The Missing Ink*

teaser

A change, they say, is as good as a holiday. When I moved into my friend Yvonne’s unit just after Christmas, my one big goal was to figure out by the New Year what the heck I was going to do for a living, now that my hours at work have been chopped to less than half what they were. I had been thinking about it a bit, at home on the houseboat, but found that my mind kept wandering the same old grooves, the same tired ideas: Bind journals and albums, sell them on ETSY, have exhibitions or rent pop-up space, and join two weekly tourist craft markets in Darwin…just thinking about it depressed me!—I’d chewed on these commonplace, uninspired solutions for so long that they were a grey, flavourless wad of gum in my brain. Also, I had tried them all before, and they hadn’t worked then, so why did I believe that they would work now?

Kris’s arrival in Hawaii, and the ensuing media hype, pushed my own plans aside for a few days. Kris and I exchanged e-mail letters twice daily, making up for time we’d been apart and the best of his time on land. As this went on I found myself wishing, as I do every time he’s off somewhere and I’m at home, that I could send him a beautiful letter. But it was impossible, with him on a boat. He, on the other hand, has taken advantage of my fixed address to send me dozens of postcards and hand-painted letters since I left him behind in Guatemala in August 2016.

Finally, this impracticable urge to make a beautiful piece of mail art for Kris, along with posts from my own blog, and some readers’ comments, gave me the idea.

Something so unlike all my other ideas that, instead of looking through it with indifference as it flitted past me like a soap bubble, my mind pounced and pinned it down. I was so agitated by this new thing that I got out of bed and paced the hallway for hours. For once, my inner critic was so astounded that it couldn’t find anything to say, and let me walk that idea from the land of vague notions and through the door into my world.

It’s so simple, I wondered that I didn’t think of it sooner.

vintage nibs

I love all things paper. I love writing and drawing. I have spent 20 years hoarding beautiful papers (not just for bookbinding), inks, calligraphy and fountain pens, matchboxes full of steel Gillot and Mitchell nibs, drawing pens, envelopes, paints. I love travel, travel sketching and travel writing. I collect paper money, maps, and stamps from other countries. I love sending letters and making mail art…I have dozens of sealing wax tapers, brass monogram seals that I’ve never used, and several albums filled with old postage stamps (I buy stamp collections from flea markets). One of my grand life plans (that never came to pass) was to send beautiful mail art to each of my friends, all over the world, on a regular basis.

Before the New Year, I posted images of some old work on this blog, and a lot of it was mail art. These images of mail art got the most reactions from readers.

“Everybody,” I mused, “loves the idea of a beautiful letter arriving in the mail.” *plink!* The proverbial lightbulb blinked on, in my head.

And yet, letter-writing has been called a “fading art,” and old-fashioned letter-writers, a “fading generation,” because although everybody would love to receive such a letter, nobody wants to have to write one.

Will this fading generation, I find myself quietly asking, also be the last to write letters? Messages crafted by hand rather than bits of binary code? Writing that carries emotions rather than emoticons?
—Catherine Field, The Fading Art of Letter Writing

“So, with letter-writing on its last legs and the New York Times publishing elegies to it, your great idea is to take it up, professionally? Really?” The way I see it, that’s an even better reason to take up my dip-pen, stir those sleeping Herbin inks, and start scribbling…to keep it alive.
back to colour


Here’s my pitch:

I propose to write, and paint, beautiful letters (that’s why I’ve been brushing up on calligraphy) with stories and images from my own life, and then reproduce and post them, once a month (like a magazine subscription), to anyone who wants to find more than bills and shopping catalogs in their mailbox…

I’ll make sure the letter is personalized (although I couldn’t possibly hand-paint and write one letter for every person!) and use the prettiest stamps I can find, with artwork on the page (a watercolor, a drawing, a collage, a bit of embroidery on paper, you know what I do…), calligraphy and art on the envelopes, wax sealed, rubber-stamped…a dream in an envelope. For you, or maybe for someone you know who’d love to receive regular letters as a gift.

A good handwritten letter is a creative act, and not just because it is a visual and tactile pleasure. It is a deliberate act of exposure, a form of vulnerability, because handwriting opens a window on the soul in a way that cyber communication can never do. You savor their arrival and later take care to place them in a box for safe keeping.
—Catherine Field, The Fading Art of Letter Writing

This idea goes live in my ETSY shop on Wednesday, 17th January…

What do you think?


*The Missing Ink is the title of a book I have by Philip Hensher, about the lost art of handwriting as a form of self-expression. I loved the title so much, I just had to use it for this post!

Advertisements

Scratching and scribbling

calligraphy practice

The afternoon raced away as I practiced the looping and curving letters of an online calligraphy course. I went through two Gillot 303 nibs doing these…they’re incredibly sharp, flexible and  painfully fragile; if the split point catches on the cotton paper, it bends out of shape and you have to throw it away.

I was too impatient to finish all the exercises, I just had to try things out on something real—like a black envelope with white ink. It came out irregular and far from perfect, naturally.

Back to doing the exercises!

It’s the coffee talking

coffee talking
Bought a jar of fluorescent pink paint, months ago (prompted by a flash of inspiration that I can’t remember, now), and decided to see what it would do as a ground cover. I like the little bits that show through cracks or glow behind layers in the painting—in small amounts and under other, less-bright colours, the hot pink flickers interestingly—though I find the solid parts a bit too strong. Still, it was fun to work with. Not a colour I’ve ever used, so it was different.

I had fun with the woven pattern on the book cover…I don’t actually have a book covered in fabric like this, the original is an ordinary planner, beige,that I use to jot down deadlines, appointments and shopping lists.

The two cups look a bit strange together, especially since they are so different from each other, but I had simply sketched what was in front of me at the time, without thinking about composition or trying to make any sense.

Couldn’t decide, in the end, what the cup of coffee would say, so I left it blank with the idea of filling it in later. Before drawing anything else, I had stuck down a slip of paper from a fortune cookie—“You’ll never plow a field by turning it over in your mind.”—and more words would have been overkill, I think.

Looking at the dark brown speech bubble now, the coffee simply seems to be announcing itself (I drink my coffee strong, black, and unsweetened). I may leave it. It’s just a journal page: something I feel the need to do every few days (really, I’d like to do this daily, but never manage to keep it up) for myself. It fills an inner need to slow down and look intensely at something for a couple of hours.
coffee talking

A red-letter kind of day

good news
Kris has completed the first (and most difficult) leg of his trip home. After 71 days at sea, he has crossed the Atlantic and is in Cabo Verde, Africa.

From here, it’s back across the Atlantic to South America, again, but angling down South, toward Cabedelo or lower. Tacking on a grand scale.

Just so relieved to finally hear from him and know that he is all right. The e-mail appeared two days after my birthday, and I couldn’t have asked for a better birthday present than that.

yummy color

an old fashioned letter

Left my glasses at a tortilla shack in town today, will go back and get them tomorrow. In the meantime, just a post of things I’ve been playing with, lately, and not a lot of soulful writing… because I can hardly see what I’m doing!
an old fashioned letter
In the first three photos are some of the art I put into old-fashioned letters to friends…though I’ve since learned that Guatemala’s post office no longer functions. (The government put a Canadian company in charge, but hasn’t paid the company’s fees in past months, so the postal services have shut down.) Bummer. May just have to post these from Mexico.

colonial architecture

Also, some meaningless photos of paint…I’ll be going home to Australia later this year, and I’ve just realized that I can’t take my paints with me. Arrggh! So I am doodling, playing, experimenting, and being quite heavy-handed with the palette knife these days, trying to use up as much as I can. Hopefully they won’t dry out before Kris gets the boat (and all my art materials) back to Darwin…though they’re at least a couple of years old, already, and dry out very quickly on the palette.

Untitled
UntitledThat’s all for now…have a great weekend!

Black & Red journal spread

Black & Red spreadBased on all the reading up we’ve been doing on Orishas, I painted an Elegguá spread of pages in my journal.

Kris had bought an Elegguá necklace (two feet long!) and I drew it as the border. Then, I “made” my own 2D version of the orisha. Traditionally, every Santero has to build his own Elegguá—usually just a mound or cone of soil, clay, or cement—using dirt from a crossroads, a cemetery, a prison cell, a bakery, the entrance to a church, and an open field. I made mine from a collage of local newspaper items about traffic lights, obituaries, prison cells, flour shortages, religious events, and cattle ranchers, plus bits and pieces about roads…close enough! Cowrie shells (called caracoles) are used for the eyes, mouth, ears. I painted my caracoles, and stuck them on. I even gave him a paper cigar…Black & Red spread
The text around my Elegguá is just a Cuban Santero’s description of the orisha…his powers, his character, his areas of influence, his roles among the other orishas…

Elegguá is the master of pathways and doorways.
He is of the keys and the knots.
It is he that ties, and unties.
He is the beginning and the end of all paths.
He is the sentry of the days and the nights.
He mixes sugar and blood….
Everything is turned upside down, he is playful and sensitive.
Dangerous, like a child, he rescues or kills.
He is also tricky and bloodthirsty….
He is greedy and gluttonous, you win him over by giving him sweets.
He likes whistles, balls, kites, and spinning tops….
He holds the keys to the destinies of man.

Black & Red spread

So far, Santeriá has been the most interesting new thing we’ve come upon in Venezuela, and the richness of its rituals and paraphernalia have been feeding our creative appetites.