Spoonful feature

May 4, 2011


Balloon by Jesophi, Jewellery Designer

I’m thrilled that the shop is featured on the blog of a delightful little zine I ordered, called Spoonful, a happiness companion. Thanks Anthea! It is, as the title suggests, a bite sized helping of food for the soul.  There are hearty little snippets of literature, art, and musings on happiness, enhancing the everyday, creativity and more. 

I ordered it to include in my shop as part of the mission of bringing in inspiration from all over the world into this tiny little village where I live. There are just so many wonderful things happening on a grass roots level in the area of creativity and community building that people here would never get exposed to without a guide. So I guess that is what part of the function of this shop is.  Anyway, Spoonful is reasonably priced and beautifully presented, with a nice layout and colour artwork. I’m enjoying, after having read my 3 issues, dipping in and following some of the links, to say, Denise Sharp a creator of whimsical works in paper and calligraphy. Have FUN!

Click for Jesophi Jewellery designer’s Etsy shop


I just watched a great TED talk while I was doing the ironing this evening. I am a great fan of Marian Bantjes because of my calligraphic background.  She is one of the few real innovators when it comes to lettering.  Her work is labor intensive, dense and decorative. And extremely ‘in’ in quality graphic design, art, printed media, and web circles.

What makes someone an innovator? If I look at her, and Keri Smith for example, you have two young women who have given an entirely new spin to an aspect of art. They are both articulate, so can communicate what they are doing and why they are motivated to do it. But just as importantly, they both have followed their hearts. They are both curious and passionate about a wide range of subjects and they work across disciplines. I think another important factor that makes their work highly recognizable and individual is that they combine hand work with the newest technology. Both are young enough to be perfectly comfortable in the digital world, yet they have craft sensibility.
Both women have a large following, they are breaking new ground for others to follow and in turn make their own discoveries. I especially liked what Marian said at the end of her talk about why she does the work she does and why ‘truly imaginative visual work is important to the society’.

I highly recommend watching this talk, it is also richly illustrated with her graphics.

The cover design I was talking about in, ‘Does Creativity have to hurt?’   eventually broke through.  I thought it might be interesting to explore here how artists/designers know when something is ‘Right’.  And do you always know?

First of all a few words about how the breakthrough happened. I’d  hit a wall with the designs I was working on, and very luckily there was a 3 day holiday here, so I put the cover aside for those days, regardless of the 31 May deadline. A bit difficult, since I work at home, and could go to the computer anytime,but I felt it was essential to detach from what I’d already done.

I thought about the cover a bit during those days, but I didn’t obsess about it, so the element of fear was absent.  I deliberately concentrated on how well it was going to work out, and how many previous successes I’ve had with this process.   I relaxedly surfed through a few cover design sites filling myself up with inspiration from others as well as learning what I did and didn’t want in my own cover. I have known the ‘feel’ I wanted for weeks, but have just not been able to get there by approaching it head on.

The night before I was to start work again, I took out my pens and played with making some calligraphic titles until I hit on one which felt right. And that was my starting point for the cover the next day. I also knew I wanted a casual, ‘in process’  looking sort of cover with a crafty feel, not a slick designy one. So I scanned in some brown wrapping paper as a background. With those two elements I built the cover out of collage and type exactly as I would an artwork in my studio. And I started getting excited about it, it started to feel like this was It.

And when I had it about 80% done, I knew it was the cover I wanted for my book. How did I know?

  • It felt great to work on it, solid and constructive rather than searching and a bit frantic
  • It made me smile
  • It gave me energy
  • It surprised me
  • And when I was done, it filled me with happiness and satisfaction every time I looked at it.

There is something few non-artists know about the creative process, and that is how much of it is spent correcting mistakes and wrong directions. It is one big journey of wrong turns and trying to find your way back to the path.

Does this mean there is only one ‘path’ or right solution? No, but I think it would be safe to say, that there is one solution or type of solution for this moment in time, my particular level of development, the kind of book it is, and the requirements of the publisher and future customers.

Once I relaxed, and started working naturally, my own visual vocabulary kicked in and all the elements of play and the touch of quirkiness I wanted in the cover emerged. But they came in sideways as a result of attending to the practical aspects first.

So how do I really know this is the one, and not just one more version that isn’t It?  Because there is nothing more that bothers me. It feels complete and in balance and so do I.

Another clue is that I no longer feel the need to ask anyone’s advice about it. Because I have satisfied my own standards first, nothing anyone can say would make a difference now.

It is not that I don’t find critique helpful, but having worked through this whole process, at this point it is important to honor my own vision and stick to it.




Dreams and goals 1

April 18, 2010

I came to Holland as an established professional in my field. I had made a name for myself in calligraphic circles in the US as well as designing  several books that had been published internationally. 

In 1988, however, Holland’s art scene was in the grips of avant-garde ‘Dutch Design’, and calligraphy was looked down upon as belonging to the (lesser) craft arena.  Computers were supplying acceptable calligraphic typefaces, DTP was on the rise, and suddenly my expertise was not only inadequate, but also irrelevant.

During the period that followed, my self-worth and identity as a respected calligrapher, artist and designer imploded. Partly this was because they were no longer serving , as my friend Jeff commented on the last post, my deeper life commitments. Painful as these years have been,  they opened to search for a new heart’s path.

I must have worked through every ‘Find your passion and the money will follow’ self help book on the market.

 ‘The Artists’s Way’, The Self factor, ‘Creating a life worth living’,’Do what you love and the money will follow’, and  ‘What color is your parachute’?,  are only a few of the guides I methodically studied and put into practice over a 15 year period.  

It has been an amazing time, when I consciously started to change the course of my life.

This post is actually just an introduction to the one I want to write next about what happens when your dreams start to be realized. Scroll down to next post.

So what happens when your long held dreams start to be realized?

You find out what you really want to create in your life by how you feel when it appears. Some intents and desires are ego wants. Getting them supplies a short-lived satisfaction before the next object of desire presents itself. And the whole frustrating process starts again.

But when your goal or wish is truly aligned to your heart’s direction or life path, when it starts to materialize, the joy and opportunity begin to multiply. One fulfilled goal simply prepares the way for the next series of related goals and thing start building up a momentum of well being and a sense of being perfectly on track; in ‘flow’ you could say.   

Example: a long-held dream of mine, to give creativity courses in which people experience and learn to harness the healing and transformative power of art, recently was set into motion.
Aafke believed in me and with Martine, got the whole thing rolling. They organize, cook, network and cheer the whole thing into being.  We’ve started gently with exploration of materials, a few self-reflection exercises, and gradually, the workshops are growing naturally toward my original goal. We are giving the third one next month and there are plans for more. Not only one dream has been met with these workshops, but my desire for more collaboration has also happened. I’m no longer doing it all by myself. So far, we are a good, harmonious team and we are all growing through organising these days. Not to mention the people who have been touched by participating.  During the last workshop, one woman recently found the courage to follow her own creative dream and has begun her own catering business. So it keeps rippling out.

That ‘s how you know if your dreams are aligned to your soul purpose, they don’t quickly bloom, peak, and die; they are more like seeds in fertile ground which if you nurture them,  go on  bearing sweet fruit. And more often than not, they benefit others as well as yourself.


Magda, a Tai Chi friend and I were sitting outside in the late spring sun at a wonderful sheltered café yesterday after class.  We were talking about the discipline of learning Tai Chi.

I keep seeing parallels between tai chi and calligraphy. But I get stuck on the fact that Tai chi demands a traditional repetition of form, as does calligraphy, but with calligraphy I find this restrictive and with Tai Chi it is not.  I guess I feel that the goal of learning calligraphy is to not just parrot the letters but to eventually use them to express yourself. So creativity is a goal for learning the technique. With Tai Chi, creativity isn’t a goal, but still something similar is at play here .

Magda commented that the deeper you get into Tai Chi practice, the more you realize that learning to do the form (Tai Chi ‘form’ is the sequence of movements) is not the end goal.

She pointed out that through disciplined practice of Tai Chi, you move beyond the form. You no longer have to think consciously about the movements, the movements become a channel for the energy as it moves through you and around you.  But to experience this one first has to master (to some degree) the movements.

Our whole class is at the point where we can all do Tai Chi in a flowing decorative way that would impress anyone who knew nothing about it.  And every new student aspires to this goal of external appearance and achievement. But once there, you either quit because as a goal in itself it is dead ended. Or you hit a wall because you realize how little you really know.

If you stay with the practice regardless, and just keep going, eventually it all opens out again in a new way. Your teacher points out how the tineist adjustments to thought and movement can radically change your experience of your own body and thus the form.  It becomes an ongoing journey of learning and deepening.  The form is not the end goal, but the medium for discovering about energy as it flows up from the earth through your body, or from the stars down to your toes. It teaches you about how your joints function, and how to use them better, You learn how to distribute your weight, how to hold your head, how to maintain a relaxed tension deep in the muscles, so every gesture is loaded with grace and power.  Tai Chi touches on so many aspects of life: your health,  your emotional well being,  your balance,  how your body uses energy, your concentration, your mental picture of yourself, how you relate to the space around you, how you stand and walk, how you relate to others, your weak and strong points. It is endless.

I suppose calligraphy too could be approached as a spiritual practice of sorts.  Because in the end, all these disciplines- Tai Chi, calligraphy, dance music, writing, alternative therapies, etc,  are just keys to universal truths that seem to run throughout all of life. You just have to be alert to them, and practice seems to be one effective way of achieving that.

What Evert taught me

March 22, 2009


Book inscription from Dutch calligrapher, Evert van Dijk

One of my oldest and dearest friends here in Holland is an impassioned calligrapher and retired teacher of handicapped children.

My encounter with him when I first came to live here changed my life as an artist irrevocably.  Evert saw my dilemma clearly. I was no longer growing artistically because I was caught in the prison of the  prevailing aesthetic in the middleclass American  milieu where I grew up. I’d  learned that art had to be ‘beautiful’ and that my calligraphy had to be as close to perfection as the human hand would allow.

Evert, with his wonderfully ebullient personality and outspoken views, blasted through that shell of pretense and released my authenticity. I think this is the task of all true teachers and mentors.

This altered view is also what releases calligraphy from craft and lifts it to art. My letters and mark making became much more expressive of who I was, and this had a ripple effect throughout my life; one I am only truly coming to understand about 20 years later.

In the article I am writing about art and dementia care, this theme of authenticity keeps reappearing.
Artists accept people with dementia as completely whole, viable, interesting human beings, and therefore often elicit lucid repsonses where trained staff have failed.   In an art session, the person ‘s markmaking is seen in the context of authenticity rather than conventional aesthetics.  I am not after a pretty picture (this would expose the person and me to the potential of ‘failure’)  instead, I look for interaction and engagement.  The rules change, a person’s  raw and spontaneous line becomes the new context for  ‘beautiful’.  The Japanese have a philosphy of aesthetics based on this called Wabi Sabi*.  

It is the ability to see the worth in something or someone just as they are without requiring that they fit a preconceived ideal.


*Wabi Sabi is an asethetic of the fragile, weathered and transient. It is the opposite of the Western tendency to aspire to the imposing, large and powerful. We idealize a perfect rose in bloom, Wabi Sabi cherishes the rose past its prime:  a chipped flea market wooden table with flaking paint as opposed to the latest design statement in glass and chrome.