Friday, December 16, 2016

A Workshop: Deepening Your Art Through Daily Practice

Cover of my latest handmade journal/sketchbook.

Because I sometimes like to entertain you with my art adventures if they are in any way connected with books or writing, I am going to tell you about a two-day workshop I attended last weekend led by an artist who combines calligraphy, watercolor, poetry, journaling, and meditation.

I have taken workshops with Laurie Doctor before - this was my fourth - and every time I learn more not only about creating but also about myself. (You can read about the first one I took here.)

Laurie is an artist and calligrapher and teaches in Europe and the U.S. I am so lucky because she lives in Louisville and I don't have to travel but about five miles to attend her classes. This workshop was called "Deepening Your Art Through Daily Practice". 

We begin (as always) with a little stretching to limber us up for the work ahead. (I call it waking the Muse.) Laurie talks to us about the importance of showing up each day to create -- whether that be at the craft table or easel, pottery wheel or desk. Then she recites a poem. Actually, she does it so well it is more of a performance. This time the poem was On Angels by Czeslaw Milosz. 

Then we do a bit of writing, writing, writing. The rule is that you must keep your hand moving and don't lift the pen from the paper (that includes crossing t's, dotting i's, and moving back to the left side of the paper to start a new line). Sometimes this is done with a white china marker. You can't really see the words so you don't get too attached to them. We do this on a large sheet of watercolor paper - choosing anywhere at all to write. It is not going to matter. This exercise takes maybe 10 minutes. 

This first part of the morning sets the stage for what is to follow.

For this workshop, the rest of the exercises were based on the alphabet she created for us. The letters were very intuitive and not at all difficult to get the hang of. First we practiced the letter forms with pencil. Then we did a bit of blind writing - eyes closed, no peeking - forming the letters as best we could. Next came out the calligraphy pen and nib with watercolors to use as ink. I chose quinacridone violet, quinacridone gold, and turquoise for my palette.

Inside pages of my journal. 
You can see the color palette I used at the right.

Taking the same alphabet and our calligraphy pens, we began to copy the poem that we had each brought with us. Mine was When I Met My Muse by William Stafford. 

There is no talking. There is soft music but if it in any way aggravates anyone, she will turn it off. In this way, we worked on our own for quite a while.  

Later, she demonstrated a few more techniques. Perhaps writing with a very wide nib or walnut ink or even a shell filled with watercolor ink. Then we practiced any or all of these different ways to play with the letters but always using words from our poem - not just making marks on the paper. After a while, you realize the poem has becomes a part of you.

A sample of the alphabet we used.

By the end of the two days, we have torn and folded that big sheet of paper into signatures and sewn them into a journal to take home and use to continue our practice. It is so cool to see the random ways that the work done on a large sheet of paper with no direction or strategizing shows up in the book. 

I like that the class is so meditative. There is no chattering, it is definitely a No Cell Phone Zone (she is adamant about that!), the class is small, and there is not a headlong rush to move from one technique to another. I get time to deeply feel what I am doing and fall into the dream world of creating. 

Best. Gift. Ever.

Closeup of another page. The black letters were written on
a strip of tracing paper and are the poem that I used. I appear to have photographed the backside
of the paper. Oh, well. You get the idea.

Here's the poem:

When I Met My Muse

I glanced at her and took my glasses
off -- they were still singing. They buzzed
like a locust on the coffee table and then
ceased. Her voice belled forth, and the 
sunlight bent. I felt the ceiling arch, and
knew that nails up there took a new grip
on whatever they touched. "I am your own
way of looking at things," she said. "When
you allow me to live with you, every
glance at the world around you will be 
a sort of salvation." And I took her hand.

--William Stafford


  1. Sounds like a stimulating and refreshing two days. Are you still sketching every day, or most days? One of the things I'd like to do is copy some of my favorite poems and illustrate them with watercolor. I still have a little bit of "fear of the blank page" to conquer before I do that!

    1. Hi, Kathy. I am trying to do a little something every day. I don't know if I told you about the small sketchbook with the black pages...that is what I am filling up now. Using a white gel pen. Sometimes it is a just a quote or a doodle but at least it is something!

      I like your idea of illustrating a favorite quote. Check out Shayda Campbell on YouTube. She has lots of simple ways to combine images and words. She is calming and the videos are usually pretty short. I like her instructions and usually follow along with her. I have gotten good ideas from watching her!

    2. Thanks for the suggestion, I'll check her out.

      And Merry Christmas to you, too!