Many of you have seen my Coptic bound sketchbooks online or at workshops. They were the result of a wonderful workshop with Laurie Doctor at Cheerio and the realization that I had a myriad sheets of art papers that I’d accumulated from workshops and random studio projects. I decided to randomly tear those papers down, glue them to boards and include them in signatures created with Bugra, Ingres and Arches Text paper. The art papers became magical inspiration and the resulting Coptic bound books became great places to paint, draw, write and play. Soon I had half a dozen and often I had them with me at meetings and workshops. Continue reading
I spent the first week of May at Cheerio with twenty six wonderful students and master calligraphic artists, Sheila and Julian Waters. Mother and son comprise a teaching duo that sometimes contradict, but always complement each other’s work. If you’ve been involved in studying the calligraphic arts for any amount of time, you surely have come to know both their works.
Originally designed as two half week classes, the classes were combined into one large group. Sheila’s component involved designing a traditional manuscript book from inspiration to execution. Julian’s involved writing with large instruments such as ruling pen, cola pens, coit or automatic pens, etc. It might not seem that those two topics would blend together in one workshop, but the duo of Waters and Waters made it happen in a fluid and seamless way.
Their use of digital media as a method of instruction was amazing. For the first time in any workshop I’d ever attended, we could sit at our seats, watch all the demonstrations and simultaneously write and take notes. It was amazing. Something so mundane as pen angle could be viewed in detail unavailable if we were to all stand around a demonstration table and we could try it at the same time.
From the beginning our focus would include the rich history of manuscript design. With the use of the camera, Sheila was able to show us actual manuscript pages, zooming in so that we could see the tiniest detail. Most amazing of all was that from the earliest pages of the Book of Kells to current manuscript design, margins and page layout is timeless. Traditional margins and layout were just as relevent now as in the tenth century.
Interspersed with choosing our words and script, designing our layout, learning the ins and outs of paper cutting and book design, Julian created a fun atmosphere of ruling pen work. In addition to learning to write with the pens, we looked at the many varied ways of using the non-traditional tools. Just something as simple as changing the weight with the letters could create a completely different look to your page. Our layout options were definitely increasing exponentially.
As the week progressed, we were able to present our work for a sort of semi-public critique. Rather than the usual one on one, table to table individual help, we placed, at first with some trepidation, our work under the camera. What a wonderful surprise for all of us. No matter what our level of expertise, Sheila and Julian found positive elements along with inspiration to improve. We all learned from twenty-six individuals and two master teachers.
Cheerio is an amazing place. You meet and make great friends. You can work anytime of day or night and the atmosphere of the mountains is guaranteed to put you in a creative mood. In addition to the instruction from fabulous mentors, we also learn from each other. Helen, Annie and Takako demonstrated Ranger Inks as we made small mock-up books to sew and Helen took an evening to help us learn suminagashi.
And I would be completely remiss if I didn’t add a bit about the food. Martyn is an amazing chef. From things like apricot glazed pork to all the salad choices to desserts that are to die for, he makes our week of artistic wonder a culinary delight.
I could write pages about my amazing weeks in the North Carolina mountains. Joyce and Jim Teta along with John Stevens, Martyn Armstrong and the folks at Camp Cheerio as well as a host of amazing instructors and students have teamed up for the past thirty years to make this one of the most amazing artistic experiences a calligrapher or book artist can attend. It’s truly a “calligraphic heaven on earth”.
In the previous post, I added that I’d cut my workshop papers to fit into a coptic bound sketchbook similar to the ones I’d made before.
There are seven signatures and just for fun, I included beads in the sewing. As in the other books, I will used this one for sketching, adding lettering, collage elements, etc. wherever the papers lead me.
This past weekend our guild hosted a marvelous workshop with Harvest Crittenden. There was much playing with walnut, coffee and other natural dyes. We experimented with bleach, salt, mica powders and even watercolor crayons. There were techniques for transferring laser copies of photographs with acrylic mediums, blender markers and contact paper. We made coffee clay ornaments and tried out various rubber stamping techniques. The final focus would be to create an antiqued square paper adhered to binder’s board with a smaller frame, similar to the one to the rear of the photo here.
It was great fun, but the real challenge is coming back home and finding out how to incorporate these techniques into one’s own work without becoming what I like to call a “workshop clone”. We’ve all been there. It’s so tempting to repeat what you’ve learned and suddenly you have a studio full of paste papers or fancy curlycue doo-dads.
That doesn’t mean you can’t make a frame and background. Here’s mine, which while unfinished, gave me a chance to try using acrylic pouring medium to transfer the photo here at home. It resulted in an interesting puddle of acrylic rather than the smooth flat acrylic skin you get when you brush on multiple coats of gel. Since it comes in only gloss finish, I added a coat of matte medium over the finished skin to take down the glare. Although I may never finish this project, the experimentation was great.
The ultimate goal in any workshop should be to take what works for you and see how you can use it in your own work. The paper we used was Arches text wove. I cut my experimental workshop pages in a 5 x 14 inch size so that I can include them in another of my coptic bound sketch books.
The photo to the left is a detail of one of the sketchbook sized pages where the paper has been bruised with a ruling pen, covered with coffee stain, walnut ink and instant coffee granuals. The transfer was done with contact paper, but I didn’t like the plastic look. When I peeled it off, it left a wonderful shadow. Happy accidents are always welcome.
To the right is a page from one of my current sketch books where I tried transferring a photo with the chartpak blender pens. I highly recommend these as an alternative to the very messy and smelly acetone transfer technique that some books suggest.
Another experiment involved using matte medium and artwork from cocktail napkins. This is lots of fun and the results were lovely, but probably not something I’d use in my original artwork since there could be copyright issues involved in using the artwork on the napkins.
All in all, it was a great weekend. Harvest is a master teacher and her techniques are all applicable to artwork from antique to modern. I enjoyed every minute and could spend hours experimenting and creating here in my studio.
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.
Laurie Doctor’s advice to our Cheerio group last spring was to make and keep some sort of sketchbook or journal and to not let a day pass without writing or drawing in it. I confess that the latter is easier said than done. Here are some of my more recent entries.
I have several books both horizontal and vertical since I most often use watermedia to write, paint or draw. That way I don’t have any reason to not keep going if one of them is waiting to dry.
For those of you new to my blog, I created three coptic bound sketchbooks using previously painted papers as well as blank pages. The signatures were designed with Bugra, Arches Text Wove (Velin) and Hahnemuhle Ingres.
It’s been a wonderfully busy fall. With the current batch of engraving finished and the garden put to bed, I’ve been able to get back into the studio. First, my week at Cheerio was once again absolutely. John Stevens is both master artist and superb teacher.
From broad edged to pointed brush and some things in between. No pressure for completed masterpieces, just letters. We made lockups and played with the brush as a design tool. The steel nib has it’s place, but the freedom of the brush is a joy to experience. The text is by Oscar Wilde:
Tread gently for she is near under the snow. Speak gently, she can hear the daisies grow.
Quite sad and without his usual snarkiness.
The assignment to the left was to create one word with the pointed brush. Then to place some smaller text below it. It was hard to choose a word that didn’t have any specific meaning – but Sheldon’s Bazinga seemed to fit the bill and why not pair it with a bit of Lewis Carroll’s Jabberwocky.
Even though the size is varied, this was all done with the same brush – a Kalish No. 3 Red Sable.
The brush a design tool is amazing. Even if you eventually used a different writing instrument, what other allows you this flexibility of size, shape, and weight with just one tool.
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.
Here’s something to do with all those papers that aren’t quite frameable art, but way too wonderful to toss away. The paper is Arches velin (text wove). Using watercolor, pencils, china marker and sumi, I’d made quite a collection of paper. Using precut Davey board from John Neal Books (5×7), I covered them using one of the half sheet papers. The inner signatures are made using the decorated papers, plain Arches text, and black Hahmemule ingres. Bound with a Coptic stitch using black book thread, I now have a small sketchbook to carry with me. You can find Youtube video instructions online in several places for the coptic stitch.
Thanks to Laurie Doctor for sharing her wonderful sketchbooks with us at Cheerio and spurring me to create some of my own. I promise to post some of the pages when I’ve added to them.
I had the great fortune of spending the weekend at Annie Cicales’s in Fairland, North Carolina with six other calligraphers studying all the ins and outs of working on vellum. We began with wonderful slunk (fetal or stillborn) calf skins hand chosen by Denis for us from Ireland. Then from cutting, sanding and sandarac to writing materials, backing papers and finally stretching and mounting, we each produced delightful 5×8 pieces.
It was an amazing three days of work interspersed with video presentations by Denis where we marveled at both the diversity of his work and the myriad ways he’s incorporated calfskin into the most contemporary of calligraphic work. Many thanks are owed to both Manny Murillo and Annie Cicale for all their hard work arranging and hosting us.