Gleefully Distressing: A Writer Wednesday Post

June 25th, 2014 | Posted by Irene in Essays


Thank youThank You for Coming, lettering, photo & all text © Irene O’Garden, 2014

To listen to this post, please click here:Gleefully Distressing

Enjoyed my immensely challenging project last week, designing and painting 18 signs for the stunning country wedding of our Congressman Sean Patrick Maloney and Randy Florke, his partner of 22 years.

After stylist Phillip Montanez showed me an old Presbyterian Church sign as inspiration, I was off and running: custom-designing letters, arranging layouts,  measuring, measuring, measuring–a process interesting and arduous as play rehearsal: learning the moves so you hit your mark when the time comes.

Getting to paint is like performing at last. How I loved making big letters!  Like cast sizes in the theatre, most lettering and art these days has to be so small.  Who has money and space for big canvases? Who can afford a big cast of actors? A narrow sorrow of our age is such miniaturization of artistic expression.

It was fun seeing words shape under my hands, watching how shading changed them. I never thought I’d be tickled painting a restroom sign, but creation holds constant surprises.  These were like letters from childhood, in more ways than one. 



Clean RestroomsRestrooms, lettering & photo © Irene O’Garden, 2014


Certainly there were frustrations—difficult surfaces, erratic spacing, my own infractions of perception, but flaws and all, I liked these humble, old-fashioned signs. They seemed alive and full of feeling. Yet one thing remained to carry out the vision. I would have to distress them.

It was scary and contrary to take sandpaper and rasp to the first of the sweet shiny letters. But the difference in feeling was remarkable.


Reserved for Family            Reserved for Family, lettering & photo © Irene O’Garden, 2014

Soon I was whacking away at them, knowing every crush and curl made them subtler, gentler voices that seemed to issue from our past. Reminders we need not fear a little distress after all.





Barn Lounge









Beer Truck








My happiest moment came Saturday afternoon, as I went to drop off the last of the signs. Following computer navigation, I was about to turn onto their lane, when I was stopped by an Exit Only sign. Nice, I thought. Fits right in.



Exit OnlyExit Only, lettering and photo © Irene O’Garden, 2014



Only then did it strike me that I had made it.

Here’s hoping you’ll take on a project you’re not sure you can do, and end up gleefully surprising yourself!


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  • Laura

    Oh lucky wedding guests and the two gentlemen – Could there be better signs? No way! Dignified and vintage with a charm all Irene’s…Makes me wantto get married again if onlyto have some O garden Calligraphy!

    • IreneOGarden

      Thanks so much, Laura! Perhaps I should learn Cyrillic to celebrate your wonderful book “The Passion of Marie Romanov” or your upcoming Russian memoir. Then you wouldn’t have to get married!

  • Lisa Huntting

    I love them! Oh, you creative people — frightening how much talent lies in you!

    • IreneOGarden

      As I recall, you fit under the heading “Creative,” too! So scare yourself, already!

  • Jorie

    AHHH. Signs of the times, in so many ways! What a special range of talents you have allowed yourself to expand and enjoy (and we all get to enjoy!) The remarkable “commonplace” may be the most remarkable of all!


    • IreneOGarden

      Warm thanks, dear Jorie!

  • Scott

    I can’t imagine what it must have been like when you took the sandpaper to that RESTROOM sign! We spend so much of our livest after 21 trying to arrest the passage of time that to be involved in a process to move time along faster must be quite another dimension. For the next couple of days I’m going to be looking for some potentially gleeful projects. Thanks for the inspiration!

    • IreneOGarden

      Always happy to share any passing time with you, my friend!

  • Phillip Montanez

    I’m so glad you found such glee and inspiration in the project! The signs were so perfect for the property and for such a special occasion. I was equally inspired by the signs as I was by meeting you and getting to see your beautiful home and garden!

    • IreneOGarden

      Thanks, Phillip! What a pleasure working with you! I look forward to your return trip!

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