Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Final Details

From start to finish, my project took 41 days! I started with the desire to really enter the working methods of the Boucicaut Master, an elusive and anonymous French Illuminator from the 15th Century. My portion of the border is far larger than the original. I worked at a size of 2 1/4" By 10 inches and I dramatically enlarged the image I found online to study the details. The purpose of studying this way and copying this manuscript was to see what I could absorb of the Boucicaut Master's attention to detail. I was not disappointed! By enlarging the original, I could see every detail. From the individual seed pods in the acanthus leaf centres, to the veining drawn on the stalks of the cornflowers to the curls and the part in the angels' hair! I learned how the shading was applied to the acanthus leaves. I could see several shades of lavendar and blue in the violets and I could see that how he painted the curves of the violet leaves, in fact he painted a ruffle on the violet leaf!
I invested over 30 hours in the project. The piece is almost entirely painted with a 000 Winsor Newton Series 7 Brush. Some of the larger areas were done with a 00 or 0 brush. It took 4 layers of watercolour to build up a jewel tone effect. My working method throughout the piece was moist brush rather than having a lot of water on the brush. One of the techniques I discovered was in the facial features and in the hands. Usually, I don't outline my work before painting. I save the outlining until the end if it is necessary. At first glance and even enlarging and studying this piece, I felt that it had not been outlined except in a few areas. But as I continued to study and magnify the image, I could see that the facial features and hands hand been outlined, with the features fully drawn and then a light wash of pigment was placed over top of the outlining. They white of the vellum was left for the eyes.
A great technique to remember. The final reward of this piece was the filigree work.
When I gilded the piece initially, it is hard to see a pattern or any sort of sense in the placement of gold. The gilding pattern in the filigree is random rather than repeated. But the Boucicaut Master took care to make sure each gilded leaf or orb was attached to a stem which in turn was attached to another part of the design. This gives such a continuity in the filigree. My illumination teacher always treats the filigree portion of a miniature as the reward for working through the piece. I felt very rewarded as I applied the filigree. I did not reference the manuscript for the filigree work. It is very intiuitive. In the end, the piece yeilded up some discoveries that would have remained hidden if I had not embarked on this journey. I enjoyed the study and the peace it brought over this festive season of the year. Although I invested time and energy, this piece feels as though it does not belong to me. I added one little touch ( other than adjusting the pug nose on the lower angel). Where the Boucicaut Master had further ornamented his filigree work with tiny drawn dots, I filled the dots with my Sakura Stardust pen! A little twinkle from this century, reaching back into his.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

2013 Christmas Video Up

Wishing all of my friends, students and colleagues a very Merry Christmas. Thank you for all of the encouragment and inspiration. Hope this holiday season is filled with peace for you all. The video reflects my usual practice time...with Oscar either perching over top of my work or very close by. Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Mid-December Morning

There are mornings when the thought of writing wakes me up and I have to get into the studio to play. This morning as the sun rose slowly, I found a blue/grey piece of Canson paper and a Tennyson quote that has been rolling around in my head. The house is quiet in the morning and I can work in peace. I mixed a new batch of ivory ink and wrote the words.
My straight holder was nearby and the Esterbrook 128 still has some life in it. December is an odd month for me. Lots of holiday tasks to take care of. I love to visit the shops to see their Christmas displays. My classes wind down for the end of the year and I find time to breathe. This morning the quote helped me reflect on those who I have met this year. So many wonderful students who have become my friends. I am so grateful for my experiences, my family, my friends, students and colleagues. Grateful for time spent working with the pen. Grateful that I still have so much to learn.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

The Image Emerges

I have spent my first week with the Boucicaut Master. I have spent 7 hours this week in the underpainting stage of the image. The underpainting stage consists of a light wash of the colours of the design. Traditionally, I paint the foliate features first but I started this miniature with the two features that will cause me the most trouble, the angels! Remembering that I enlarged this image quite a bit, I marvel at the skill of the Boucicaut Master. The first surprise that came to me was the angel at the bottom of the border. Without a doubt he is painted with a pug nose!
I will not include that nose on my little angel, but he brought a smile to my face when I saw that little nose. The top angel is painted in profile which is always a challenge for me. Each finger is accounted for. At least on the original.
I am struggling through the facial features and the finger positions, but I still have room to capture them properly. The underpainting stage is done to help capture the design before the details are painted in. The hands and faces of the angels are painted in Holbein Jaune Brilliant 1 and Jaune Brilliant 2. The underpainting was done in the following order and colors, Yellow Ochre, Olive Green, Cobalt Blue and French Vermillion. I am limiting my palette to my Senellier Pan colours and my Winsor Newton Pans. At the end of the week, I am still nervous about the angels but I am hopeful that I will find lots of joy in painting the foliate work!

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Enter the Project

I spend a profound amount of time in the illumination world. Next to my Ornamental Penmanship and Offhand Flourishing, studying and illumination take up the greatest portion of my time. This week, as I was going through my files, I had a crazy thought about trying do a portion of a manuscript that I loved. I wanted to do a Nativity or an Annunciation scene to mark this festive season but I soon found myself in the world of angel borders and settled on a small border.
Early in my illumination studies, we were taught how to transfer an image from an old manuscript and do our best to copy the design while bringing some of ourselves to the piece. I worked using that method from 2007 until 2011. In 2011, I started creating my own illuminations. This year's Christmas Card, The Gift Bearer is one such design. Based on techniques I learned in my illumination studies, but now drawing my own little creatures and foliate work.
But for this larger project based on the work of the Boucicaut Master, I wanted to capture the lines of the of the original illuminator and truly enter the piece. I have already made some discoveries about the piece that I wouldn't have found by observing it online. The first thing I did was enlarge the image to discover the treasues that it held.
Observe the little jewel like centre of the acanthus leaf! What a treat and a surprise that is lost in the small scale of the piece. I am still trying to confirm the original dimensions of this manuscript but my research is pointing to a size of 160 x 115 mm. Pretty tiny! The project I am working on is the angel border found on the right hand side of the manuscript. I enlarged the image to 2 1/4 x10 to explore the image. I am amazed at the intricacy found within this border. My first challenge has been to transfer and now gild this piece. I gilded this piece with Miniatum ink. I am using a piece of 140 LB Arches Hot Press paper.
As I paint it, I hope to update you on my trials and my discoveries as I try to enter the project. The thoughts I had at this transfer and gilding level were constant wonder at the eyesight capabilites of the original illuminator. How did he see those tiny little elements of his design. How did he apply the gesso so cleanly? He captured detail within detail brilliantly. As I transferred and gilded this morning, I worked in silence, surrounded by a sense of wonder and awe at the skill of Boucicaut Master. I hope to discover more about him as I continue to enter the project. Although I am using modern supplies to work on this project dating back to 1420, I will enjoy exploring this peaceful project. Might take me some time to complete but I will post my observations!

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

The Paper and The Pen

Thanks to the Penworld article a few months ago, my Mom phoned the local paper! They came for a visit last week and I had fun showing them my pens, nibs, inkwells, treasured envelopes and my work. Nice to have the mention of cursive handwriting!!!You can view the link here if you like!

Friday, November 29, 2013

Simple and Unadorned

Shaking off the excessive loops and frilly script of my Christmas envelopes. I found a steel blue piece of Mi-Tientes paper and some bleedproof white. The December words I found online seemed to match the unadorned script. I love Roundhand in all its splendor and when it is softly simplified. This piece was done with a straight holder and an Esterbrook 128 nib.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

A note from Lucille

I spend so much time promoting handwriting and singing the praises of the written word that I had to share this story with you. I just came home from a teaching trip to Chicago and sat down with my cup of tea to open the mail. When I came to this letter, I did not recognize the lettering but stopped to admire the border design.
As I pulled out the contents of the envelope a little note fell out from Mary Grassi, the daughter of my friend Lucille. I have had the pleasure of knowing Lucille through IAMPETH. For years, she was a faithful board member and admired for her playful 'swearing in of officers' at the General Business Meeting. I remembered our last conversation at the convention in Phoenix. She grabbed my hand and showed me the envelope I had sent her in the envelope exchange and apologized for being late in sending hers to me. I didn't know she was struggling with cancer. I had no idea. When her daughter's note spilled out from the envelope with the message that she had found this addressed envelope along with her Mother's note, I was moved to tears!
I can still hear Lucille's voice in my head as I read her words and I can touch her handwriting. A kind message from a kind friend. I am so grateful that I have this letter to cherish along with her memory. Later today I will find the time to thank Mary in writing for this gift. Lucille wrote meaningful words on her note..."life gets in the way of my plans." I know that phrase well and take it to heart during this busy season. Just had to pass on this note with my blog friends to encourage you as you make plans to write. Cherish your friendships! Had to include a shot of the mail I opened along with Lucille's note! I am so grateful for my friendships.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

The Fountain Pen and The Art of Slowing Down

I got an email several weeks ago through the Iampeth website asking if I would contribute thoughts about handwriting and fountain pens. I eagerly responded to the writer and soon found myself on Skype to a writer in England. She asked me questions about handwriting and using a fountain pen and both are becoming a large part of my daily routine. I didn't set out to collect fountain pens, but somehow found myself with three of them!
They beckon to me at Phidon Pens and I have my eye on a Lilliput pen which is one of the most adorable fountain pens I have seen! I am enjoying changing the colours of my ink and when the Rembrandt Visconti pen is my hand, I feel so privileged to be able to use it. The interview appeared online this week and my thoughts about handwriting and slowing down have been recorded. I feel like a walking experiment as I approach the busiest season that I have ever found myself in and still reaching daily for pen and ink. I still hold my position that in the midst of the hustle and bustle of the pre-holiday season, writing and calligraphic art is like meditating on paper. I can feel a physical difference as I slow down and tranfer thoughts and words to paper rather than get caught up in the speed of life around me. I may detatch digitally for periods of time in the coming year to catch my breath mentally and physically! I have found other calming projects to write about as well. Right now I am so thankful for paper, pens and friends to write to. Hope you enjoy the article.

Saturday, October 26, 2013

The Shallows: Level Two Handwriting Class

Packing my travel bag now getting ready for level 2 of my handwriting class. Much of the backstory in putting this handwriting class together has come from Nicholas Carr's book The Shallows. The book prompted research into more books about neuroplasticity, multitasking, digital natives and mindfulness. A surprising link is handwriting!! Armed today, with fountain pens, dip pens, ink, stationery, an ipad and Monteverde Stylus pen I am ready to rage against the machine! I have a love/hate relationship with technology. I love the capabilities, the information, the tools it offers in my work and my sense of connecting with my colleagues and friends. But it comes with a price. It tasks our chief central resource...our ability to focus. This class is always exciting. I love hearing the stories of my students, and watching them reclaim their handwriting heritage!

Saturday, October 19, 2013

The Magic of Writing

As a calligrapher I get paid to write. From a birthday card to a large poem, with or without flourishes, sometimes with gold leaf and sometimes without. Whatever the commission, they have never felt like work to me. But beyond my routine of teaching and commission work, I write for the joy of writing. It may be in a journal. I bring a Blackwing journal and a Sky Blue .04mm Slicci pen with me on my walks. Sometimes I find a spot to sit and read the words of John Muir. I take a few minutes to record some of his illustrative passages. His words are peaceful and meditative and lend themselves to the gentle rhythm of handwriting. This month marks nearly a year of teaching handwriting classes at Phidon Pens in Cambridge. I've lost track of how many students have gone through the program. This morning, we will continue our handwriting classes while a new class in Letter Writing is launched this afternoon. I can only describe the process of writing letters as magic, enchanting or charming. The thought to engage with a friend or colleague hits me out of nowhere. I pen my thoughts on paper. I letter an envelope to help carry the thoughts across the miles to my friend. As I walk the letter to the post office, it begins its journey. I never know when it will land on my friend's doorstep or what type of day they are having when they read the letter. A simple pleasure and a simple joy that we can share that is non-technical and so graceful. As much as I love the convenience of my computer, email and technology, my letter writing is a push back against the harsh digital glare of a screen. A glimpse back at a gentler time that I know I have romanticized. I travel to my class this morning armed with dozens of letters that I have received over the years. Thank you to all who have written to me and thank you for the pleasure that you bring to me when I sit at my desk to write back.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Spencerian Zen and Offhand Flourishing

Today I sat down at my cluttered work desk. I didn't have a lot of time to work, I should have been doing other tasks, starting with tidying my workspace but the pen called me! Spencerian Zen is a term my friend Michael Sull used at his Spencerian Saga. We would watch him approach a blank paper and work on a piece of ornamental penmanship from start to finish without any pre-planning or idea in mind for the look of the final piece. It is this process that is the root of true offhand flourishing. I try to tell my students this in as many ways as I can, but the truth of the matter is that while I flourish, I am not aware of any thoughts in my head. As Ralph Kramden would say" they can examine my head, and you know what they will find.......nothing!!!" True Offhand work is not pre-penciled. It is not designed. It just happens.
In this particular piece, I roughly centred the lettering with a chalk line and established my boundary the same way. The capital W was executed rapidly by throwing the stroke away from my body. The rest of the piece was done without interruption and finished in 15 minutes. The process is the reward.
While the pencil has a place in designed work, I was introduced to the art of offhand flourishing without even dreaming that the pencil might have been included in the process. There is a freedom and joy that comes from spontaneous work. In the end, if errors occur or you are unhappy with the result, it is good to know that this is ink on paper and you can try again in your next little window of opportunity.

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Ink on Paper

October 1st already! Time to update the blog. My life is overwhelming at the moment as my classes are starting up again, I work on the Iampeth conference and watch my October calendar fill to capacity. I was reminded this evening of the time outs I often gave myself regularly to retreat to the coffee shop and just work with my pen in solitude. Something about the ambient noise of people chatting and hearing espresso brewing was condusive to my work. I need to take more of those time outs regularly! This evening, I shut my studio door and opened a new bottle of Edelstein Amber Ink. I was given the gift of a Visconti Rembrant fountain pen and the Amber ink matches it very well. But the first work out I gave the ink was with my Spencerian 1 and my snakewood straight holder on Maruman Imagination paper. The fountain pen ink feels different than McCaffery's as it flows out of the pen. It is transparent and rich in colour. It doesn't quite deliver the hairlines that McCaffery's does but the Maruman paper could take the pressure and the ink had very little bleed. Fun to play with these inks and enjoy their vibrant colours. Happy to fill my fountain pen with it. The hand that I was practicing is my English Roundhand. My caps were getting very loose as I progressed down the page. Happy October 1st.

Monday, September 2, 2013

Juliet the Jay

Part of working outdoors this summer was getting to know the local families of birds. Not being able to distinguish the male jays from the female,I named every blue jay that came to the feeder Juliet.
There are still seven baby jays that frequent our feeder. These are the clowns of the bird world. They are very clumsy barely being able to balance themselves on the branches. I could have sworn that they had a little patch of pink on their cheeks but as they grew older, that patch has disappeared. They all try to feed themselves at the feeder, each waiting until their sibling has finished. I used to think they were quite aggressive but they have shown themselves to be patient and timid although their voices are very loud. I tried to capture the beauty of Juliet the Jay on vellum. This little piece measures 2 1/2" x 1 1/2". Still using Marie Angel's techniques to make the Jay as realistic as possible. I also used a magnifier to really see the details. This piece was done with my Escoda 3/0 brush and gilded with Miniatum Ink and 24K gold. Holbein Horizon blue and Lilac were integral to the palette. Shading was done with Prussian Blue and Payne's grey.I am learning so much in exploring this technique while still enjoying these tranquil days. Summer is definitely waning though. I will back in teaching mode in two weeks time.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

The Carolina Wren

I have spent every possible moment I had this summer in my little outdoor sanctuary. I love my studio but Oscar loves it too and his favourite thing lately has been to lie down on my hands while I am working. He also loves a fresh sheet of paper and thinks it is his job to bruise it before I start working. I still take him outside on the leash to let him explore and last week when I took him out I saw my first Carolina Wren.
The song from the little bird is positively enchanting They are loud, fast and very musical. There were at least six of them in my weeping pea tree before Oscar started climbing the tree. But one of them lingered for nearly 20 minutes.
I was able to observe him carefully and I wanted to try to capture him in watercolour. I first thought the Wren would be a good addition to my Enchanted Meadow series but I wanted to work slightly larger and capture as much detail as possible. This piece is on vellum. Finished size is 3"x2". I gilded the piece with Miniatum Ink and 24K gold. The colour palette for the wren was yellow ochre, brown ochre, burnt sienna, burnt umber, sepia and payne's grey. I used a moist brush technique to build up the layers. There are several layers.
The piece is done entirely with my 3/0 Escoda 1212 Sable brush.I am enamoured with the work of Marie Angel and I used the limning techniques described in her book Painting For Calligraphers. The outdoor sanctuary has brought many birds for me to observe this summer. I hope to capture a few more with this technique to remember such a wonderful summer of sights and sounds.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Logo Design For Iampeth: Created By Don Marsh

This year has a completely different work load in store for me. I have committed to my usual local teaching venues but I have cut down on my travel venues to do the work as President of Iampeth. One of the first decisions I made was selecting the designer of our new logo. If you are not familiar with his work, please let me introduce Don Marsh. He is a Cincinnati based artist, designer, calligrapher and author. Don is a long time friend and his work has been admired by many of us online. His professional work may be seen on branding for Febreeze, Butterball and John Morrell among many others. Don began his career as an illustrator in 1970 and by 1980 his professional focus was exclusively letterforms, especially for commercial use. His passion for letterforms is as great, if not greater, today as it was 33 years ago. I have long admired and appreciated his design skills and his knowledge of the history of English Roundhand. He is passionate about the history and progression of script lettering and is so generous in sharing his knowledge and skill. It was so exciting to watch him draft and complete this beautiful logo that Bickham himself would be proud to display. Enjoy the abundance of ovals in this elegant design and please visit Don’s website at or find him on Facebook to see his beautiful calligraphic artwork. I look forward to putting this logo to good use at our conference. It is the first of many wonderful things I have in store for you.” Heather

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Miniatum Ink

I will never depart from my love of the Victorian era. I know they overdo everything they but their romance of the whimsical and the ornate is fascinating. I still take a weekly trip to the antique shop to see if I can find a doily that needs to be resucued and repurposed. I am still known to take out the finest bone china teacup for tea in the garden for one in the afternoon. There is something so delicate and graceful about the ornamentation they choose to put on their pillowcases, china patterns and stationery. This little angel was inspired by a Victorian Scrap. I was sparked by the idea of putting the foliate work around the intial similar to my Enchanted letterforms.The initial measures 2" x 1 1/2", on vellum with Ziller Buffalo Brown Ink, Watercolour, Miniatum Ink and Pastel.
But the delight of the design is the Miniatum ink. It looks like Pepto Pink in the bottle.
Flows through a pointed pen or ruling pen beautifully. Has all the ease of use and adhesion power of my beloved Rolco with the increased shine of Instacoll. It is a delight to use but it is more expensive than the PVA based Rolco. I pay $29 for 32 oz. of Rolco. I got nearly 8 years out of my last 32 oz bottle and it was usable to the last drop. The Miniatum ink is $25.50 for 50 ml. The glow it creates with the gold is worth the extra. I will continue to experiment with this but so far, I love how it works and shines. I think will be able to create a diaper pattern effect by alternating the Rolco with the Miniatum ink. So much fun!

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Time for Transitions

I have been spending a lot of time reorganizng my home and my studio. I have cleared out over all kind of unused art supplies, papers and books that haven't been utilized in years. I am learning to give myself broader margins in my work and in my life. Just finished reading a book that talked a lot about the "white space" that is needed in our lives. It has affected my work. I opened up a larger work space in my studio by clearing out the "stuff" than enclosed my space. I gave myself much more space to work on this piece. The paper is 12" x 14" Fabriano Artistico. Rather than flat gilding with Rolco, I used Instacoll to raise all the gold. Rather than my default ink of McCaffery Brown, I used the bolder Old World Iron Gall Ink. I brighted up my palette with some turquoise. No doubt influenced by my time in New Mexico. The script is bolder than my usual Spencerian. I used a Spanish influenced style of Roundhand fashioned after the hand of Ramon Stirling. This really is a transitional time for me as I take over as Iampeth president. I spend a lot of time working toward next year's conference but I am approaching the job with determination to leave white space in my life for personal work, study and those online lessons which are still in progress! The white space lesson is a great stress reliever. The quote I used in this piece reflects the time I have spent in nature this summer. The season flies by so quickly in Canada. I try to observe the changes in the garden every day.

Friday, July 5, 2013

E is for Everything in Order!!!!

My last official piece of work that needs to be shipped before traveling to Iampeth. Starting July 14th, I take over the role of President of Iampeth and Everything in Order will be my motto for the year! Looking foward to the challenge! This piece represents the first time I have succesfully gilded with Instacoll. My theory has been that gold will stick to anything except instacoll. I have no idea why it was successful this time. But I am grateful. This pen drawn initial is 2 1/4" high on Fabriano Artistico paper. On its way to my dear friend Elaine who sent me a surprise gift this week.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

The Rhythm of Writing

Since November of 2012, I have been teaching handwriting classes at a local stationery store. It has been an absolute pleasure to deliver the classes and meet so many wonderful people. I have met people who have made handwriting part of their daily rhythm. The class has been delivered in three levels as well as an introductory course for children. Since November, I have been diligently searching out articles online and reading books about handwriting, the neuroplacity of the brain, the digital age and its effect on our minds, etc. The digital age is real and demanding and definitely here to stay. But the more I study the effects of our fast paced lives and digital demands, the more I am convinced that the simple practice of handwriting can bring calm into our lives, restore a peaceful state of mind, help restore focus and a multitude of other benefits.It has not exactly been my Walden experience, but the mindful practice of writing has definitely brought a lot of peace and calm to me over the past few months. I share this with the hope that you will include the act of handwriting in some small way into your daily rhythm. In my level one class, their challenge is to write and mail and note to anyone they choose within one week of the class.
In level two, one of their challenges has been to keep a handwritten daily to-do list. And in level three, their challenge was "Not a day without a line", which was a quote I came across in a Victorian handwriting manual. It encouraged a one line a day diary. I hope you will try at least one of the challenges to incorporate the rhythm of writing in your lives. With gratitude to Mano and Baldeep at Phidon Pens for having the vision for the handwriting classes, my wonderful students and to Platt Rogers Spencer, the hero of the story.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Process Pictures

Every now and then I am asked to talk about my process of work. Since 2010, I have been carrying a journal and mechanical pencil with me wherever I go. I have several of them on the go. These 5 were within closest reach in the studio. They have transformed my process when it comes to designing work. My flourishing work still remains spontaneous and without pre-planning. But larger work, engrossings, Enchanted Letters and Enchanted Meadow pieces get their start in my journals. My Leuctturm Journal with the grid lines is filled to page 207 of a 250 page Journal. I find myself trying not to fill it up! It has been my travel companion for these past 3 years, records the questions that students have at my workshops, hold the roughs of every Enchanted Letter I have designed, has my recipe for making ivory ink, contains handwritng exercises for my penmanship classes, border designs and the list goes on and on. Now I don't know how I could ever travel without it as it has become some a wonderful reference tool for me! I guess I will be brave and fill it up and hope the next gridded journal proves as valuable to me. Even the process of keeping a journal is evolving in my art studio. The pencil sketch now serves me best as a rough draft of my finished piece. In the past, I would have used my sketch to take a tracing or a scan for my final piece. I find though, that the tracing process has a deadening effect on the final piece. I am finding it better to capture ideas in my journal and plan a design, but my recent Enchanted Letter designs are drawn freely on my final art paper. I certainly didn't stray far from my original sketch idea.