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

 

 

Restrooms

 

 

 

 

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!

 

Big Callig: A Writer Wednesday Post

June 18th, 2014 | Posted by Irene in Essays - (1 Comments)

Joy “Joy, According to Mary Cassatt” Photo & Calligraphy© Irene O’Garden 2014

 

This is a week of Big Callig– I was recently asked to create the piece above for the Garrison Art Center  to honor Tracy Strong , Gold Star Honoree at their 50th Birthday Gala and I was also commissioned on Saturday to design and hand-paint 18 wooden signs for a wedding this Saturday (!) So alas, all my words must be painted, not written this week.  But I am thinking of my dear readers, and hope you are feeling the love, the life and the joy!

My Worm

My Worm, photo and all text © Irene O’Garden 2013

To listen to this post, please click here:Ink Under The Bridge

“A worm has zero legs.” You can see why I’m enjoying this week’s lettering task.  Ada’s poem is one of sixteen winning entries in this year’s Hudson Highlands Land Trust expanded River Of Words Poetry Trail.  Half the winners will see their work hanging on muslin banners along The Constitution Marsh Trail (opening here this Sunday.) The other eight works will be fluttering in October at the Hudson Highlands Nature Museum.

It’s good for an artist to have such tasks. And when it comes to the severe judgements we can level at our work, an internal child-mind is a handy companion.

Take guidelines. Over the years a Nile of ink has flowed through my calligraphy and I’ve resented guidelines the whole length of it.  So tedious, making them yourself. My lettering felt crushed in these stony canals, for the impossible standard of perfection they implied. I used them, but grudgingly.

In the 80’s I found a sentence in Jane Robert’s Seth Material that became my motto:

 

Spontane-ing 1986

 Spontane-ing, 1986, Phot0, artwork and all text © Irene O’Garden, 2013

Spontaneity Creates Its Own Order. What liberation!  I went wild. I developed my cursive and invented a capital alphabet which I still rely on for speed and delight.  I was able to write lively straight-ish lines without a net.

But I secretly felt a pebble, a burr, a thorn in my work–a catty-wonkiness of discomfort  with formal commissions.

I move forward anyway, as I did this week. The letters were dear, the lines straight enough, but still the old dissatisfaction. Child-mind asks questions. “How could like your work better?” “I guess if the space between lines were more regular. “

“Yeah. Spacing’s boring. A frame, not a picture.” Never saw it like that, but my eye did.  A crooked frame harms the best picture.

And it was I, not the guidelines, who held the impossible standard: Space lines well without any guide. It can be done, but it’s hard. Why make it hard?

I cut a card, made a spacer, pencilled pinpoints at the start of each line to show just where to step on to the tightrope, where my kinesthetic balance carries me along without the net. Such confidence puts a spring in my letters. Children always know they are growing. We forget that we are growing too.

I smile at these young poets. Boring grammar will help them frame their thoughts eventually. But buoyed by fresh vision, spontaneity creates its own guidelines. And those wasted frustrations? Ink under the bridge.

 

Have you freed yourself from an old dissatisfaction?

 

Poetry gift for you:

As you read last week, I am offering to record public domain poetry to be posted in place of my regular posts while I am out of the country for the month of September. I have gotten delightful suggestions! If you are interested, please be sure the poem was published in the US before 1923 and that the poet slipped from us before 1942. Please get it to me before next Teuesday so I have time to record them all before I leave–Thanks!

 

A calligraphic week– this week I share words with you that are not my own, but that passed through my hand on to muslin in my new studio space. The first is a gift for a young college graduate. It comes from a wonderful book I just finished, called The Art of Writing. This collection of reflections and advice from ancient Chinese masters is proof that writing was no easier for them than it is for us! This quotation is by Song Zijing, from the section entitled: Poets’ Jade Splinters. I loved it and thought it of use to anyone recently unboxed from school:

Jade splinters

 Distinctive Style, (8″x 12″) Photo & Calligraphy © Irene O’Garden, 2013

The second piece was commissioned by an old friend celebrating his 25th year in the priesthood. It was written by Jesuit Father Pedro Arrupe. Whatever your idea of Source, Spirit, Higher Power or Self, it’s a rich and intriguing idea:

Fall in love

  Fall in Love, (23″ x 27 1/2″) Photo & Calligraphy © Irene O’Garden, 2013

Like a “Persian” rug, the piece bears a flaw: a muslin bump, invisible until I lettered over it at the very end. Like the rug weavers who believe perfection belongs only to Allah,  I left it.

Does either quote prompt words of your own?

Back To The Petal, photo and all text c Irene O’Garden 2012

If you’d like to listen to this post, note that alas, due to file size limits, you’ll have to click again at the end to hear the poem. For the post itself, please click here:A Little Lettering

Poetry has been requesting my attention quite a bit lately. Above you see a fragment of a child’s poem, one of ten I hand-lettered on muslin for an upcoming event this Sunday at Constitution Marsh. If you look near the upper right corner of this page, you’ll find the link to my Calendar page, which goes into more detail about The Hudson Highlands Land Trust River of Words Poetry Trail (as well as the other upcoming poetic events which have buttonholed me.)

A moment of digression before the pith of my post: For the last few years, the Hudson Highlands Land Trust  has sponsored a regional River of Words program. River of Words is an national environmental literacy organization which seeks to connect children with their watersheds via poetry and art, and I am part of a great Land Trust team which offers free workshops in our local schools.

I was asked to choose ten poems from the hundreds generated in our programs and to help find a way to display them throughout  the exquisite landscape of the Marsh. I decided to letter them simply on large pieces of unbleached muslin, which will then be driftwood-weighted, twined and hung along the trail by my teammates.

I’ve had a sense of Christmas all week, knowing that the children who come on Sunday have a happy surprise in store. Seeing their poems floating in the trees and thrusting out of the ground will help them treasure their poetry and their landscape, and remind parents why both are so important.

It’s been a while since I have practiced calligraphy, and I’ve savored it this week. It’s been fun to be so close to fresh poetic imagination, and satisfying to letter the poems I midwived in the classroom. But the best part was this dawning realization: one of the fruits of age is the progressive retirement of the inner critic. In the heavenly silence that ensues, we can go back to enjoying the process, as children do constantly. I relished exploring the letters themselves. As designer Eric Gill said, letters are things, not pictures of things. Making them felt like putting forth little round berries and pointy leaves of my own.

My poem, Nonfiction, describes my earliest pleasure with letters. (This is the poem which recently won a 2012 Willow Review Award.) If you would like the written text of the poem, please contact Willow Review for a copy of the issue in which it appears.  If you would like to hear me read it now, please click here: Nonfiction

 

Is there a process you particularly enjoy?

 

 

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