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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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.

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…

Indigo

I was ever so proud of my first pair of blue jeans. I even remember the brand—Wrangler.

After years of repeated laundering, the indigo washed out of them, and they became softly worn, fading to a fashionable shade of pale. Of course, now you can invest in a pair of pre-faded and mechanically stressed denims. But in the seventies, you bought a pair of Wranglers or Levi’s and devoted years to working them in. It was a badge of honour to wear a pair of authentically faded and worn blue jeans.

For centuries, artisans around the world have been dyeing natural fibres with indigo. The mysteries of indigo captured my imagination. I was pumped to get to a vat of indigo for some hands-on blueing.

Two days with Pam Woodward at the Colour Vie studio in Toronto had me learning how to infuse cotton and silk with indigo. Twine, buttons, and binder clips made random patterns. Cardboard triangles and folding patterns created more predictable resist images. The hand-dyeing process gave me an even greater appreciation for the dedication and expertise of indigo artisans.

And the origin of my Wranglers.

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