When was the first time you picked up a calligraphy pen?
I learned calligraphy in a high school graphics art class in the Bronx. I loved it from that moment on. I still have my final project from that class.
What is the best advice you ever received (lettering or otherwise)?
The best advice I ever received was, “Do the best that you can in the place where you are, and be kind.” These are the words of my back-to-the-land mentors, Helen and Scott Nearing, and I’ve been following that advice since my early twenties.
Why do you letter? What keeps you coming back every day?
While I don’t do it every day, when I do letter I’m reminded of the pure concentration it takes, the attention to detail, and the beauty that can be created. Lettering centers me and I can leave the world behind.
What is your dream project?
My dream project is working on a solo exhibit or writing my next book.
There’s a raw energy that comes from being in control of all the parts. I live inside the project in the sense that there is a goal and a deadline, and then a vision comes, which pulls all my abilities together to create something new.
What research do you do when learning or starting something new? i.e. a new style or new project.
Most of the art I do centers around writing my own poetry and creating a painting that pairs with it. It’s not about research, but about opening the channel to creativity. I might write a poem first, or do the painting first, but there is magic that happens when I pair them together. So my work is to empty my mind and see what arises.
Name 3 non-lettering artists who inspire you.
Toko Shinoda (1913-2021) was a Japanese calligrapher delving into Abstract Expressionism, while never leaving her ties to calligraphy.
Zao Wo-Ki (1920-2013) was a Chinese French painter whose work was influenced by Impressionism and Abstract Expressionism. I’m drawn to the mysterious nature of his work.
Wassily Kandinsky (1866-1944) was a Russian painter who taught at the Bauhaus in Germany and later moved to France. I love the musical qualities in his art, his colors, and inventiveness.
What do you aim to say with your work?
I’m looking for a heart connection with the viewer. Nothing pleases me more than when someone intuitively gets what I’m doing, whether through my poetry or paintings, or together as a unit.
Why do you teach? What is your teaching ethos/style?
When I teach I feel as if I’m in a stream. It demands that I go back into learning mode. I open to wisdom, let it congeal inside me and come out fresh and new. Without students, that doesn’t happen. My teaching style is to lead the students to a place where they can take creative leaps and feel safe doing so.
What is your favorite pastime when not in your studio?
I love gardening. I love digging in the soil, planting seeds and eating the produce. I love the slowing down process of taking care of something outside myself, and watching plants mature.
What jobs have you done besides being an artist?
I’ve been self-employed most of my adult life. For 9 years, after graduating college, I co-published a magazine called Homesteaders News and also co-produced a festival every summer on our land in upstate New York to teach back-to-the-land skills. For the past 25 years I’ve been selling my calligraphy prints, and more recently my fine art, online.
You work so intuitively. How have you honed the skill of knowing when a piece is finished?
I stare at my work for long periods of time and wait until the next step shows itself. I’ve learned to trust this process. When there are no more questions or suggestions arising, the work is finished.
Many calligraphers work with bringing meaning to other people’s words. How does working with your own words affect the process & the overall outcome?
I have more freedom when working from my own words than with other people’s words. I don’t worry about understanding the message or presenting it right. An interesting outcome has been that both my poetry and paintings have gotten better over the years. It’s as if they push each other to new depths. It’s as if they care about each other.