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:  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.  

May 1, 2010

Compassion and the Secret Sisters Society

One of my jewelry clients is a member of the Secret Sisters Society, an organization of cancer survivors who are using their experience and passion for life to help women in our community who can't afford important cancer screenings like mammography. Every year they hold a fundraiser and invite artists to submit a design for their promotional materials.  The only requirements are that it include the Secret Sisters' name and mask.  When my client told me of their mission, I knew calligraphy had a place in their promotions and I decided to submit something. (My submission is pictured above.)  I'll know sometime in May if my work has been selected, but I thought I'd share the piece and a little about their efforts here, regardless of the outcome.

Art and words, and the merging of the two, can be very powerful -- maybe even powerful enough to move people to action. I believe the lettering arts could play an extraordinary role in the non-profit, healing industries.  I wish the Secret Sisters Society great success in their fundraising efforts and pray that their work is a light to those who desperately need it.

[I used Sumi ink and Ecoline watercolors for the background and the lettering was done with ruling pen, broad edge, and pointed pen in Sumi, gouache, and Dr. Martin's bleedproof white.  The quote from Gandhi was yet another attempt at the new "bamboo italics" hand I am learning.]

April 16, 2010

Simple Book in Bamboo Italics

Under the patient and expert teaching of Anne Binder ( ), I "attempt" to add a new hand to my toolbox every 8 weeks.  To give us a break from the seriousness of Roman Capitals, she is now introducing us to a letterform she calls bamboo italics -- a contemporary and casual hand that lends itself to lengthy text (because of the short ascenders and descenders and ease of writing).  Using a Mitchell 4 and a pressure/release technique, you (not me, yet) can make these letters as playful or as serious as your chosen text demands.

Anne taught me early on that the best way to learn a new hand is to force yourself to create a finished product with it instead of just practicing on scrap paper.  That's only after you've first practiced it for hundreds of hours on scrap paper, of course.  The simple book pictured above and below is the result of my project-based practice -- the lettering is rough and very literal, but it's a start!  It features poetry from one of my favorite Sufi masters, Hafiz.  I pulled out some of my leather tools for the simple binding, using ribbon, silver grommets and beads.  The full text reads:

What kind of God would he be
if He did not hear the bangles on an ant's wrist
as they move the earth in their sweet dance?
And what kind of God would he be
if a leaf's prayer was not as precious to Creation
as the prayer His own son sang
from the glorious depth of his soul -- for us.
And what kind of God would he be
if the vote of millions in this world could sway Him
to change the Divine law of love
that speaks so clearly with compassion's elegant tongue
saying, eternally saying:
all are forgiven --
moreover, dears, no one has ever been guilty.

                -- Hafiz
                   (translated by Daniel Ladinsky)

March 23, 2010

Invent Your World

I am feeling so very grateful.  I will soon turn 41 and on this particular birthday I am aware more than ever of the abundance in my life.  With God's gentle prodding and closed doors that became open windows, a few years ago I decided to invent my world, change my day, and add to my life things that nourish me.  Of course I had to fit all those things inside the confines of my roles as wife and mother, but they fit well, and even my roles grew more rewarding, more beautiful, as a result.  I took on a new art form -- calligraphy.  I found a group of artists and a mentor who make me laugh and make it feel safe to share my work.  (The piece pictured above was created especially for them.)  I converted my dining room into a studio, because it places me a window away from my garden while I'm doing what I love.   Alone but unafraid, I took my first ever 3 day sabbatical and allowed music, meditation, and creative work to fill my every moment.  And I've fallen in love with my husband all over again because I had to go inward in order to find my true artistic expression and he was secure enough to wait for me on the other side.

I know some of you are feeling the same staleness I felt two years ago, which is why I'm putting my story on paper, in front of you.  I have to ask.  How would you invent your world, change your day, add things to your life that nourish you?  What tiny changes would make you come alive and be a more true expression of yourself in and amongst your family and friends -- and in front of God?  Time -- it's going so fast.  Invent your world.

March 2, 2010

Studio Shots

(more photos below)

I absolutely LOVE seeing how other people have created their artistic space -- it almost feels like reading a private journal entry of someone who shares my dreams.  I wanted to return the favor and open my studio to you. But before I say a single solitary thing about my favorite place in the house, I have to thank my beloved who has stayed openminded about how I have chosen to use our home.  He has looked away from the ink on the carpet, merely raised an eyebrow at my explanation of an experimental gestural drawing on the window pane, and has never asked me for the whereabouts of our dining table.  He has watched me practice a single letter for hours and, to date, has never said "there is a PC font for that one, honey."  I love that man.

Calligraphy is a beautiful, meditative art that requires hour after hour of disciplined practice.  Sometimes slow, sometimes free, sometimes deliberate, sometimes rhythmic... it involves exemplars and experimentation, a study of the masters and a study of the self.  It requires intense concentration and a free and forgiving spirit.  You are humbled every time you look at another's work, and are proud when you see how your work today compares with yesterday's.  It is frustrating, and gratifying, and worthy of your greatest effort.  It doesn't take a lot of space, but the space you make for it should make you feel like lettering.  Welcome to the South Wing!

The room you are looking at is my living room/dining room (a long rectangular space with large windows on both ends).  My office space (desk, computer, files, mailing supplies),  piano and recording equipment, and jewelry display are on one end.  The other end holds my drafting table, my calligraphy supplies, and a work table with paper storage underneath (there's the dining room table, honey). The drafting table is arranged so that I can look at my gardens (another hobby) when I'm really frustrated with a difficult hand, like Roman capitals, for example.

By the way, I got that drafting table from a roadside barn sale for $11 (thanks to my dear friend Wanda who discovered it!). It took about 3 weeks to get rid of the smell, and I had to remove varmint hair from the hollow posts before I could even paint it, but oh, it's a beauty.  When I called my husband to tell him I was so excited I managed to carry the darn thing inside and set it up myself, he asked, "how in the world did you get it down the basement stairs?"  That was the moment he learned he'd lost the South Wing.  Did I tell you I love that man?

For those of you who are needing flat paper storage and can't imagine springing for those crazy expensive metal cabinets, I added shelf brackets to the legs of my dining room table and cut 3 pieces of plywood to fit.  I lined the plywood with vinyl (from a fabric store for about $10) so no oils from the wood would leak onto the paper.  I figure if I ever find time for entertaining again, I can store the dessert down there to limit my trips to the kitchen.

February 21, 2010

Energies of Love

My recent peace project (and a family drama that is playing itself out as we speak) got me thinking about force, the dangers of over-confidence, and the illusion of control.  When power over others is the goal, incredible amounts of energy are channeled toward things of man instead of things of God. And for what?  Control of money?  Circumstances?  Reputation?  These are fleeting, earthly, temporal things of no eternal value, but they can consume us if we let them and end up defining a life (whether we are the oppressor or the oppressed).  Revenge and the exhausting pursuit of justice can entrap us as much as the things we fight against.  We have to remember that love is the only response that liberates, and that is its ultimate power -- if we trust it enough to work.  Do we?

"Someday, after mastering the winds, the waves, the tides, and gravity, we shall harness for God the energies of love, and then, for the second time in the history of the world, man will have discovered fire." -- Pierre Teilhard de Chardin

Artwork:  I completed the piece above after a pointed pen class by Anne Binder. What an awesome tool!   I used Arches black cover, Dr. Martin's Bleedproof white, and a Hunt 56 pointed nib.  

February 18, 2010

Words for Peace

The Genesee Valley Calligraphy Guild of New York is preparing for an exhibit modelled after Thomas Ingmire's "Words for Peace" ( a calligraphic art installation that pulled together voices from across the world to make a collective statement about war, peace, and fear at a time when the Iraq war was imminent. The Guild sent out a recent call to lettering artists to contribute a 5" x 20" piece of paper with a quote on peace that will be part of a Spring installation on the same topic.  I'm in.

Finding the right quote was harder than I thought. Mine may be one of a thousand voices, but it's mine, or at least it should be. Where do I stand?  Somewhere between Malcom X and Gandhi, I think.  It's complicated, isn't it?  Is peace the absence of war or the motive of war?  Is silence the same thing as consent?  What role do I play alongside God in His fight for the oppressed?  Stop. Everyone hold hands and sing with me..."it only takes a spark...."

In the end I chose love. It's how I'm wired.  It's who God wired me to be. For the actual quote I was
torn between Jimi Hendrix and St. Francis of Assisi.  Sorry, Jimi.  I'll include your words here, though.

"When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace." -- Jimi Hendrix

I think Jimi was just paraphrasing St. Francis, who prayed:

Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light.

I'll post links of the exhibit when it's finished.  To learn more about the installation (or to contribute your own voice!), you can find details at


January 14, 2010

Om Namah Shivaya

I LOVE meditation.  Who knew?  My heart was so ready, so open, I'm not surprised that something beautiful rushed in when I began.  I wish I could explain every moment, every breath, every thought I had to lasso and the love that took its place.  Do you know I actually laughed out loud the first time I tried to chant (day 5)?  What a picture that must have been:  sitting on my yoga brick, spine straight, middle finger to thumb, quiet breath... "Ooommm. Namah Shivaya."  What?  But it didn't take long.  At first I struggled with when to breathe and when to speak, and when to pause. But after several minutes my breathing regulated and it became more natural.  And when I stopped chanting and let stillness and breathing take its place, I felt different than when I had begun.  Heightened, certain, present.

I think the biggest change has been my spirit of gratitude.  God's name has been on my lips, on my mind, on my heart ever since I began meditating, and when that is true, gratitude can't help but spill over.    When I see the sun rise, I am totally aware of the precious gift of this day. When I turn the heat on in my car I offer thanks for my husband's job that helps pay for a reliable car.  When I look at my children I see light and life and possibility instead of noise, and tasks, and responsibility.  When I hear my husband's breath while he sleeps, I relax into the truth that God has given me my beloved.  Gratitude is spilling over.

photo:  This is a bracelet I made to remind me of my first, peaceful Sanskrit mantra. I'll explain the words in a later post.

January 8, 2010


New Year's Resolution #1: to breathe

It might sound like I set the bar way too low this year, but "breathe" is really just a shorter way of saying "find and maintain a spiritual center that is impenetrable by noise, chaos, pain, emotion, and anything else that moves me from a place of grace". This is the year I'm going to try to make meditation part of my daily life. I've been wanting to do this ever since I read Eat, Pray, Love by Elizabeth Gilbert a few years ago.

I'm struggling with whether or not to document my journey here. It's possible some of you have considered trying (or are in the midst of practicing) meditation and would find my public failure at it very comforting. I'd really like to offer you that. In all seriousness, I have already experienced a beautiful first few days and I am almost giddy at the possibilities meditation may hold for me. I am not a stressed-out person. I don't immerse myself in tasks and relationships that run me ragged. But I am very influenced by auditory clutter (an alternative definition for "family"), and I spend way too much time talking to God and too little time listening. So... meditate it is. By the way, that also means I'm going to have to learn Sanskrit.

Luminary -- I made the luminary pictured above out of Arches Aquarelle watercolor paper, Sumi ink and Dr. Martin's Hydrus watercolors. I cut the painting into four pieces and used a blanket stitch with embroidery thread to connect them. It surrounds a glass-enclosed votive at the center of our dinner table. If I breathe more, will I eat less?