Sunday, June 11, 2017

Across the Miles

 Just finished a private tutorial session with a student across the miles. It was a delight to meet her this way and answer her quesitons personally as well as let her shape the lessons we chose to explore. It was inspiring to see how many notes she had taken and her practice work! What a delight. This morning she wanted to learn more about applying colour to a flourish and flourishing around corners.
 She also wanted to see the difference between a pastel background burnish and a watercolour wash as a background effect. I was happy to share my techniques with such a dedicated student. Later today I will package all of the material we have studied together over the past few weeks and ship them off to her for her reference.  I admit that I am not a huge fan of technology but I am grateful that it allows for this type of connection with a student that I was unlikely to meet in person. Enjoy this Sunday. Here in Canada, the sun is shining, the birds are singing and the gardens are blooming.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Home and Away

 Back home after a teaching weekend with the Chicago Calligraphy Collective. It was a great weekend meeting new students and seeing familiar faces. The venue was moved to The Irish American Cultural Centre which was a fascinating backdrop for the class. I could hear Irish music being practiced, strolled through the huge library of Irish books and even peeked in on a dancing class!

I did not photograph all of the tutorial projects we worked on but did manage to get a shot of the Florentine inspired pink foliate spray. We work through all of the stages of design and then painting these small, decorative sprays. 
Now I am in process of unpacking my tools and cleaning up the studio space. This is my longest stretch home before more travel begins in July. I am always feeling that my tools are familiar friends. I have those who travel with me and those who only come out to play while I am home. This is especially true of my palettes.
What have become the most lightweight and convenient are the Daniel Smith Dot Cards.
What a wonderful way to sample all of the colours before investing in the tubes of paint. My small John Neal palette of my favourite colours has been in use since November of 2016. Still lots of pigments on the card it will work for several more workshops. Without question, the most economical way of students getting the colours they need for my workshops which tend to have a large supply list! The Mijello travel palettes often accompany me on my teaching trips and are never far from reach here at home. They are extremely lightweight and convenient.
I believe I have the same palette addiction as I do journal addiction, so I seem to have a Mijello pallete in any colour and size that I could find!
The silver palette has more wells to fill and lots of room to mix the paint.
All of these Mijello palettes work well in my classes and for my miniature painting. My botanical studies though, required greater space to mix washes of watercolours. The simple white porcelain paint serves this purpose well.
Lots of mixing room ( and you know I have several sizes of these plates including one that is more like a platter!) and the surface allows for pools of washes that don't bead up they way they do on a plastic surface. Wonderful for at home work, but not remotely convenient for travel. The wooden paint box is an overindulgence in my need to see my colors!
The little half pans are numbered and then rest on the base of the box with glue dots to hold them in place. But be asssured that those glue dots are not permanent. Thankfully the numbering system has helped me as the box got overturned and needed to be sorted out again! So it is very cute, but not convenient for travel. It does come out to play here at home when I need very specific colours for botanical work. But too many choices is sometimes more trouble than it is worth. I don't limit myself to a double primary palette and do like adding pigments to my paint boxes. But all of the toys don't improve our skills. Careful study, attention to detail and the passion for the artform are far more important! All that being said, I love returning home and putting the travel friends alongside the home friends. I was equally grateful to be greeted by my lone blue anemone.
The only one to survive the squirrels and such a happy sight to see. A wonderful welcome home.

Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Life of A Journal

I know I have shared about my passion for keeping journals. I have them everywhere. If there is ever a worldwide shortage of journals, just open one of my studio cupboards. They are there in row upon row. Every size and binding colour! But inside, there is a common element...the grid squares.
 After all of these years of calligraphy, I still can't draw a straight line! The gridded squares really help with the planning.

They keep me centred and give me some reasonable lines to work with. As I flip through the pages of journals on the go and journals retired, I can see pencil record of my progress. I can watch skills evolve. The pages are personal. Often recorded in airports during long layovers. They are portable peace. Sometimes I add a hint of colour but most pages are just pencil. If you haven't already started a journal of your sketch ideas, thoughts or projects, I can't recommend it highly enough. Keep pencil, eraser and journal handy to capture inspiration or to process your ideas. See if it transforms your work. As you flip back through the pages  you record, watch your work evolve and be encouraged by the changes you see. The Leuchtturm 1917 is still my favourite journal to work in. The pages are a bit heavier than Moleskine and the grid lines are not intrusive.

Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Some Quiet

April is burgeoning here in Ontario. Tulips and poppies are starting to emerge from the soil. The backyard gazebo is back up and after a brief jaunt as it catapulted into the neighbour's yard during a windstorm, it seems ready for spring. A huge project in the backyard is underway. It will change the way I work if all goes well with it.

I just returned from my teaching trip at the Ink Academy in Berkely, California. The Berkeley City Club is a gorgeous building. I don't remember ever bonding with a building before. But it had so many touches that were completely endearing. Acanthus overload!

The architect Julia Morgan is a fascinating woman. I could not resist buying a book about her work. Gardens were around every corner and I was greeted with hummingbirds every day. It felt more like a retreat than a teaching weekend. But 31 students in class learned the joys of Italian Hand.

As I got back into the routine here at home, I was overwhelmed with my workload. Commissions remaining incomplete and hundreds of emails needing a response. Website issues now need sorting out as well. I need to be quiet for awhile and work a bit more slowly as I sort through all of my upcoming projects. Don't let the seasons pass you by without stopping to notice the small things. Be delighted by your surroundings. Take walks. Observe. Enjoy the peace. Happy April!

Thursday, March 16, 2017

LIttle Things

I just turned 50. I was greeted with a bouquet of pink flowers from a dear friend to celebrate my day.
It feels like such a milestone and strangely weird. I find that birthdays cause me to reflect a bit more than New Year's Day does. It is a turning of a page and a new chapter to explore. I started thinking about my calligraphic journey. I started it in 2003...I was 36. Everything seemed an uphill climb for me. I was so awkward with the pen and so new to the supplies that I needed. Now I am surrounded with supplies and make the pens that are used in this kind of work.
I don't seem to do anything half-heartedly! I spent my birthday working on a vellum painting, that sadly needs to be scraped off and started again. This art form still holds so many mysteries for me. I could acutally feel my concentration level decrease as I realized that the vellum painting was going to require some correction. Rather than stop, I just kept painting. So a bigger mess to sort out but it can be corrected. I know there are people who are caught up with the word master...but after 14 years devoted to this calligraphic world, I don't feel as if I have mastered anything. I feel like a perpetual student, continually exploring and experimenting. Some skills have become refined but others remain elusive. I am still excited about the lessons that I can learn. These past two years or so, I have been exploring botanical art. It has brought a new challenge to me as well as an appreciation of subtle and sensitive lines. It has clarified some thinking and observation patterns for me as well as increased my sense of wonder with nature. I took it on to be able to add a botanical element to my calligraphic work, and I feel light years away from achieving that goal. But in botanical art, I found a kind of "portable peace' that can come with me on my travels. Each teaching engagement has me armed with my sketchbook, pencils and a leaf or a petal. The world around me can be noisy, rushed and cluttered, but the small leaf represents so much peace as I try to capture its nature in my sketchbook. I feel so grateful to be able to take time to study these techniques.

When I started my journey in 2003, I was drawn into the calligraphic world through my fascination with the pointed pen. I wanted to explore Spencerian Script and Offhand Flourishing.
Both of these worlds are still part of me. I flourish on a daily basis but lately Spencerian has taken a back seat to Italian Hand. This spring, summer and fall, I will be dusting off Spencerian as I prepare to teach a workshop in Toronto.
So I am spending some quality time with Spencer again. As I revisit his work and his skills, I am even more convinced that he was influenced by Italian Hand. I would never have seen this connection a few years ago. Once again, the mysteries and discoveries of the pointed pen world continue to mesmerize me and draw me in a little deeper each day. So my 50th year begins with continued wonder, mystery and new discoveries to be made. I hope to remain lost in that sense of wonder and appreciation for the world around me. I promise not to turn 50 again and get so reflective in a blog post!

Sunday, February 26, 2017

Workshop and Tutorial News

Although it is still officially winter, my winter vacation is now over and I return to my full travel schedule beginning next weeked. I kick off in Ottawa, Ontario with a lecture on The Art of the Flourish and then a two day workshop in Italian Hand. The Poetic Pen workshop is so much fun to present. I love introducing Italian Hand to eager students. In workshop news, my schedule is fully booked for 2017 and 2018. 2019 and 2020 are almost full as well! So lots more travel booked. You can email me privately at for my 2017 travel schedule to see if I am coming close to your location. I continue to have so many students who can't get out to one of my workshops so I have been gradually taking private tutorial students through facetime or skype. These lessons are adjusted to each individual. I do need to see a specimen of your current work before I can take you on as a student. There is a waiting list for this process. Currently, I am taking students in Italian Hand or Offhand Flouirshing. I do have some pending requests for The Enchanted Letter and The Enchanted Meadow.  I am  fully booked for Spring and Summer. Italian Hand is presented in three or four sessions depending and Offhand Flourishing is presented in two sessions. You can email me for more details if you are interested. I am frequently away from home now for long periods of time and email correspondence will take
I am taking very limited students so I can keep up to their homework and be available to help them as much as I can. A very different venture for me. I have not been a big fan of the online format for calligraphic work, but my recent positive experiences with online botanical art courses have encouraged me to work with a few students.  I don't have any of the lessons pre-recorded and I am doing all the demonstrating live which is a far better fit for me than having a camera recording my words and strokes. The introvert in me can work with this format. I am not currently planning larger online presentations of any of the courses at this time as I really want to finish writing and creating the artwork for my books. So many projects, so little time!!! I will keep you updated as things progress. I really wish I had more time to dedicate to teaching individuals. I think the books in progress will go a long way to preserve my teaching methods for The Artful Flourish and The Enchanted Letter. Thanks for being so patient with me.

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Pure Love

Feeling reflective on Valentine's Day. I love my family, love my friends, love my country, and I love my work! I don' t think I could do this work if I didn't love it. I love the way the ink feels as it leaves the pen and hits the paper. I love the sound of the nib tines on the paper. I love the feel of art paper and knowing that it can take just about anything I can throw at it. I love every Victorian Curve that works out on paper. I love learning. I love process. I love fighting to learn something different and all the struggles it brings and I love practice. Sometimes there is more freedom in practicing something just for yourself than any other type of work. In practice you can explore what you love the most about the art. You can play and experiment. It all doesn't have to be pristine work. It can just be something to occupy your mind for a little while before you are called off to another task. Your workspace and desk is your sanctuary to explore in your practice time. All you have to do is show up. This post is dedicated to all of my friends who contact me with so little time to dedicate to this artform that they love so much. The time demands of life and obligations prevent them from being able to practice the way would like to. They look at instagram and facebook and get discouraged because they see so many people being able to create huge amounts of work. I would encourage you to take the pressure off yourselves and just do this as you are able. Savour the few minutes you have with pen in hand. Put it aside when you are too busy for it and return to it as often as you can. Nurture the love and passion you have for the art form. Don't apologize if you only have a few minutes to put ink on paper. Hopefully you will enjoy the experience all the more when you are able to sit down and devote some time to it. Be encouraged to explore whatever art form you enjoy at your own pace without any judgements on yourself if you don't see the progress you want to see. We all approach this art work differently. Our results differ widely. But the common denomiator is love. Do what you love, love what you do. Happy Valentine's Day my dear friends.

Monday, February 6, 2017

Revisiting Work

The studio needs a good clean up at the end of every day. But days get rushed and I often "misfile" a lot of my work in the interest of saving time. Not a great strategy for the long run. So often, I will have to devote weekends to doing a deeper cleaning of the studio. This weekend, I sat with several cups of coffee and went through stacks of files that had accumulated on my shelf. I always have good intentions for keeping files, but I definitely needed to turn my attention to this task. Over the course of the weekend, I found a lot of buried work in the files. Pages I had started to work on, even gilded, but then gave up part way through. Often I start projects for fun, but work demands take over so pieces are left unfinished. The view of these unfinished pieces takes place with fresh eyes. I feel differently than whan I started the piece so I am able to reflect from a new perspective. It's like looking at someone else's work. I can either see where I was going or not and from that perspective, I choose whether or not to keep the work. Lots went into the recyle bin but some were filed again to be completed as the mood takes me. I found a lot of drawing and older illuminations in the files. All of it was work that was just practicing a technique but it was wonderful to visit it again. It helps to see the work again with new eyes. What looked like failure pieces are really just part of the process of learning. The florals I worked on while trying to figure out strategies for using Duralar.
The paper holds wonderful tight lines from the coloured pencil but clogs easily and needs to be worked on from both the front and back of the paper. I can remember the struggle to learn how to use a new medium. I remember the struggle of trying to make the work look correct and remember the hours invested. They look completely different to me now and reflect the process of learning rather than the finished product. The vellum pieces have good points and bad points. What a learning curve with how to use washes of watercolour on a surface that can buckle with too much water.
These pieces teach me so much. They are illuminating in a completely different sense right now. I still regularly and faithfully purge my portfolio. I get rid of older work that I no longer want to fill my eyes or my mind. But I let it teach me before it is discarded. I started a new file to reflect the lessons I have learned. I wonder what that file will teach me the next time I visit.

Monday, January 23, 2017


Today is National Handwriting Day.
Each year I see it get a little more recognition as more and more practitioners of the calligraphic arts make their way to social media. I am so happy to see it there! Happy to see people pick up the pen and write. Delighted to see people become so enthralled with handwriting, journalling, calligraphy and the arts. It is wonderful to see all of the creativity. When I teach handwriting skills, I always work with the unique style of each student. My mantra is that your handwriting is as unique as your fingerprint or your voice. I don't believe in forcing it to conform to any existing system of penmanship. I have seen incredible penmanship in upright italic forms that I wouldn't dare change to a cursive form. I work on honing the handwriting so that it is consistent, legible and done with a reasonably light touch. I have students who are conviced that a fountain pen is their key to success in writing but they are often using a pen that is just too cumbersome for their hand. A simple switch to a lighter weight pen and often a finer nib, will often put their handwriting on the path to being much more legible. The first step toward good handwriting is finding the pen that you like to use, does not fatigue your hand and has a tip that is fine enough to suit your handwriting style. Most students are thrilled to hunt for just the write pen and I am no different! Today I used my Pilot Custom 912 Falcon Fountain Pen with Caran D'Ache Blue Night Ink. When it was time to address the envelopes, I switched over to my dip pen and used Ziller Wild Rose Pink. I am not a huge fan of acrylic inks, but love this new colour from Ziller.
I can't remember a time when I didn't enjoy writing. Even when I was working so hard to achieve a light touch or conform to the Palmer system that was presented, I enjoyed the task of uniting thoughts with ink on paper. It still gives me so much joy to take some time with this humble skill. Remember that your handwriting is a reflection of you. It has characteristics that are unique to you alone. It has a joy and vibrancy that only your hand can create. That should be celebrated!!! Have fun with your favourite ink, your finest paper and the search for the pen that makes the handwriting most enjoyable. Happy National Handwriting Day!

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

The Magic of Mail

This past holiday season, I was overwhelmed with so many cards coming from all over the world.
I wrote back to the best of my ability. Some addresses were really tricky but I did my best to write back. National Handwriting Day is coming up and I will post some thoughts about handwriting later this month.
I don't find nearly as much time to write these days, but whenever I am permitted the luxury, I love to correspond. The letters that came to me this season were savoured. I waited until I had the time to open them and enjoy the words on the page. I sat with a cup of tea and read your notes and it felt like I was visiting with you!
Thank you for thinking of me and thank you for writing.
This post is just to let my readers know that I appreciate every note that is sent to me. I love hearing from you and watching how your lettering is progressing.
We have such a wonderful art form that can span the miles in a very tangible way. If you find time this month, why not surprise someone with a letter?

Saturday, December 31, 2016

May You Flourish

Waiting to turn a new calendar page.
Wishing you all the best for 2017. May you flourish!!! Try something new, invest in yourself, believe in yourself and be yourself! I could go on and on, but just want to share my best wishes for 2017. Thank you for all that you have brought me in 2016. I look foward to new horizons in the coming year.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Best of 2016 and A Look Foward to 2017

This year has been a whirlwind. Lots of travel and tons of studio work. I have left many things undone that I wish I had accomplished this year but I will move them onto the 2017 agenda. I wanted to highlight some new favourites for me that became a big part of me this year. I spent a year drawing in coloured pencil with Wendy Hollender and her year of Botanical Drawing that she launched online. It was by far my best experience with online claasses. There were monthly deadlines to complete projects as well as critiques that happened in the online community. These two elements combined perfectly for me and kept me accountable to the deadlines. She also had a live monthly meeting where we could all connect online and ask real time questions and get answers. It was an amazing experience and one I am so glad that I had. My drawing skills are still novice but I learned much more about Botanical Illustration. I highly recommend her book Botanical Drawing in Color
. She is relaunching the same lessons in 2017 but they will be delivered in a different manner. More of a work at your own pace kind of class. I would highly recommend her teaching to anyone who gets the chance to study with her. As a result of my studying with her I have elevated Faber Castell Polychromos in my studio.
They are now my favourite coloured pencil to use. I am thrilled with their colour range, their vibrancy and their ability to blend with watercolour. They are an oil based coloured pencil and work far better for me than waxed based coloured pencils. I highly recommend them as an addition to your studio supplies. Another new addition to my studio supplies is the Rosemary and Co. Micro Detailer Brush.
This miniature synthetic brush has taken my painting technique to a new level. I can accomplish much finer detail on paintings as well as painted pens. Rosemary and Co. has become a beloved supplier for me! If you do place an order with them, be sure to request a catalogue as well as their newsletter. Both are wonderful. This year I worked exclusively with Miniatum Ink Gilding medium and Jerry Tresser's 23K gold leaf.
The combination of the two products gives a brilliant gilding result with very little effort. I highly recommend both products! As 2016 comes to a close, I am thankful for lessons that I learned and opportunities that I had for study. I will be launching new private online study opportunities in Offhand Flourishing and Italian Hand through Skype and Facetime in 2017. I will keep you posted. They will be on a very limited basis at first as I try to integrate them into my routine, but I am excited about the possibilites. Please email me privately if you are interested at I wish you all a wonderful Christmas and a very Happy New Year. I am looking forward to 2017!