Monday, December 29, 2014

Annus Mirabilis: May You Have a Year of Wonders

Annus Mirabilis is Latin for year of wonders. If you look it up on Wikipedia you can see a list of years that were considered to be spectacular enough for historians to label them annus mirabilis. The term first appears in print in a poem by John Dryden in the year 1666. He used it to describe his relief that the year that contained the devil's numbers (666) hadn't included any greater disaster than the Great Fire of London!

I do love arcane words and the nuance of words in other languages. I love words that encapsulate big ideas in just a few letters. I love words that come out of the past and take on new meaning and usefulness. I like words that may be passe but are worth saving just because they are different and  make people stop and listen. I like made up family words that are like a code or short hand. Words like agamai (loosely translated from Ancient Greek meaning astonishment, wonder and delight, shared with me by Georgia Angelopolous), susseration, whilst (a word my husband is trying to save), succulent, gription, petrichor....

Last year I was introduced to the idea of choosing one word to encapsulate my intentions for the year to come. I was intrigued by the idea. I'm not much for resolutions but choosing one word seemed doable. I chose reconnect. In the busy, busy world we live in it is easy to become quite isolated doing stuff, to not find time for actual people. We started to have more people in for simple dinners and time to talk. My husband got tired of suggesting I join Facebook and just signed me up and my, did that get me connected in a hurry! I took time to go back to exploring and playing with my art toys and managed to reconnect with the joy of creating just for fun. Having my husband around full time for the first time in our marriage has been one of the reconnection bonuses this year! Altogether it has been a year of ups and downs, changes in the family and challenges. As Zora Neale Hurston said, there are years that ask questions and years that answer. This has certainly been a year that asked a great deal of me but all that reconnecting helped. It was the perfect year for that word.

So now it is time to choose a word for this year. I've thought of lots of them but haven't settled on just the right one yet. There hasn't been one that just clicked, that said it all. I want a word that means digging deeper with the expectation of joy and discovery. What about you? What word would you choose?

For the world, I want an Annus Mirabilis. And I want the miracle to be peace, understanding and acceptance. And if we could all have our own Annus Mirabilis at the same time that would just be icing on the cake!

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

My Wish For You Is A Little Peace

I've thought a lot about peace this fall. It is a theme that has been ever-present in my mind. The world is awash with turmoil. I'm not sure if it is worse than it has been over the centuries or if we are just more aware of it because of the relentless news coverage or the fact that it is being served up on our own doorsteps, but I am feeling it more this year. So my message over this holiday season is "Peace". I want us to find ways to insist that our leaders find non-violent ways to settle international disputes, I want us to find ways to take leadership roles to make race a non issue, I want women to stand up around the world and make their communities safe with the help of the many men who honour and support that cause.
But I also want something simpler for all of you, something that is easier to attain. I want you to find time in the hectic weak ahead to experience peace within yourself. Time to have a quiet cup of hot chocolate or a wee dram of good Scotch, whatever would give you pleasure. Time to put on some quiet music and read a good book or time to lace up your skates or go for a long walk with a good dog - again, whatever would give you pleasure. I hope you have time to snuggle up with a small child to read them a story, or with a teenager to watch a good movie or with your favourite  fur baby or with your significant other for a long kiss. In other words, I want you to experience a bit of peace on your home turf. My sense is that if we can find peace for a little bit each day for ourselves we may find ways of offering it to others as we move into 2015.

Merry Christmas! Happy Hanukkah!  Blessed Winter Solstice! Happy Holidays! But most importantly, Peace be with you and yours!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Instant Graticraftation

I'm excited! Really excited. Today Moote Points kicks off a new line. We are calling it Instant Graticraftation.

We know you want great instructions for interesting paper arts projects and we know you want them NOW! You don't want to wait for the post, it is just too slow, to say nothing of too expensive. We've dipped our toes in the electronic waters over the past year with our eBook Tangled Garden series and we are thrilled with your response. We know it is time to jump right in and we've been waiting for just the right project and just the right time. Today is the day!

Our first project is called PAX Dove. Pax is a wonderful 3D bird that can be made by anybody who can use a pair of scissors, and I do mean anybody! No complicated folding! This bird can be assembled in the blink of an eye and then it can be disassembled to fold flat for storage or mailing. It is truly amazing what one piece of paper can do when you know the simple trick. Imagine what you can make with all those wonderful papers you've been creating once you learn how to make PAX! The pattern includes full instructions, photos of ideas for how to use the bird and three patterns for different sizes and shapes of birds. The PDF is seven pages in full colour and prints on standard letter size paper. You will find the pattern here on our Projects page:

Oh, and there is one more thing. Today I have started a Facebook page called Instant Graticraftation. I want to build a community of paper artists on this page where students who have taken classes with me, customers who have purchased our books and our new project PDF's and like minded artists can post images of their work to inspire and delight us all. Check it out. I'm hoping by the time you read this that Dorian Eng and Alice Hendon have posted the PAX birds they made when they so graciously took time to test the instructions.

And without further ado, PAX!

Wednesday, November 12, 2014


Bodacious. The year I turned twenty someone used that word to describe me. I had no idea what it meant. I looked it up. I certainly didn't see myself that way.

Fast forward to 2013. Colorado Springs. The Summit, the international calligraphy convention. It is book signing night and I am sitting adjacent to Lisa Engelbrecht. In addition to signing her books she is offering to write calligraphic tattoos on the arms of fellow calligraphers as a tribute to Georgia Deaver who had started the tradition of 'inking' her friends years before. Everyone was on an emotional high that night. There was great laughter and camaraderie as is so often the case at our conventions. It took me a while but I finally warmed to the idea of some ink on my arm. But what to have her write? I though on it for a bit and suddenly the word appeared: bodacious.

Lisa loved it and she did a phenomenal job of lettering such a long word on such a short arm.
The next morning I was careful to keep my arm dry in the shower because I wanted to preserve my ink to show to my class. There was much fun to be had explaining what it meant.  I was safely in the midst of my tribe and laughed along with everyone.

The next morning I wasn't careful in the shower. I was heading home, it was time for the ink to disappear. But for some reason the ink didn't budge. Off I went to the airport with a very splashy, very real looking tattoo. I'm used to being practically invisible out in public, happily flying about under the radar if you will. Not that day! Ticket agents, security guards, the pourers of coffee, fellow travellers....everybody noticed me. The wait for the plane was endless - in fact after many hours the flight was cancelled altogether. I found myself looking for alternative ways to get to Denver for a newly ticketed flight to Toronto the next day. The United agent didn't know how I was going to get there and truly didn't care. There were about a dozen of us from the conference who found ourselves in the same situation. So I channelled all that bodaciousness I had been feeling because of my tattoo and called a limo company and talked the dispatcher into finding a van that could drive us to Denver. I asked my sweet husband to find a budget hotel where we could sleep. I even asked to ride shotgun on the trip into Denver!

The next morning the ink stayed in place despite vigourous scrubbing in the shower. Again I got lots of attention at the airport. Again my flight was late and by the time I was finally heading for home the only thing that was feeling bodacious was the skin under that ink.

The tattoo lasted a full week. My favourite part of this whole story happened in a little fruit market in a small town north of the city. The store employs a handful of young teenage boys who stock shelves, clean the floor and carry out groceries. I rarely even notice them. But this day one of them was trailing me as I shopped, finding ways to stay near my cart while he straightened signs, reformed piles of lemons, picked up random leaves around the lettuce...Just before I headed for the check out he spoke to me. He wanted to know about my tattoo, where I'd had it done, who had designed it. He thought it was the coolest tattoo he had ever seen and he was saving to have one done when he was old enough. I gave him my business card and told him to contact me if he ever wanted to have Lisa design one for him. I've never heard from him and now if I do, well, sadly I won't be able to follow through.

I want to thank Lisa for helping me claim my bodaciousness after all these years. Even after the tattoo faded I was left with a little more pluck. I've added it to the list of internal descriptors that I use to pump myself up when I'm feeling low. It helped me add "she who swims with penguins" to my list of accomplishments. But that story is one for another day.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Lest We Forget

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month. 

As a child this sentence held such resonance and magic. It was laden with meaning even if I didn't really understand what it meant. No matter who said it I heard it in a with overtones of Churchill. It was biblical, epic, understood deep in the bones.

My mother was an only child but her father came from a family of thirteen. I called them all uncle and aunt, no need to say great. They were all veterans of the war having either fought or worked gruelling shifts, with war-rationed bellies, in factories that supplied the men at the front.  Having survived the Depression in a family that had nothing, they gave everything to the war effort. When Remembrance Day came around each November 11th it had real meaning for them. We had the day off from school and I remember watching them march to the cenotaph, remember men who were tough and robust with tears in their eyes.

Their service took its toll. What we now call PTSD was obviously a factor in their lives, I can see that now, looking back. I was shielded from most of it, but by and large they treated the symptoms with alcohol. The shame is that today we offer few other choices to our vets. It is a national shame here in Canada and elsewhere. The young man in uniform in the picture was my Uncle George. He was in the division of Canadian soldiers that liberated Holland and then some of the camps. He stayed on in Europe after the war was over, serving for an extra few years with restoration forces. He never married. He fought his demons the only way he knew how. He died when I was in high school, still a comparatively young man, a victim of PTSD.

I've travelled to the battlefields and cemeteries in Europe. I've taken my children to the museum in Ypres and tried to help them understand the risks of letting human behaviours get out of control, dissolve towards violence as a solution. None of it is easy to explain. How could that war, the second, have been avoided? How could we not have gone? And yet I so wish we hadn't needed to. All around us we see wars brewing, battles on the verge of breaking out. The causes are noble. Oh that we could find other solutions, some alternative to trying to counteract violence with violence.

Many years ago in a calligraphy class Reggie Ezell gave us an assignment called "Best Voices". He challenged us to think about the people in our lives who had been examples and role models, who had influenced our thinking or challenged us to be more. Today I remember my uncles and aunts who form part of the chorus of best voices in my life. But I also today think about all those who have been advocates for peace and pray that humanity can someday find its way forward without weapons.

Since the attack on Parliament Hill I have written out a simple poem, a simple prayer each day. At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day this year this poem, written by Rabindranath Tagore, will again be my prayer:

Where the mind is without fear and the head is held high
Where knowledge is free
Where the world has not been broken up into fragments
By narrow domestic walls
Where words come out from the depth of truth
Where tireless striving stretches its arms towards perfection
Where the clear stream of reason has not lost its way
Into the dreary desert sand of dead habit
Where the mind is led forward by thee
Into ever-widening thought and action
Into that heaven of freedom, my Father, let my country awake

Monday, November 03, 2014

Born Under A Lucky Star

I intended to write about something completely different this week but the universe had other plans. Actually I could have called this blog "I Intended To..." but that seemed so defeatist. And I'm not that, not most of the time, but this morning I came close.

This story starts weeks and weeks ago. It starts with the slow decline of order in my office. I'm really blessed to have the luxury of space, actually spaces. I have a big studio in the basement plus storage for all the books I sell, an office on the main floor and a fibre arts room in one of the bedrooms upstairs. When my kids were small my husband would give them a big hug as he left on business trips and make them solemnly swear to not let me take over any more of the house while he was gone. Tidiness in my studio is all relative to what I am working on, the office has to meet the stranger standard and the sewing room doesn't get seen much but it tends to not be a problem. You may wonder what the stranger standard is. For me this means that if someone drops in or we have a workman in the house they should feel that I am really busy in the office, not slovenly. And I like that room tidy. I like to be able to sit down to work and not feel that piles of things are shouting at me to be put away. I like to be able to sit down at the antique, slant top writing desk and not wonder when the avalanche is going to blow me away. Alas, every week for the last few months I have been saying "Today I intend to get this room back under control." But I didn't. And today, well today the universe decided it was time.

On Friday night I took on the featured tangle on Square One which was Chainging or Punzel. (See if you want to learn how to draw it and while you are there make a contribution to keep the site up and running. You get a great PDF of the tangles for donating and none of us would be where we are with tangling without this wonderful resource.) Truthfully these aren't my favourite tangles but I did a bit of warmup and some sketching with them and decided to jump in at the deep end. I sketched out a string with Fengle and then filled that in with Chainging. That having gone remarkably well I decided to further press my luck by filling it in with black and using highlights as the main decorative element. I was really happy with the way the tile turned out. (My resolution for this year is to actually admit that when it happens, and it is rare!)

The community in Square One was really generous in their comments and several people contacted me directly or in the comments for more information about how I created the star. I'd promised to do a sketch to post and this morning, my other writing having gone well, I thought I could steal a few minutes to do just that. I set the card on my slant top desk and started to look for a piece of tracing paper. The desk has a couple of lift up compartments on top which are a pain to access if you have a lot of other stuff balanced on the slanted top but over the years I've become pretty adept at accessing them. Of course the tracing paper wasn't where it belonged and I looked in the drawer underneath the  part of the slant top that folds up when the desk isn't in use. Again I've become pretty good at balancing whatever is on the desk while I do that manoeuver. Tracing paper wasn't there either. So I moved the stuff off the top onto the storage drawers on the left. Finally found a piece of paper that would do for drawing out the steps and then realized  the card was no longer on top of my desk! It was gone.

I looked for an hour, slowly going through portfolios standing beside the desk, throug all the drawers and nooks and crannies. As a last resort I called in my husband to look, the man who often can't find the milk carton in the fridge. But he is a love and he was really helpful. He got a flashlight and we looked under the storage drawers, even moved them out from the wall. He went back through the desk. After a half hour of this I conceded defeat. Went and poured myself a coffee and took a time out.

Then I decided it was time to do what I should have done weeks ago. I set up a card table and started to sort out the various piles of stuff I had moved looking for the tile. Since there is no use doing half a job on this sort of thing I decided to go deeper and sort and reorganize my desk contents. So I picked up the board that covers one of the compartments and reached over to set it against the wall. My hand made contact with paper on the bottom of the cover. The tile had stuck itself to the bottom of the board with a wadge of kneaded eraser!

As a little appeasement to the universe I decided I better make a proper job of setting out the steps for making this very Celtic looking star. I even decided to take the time to do a little video about how I have begun to highlight, which has always been a problem for me and also how I shade which I know is a problem for some of you. There are lots of ways to do both of these things but these are the ways I find easiest.
I hadn't decided on a name for it until all this happened but it was obvious. It had to be called Born Under A Lucky Star.

And my office? As soon as I get this posted I intend to....

Step One:
With a pencil draw Fengle with rounded ends. Draw as lightly as you can as the string needs to disappear after the star is drawn.

Step Two:
Draw the first step of Chainging slightly differently than the original tangle. Round the end and continue into the second stroke. Use the string to keep your strokes rounded and full. I find it easier to do tiles like this if I think of them like parenting. What you do to one section you must also equally to all the others. So I do Step One in all the sections making sure to turn the tile as I go so that the flow of the strokes stays the same.

Step Three
Continue to draw the tangle. Take notice of the fact that the "ribbons" are flowing under and over each other and that the points where they go under should be similar to the point where they emerge. Also note that you stop your stroke when you come to the string.

Step Four
The basic star is completed. Now you have to decide how to decorate and shade. The video below the diagram shows how I approached my highlighting. I really struggled with highlights and only recently realized that if I start with a 005 Pigma and then use a 01 or even a 03 for the filling in and finishing I get a better result. The video also demonstrates shading with a soft pencil and a stump or tortillon.

Monday, October 20, 2014

I Keep Falling In and Out of Love With You

Last week I was in a restaurant and Alicia Keys Fallin' was one of the selections on the musak playing in the background. It wormed itself back into my head (I remember it being an earworm before!) and I've caught myself humming it many times over the past few days. I think Alicia understands relationships and got it right. "I keep fallin' in and out of love with you..."

This blog isn't about love or marriage. I've been married for almost 32 years, and while I know that the words are true I know better than to write about my marriage! Suffice it to say that like any lasting marriage there have been ups and downs, twists and turns, challenges and victories. A good marriage does not necessarily mean that everything is perfect, every hour of the day, forever and ever. Mignon McLaughlin said, "A successful marriage requires falling in love many times, always with the same person."  Truer words were never spoken and I think that they apply to our relationship with art as well.

I fell in love with fibre arts, specifically embroidery and quilting as a child. My paternal grandmother lived with us and she was always sewing, quilting, crocheting, tatting....she did it all. I took to the tools she used as soon as I was old enough to hold them. Fabric and threads are just in my blood. In my late teens I became an artistic bigamist. I fell in love with calligraphy. Both of those interests sustained me, challenged me, fulfilled me, frustrated me, created a vocation and defined me for decades.

Yes, there have been brief affairs with other crafts and hobbies but none of the others have had staying power. The dalliances have ended when It became apparent that the hobby was all flash and no dance. They were mere crushes, they didn't have enough depth for the long haul. Now this is not to say that my interests in fibre arts and calligraphy haven't evolved over time. Any marriage has to evolve as the partners grow and change. I've added scads of other interesting skills and materials to each, but by and large, if you want to hold my interest you have to feed back to the first loves. Bookbinding does that. Beading does that. Zentangle does that.

I've been an avid tangler for four years now. I was introduced to it by C.C. Sadler at a calligraphy conference. I know it had been around for a while before she showed me the work she was doing but it had never seemed relevant to me. And then it did. Tangling has helped me relax, focus, keep my hands in motion when arthritis threatens to ruin a day, strengthened my understanding of design, allowed me to work with symbol and pattern, taken me back to being an avid photographer and introduced me to a whole new group of friends. The work I have done with Zentangle has fed back into my fibre arts work by reinspiring my design choices and has helped to change the way I approach calligraphic tools and materials.

But the truth is that last winter I began to think that I was beginning to fall out of love with tangling and most everything else I was doing and that I needed a change, a big change. Everything felt a little flat, a bit too routine. I was just going through the motions.  I've seen other people post messages about being in a rut or just not feeling they could work anymore and they've wondered what to do about it. And I have to say that I think you have to be proactive as much as you can if you find that your art (or your marriage for that matter) has fallen a little flat. So what did I do? As they say, this wasn't my 'first trip to this rodeo'. I've been in that place before and I now have faith that if I hang in there long enough I'll find my way again especially if I actively search it out. And so I did a bunch of things like taking classes, buying new art materials, changing my colour choices, reading, walking, travelling, tidying. They all worked to some degree. Gelli printing was a big help especially when I bought new colours. But still I felt like I was faking it most of the time.

And then one day this summer I saw that there was a new Facebook group called Square One. The concept was interesting and I was staying open to possibilities so I joined up. The idea was to get back to the basics of Zentangle, to create on the original tiles with the official tangles as a focus. Black and white only, no colour. Such a simple thing and yet isn't it always the simple things that make us fall in love again! And what has happened has made me feel engaged with tangling and has reinvigorated my calligraphy and my fibre arts work. For me being in love with one aspect of my work always casts a better light on the rest of my work, makes me feel stronger and more capable. I can't wait for Friday morning to see what the focus tangle of the week is. I've challenged myself to approach the tangles with fresh eyes. And my work has changed, shifted, been recharged. Truthfully I am surprised at how bold some of it is. I've put a new album of my Square One work up on my Facebook page if you want to see what I've been tangling. So this blog is my way of thanking the two women who started this group and have kept us all on the simple path. They have created a supportive and caring group who encourage and inspire. Chris Titus and Jenny Perruzzi have changed the way I work and have put that spring back in my artistic step.

I offer this advice for those of you who are in a creative low spot. Keep showing up and trying new things. Stay open to the possibilities that present themselves but also actively seek them out. Some day, some day soon, you will be offered a chance to fall in love all over again with your art, to remember what  attracted you to it in the first place and to move forward in the relationship you've built with it.

I leave you with the wise words of Alicia Keys. I always like to share my earworms!

I keep on fallin'
In and out of love
With you
Sometimes I love ya
Sometimes u make me blue
Sometimes I feel good
At times I feel used
Lovin you darlin'
Makes me so confused

I keep on
In and out of love with you
I never loved someone
The way that I love you

Oh, oh , I never felt this way
How do you give me so much pleasure
And cause me so much pain
Just when I think
I've taken more than would a fool
I start fallin' back in love with you

I keep on
In and out of love with you
I never loved someone
The way that I love you

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Tree Hugging in Autumn

God is the experience of looking at a tree and saying, "Ah!" 
Joseph Campbell

Fifty years ago my parents bought a piece of property about 3 hours north of Toronto in an area called Muskoka. The closest town is Huntsville and we are not far from Algonquin Park where the Group of Seven painted the images so often used (abused?) on souvenirs. We spent our summers up north in a log inn they restored, two months of long-lighted days with nothing but time to think and explore. The cottage was a large part of what made me who I am today.

As blissful as the summers were, it was the fall that was the true delight. When the fates are kind we get a long string of perfect days the last week of September - a little crisp, high autumnal blue skies, no wind. The leaves are changing and there is no where you can look without seeing colour and light. The colour is good every year, you can count on it, we are known for it. But this year, this year is exceptional.
My husband took these amazing photos over the weekend. Each one is stunning. Glory in the colour and the magic. You'll find even more in an album on my Facebook page. If you want to know the science behind the magic, read the paragraph from a wonderful book about trees written by a British author, Roger Deakin.

The tree senses a particular moment when the balance between day and night has altered. It appears to measure the hours and minutes with some precision, and shorter days trigger the development of a suicidal hormone in each leaf. It creeps down the leaf stem to the joint with the woody twig, where it stimulates the growth of a sphincter of brittle, hard tissue that gradually closes on itself, cutting off the supply of sap. Thus deprived of water, the chlorophyll in the leaf disintegrates. Chlorophyll makes leaves look green by absorbing the blue-and-red light of the sun and masking other pigments. As it breaks down, the leaf reveals the colours of its other underlying chemical constituents. Then it dries still more, the stem joint snaps, and it goes floating off to the woodland floor to settle in pools of yellow, orange or soft chestnut-browns...The leaves of different species contain distinctive pigments: the yellow carotenoids of willow, poplar or hazel; the red anthocyanins of maple or dogwood (the same pigment you encounter on the rosy side of the apple where it faces the sun); or the earthy tannins of oak leaves. The evaporation of the sap concentrates the leaf pigments so that they show up more vividly. the questing roots of one species will take up more molecules of phosphorus, magnesium, sodium or iron than another. The sap of one will be more acidic or alkaline or contain ore tannin, than another. This is the natural chemistry that paints the woodland colours...The process leading to leaf-fall is not affected by Indian summers or unusually cold weather. Photo-periodism is strictly abut light and darkness, and the shortening of days.

Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees by Roger Deakin (ISBN 978-0-141-01001-4)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Schwerin and Time

This blog post continues with thoughts and events that arose from our recent Baltic cruise. On our day ashore in Germany we chose to go to Schwerin rather than make the long trip in to Berlin and back. I so want to see Berlin and the museums there but five or six hours just wasn't going to be enough so we settled for Schwerin. Sometimes settling can be the right decision - our day in Schwerin was a delight. A delight and also, like most of our tours, a small torture. Everything moved so fast and all I wanted to do was slow down and really have time to look. We took copious photos and as I am going through and sorting them into a slide show I am able to take a little time and see things in a different way.

On this day need for time to think and absorb was most pressing when we were in Schwerin Cathedral. From the moment I approached the outer door I was falling in love with that church. It had to be a short love affair - we'd been given but a half hour to explore the church and the market square (which holds one of the most delightful, tongue-in-cheek, statues which tells the story of how the town was conquered for Christianity a small portion of which is pictured above). The church (12C)  holds a wealth of history within it. The floor is inlaid with countless tomb markers. Huge brass etchings hang along one wall telling the story of one family of nobles and the workmanship is exquisite! There are gargoyles and yes, a green man!, tucked into every column. Even the inlaid brickwork is full of pattern and colour and life. And best of all, with the sun streaming in the stained glass was rich and vibrant. I just wanted to sit and drink it all in, sit and think, sit and let the record of so much life and loss sink into my soul. And yet, I couldn't, time marched on and I had a bus to catch. At least I have the photos, have time now to study all the details. But the feeling of light and life, oh how I wish I could have drunk it in. I wrote the beginnings of this poem on the bus on the way back to the ship.

Strictly measured time.
Clicking rapidly through
nave to quire
portal to apse
transept? check
stations seen but not observed
fonts and tombs
birth to death
confessional gone but 
still the kneelers come
for weddings and weepings.

On the way out
one person, local,
ignoring the invasion,
reaches for a candle.
It catches,
and being caught flickers 
in the backdraft of the migrating tourists.

The stained glass dances graffiti on the clay
asking me to stay.
But I can not.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Rapid Transit

 Just before I get on a plane I have a little ritual. I make a final trip to the washroom and when I am washing my hands I look in the mirror and say goodbye to myself. The person that boards the plane is never the person that returns. All travel changes you if you are doing it right. This last trip was no exception.

Quite on the spur of the moment we headed off on a Baltic cruise at the end of August. People keep asking me how it was and I really don't know how to answer them - there are so many different aspects to the trip that it is hard to know where to start. Actually, I think I am in culture shock. There was no time to read and prepare before I left. Everything was a bit of a surprise. And each day we docked in a different country and we were exposed to a different history, a different culture, new colours, new smells, new art. It was all so fast. I had no time to absorb it all. I've come home with a jumble of images and colours racing around in my head and it will take time to assimilate them into the new me.

Let me give show you what I mean. In two days I saw so many things in St. Petersburg that I could spend the rest of my days letting the images I shot from there dictate my drawing and writing and thinking. The first day I spent eighteen hours in buses, museums, churches, palaces, squares and dining halls. The second day I spent another ten hours doing the same. It was sensory overload. The pre-Soviet royalty in St. Petersburg lived in a world of sensory overload. It explains so much. Here are just a few images to give you an idea of how overwhelmingly exquisite it was.

Conversely the book I chose to read while I was away was one I bought well over a year ago,  a book about slowing down. It is quite telling that I didn't get a chance to read it until last week. And what a great choice it was, the perfect foil for the rapid pace of all the land tours.  The book is called World Enough and Time and is written by Christian McEwan (ISBN 978-0-87233-146-4). What makes it different from all the other books about slowing down is that it is written by someone creative, a writer, for other people who are artists and writers. She examines the lives of creative people and draws out their insights on the need for slow, continuous introspection in the life of an artist. It is a treasure trove of inspirational quotes and thought. It was a delight to read slowly - I held myself to a chapter a day - and I will savour many of the ideas I encountered over the months and years to come just as I will savour the sensory overload of our Baltic trip, slowly, on the many cold days of the winter to come.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Here's to Bassackwards Thinking

First of all let me say that if you are reading this there has been a minor technological miracle. I wrote this last week and told Blogger to post it for me on this date. I’m not convinced it is going to happen.

This post goes out to every professor and high school teacher who ever made me hand in an essay plan. I always created the plan after I wrote the essay. I learned nothing from doing that exercise.

I started writing a novel some years ago. I have no plan and the story comes to me with no warning and asks to be written down. In fact I now have three novels going, all part of the same trilogy and indeed there is no plan written down. There will have to be some day, when all the major bits are roughed in, and I need to check that all the pieces work together but by then it will be like writing out an essay plan after the bulk of the work is done. But I digress because this post is about all the other things that have started to happen because I am writing these novels.

One of the things that I have been delighted by are the legends and myths that have flowed out of my pen. Like any world full of humans (and others) a foundation of common understanding and story is important. Not content to let this background be simply implied my imagination has served up some rich mythology. And not to be outdone my artistic child has cajoled me into creating artifacts and imagery to go along with the stories. Which brings me to The Tale of Fendrich the Three Feathered and the current bassackwards mess I have gotten myself into.

In truth I started out with the best of intentions. I wrote and rewrote the tale. I had my writing group read it and comment and I worked out the rough bits. I let it sit for a while and went back to it and decided that I was happy with it. In deed I was better than happy and how often does that happen with anything we create? I decided that the tale deserved to become an illuminated manuscript. I started to audition scripts and hit a wall. Nothing felt right. I needed a script that looked a little foreign and other worldly but it couldn’t be so unusual as to make it difficult to read because I want this tome to be read. It couldn’t be too large or too fiddley because the story is long (7200 words). The quest began to feel like the story of the three bears and nothing was just right. So I did what any slightly crazy artist would do - I went sideways.

I knew the book was going to be very large. I envisioned a huge tome like The Lindisfarne Gospels or the Book of Kells. It would need a magnificent jewelled cover. And I needed a bird for that cover. I dove into my files of collected imagery and googled countless words. In my mind the bird would be a combination of Haida art, Celtic knotwork and Russian jewel work. I didn’t know how to do the beadwork that I would need so I took courses in bead embroidery and soutache. I drew and drew and redrew ideas. And then I gathered up the right crystals and beads and cording and spent weeks creating the cover decoration for a book that isn’t written out yet. Yes, the cart was now very much in front of the horse but I was having fun.

Unfortunately the calligraphic problem has not solved itself. I have some ideas but no clear direction. I have some samples of writing that show promise especially for the decorated initials. I’m still not sure what I will use for the bulk of the text but I’m thinking it will be have some of the characteristics of Bone blended with some Uncialesque forms and a style of writing I designed that I call Arezzo.

And speaking of Arezzo, I took a photo of a text book that a Russian calligrapher had with her when we studied with Monica Dengo. I’ve been looking at it a fair bit these last few months and using as a jumping off point for those decorated initials. And here is where synchronicity starts to play into all this. My husband went to Russia on a high school trip back in the 70’s and he has always wanted to return. Spur of the moment a couple of weeks ago he booked us on a Baltic trip that takes us to St. Petersburg for two days. As you read this we should be heading off on our first shore excursion. I've never really wanted to see Russia and with all the events of this summer it certainly wasn't on my travel agenda. But now that I'm headed there I'm pretty sure I am going to find what I need to bring the Fendrich project to completion. Keep your fingers crossed for me today. I’m hunting for the right lettering inspiration to jump out at me. I know it has to be here somewhere!

Here’s to the bassackwards joys of the hunt - you never know where they will lead you.

There is a Thread

Summer of 2013 found me in Colorado Springs teaching a class at the calligraphy convention, The Summit. One day I took time over the lunch hour to tour a merchant mall that had been set up for artisans. A paper maker had a booth there and in the booth she had a quote on display that stopped me in my tracks.

Memorization isn't my strong suit but I committed one line to memory and raced back to my classroom to write it down so I could search for the whole quote after class. I was telling Aimee Michaels about it up in the classroom and she said "That's William Stafford." She picked up her phone and in no time the words were headed for my in box. We shared the poem, for indeed that is what the line came from, with my class, and you could feel the words make the connection within the room.

Later I headed down the hall to Lisa Englebrecht's classroom. She was teaching a class that combined personal story with layering of lettering and imagery on fabric. Many times during the week I had overheard her students sharing their stories as they stitched and planned and arranged their pieces. I read them the quote. Lisa teared up, some of her students teared up. These were powerful words, words they wanted, words they needed to hear. They needed the words to confirm what they knew about their art and their life -words about what keeps artists lives stitched together, what helps to make sense of the journey.

It is rare amongst my artist friends to find one that has consistently made a living from their art since early adulthood. More common is to find that art has been a constant fitted in around day jobs, families, pets, community work, exercise, We are very adept at fitting art and the pursuit of our craft into the nooks and crannies of everyday existence. We have to find a way to fit it in, our palms literally would itch if we didn't. Our souls threaten to wither and die if we don't feed our artistic side.

Often we talk about art as our hobby. Always though, there is that promise to ourselves that someday we'll find more time, a real studio space, more freedom in the budget for the right supplies. We promise our selves that when we have everything in place we'll go deeper, be brilliant, be artists. And although we have often gone to extremes to keep art going throughout our lives we also secretly feel that somehow we have shortchanged others by doing so and that we have shortchanged our art as well.

Here are some truths that I want to share. The perfect time is never going to appear. It is one of the lies we've told ourselves, like the other one about finding balance in our life, that other big lie that we have  swallowed whole. And - brace yourself - we are never going to be perfect artists. I encourage you to accept these truths and get on with it, whatever your 'it' is. Hobby, art, craft - it doesn't matter what it is called. What is important for you and me is that we do it, it is a constant thread in our lives.
Perfection generally isn't what makes a person interesting. Without the mistakes we've made, the wayfaring we've done over rough ground and through life's challenges, without the wear and tear that have worn us smooth in places and uncovered seams of gold in our mettle, we aren't really worth much as artists, or as people for that matter.

At our best we are a walking story and it is the way we tell that story that is compelling and important.

Ultimately it is the way you have woven art into your life and into those nooks and crannies of the day that interests me. It is the fact that you needed to sew or paint or write so badly that you stayed up late, got up early, drew at t-ball games, practiced Roman caps in airports, clipped coupons to save money on the groceries so you could go to the art supply store, kept a sketchbook in your purse, a notepad on your bedside showed up for your art because you had to. Maybe you didn't show up in the way you dreamed of showing up, but you were there and present for it as much as you could be. And you will continue to do that for as long as you can.

My truth is that I've kept Ziploc in business for years. I always have little kits of this, that and the other thing tucked in my purse or travel bag. I've made dinner at breakfast and let the crockpot simmer all day so I could harvest a spare hour or two for time in the studio. I've tangled my way through doctor's offices and hospital vigils. I've practiced calligraphy in pencil in a sketchbook for two decades because I can do that anywhere anytime. I've sewed and embroidered at swimming lessons, piano lessons, flute lessons, t-ball games...And yes, I've been blessed to have years where there was time and money to spare but truly some of my best work was done in the years where I've had to make the most use out of the least amount of time. And I've always felt a bit like a dilettante because I didn't put in the 'quality' time I should have done to be a real artist. Truly, my best work has taken the little snippets of time that I have found and blended with the life swirling around me to create in ways that are sincere and true. Showing up regularly for time with art paid off emotionally and spiritually and I have learned to be grateful for that boon in my life.

Through it all, for as long as I can remember, these words by William Stafford, written just days before his death, would have rung true, would have brought tears to my eyes, still do:

The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.


Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Someday Syndrome

Eleven years ago my life changed forever.  It was a hot, sticky August day. I got up before everyone else and organized everything for a family get together. All the time I was packing the cooler and bagging up swim suits and all the odds and sods mothers have to remember to bring I was rubbing my chest and flexing my left hand. My husband left for work and I got the kids up. The rest is a bit of a blur but I know my daughter forced me to take aspirins because she had seen a public service announcement about heart attacks and strokes and knew to do that. She called her father and told him to come home from work and I told him to take me to the doctors office because I thought I was having a panic attack. The doctor called an ambulance which is what we should have done. The clock was ticking and we had been wasting precious treatment minutes. I made so many mistakes that day but I survived. There are a number of takeaways from this:

1. Let your kids watch MTV (or whatever the equivalent is today). It might save your life in some way you could never imagine. It likely saved mine because my daughter knew to give me aspirins.

2. Call an ambulance. The time you waste may be your last minutes on earth. I was lucky, very lucky, and remember, I had those aspirins forced into me.

3. You likely suffer from Someday Syndrome and you need to do something about it.

This is what I really want to talk about,  Someday Syndrome. I meet people suffering from it all the time. They say "Someday I want to....." or "Someday I'm going to..." or "When I have time someday I am planning..." It became very clear to me that August day that someday might not exist. Yes I still do my fair share of the mundane everyday stuff like cooking and grocery shopping but I am vigilant about carving out time for the things I want to do like art and writing and travel. I fall off the programme from time to time when there is a family crisis or I have over committed but I catch myself and redirect. I'm not saying it is easy.

What I have learned to do is pay attention to my internal chatter and my own conversations with other people. I have become hyper aware of the word someday and every time I use it I take a mental note. This winter I found myself commenting on a Facebook post about a lettering class that Carol Dubosch ( was teaching. The style of writing is called Bone and for many years I have wanted to learn how to do it. I've tried on my own but never managed to figure out the nuances of the waisting (the skinny parts in the downstrokes of the letters). I found myself saying "Someday..." and then I thought, "No. Soon." And I started to make a plan. Luckily Carol agreed to sit down with me on our half day off at the calligraphy conference in Dallas. I love teaching at these conferences but the flip side of the coin is that I see everyone being creative and learning and I miss doing that too. But this year Carol let me have the best of both worlds and I had the benefit of her one-on-one tutoring. Watching her manipulate the pen was so instructional and it made all the difference. I've been practicing almost daily since the conference and am really happy with the progress I've made.

 Anne Lamott is one of my favourite authors. She really tells it like it is and doesn't hold back. She has said:
“Oh my God, what if you wake up some day, and you’re 65, or 75, and you never got your memoir or your novel written; or you didn’t go swimming in warm pools and oceans all those years because your thighs were jiggly and you had a nice big comfortable tummy; or you were just so strung out on perfectionism and people pleasing that you forgot to have a big juicy creative life, of imagination and radical silliness and staring off into space when you were a kid?  It’s going to break your heart. Don’t let this happen.”

So what is on your Someday List? Choose one thing, even a small thing, and tackle it today. Make a plan and put it in motion. Post it here if that will help you stay accountable. Don't wait until it is too late. Do your bit to wipe out Someday Syndrome.

Friday, August 08, 2014

The Well Articulated Woman

Quite a few years ago now, back when my kids were teenagers, I wrote a poem which was a tongue-in-cheek take on motherhood and aging. I wrote out the piece in large coptic book which doesn't travel as much as it should when I teach because it never fits the small spaces left in my carry on. I've been thinking about it today because of work I've seen on one of the Facebook groups I recently joined (The Enchanted Imaginarium). For the book I made a paper doll to add to each page and they were jointed and 'articulated' to play on the themes in the poem. It seems appropriate to share this as I've spent aweek at the cottage with my parents and my daughter and various bits and pieces of family and have felt very much like the filling in some sort of slightly dysfunctional sandwich whilst also coping with a kidney stone and trying to be largely invisible. So with no further ado...

The Well Articulated Woman

The well articulated woman must be centered and centering...
She must know all, see all, do all.
She must be at the center of all things, for all people, for all time,
yet remain largely invisible.
She must control the ripples and make no waves.

She must choose her words carefully, question but not confront,
have opinions but not be opinionated, educated but not learned.
She may find this puzzling.

She must embrace the myriad traditions of her tribe and cook for them,
clean for them, suffer for them.
She must make the ancestors proud, her progeny guilty and all festivals perfect.
She should be a saint, a martyr, an avenging angel and a pastry chef.

She must swim in deep water and it should be hot.
She should dive in without looking.
She may not use floatation devices.
There will be no life guards.
She must kick harder and swim farther - she may not tread water.
Floating and drifting aimlessly does not look good with cellulite.
She must not sail, but if she does, others will make waves.

She must live in the maze.
She must sojourn not knowing her destination.
She must pack for all climates and occasions,
but not ask for help carrying the load.
If she chooses sensible shoes she must walk
through the Valley of Scorn.
She must not ask for directions.

When she falls apart,....

She can reinvent herself any way she wants.

Cherryl Moote

Thursday, July 10, 2014

In Quietude

This has been a trying year without the time I crave for solitude and reflection. Amidst all the family chaos I'm feeling a major change in my artistic focus is coming and I am listening for the small quiet voice that whispers tantalizing hints about the direction I should head. 

One of my favourite passages has always been: Be still and know. "In quietude, listen for the voice that whispers "Grow!" is my interpretation of that verse and a meditative mantra for me during this time of challenge and change. And when it comes to meditation my favourite choice is always tangling!