field. Only the goalie is sighted. The football is fitted with bells. Spectators watch in silence (silence!), enabling players to focus on the sound of the tumbling bells within the moving ball.

A sighted guide, confined to an area behind the net, directs his team by shouting directions. During a shoot-out, he also bangs on the goal posts. In the seeming chaos, goals are scored!

It takes intense concentration, timing, and coordination to detect the ball’s ever-changing location by its sound. Above all, the athletes are fearless.

The pain of stubbing my toe in the dark or walking into a wall reminds me to move slowly when I don’t see well. These athletes run at full speed during play. Running into obstacles, including each other, is a normal part of the game. They simply get up and keep playing.

eye chartFollowing Mexico’s bronze win, my husband and I celebrated over quesadillas at a downtown restaurant. On the subway ride home, he was remarking on various aspects of the transit system. He normally drives, so he was riding the new underground trains for the first time.

As he was commenting on the train’s articulated design, the dynamic subway map, announcements about station stops and door location exits, I was seeing my daily commute with fresh eyes.

This week’s incidents have me adjusting my lenses to stay my most creative self.

  1. Flashy distractions are just that—or not! Stayed focused.
  2. Fearless concentration. Never mind the obstacles—keep playing.
  3. Flags and sign-posts. Ball bells, coaching, and goalpost thumping—don’t see the goal? Use another sense—listen up.
  4. Fresh eyes on the world around me. My travelling companions see the same world I see, but with different eyes. Check out their viewpoint.

“The true voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having fresh eyes.” Marcel Proust

Yes, it seems my vision is not what it used to be…