October 24, 2013

Workshop with Timothy Botts

Lettering by Tim Botts -- each word represented a student
One of the many perks of my move to upstate New York is easy access to art classes in NYC.  As a member of the Society of Scribes, I now can participate in workshops led by internationally recognized artists in the calligraphic arts.  A beautiful train ride alongside the Hudson River takes me from Albany to Manhattan's Penn Station, and a subway takes me to the School of Visual Arts on 21st and 3rd. I have made the trip alone a few times now, and I am happy to report that during my most recent trip I did not even cry [out loud] when I got lost.  I was there for a two-day workshop led by Timothy Botts on creating word pictures through expressive lettering and layering, and it was worth every mode of transportation it took to get there. (Follow the link to see more of his extraordinary artwork.)

Example of graduated color -- artwork by Tim Botts

Closeup -- artwork by Tim Botts

Exercise in contrast on dark paper -- artwork by Tim Botts
I think what impressed me the most was Tim's respect for language. Whether through speaking it out loud, miming, thoughtful reflection on meanings and sounds, dramatic interpretations of phrases (though he denies any acting talent!), or subjective recollections of how he has personally experienced a particular word -- he gives each word its due.  There was no hasty "get it down on paper because my extraordinary lettering skills are enough" with him.  The beauty of these workshops is getting to experience an artists' thoughts before any marks are made on paper.  And in this area, Tim was incredibly generous.  Though he called himself shy, he did not hold back on letting us see inside his head and his heart as he approached each quote.  If nothing else, he has inspired me to pause.

Wonderful use of gouache, color, organic stencil, uncial -- artwork by Tim Botts
We learned about the fickleness of gouache, the flexibility of the flat brush when lettering large, the secret tricks on enhancing (or hiding) elements with collage and stencils. He demonstrated and then challenged us to use techniques like contrast, weight, animation, distortion to emphasize or downplay words that said something we liked or "liked less" about ourselves through a series of exercises.  We learned how to decide when the background should stop and the lettering begin, and how a quote is effectively expressed through both.

Beautiful example of layering, animation, and contrast -- artwork by Tim Botts
All in all, it was a joyful two days of learning because of Tim's positive and gentle demeanor, and because of the playful and supportive camaraderie that is always present when lettering artists get together to learn.

Halloween on the Farm

I hope one of the things my children remember about their childhood is that there was a playfulness to their surroundings.  I want our home to be an honest reflection of the love and laughter that fills it.   And with each season change and new holiday, we get to shake things up and create anew!  Since Halloween is one of our favorites, I thought I'd post a few pics of what is lying around our house this month (pardon the pun). Happy Halloween!

To save time, I got layout ideas from Halloween chalkboards on Pinterest and customized them with my own writing and words to fit our family. This framed board hangs next to our kitchen table and I change the quote monthly. I use chalk markers for the lettering because it gives me a lot more control.

This glass cloche was just begging for a skull.  Looks like a specimen jar. 

My kids are not happy about this one.  I thought it was so funny I just had to do it.  I probably won't repeat it next year because the feedback has been ENTIRELY negative.

Since the gravestone of one of our property's previous owners (1800's) was found in a nearby field, I actually thought twice about adding Roman to our backyard.  A little too close to the truth, if you know what I mean.  But again, I had do it.  My children have come to expect this from me.

This chalkboard is in our entryway.  I tweaked a layout I saw on Pinterest to fit my chalkboard and added some props to make it a little creepier.

I just couldn't end this post without a few shots of our property.  It is such a gift to live in this part of the country in the Fall!

Happy Haunting!

September 1, 2013

Sermon in the School Supplies

WARNING:  Long Post Ahead

I wonder how many teaching moments I have missed on ordinary days because of walking with my eyes closed.  Because the second I open them, bam, I get schooled. I can't even imagine how different my life would be if I put as much effort into "attentiveness" as I do "producing."  Here is one tiny example in the middle of the secular practice of school supply shopping.  I just happened to have my eyes open because of a book I am in the middle of that is moving me to new places in prayer.

I did not start this day in prayer unfortunately.  I had prepared myself for the stress of school shopping with nothing other than a time limit -- one of the most non-helpful things you can bring to an event like this.  Everything got to me -- the disorganized lists (INEFFICIENCY), the items I knew they would never use (WASTE), the complaints about inadequate binders (ENTITLEMENT), the cries for more (GREED), the fighting between them as we shopped (INGRATITUDE).  I even bought my children slushies to set a playful tone (DESPERATION) but found myself complaining about the slurping five minutes in.  Clearly the problem was me.  I should have prayed first.  I needed God to face this task with joy.

But God showed up anyway as we were leaving.  He came in the form of a man, wearing a bow tie in a cream-colored suit, standing in the middle of the school supplies.  Next to his very empty cart, he was studying a spiral notebook with great intensity and much confusion.  Finally, he surrendered and said, "Excuse me, miss, could you tell me if this is a composition notebook?"  It was not.  "And while I have you, do these (colorful) dry erase markers write only in black?"  No they do not.  "Well now, this is quite difficult," he opined to himself.  He was going to be here all day.  With raised eyebrows, the kids and I looked at each other and made the only decision we could. We turned our carts around and took him by the hand (almost) to the real school supply section at the back of the store.  All the while our spirits were lifting.  That's what serving does, doesn't it?

Together we smiled and helped and related to this stranger in the bow tie.  With his list in our hands, we efficiently made our way through the aisles, filling his cart. We quickly learned that he was buying supplies for disadvantaged kids attending a very special school not too far from us.  I don't know if he'd ever had kids of his own, but this man was clearly a stranger to school supplies.  He was stepping way out of his comfort zone in this act of service and it touched all of us. We felt like little shopping angels sent to help him in his time of need.  All the while he was helping us.  Stand back. Reframe.  See the bigger picture.  Gratitude. I may have even started slurping at that point. But then the real lesson began...

When we took him to the rack of composition notebooks, I quickly handed him ten black ones. My daughter quietly asked him, "Sir, do you think they might want to write in colorful ones?"  "Why, yes!" he responded and let her replace them with her choice.  When I showed him the dividers, I handed him ten sets of economy ones. When I used the word "sufficient," he asked for the more expensive, colorful ones with write-on tabs. (Sydney was rubbing off on him.)  We slowly made our way through his list as he selected the best and most colorful of the choices, regardless of cost, with the faces of the children and the heart of his God in his sight.  And we all got schooled.

My extravagant, extraordinary, generous and loving God lavishes me daily with gifts too numerous to count. He does not stop at "sufficient" when he blesses me.  My cup runneth over and he continues to give.  This precious man with his loving generosity was returning his own blessings to the children he was serving -- extravagantly. My daughter couldn't give without seeing the faces of the children as they excitedly opened their backpacks.  Together they gave more than was expected, more than necessary, more. Let me always remember this day in my own giving. As heir to a generous and extravagant God, my own gifts should be no less extravagant if I want to glorify God in my giving.  The precious lives and the God I serve are worthy of my best service.  Every time.

March 27, 2013

Calligraphy on "Blown" Eggs

There is no limit to what calligraphy can adorn!  With a simple carton of eggs and Sharpie's new brush marker, I now have Easter words like "Hosanna", "forgiven", and "remember me" sitting in the middle of our table.  Thanks to my kids' love for all things slimy, all I had to ask was "who wants to blow out egg guts?" In no time at all I had four dozen beautiful, feather light, perfect mini canvases to work on. This was an easy, inexpensive, handmade family project that makes a great gift for grandparents and friends.  And it's a simple, "write it on your doorposts" (Deuteronomy 6:9)  attempt to keep the truth of God's grace in front of my children during the week leading up to Easter.

My daughter was all over this.
I used distilled white vinegar and food coloring for the dye. Left them in for only a second or two because I wanted a "fresh from the chicken" look. 

I imagine my Zig or Pentel brush markers would have worked just as well, but I wanted to try out the new Sharpie brush marker.  Worked great. 

Have a beautiful weekend with your friends and family.  May the miracle and blessed reassurance of Easter fill your hearts and bring you peace as you celebrate.  

December 20, 2011

Studio is Completed!

At the end of the day, this post is more about my husband than my studio.  Because it's about how couples prioritize and what that says about what they value.  When you own an older home, you have to do a lot of prioritizing.  You ask yourself and each other, what should/can we repair or replace or add first?  I imagine most couples would begin by addressing the single bathroom upstairs that is currently serving our family of five. Or the fact that our detached garage is posing as our basement while our cars sit in the driveway. Or maybe some couples would prioritize a vacation to escape the never ending projects that come with owning an older home.  My husband prioritized studio space.  I don't know if he'll ever fully understand the love letter he wrote with that decision.  He was telling me something about what he values and that something is me.  Thank you, my love.  I heard you.

There was no room inside the farmhouse for a studio so we had to look outside.
Our detached saltbox garage had attic space above it that was perfect.

A pull-down hatch entry was the only way in.  

New framed-in stairway replaces hatch entry.

Insulated and finished walls and ceiling.  New skylights bring in natural light. 
Benjamin Moore Cloud White covers walls, trim, and ceiling.

Wrapped beams, added track lights the length of the room,
and installed laminate floor to make paint cleanup easier.
Built rolling table for flat files so it can double as a work counter
and be pushed out of way when not in use.


August 14, 2011

My Family's Route 2 Rural

It was a slightly different summer than I had planned, and my art took a back seat, appropriately.  My supplies are still in boxes, but they are no longer in a storage pod in Indiana, they are in a temporary storage room in OUR NEW HOME!  After struggling to find a home and living in a rental property for 3 months, we moved into a home of our own 8 weeks ago.  Even though my studio boxes are with me, there's no space for me to unload them quite yet.  You all know how strongly I feel about carving out a creative space in which to work, so a new space will be carved.  In an attic.  Above a detached garage.  Away from the house.  I am so excited!!  Below is a picture of the current unfinished space.  We have a million other projects that trump this one, but I can feel it, I'm getting closer.  Won't this be an amazing place to work?!

Attic space above garage -- home of my new studio!

I set up a separate blog to document our family's journey, because I really wanted to keep this an artist blog.  But I thought I should mention it to you here, and provide a link, because many of you have responded as much to my heart as my art, and there's a lot of that over there.  Also, you artists all know that a special house can be its own canvas.  God chose something for me that is way out of my comfort zone and is going to be the biggest artistic challenge yet -- a 1795 historic farmhouse.  If you want to see it, head over to www.route2rural.blogspot.com.  I just posted pictures yesterday.

I'll keep you posted on my studio space and let you know when that first box gets cracked open.  Hopefully I'll still know how to letter!  Haven't touched a nib since December.  Wow.

April 28, 2011

Parking Lot Angel

Written Jan. 13, 2011
Lettered with simple scribe's tools found in purse, a Uniball pen and 2HB pencil. 

There are angels among us.

Today I was walking to my car in the Lowe's parking lot, juggling two gallons of paint, rollers and stir sticks, a purse that was much bigger than it needed to be, and a styrofoam cup of coffee that was much smaller than it needed to be.  A kind, older gentleman saw me struggling and offered his assistance.  As he walked away I wished him a wonderful day.  He simply said, "It's one of a kind, isn't it?"  I turned around and stared at him.  Could it be?  An angel sent to me -- placed in my path to wake me up to this day?  His words were so simple, so profound, so necessary they could have only come from one place.  I have been running too fast, allowing fear to control my priorities and uncertainty to order my day. I have forgotten to make room for joy.  It's easy to do that, isn't it?  To get sucked into a certain type of day, week, month that if it was your last you would weep at all the loss.  My parking lot angel spoke so loud to me today he could have been screaming.

We are moving to New York.  I haven't had time to blog, to create, to sing, to read to my children.  Soon I will be driving away from everything that is safe and familiar.  I have to admit that as we prepare our house for sale and pack up memories that came from this special place, I am not making room for joy.  I am only making room for fear.  My days are all about holding on to any shred of peace I can find.  And because of all that holding on, I'm not finding any.  I have completely forgotten how to live and love this day in my frantic pursuit of creating a perfect "tomorrow" for my family.  But this day is one-of-a-kind, my parking lot angel reminded me.  One-of-a-kind.  Unique.  Pertaining to a singular example.  Never to be repeated.  And certainly not to be wished away.

I hesitated to get in my car in case he had more words for me.  My angel had stopped and was looking in amazement at a souped-up truck parked next to my minivan.  Chuckling, he pointed to the truck and repeated, "It's one of kind, isn't it?"

Though my parking lot angel ended up being just a man who appreciates a nice truck, my God remains a God who speaks to me in unexpected ways when I need it most.

April 26, 2011

Play for Me Kokopelli

©2009 Shannon M. Wilson, "Play for Me."
Acrylic and gouache on pasted paper, 12" x 18"

Though I created this a long time ago, I remember lettering it like it was yesterday.  It was the first time I had attempted layered and circular text on one of my first paste paper backgrounds.  I remember studying pictures of sweet Kokopelli and his feather-laden hair and trying to reflect the spirit of the southwest in the colors and textures.  It was a gift for my mother on the occasion of her 65th birthday.  (To say her  home decor has a southwestern flare is an understatement.)  

It wasn't the art that made her cry, it was the words that accompanied it -- a beautifully presented little speech by my oldest son comparing her to Kokopelli, the mythical flute-playing character that can be found all over her house.  As the kids and I studied the history of this figure that is sacred to many Native Americans, we had to laugh at the similarities between the two of them -- mischievous, whimsical, joyful, charitable, musical, bringer of joy.

We learned that according to some legends Kokopelli was a wanderer who carried songs on his back.  Representing everything pure and spiritual about music, he brought good luck and fortune to anyone who listened.  His flute was said to symbolize happiness and joy.  When he played the sun came out, the snow melted, grass began to grow, birds began to sing, and all the animals gathered round to hear his songs.

You can see the same reaction in the children, grandchildren and students that sit at my mother's feet as she "sings" her love for them through her teaching, her stories, and her infectious energy.  She believes in the potential of each child and student so fiercely that they end up believing it too, and that's when the magic happens.  Their special gifts (that were always there) start pouring out and lives are changed.   Whatever the true meaning of Kokopelli, our family knows him as an endless source of joy -- just like my mother.

I'm sharing this piece here, now, because our recent move to New York took her daughter and grandchildren away from her. I wanted her to know, again, how much she's loved and missed and thought of.  I know she is asking herself, "What now?," with her grandchildren far from home.  I want her to remember that it is all children she influences and there are hundreds near her wherever she is and wherever we are.  She has only scratched the surface on what she has left to give.  I love you, Mom.  Hang in there.

April 20, 2011

Change is Here

Lake Michigan one last time before the move.
We can do this.  Together.

Hello, my dear friends.  I have missed you and this blog more than you know. Before I jump right back in, though, I feel like I owe you an explanation.  Change hasn't just crept in since my last post, it has knocked me over.  That beauty I was longing for in my October post?  I'm sitting in the middle it of it, but it was preceded by a whole lot o' ugly.  (Sounds a little like my faith journey, now that I think about it.)  I couldn't fill you in as it was unfolding, because many of the steps called for and still call for discretion, but here is what I can say.

Incredible tension and pain has been a big part of our family's life because of impossible professional relationships with family members.  Things finally came to a head, our choices got fewer, and we had to make a difficult decision. That decision took us far away from the people we love.  In the last 6 months my husband and I and our three young children have survived the termination of a partnership, a heart-wrenching resignation, a season of unemployment, a job search, a home sale, and a cross-country move away from family and dear friends.   In retrospect, I wish I would have blogged throughout, but I was too overwhelmed and probably a little afraid to admit what I was feeling.  My faith can be so weak when I'm being called to trust in an outcome I can't see. I will post something from January, though, that I wrote in the thick of it because it's a message I want to remember, and is one that might resonate with some of you.

I have very few of my art supplies here with me, because we are in a rental house and all my belongings are in a storage shed states away.  My medium may have to be photography and words until we are settled in a house of our own, so this blog will be taking a slight detour for the next few months.  Thank you for sticking with me, though, and for your emails of support during my absence.  I have truly missed you all and can't wait to work creatively alongside and amongst you again.

September 8, 2010

Everybody Needs Beauty

©2010 Shannon M. Wilson
Pointed pen with Sumi ink and watercolor
pencil on Arches text. 

I've been reading a lot of John Muir lately... and Thoreau...and the poetry of mystics who find God in a raindrop. They know something about simplicity and the way wind breathes over you like a mantra when you stop running.  Whenever I pick up my nibs to practice lettering, I always come back to these kinds of writers and thinkers.  I have such a longing for the kind of peace they speak of -- peace that can be found in nature, in being truly present, or in the prayerful openness of meditation. I'm getting closer.  Not only have I stopped running, but I'm dead in my tracks looking over my shoulder for a new path. A lot of things led me here, from overwhelming busyness to unspoken fears that this was all there was. But the biggest catalysts were two books, "Simple Abundance," and "Captivating" that kept finding their way to my bedside table for a third, fourth, fifth reading. Through language that both called and convicted, the authors have helped spark the wild soul and beauty seeker in me and I have a new lens through which I see everything -- things that are and things that could be.  

August 23, 2010

The Mountains are Calling

I have some great friends who recently fulfilled a lifelong dream to own property in Colorado.  There are so many things I love about that statement.  I love that this amazing couple shared a dream together.  I love that they planned for it and sacrificed for it and waited for it.  I love that when the opportunity presented itself, they didn't let fear stop them from jumping in.  This huge decision has the potential to change their next season together in thrilling, challenging, and beautiful ways. And I imagine when they stand in that new space for the first time as owners, the air is going to be charged with quiet recognition of all they've shared that has led them to that moment.  (They might also whisper, "What have we done?", but I know they're going to be grinning when they say it.)

[Artwork -- I created the piece above for them as a tiny housewarming gift.  I used a photo of the Colorado Rockies that I altered in Photoshop with a watercolor artistic filter and torn edge effect.  I printed it on Arches Text and then lettered over it in Sumi and gouache.  The line below the art is their new address, but I've blurred it to respect their privacy.]

August 19, 2010

Whispers in the Wind

My dear, aging husband (sorry, Drew) refused a party for his 40th birthday, so we sent out whispers in the wind with a little art installation in our front yard.  The kids and I each took a handful of blank cards and hand-lettered words and thoughts about the man we treasure before laminating (rain was coming) and attaching them with twine to the ends of lower branches.  Do you hear the whispers, Drew?  This glorious story you're living is getting richer every moment as time and experiences shape you, open you, soften you.  God has begun a good work in you and your family is watching and celebrating its unfolding...  Happy birthday, my love.

I had seen and catalogued this idea years ago from the website of a gifted book artist, naturalist, and teacher,  Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord.  She wrote that she was inspired by the image below of a Japanese folding screen by 17th century Japanese artist Tosa Mitsuoki.  I am so thrilled with how our "birthday installation" turned out I have already begun thinking about a similar project for the young writers in my children's elementary school next Spring.  I'll let you know how that goes!  

Folding screen by 17th Century artist Tosa Mitsuoki

August 9, 2010

Painting with His Voice

©2010 Shannon M. Wilson, Remember Me.
Acrylics, 48 x 36".

We've had a beautifully disorganized and lazy summer where we only change out of pajamas if the doorbell rings.  Living with purpose has its purpose, but sometimes too much purpose gets in the way of living -- this has been my summer mantra. (I hope my kids will all be able to hold down jobs someday with this kind of modelling, but it's a risk I'm going to have to take.)  Leisure and laughter and lollygagging with those you love is summer's gift and we've opened that gift every day.  It's why I haven't been doing much blogging or painting!

But in the midst of this leisure, I was invited to participate in a fabulous art auction to benefit the Women's Care Center in Elkhart, IN -- an impressive organization that supports young women who find themselves facing unplanned or crisis pregnancies.  I created the above piece for that event and was thrilled as it raised some serious dollars for the organization and the women it serves.  But what thrilled me even more was how the room responded to its words.  I chose one of my favorite quotes by Rumi:

"In your light, I learn how to love.  In your beauty, how to make poems.  You dance inside my chest where no-one sees, but sometimes I do, and that sight becomes this art."  

I repeated the words "remember me" throughout the piece and I prayed it would strike a chord with someone in the room who longs for or experiences that kind of intimacy.

I could have included one of my abstract paintings for this event.  I could have chosen words that had more universal appeal.  I could have submitted one of my more popular jewelry designs -- a safe choice. But I had a special opportunity to let God work the room that night and the response was incredible.  As the bids climbed higher and higher, I sat stunned and humbled.  I cried all the way home as I tried to wrap my mind around how God has led me to this art -- art that speaks for Him. And how people's hearts seem to open in response.

June 1, 2010

Thank you, Teachers

"A teacher affects eternity.  He can never tell where his influence stops." 
-- Henry Brooks Adams

If you have young children, we're doing a lot of thanking right now, aren't we?   A year completed, a child bloomed, a family blessed.  What tremendous teachers all three of my children had this year!  And each and every one of them was perfectly chosen for my children for different reasons.  Seth with all his five-year-old fears was loved and sheltered so fiercely that he gradually let go of my hand.  Third grade  Sydney found a teacher who recognized her sweetness early and was valued for it instead of overlooked. My fourth grader, Lucas, was gifted with a teacher who knew that a well-written comic strip was just as important as a book review in his growth as a reader and writer.   It's hard to put into words my gratitude for the teachers who guide, teach, inspire, and protect our children while we aren't with them. Their influence is unparalleled at this point in my children's lives and will carry on in ways I won't even know in years to come.  Thank you, teachers.  All of you.

The piece above is a very rough attempt at Blackletter. I have a lot of practicing ahead of me!  I wrote with bleach and a flat brush and added the rest of the quote in Dr. Martin's white with a pointed pen.  The "A" was done with Golden Tar Gel and finished with copper leaf to complement the earth tone watercolors I used over the bleach.  This was a gift for one of my children's teachers who is retiring this year. 

May 3, 2010

Victoria Pittman Workshop

What an amazing, art-filled weekend I recently shared with my calligraphy friends!  We had a chance to take Victoria Pittman's "Tortured Metals" class and our heads are still spinning with all the techniques she threw at us.  She is a generous, open, eloquent, and passionate artist who many times throughout the weekend was almost giddy at the some of the effects we were able to achieve. You could tell she was cataloguing every experience as a springboard for a new creation she would attempt the second she left the building.  My favorite teaching moment was when she described in colorful detail a splatter of rust and paint she saw on a truck while travelling that she just had to emulate.  We learned how to use our eyes as well as our hands that weekend.  Thank you, Victoria!

Here are a few of my pieces from the workshop:

It is unbelievable what you can coax out of copper. 

Abstract acrylic piece using gestural marks and texturing tools.  

The possibilities are endless with this gesso-based technique.  I plan to use this one for a book cover. 

A sample of the results I was able to achieve by using a patina on gold and silver leaf.  The organic element is from a cactus in Victoria's yard.

Small card -- tissue paper and metal collage with silver leaf.  I love how the copper patina complements the acrylics.

Victoria is calmly at work while we are panicking that we're forgetting everything!

Check out Victoria's work for yourself at her blog: http://victoiriapittman.blogspot.com.  She has recently entered the world of encaustics and I can't wait to see how she uses them.  All I know is it will be unconventional and totally original.