Pricing and Commissions

Thursday, July 9, 2009

Pencil Play

I told you I would start experimenting a bit, so here is an example of what I've been up to. This small sheet was lettered (with pressure and release) with a wonderful new mechanical pencil I got a few months ago. It is huge, well balanced and heavy, with a selection of lead inserts. You'll find a discussion about this pencil on Dave's Mechanical Pencils blog. I found mine in the local Art Mart store, here in Portland. Mine may have been hanging around on a shelf for a while, because I haven't found it online to purchase, but I believe it's similar to a Koh-I-Noor 5.6 mm lead.


My New Toy

OK, I admit it, I am obsessed by office supplies, pens in particular. But this recent birthday present takes the cake! It is a Pilot/Namiki Vanishing Point fountain pen. And it's magical! With just a click, the nib pops out of its little garage door (reminding me of the cool headlights on sports cars) and presents itself, ready to write.

I was skeptical at first... would the ink be dry? Would the nib be smooth enough for daily use? But I am a convert. The pen is ready and waiting each time I use it, and I love the way the nib feels as it glides across the paper. I decided to go with a standard (medium) nib for this pen, but for my next one, I may decide to get the nib re-tooled to resemble a broad nib, suitable for Italic or Uncial lettering...

So Santa, I'm starting my Christmas list early... I want this pen in Nightline Moonlight next!


Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Playing With Purpose

Yesterday I went to lunch with 3 fellow calligraphers/artists, and realized anew how important the connection and sharing with like minds can be. I came away from this meeting energized and enthusiastic, ready to dive into a project I started a while ago. The samples above are some of the small pieces I made then, and this week, I have set up an area to do some more small explorations, in an endeavor to find new ways to use my tools and materials.

I will post more of these "happy accidents" soon, and encourage all of you to try some on your own... think, "what if I try this?" and start on a pile of small paper... no worries, no stress, just a curious mind and a willing spirit. Have fun!


Sunday, June 14, 2009


It seems appropriate to think about brainstorming on a stormy day...

I love initial design meetings with clients, on the eve of starting a new commission. Today, a charming gentleman came by to discuss a presentation piece for a long-time friend. We sat together, chatting about the story behind the gift, the recipient, the emotion behind the words, and the gift's purpose. We talked about lettering styles, images, colors, papers, and layout. The excitement built as we explored the options and started to narrow our focus. Finally, we had a layout, a decorative element, colors and lettering styles, and a rough draft of the commission. Success!

This sort of problem-solving fills me with energy and enthusiasm. I love to create something of beauty, something the recipient will appreciate and treasure. Some clients enjoy the process as much as I do -- they are willing to collaborate with me to assemble a design. Some have a very strong feeling about what they want -- colors, styles, images, and all I have to do is put their choices onto the paper. Others call or email text to me and just tell me to "make it look good." This can be fun, or it can be a daunting task, as I have mentioned before.

Today was a good day. A satisfied client, lots of positive energy, and good news from the home front -- who minds a little rain?

Saturday, June 13, 2009

The Benefits of Piece Work

The past two weeks have been a whirlwind of calligraphy and end-of-year activities at school. Each night, I have returned to my studio to work for several hours. Some nights, I lettered until the sky brightened and the birds began their songs. Awards, diplomas, placecards, and wedding envelopes made up the bulk of my projects this month. Some calligraphers might scoff at this humdrum piece-work, but I have found unexpected benefits in spending hour after hour on simple, repetitive lettering tasks.

First of all, I can listen to great music. fills the room with Nora Jones, Jack Johnson, the Beatles, Toxic Audio, Madeleine Peyroux, Nickel Creek, and many others. The music gives me energy -- I often find my pen-strokes keep time to the beat. Copperplate requires the soothing strains of Windham Hill or Jim Brickman piano. Italic, which is easy for me, allows me to relax into the more lively sounds of Queen or The Chieftans. Cuban music still reminds me of working with Claude Dieterich -- I reserve it for letters formed with quick, energetic strokes. As I sing along, my hand relaxes, my breathing steadies, and the letters flow from my pen with ease and enjoyment.

I have also learned to value this time because it gives me an opportunity to practice and perfect my lettering styles. Although I have been a calligrapher for more than 20 years, I continue to learn and improve. I may change the way I make a particular letter, or fool around with a new flourish, or tweak the angle of my pen... and with each piece I do, this fine-tuning becomes more comfortable.

As I write, I think about the person who might receive this envelope, this diploma. I try to make each name look unique in some way, in the hope that it gives joy to the recipient. I have found that when people find out I am a calligrapher, they ask me to write their names "fancy." Kids, in particular, are amazed that I can write one name 20 different ways. I'm the same, and I admit, I have a collection scraps of paper with my name written on them by several calligraphers and teachers -- Peter Thornton, Michael Hoyer, Michael Clark, etc.

And finally, as I have written before, the letters themselves give me joy. I suppose if they didn't, I would be in the wrong line of work! The long swoop of a lower case "g," the flourish above an "h," the little hairlines that drip down from a Gothic "r" make me hum with pleasure. "Yes! Look at that one!" "Ooh, a perfect curve!"

So, as I write this, I realize that as much as anything, this is about taking pleasure in the small things in life, the ordinary daily tasks, the boring, repetitive jobs we do. So, I urge you -- put on some good music, take pride in your work, seek ways to bring pleasure to others, and most of all...find joy!

Sunday, May 31, 2009


This afternoon, as I watched old movies and lettered some lovely robin's-egg blue wedding envelopes, I thought about Spring. When I was a kid, this season was my favorite time of year. I used to spend hours outside exploring -- when we lived in Long Island, we wandered the neighborhood, discovering red rubber balls, hidden marbles, and sea shells that had washed up during storms on the beach. The world seemed fresh and new and magical. When we moved upstate, we wandered around our farm, watched the plants push up through the cold ground, picked flowers for our teachers, and were amazed at the miracles around us: calves being born and chicks and goslings coming out of their eggs. We even had our share of lambs, goats and geese under the kitchen sink, where the heat lamp could keep them warm. Spring was a time of fresh green, new things, and hope.

So, as I sit here at my work table, looking out at my garden, which is running rampant with all the rain we've had, I will try not to feel guilty about the fact that I'm not out there ripping out the weeds and controlling the chaos... instead, I choose to enjoy the exhuberant growth, and the amazing transformation from cold, white wasteland to splendid, unstoppable life.

In celebration, here is a piece I created for my mother, based on a Haiku she wrote: Little bird, spring comes, why don't you build that nest?


Sunday, May 17, 2009

Work and Grief

This winter, our family lost a wonderful boy, my 19 year old nephew Cory. He got sick while at art school in NH, and we were with him for 3 days in the hospital, where he tried to fight a cold that had turned into pneumonia... but in the end, we had to say goodbye to this bouncy, enthusiastic, artistic, loving boy. I felt like I'd lost my son. Cory had lived with my family in Maine for a summer while he went to MECA's summer program for art students. We fixed up a bedroom for the boys, and he and Owen finally figured out how to take the bunk beds apart in one room and assemble them in their room -- with only a few screws left over! I drove over the bridge to Portland once or twice a day with him, listening to rap or country, talking or laughing about his classes or some wild tale he told. After that summer, he would always call me at least once a week to tell me a funny story and make me laugh. He'd always ask, "You didn't take the bunkbeds apart, did you?" (As if I could!)

I couldn't do calligraphy for quite a while after his death. I had a backlog of projects, but I just couldn't begin. I would try to plan or write or draw, and instead, I would drift away again. When I eventually started working last month, I made mistakes on all 3 jobs I lettered. My head wasn't "in the game," I guess. A few weeks ago I lettered bookplates for the art books my parents are giving New Hampshire Institute of Art in Cory's name, and sent them (with a huge care package for his friends) to the school. This seems to have healed me to some extent, because I am finally able to work again, and the creative ideas are starting to flow.

When the phone rings these days, I'm getting used to the idea that it's not Cory with another crazy story for me about hunting, his friends, or something he did at college. And I know this summer, the house will be much quieter than it was 2 years ago, but... Cory -- the bunk beds are still set up.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Spring Rush

It's that crazy time of year again -- college graduations, weddings and corporate events all happen at once. I teach during the day, then I sit at my drawing table for hours, looking at my neglected garden... unless I am lucky, like today, and it rains. While this work is not the most creative, I have learned to enjoy the repetitive nature of addressing envelopes and writing the same line of text over and over on awards. I take pleasure in the swoop of a graceful "g" or a perfect "o"and listen to my favorite music on Pandora Radio as I work. The mellow sound of Norah Jones, Jack Johnson, Enya, Nickel Creek, Alison Krauss keep me company, and once in a while I'm surprised by something new... I just discovered "Til Kingdom Comes" by Coldplay -- a lovely ballad, and Madeleine Peyroux's "Don't Wait Too Long." The tempo and tone of the music definitely affect the way I form my letters.

I have a splendid new fountain pen filled with purple ink -- a Vanishing Point Nimiki from Richard Binder in Boston. Smooth and scrumptious!

A thought from a dear friend: Do what you love and the rest will fall into place.