Walnut, Sumi and Gold.

I love to make backgrounds.  I know people who enjoy the paste paper process, others who enjoy suminagashi.  I like watercolor paper, sumi and walnut inks with a bit of Schminke or laid gold thrown in for fun.  I work wet-in-wet on half sheets of watercolor paper that I can later cut down. I like the wet technique because half the fun are those wonderful surprises you find when the paper dries.  Here are a few to whet your appetite for something simple.


Why Use Good Materials?

When I first began as a calligrapher in the 1970’s, my entire studio consisted of a drawing table, slant board, duplicator (nowadays copier) paper, Osmiroid pen, Pelikan 4001 ink, rulers and pencils.  For nice work, we used bristol board. A lot of my work involved paste-ups, rubylith film and professional copying for publication.  Other things like envelope addressing and filling in certificates were standard fare. I have to admit that I never gave a thought to the ink fading or the paper disintegrating.

Now years later and a whole lot wiser, I know that it should be one of the first things one considers.  Take a look at the piece below.  It’s Dr. Martin’s Bleedproof White, Daniel Smith Iridescent Watercolors and Canford Black Paper. Click on the thumbnail and look a bit closer.  See that slightly lighter black oval? That’s the place where the matte covered the black paper while it was framed.  The piece was on display for less than a month and never in direct sunlight.  Wouldn’t you feel badly if you sold this to someone and a year or so down the road the black paper simply faded away?

Canford is a beautiful shade of black and wonderful to write on.  But it, along with MiTientes fades in the sun and fairly quickly as you can see.  Not a big deal if you’re practicing or jotting off a quick greeting card. But not for a piece you spend hours on and one that you’d like to last.  And it’s not just paper than can cause problems.  Ink and paint can also fade or change color with time.  Reds are notorious for turning this ugly shade of brown.  And some ink, like oak gall, can actually eat away at your paper.  Our local historical society is currently in a race against time to preserve documents written in the 18th and 19th centuries where the ink is literally eating holes in the paper.

How do you know then what to use?  Paper should be acid-free. Paper designed for printmaking and watercolors from good mills such as Arches, BFK, Fabriano, etc. may be a bit more pricey, but it won’t deteriorate with time.   If you’re in doubt about a dyed paper, take a small strip, cover half with a piece of cardboard and hang it in a southern window for a month or so.  Like the Canford above, the exposed portion will fade in the sun.

What you paint and write with is as important as the support.  Acidic inks such as oak gall will eventually rot the paper underneath. Ink in markers or designed for fountain pens are usually dye based rather than pigment and often will fade or change color.  So if you haven’t learned to load a dip pen with a brush, now’s a good time.  You’ll have a whole new range of materials available to you such as watercolor, gouache, acrylics and caseine.

Buying pigment based materials isn’t without its pitfalls.  There is good information available online, or in books such as Hillary Page’s or Michael Wilcox’s watercolor books, about pigments are stable and those that are considered “fugitive”.  A good rule of thumb is that if the label doesn’t list the pigments, you probably don’t want to buy it.  For instance, alizaron crimson is a fugitive red.  Its color will shift with time to a rather dull brownish red, either alone or mixed with other colors.

Lastly, it always pays to purchase quality art materials.  Artist quality paint will cost a bit more, but in the long run because they have more pigment and less filler, will give you a better result.  Meanwhile use up that inexpensive paper, markers and dye based inks for practice or give them to the grand-kids to play. Who knows you may have another budding artist in the making.

Studio Tip – Paper Storage

Acquiring paper is addicting.  Organizing it in a small studio can be quite a challenge.  Here are a few ideas that work for me.  First, make labeling a habit for watercolor, printmaking and other plain papers.  There’s nothing more frustrating than finding a paper you love to work with and being unable to remember what you purchased.  For large sheets, I often buy in bulk and just keep it flat in it’s original labeled shipping plastic.  But when I cut them down, I take a pencil and lightly mark a corner so I can keep track of what it is.  It can erased, cut off or just left under the matte when you frame.


I don’t currently have room for a flat file to store large sheets of paper.  So I’ve opted for a dual solution.  Lightweight papers are hung with clip hangers on a clothing rack, both purchased at our local Target.  It’s much easier to sort through them that way and you can roll it around and out of the way.   It’s not ideal, and  papers that are too heavy will fall on the floor,  but since most will be torn down and used for collage it’s not really important that they stay perfectly flat.  Rice papers that can be rolled are stored in the flat boxes readily available at places like Target and Walmart.  Heavier papers such as Arches Cover and watercolor stock can then be laid flat on top.

I should mention that there is something wondrous in watercolor sizing that attracts small animals. You can imagine I was none to pleased to find the corners of five sheets of 300# Arches cold press eaten by my favorite poodle! I now  make sure the plastic is secure.

Lastly, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a bit about canvases.  Rice paper and canvas make a lovely combination but they also need somewhere to dry.  Once again, necessity was the mother of invention. My studio is an amalgam of a furnace room, laundry room and 50’s basement “social room”. The clothes line is perfect for paste papers and an inexpensive drying rack works for canvases.


Silently, the Stars (detail)

Some might ask which comes first, the text or the art?  Like the proverbial chicken and egg, there is no right answer.  In this case, although I have used this text many times, the art was the inspiration for the words. The canvas is 10 X 24 gallery wrap.  The medium is collaged rice papers which have been stained or painted with sumi ink and Daniel Smith relief inks.  The writing is ruling pen and white gouache.

Silently, one by one in the infinite meadows of heaven, blossomed the lovely stars, the forget-me-nots of the angels. 


Henry Wadsworth Longfellow (1807–1882) Longfellow was one of the most popular 19th century American poets.

To view the piece in it’s entirely click on the thumbnail to the right.


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.

New studio tips

Artists, and especially those involved in the calligraphic arts, are by nature a sharing group.  Many of us can be found on message boards such as Cyberscribes, IAMPETH and Ornamental Penmanship.  They are great places to meet other artists and we often share tips and techniques. When I respond to a post, I have sometimes received requests to share my answers in guild newsletters as well.  So I thought I might add a category here where I can share some of those little tidbits of knowledge that I’ve picked up over the past thirty years; occasionally from other artists, some from workshops and a great many from that old word “experience”.

Here’s one for today: When I stock up on ink that I use often, such as Dr. Ph. Martyn’s Bleedproof White, I label the top of the container with the date purchased. I use a waterproof marker (white works on the black lids). This way I always open the oldest stock first to avoid finding a dried out container of ink or paint.

Wine and Art

I’m a saver, some might even say hoarder, so there are often random bits of paper or unfinished canvases roaming about my studio. Sometimes it’s a canvas that just isn’t working and it can be tempting to toss it out or paint over. Several were just lying around last fall when I needed a piece for an upcoming exhibition.  Staring at this one, I started to randomly associate words with the visual.  Words such as trees, paths and roads ultimately led to the Frost text used here and, like wine aging in a cask, partially worked canvas became art.


iPhone Doodling

It’s going to take me a few days to really get the hang of this blogging thing. Meanwhile, if you have an iPhone there are several apps that allow for mindful (I was going to say mindless) doodling. It’s relaxing and great fun. The best part is being able to save one’s ramblings for the idea files.

Calligraphy, Lettering Arts and Music Engraving

I’m Sandy Wagner, an Indianapolis-based artist and music engraver.  Although I have been a professional calligrapher for more than 30 years, my artistic works now also extend to painting, collage and
the lettering arts. Additionally, I work as a professional music engraver.

Whether you’re planning an event that needs that perfect invitation, in search of inspirational calligraphic art, or looking for that perfect wall hanging, I would be delighted to work with you.

This blog will feature my work, my inspirations and links to current news and events fellow artists and musician might find helpful.

Thanks for visiting; I hope you’ll stop by often!