October 24, 2013

Workshop with Timothy Botts

Exercise in contrast on dark paper -- artwork by Tim Botts
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.)

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.

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.

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