What inspires you?

As an artist, one gets asked a lot about where the ideas come from, why did you do this, or what made you think of that.  The simple answer is that there is no simple answer.  For me, it’s about color, shape and line, the feel of the brush on the paper or canvas, the shape of the text.

When you look at the shadows on the snow, what do you see?  The myriad colors of blues and grey?  The textures of the branches?  Or do you simply feel the cold winter air? Each of us visualizes differently.  There is no one right way to make art.


As an artist who uses letters, occasionally I begin work with a text, but more often the text seems to flow directly from the colors and shapes on the page. Personally I find that this can make all the difference between writing words on a page and text that becomes a part of the art.

Our western tradition of illustration is one that often separates the art from the text.  Books often have authors and illustrators.  But what if the text is the art?  What then?

The computer age has forced us to rethink the place of calligraphy in our lives. This is hardly a new concept.  Handwritten letters as a means of communication has been becoming redundant since Gutenberg’s moveable type.


But that doesn’t mean letters aren’t important. Brody Neuenschwander’s translation of Hans-Joachim Burgert’s writing, The Calligraphic Line is a wonderful introduction to viewing letters in the context of graphic forms.

In answer to the original question, where does a lettering artist derive inspiration, the answer lies from within.  So instead of sitting around waiting for that perfect quotation, just pick up your pen or brush and begin.  Let the letters inspire.


What to expect from a workshop

It’s a cold and snowy January day here in Indy and before I go back to the studio, I thought I’d share a few thoughts that have been running through my brain the past several days.

First off, the photo is rather random.  It’s a very small illuminated letter that I did in a workshop with Sheila Waters a few years back. Which leads me to one of those random thoughts.  What should you expect from a workshop?  A finished piece that you can frame? New techniques to absorb and use?  A place to meet new friends? Depending on your expectations, you may have a great time or be seriously dissappointed.

I always try approach workshops with an open mind.  After thirty years, there are many that I could teach possibly as well as the instructor.  But there are always new tricks to learn from others, new people to meet, new ideas to share and ultimately something to take back home to your studio and incorporate into your own work. We all learn from each other. And artists are among the most generous folks I know.

But it’s that part about incorporating that everyone should take to heart.  That’s the word to remember, not “copy”, “incorporate”.  The little letter up above taught me a great deal.  I’d never worked on vellum, I’d had little experience with gilding and Sheila is a master teacher. I learned to write smaller than I’d ever imagined possible.  I learned to mix colors from a minimum palette.  I learned to lay matte medium as a base for gold.  But had I come home and simply continued to copy and gild letters from the Book of Kells, I would be just another scribe harkening back to the ninth century.  Instead doing this little project open myriad doors to experiment with color, gold and calfskin.  So, sign up for as many classes as time and finance allows, but when you leave the classroom take the time to experiment rather than recreate. That way it will be your voice we hear when we view your art.


Art Every Day

For me one challenge after a workshop is making the techniques my own. We’ve all been to galleries where the artist’s inspiration is so evident in his or her work that you immediately conjure up the name of the inspiring art.  While it’s fun to come home and repeat what one has learned, eventually it’s more important to allow the art to speak through you and not someone else.


That’s what set Laurie Doctor’s workshop at Cheerio apart. Through a series of exercises and readings, she invited us to reach inside and pull out our own thoughts and ideas.  She also challenged us to write or draw every day.


From her inspiration, I made the three previously posted small 5×7 coptic bound books and have been making a conscientious effort to use them daily.



The photos here represent a few of the ideas that manifested themselves when I was able to put aside the worries of a “finished product” and just play.

Cheerio in May

It’s a wonderful rainy morning here in beautiful North Carolina.  The swallows are busy nesting in the eves of the craft house and the fog has settled in for a while.  What a great way to start the week.   I’m spending the week with Laurie Doctor and those of you who don’t know here work should peruse her website. She’s an amazing artist and teacher.  The other half of the class is working with Denis Brown on his polyrhythmic techniques.  We’re lucky to have wifi now, so I’ll try to post some photos in the evening.  Needless to say Cheerio is the closest thing to a calligrapher’s heaven on earth.

Keeping a Sketchbook

I began keeping loose-leaf notebooks some thirty years ago when I attended classes and workshops.  In the beginning they included not much more than some exemplars and practice lettering sheets.  When I found I was becoming a pack rat, I realized that it made more sense to place the exemplars in clear sheet protectors and keep only those bits and pieces that I knew I might revisit when the creative muses were on vacation.

Later, as I added classes in life drawing, watercolor and pastel, I switched to spiral bound sketchbooks.  I still use notebooks for exemplars, but now I use the sketchbooks to take notes, cut and paste small examples from workshops, and to experiment with design, color and tools.  They have become an invaluable reference.

Winter Inspiration

The creative spark has been in full gear this past week.  Between shoveling snow and being invited to participate in the Washington Calligraphers Guild Invitational Exhibit, I’m afraid I haven’t been posting as often as I’d like.  I’ve been having great fun preparing a new piece to send off this month to DC.  Meanwhile, photographing art for the gallery here is temporarily on hold, but I couldn’t resist taking some photos of last night’s beautiful snowfall.

Announced by all the trumpets of the sky, Arrives the snow, and, driving o’er the fields, Seems nowhere to alight: the whited air hides hills and woods, the river, and the heaven, and veils the farmhouse at the garden’s end. The sled and traveller stopped, the courier’s feet delayed, all friends shut out, the housemates sit around the radiant fireplace, enclosed in a tumultuous privacy of storm.     

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Out of the bosom of the Air, out of the cloud-folds of her garments shaken, over the woodlands brown and bare, over the harvest-fields forsaken, silent, and soft, and slow descends the snow.

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



A New Category

Thanks to everyone who has visited in the past several days. I’m beginning to get the hang of this and have decided to add a new category entitled Inspirations.  As a place to find both my thoughts and those that inspire my own art, I will make every effort to use public domain material and to give credit to the authors of poetry and quotations.

Literature, music and art flourish today because our forefathers believed strongly in the creative process and as such gave it protection in the Constitution with the following:  To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.

Words which are my own will be credited with a simple date and SRW and I ask that you respect those as much as you would the words of any published author or poet by not reproducing them without permission.