Lettering in the Sun and Redwoods

It was a hot late July weekend in Northern California—something of an aberration these days, and likely due to this El Niño year. I am an on-again, off-again, “born-again” Calligrapher, formerly very active with the Friends of Calligraphy, and wanting to rekindle my friendships and skills with this fantastic Bay Area group, founded in 1975 by a handful of very creative and passionate letterers. So many immensely talented artists from around the country and around the world contribute their time and their craft to this organization. I myself joined in sometime back in the ’80s and quickly gained a whole group of genuinely nice and inspiring friends.

Having been deeply involved in my post-secondary and high school teaching for so many years, and distracted by raising 3 kids with my charming, devoted husband, I had gotten away from the creative camaraderie that characterizes this group, and I wanted back in. So I volunteered to help with the production of the 34th Annual International Calligraphy Conference. Entitled “The Passionate Pen,” it happened to be taking place at Sonoma State University, just over an hour north of San Francisco. My good friend Marcia Friedman was co-organizing the event. She had plenty for me to do. My task was to spend two mornings at San Francisco International Airport, directing conference-goers to the shuttle buses that would take them up to the redwoods of Rohnert Park, and on the second day, to meet 3 world-class calligrapher-teachers and personally drive them to the conference. On the way, I picked up a fourth, Alan Blackman, at his home in San Francisco, and we had a merry time winding up Highway 101 to the resort-like campus.

Marimba Band
A concert by a local African marimba band comprised part of the opening ceremonies.

I attended only one day of the 5-day extravaganza, selecting a workshop in hand embossing by Loredana Zega of Slovenia. Loredana is a wonderfully talented lettering artist and performer, whose enthusiasm for her art is matched only by the fun she exudes while teaching, and the kindness she displays while helping workshop participants in their unique projects. Having never attempted embossing before, I learned quickly through her spirited demonstration, and came away with an original piece at the end of the day.

I had no pre-conceived project ideas, so the piece I ended up doing was very much on-the-spot. Since the piece would be constructed around lettering, I wanted to keep the words simple and concentrate on the techniques of embossing, and finally adding color to create a finished piece. I thought for a few minutes about what to write, and decided on the word “sun”—short, happy, and uplifting. So I wrote out the word using two pencils taped together to create a broad italic hand.

The next part was fun, consisting of transferring a pencil tracing of the word to the back of a piece of heavy board, next cutting out the letters with a X-acto knife, and then placing the stencil in reverse over the fancy Arches Wove paper that would be the final piece. (I had to be careful to position the negative spaces of the letters—in this case, the inside top part of the s—exactly where they belonged. For this purpose I retained the original lettering as a placement guide.) The next step was taping the reversed stencil onto the back of the paper for the final piece, and then putting cushioning material underneath, into which the embossed lines could be pushed. Then, using a ball embosser, I traced around the insides of the lettering stencil, onto the paper. I embossed the word “sun” at the top of the page.

Next, we were instructed to come up with a concept for a finished piece, including painting, lettering, and color applied to the surface of the paper, which would later be embossed over. This is where I applied the stylized sun design over the already embossed “sun” at the top, and then wrote out the rest of the wording in a mix of watercolor and white gouache, onto the unembossed part of the paper.

Loredana showed us how to emboss with medium pressure, going over the inside edges of the stencil several times to create a more pronounced line. She pointed out that less pressure and fewer tracings around the stencil created a softer, more subtle embossment, while firmer and more repeated tracings made for a more strident line. She encouraged us to experiment, varying the pressure and number of tracings.

If you look closely at the bottom of my piece, you can see that I have used the same embossing template three times, overlapping the letters vertically. The topmost of these is embossed the most softly, and the bottom is the crispest and sharpest. The middle word has a medium amount of pressure applied to it and a medium number of tracings with the embossing tool.

I don’t consider my work a masterpiece, but I was very happy with the result after only one day, especially as I had not done any lettering in years. I now know how to hand emboss, and I love how simple it is.

Loredana & Anne 2

This was an amazingly fun and creative event; the combined energy of all the artists was tangible and inspiring. I’ll have to find time to pull away from my other obligations to attend another conference in the future.

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A New Economy: The Chocolate Standard

Moonstruck Chocolates

Why do people value gold so much?

I think the standard for wealth should be chocolate. It is much more nourishing, more coveted, and more satisfying. Do you ever develop a sudden craving for gold in the middle of the day? (or the night?) Does gold satisfy a deep-down need in your soul as it transits your tongue in serendipitous sweetness, bathing the back of your throat in warming smoothness, as it enters your stomach and fills the hollow of your being? I think not. But chocolate does. Chocolate is love. It is perfection. It is the answer to all prayers, the righter of all evils. Nothing gratifies as well. Nothing else delivers its promise so instantly.

No, gold is only a second measure of wealth, in that you can buy chocolate with it.

Imagine if the world economies shifted their wealth standard to chocolate. At first, people would fight over it, destroy the earth for it, horde and covet it, and lord their possession of it over others. But eventually, the chocolate would melt, get that powdery, grayish film on it, and decay. Mice would break into the chocolate coffers and nibble away at it.

You see, you can’t keep chocolate forever. You have to enjoy it when it’s in its prime. This knowledge would convince rich people to share their chocolate with others, rather than letting their investment waste away. There would be a self-limiting factor to this type of wealth: overindulgence in this commodity would lead to visible and palpable illness: bloating, weight gain, acne, tooth decay, and ultimately, diabetes and certain nervous disorders.

Over time, the wise (or anyone paying attention) would realize that wealth—chocolate—is a fleeting thing that must be shared in order to be fully enjoyed. Failure to distribute wealth would lead to grotesque body deformations such as overextended bellies, saggy butts, and craterous acne. Wealth hoarders would be easy to spot, and would bring shame upon themselves, and, even worse, be openly ridiculed. Fear of public derision would make everyone want to share their chocolate.

On the other side, those who had been shared with would be so elated (by both the generosity of the act and by chocolate’s pheromone-mimicking effect) that they would want to pass the experience on to others, creating over the longer term a sort of Economy of Euphoria. The exchange of chocolate would supplant all other trade, because when people are in a good mood, they don’t ask for collateral, don’t price-gouge, don’t mount hostile take-overs and leverage other people out of the market. They just naturally share what they have, and the good will that sharing creates makes others want to share as well.

Photo: Moonstruck Chocolates by Eszter Hargittai, 2009
Creative Commons License 

 

 

 

Things to Do While You’re Alive

 

Detail of a lamp I created for a festival called "Blooming Boxes" at Westmoor High School
Detail of a lamp I created for a festival called “Blooming Boxes” at Westmoor High School ©2014 Anne Campagnet-Reed

“I’m getting old,” I moaned to my 19 year-old daughter, attempting to share my state of self-pity and disillusionment, as part of a larger existential malaise. “Well, you’re not dead yet,” she said, with trenchant insight.

You know, looking at things from the perspective that you’re about to die really gives you clarity about what’s important. And then, when you realize that a lot of people really are close to death, and possibly really depressed about it, you realize that your moping and dejection are really foundationless. You look up at the sky, take in a deep breath, and realize, “Yes! There is so much more I can do!!” There is time to chase my rainbow, to right (at least some of) my wrongs, to move forward into joy and meaning.

I have been looking for my career to be my inspiration and my solace. When I lost my job, it seemed like my life was over. A part of it is. The social interactions I had every day are gone. I am nagged daily by the “need to make money,” that ugly little mosquito that constantly threatens a malarial bite. Its uglier big cousin, the “Need to Define Yourself by Your Job” is lurking even more menacingly, just out of visual range; a true vampire waiting for the nightfall of my self-esteem.

It’s time to turn on the lights, stand up, and tell the Boogey Man to go away. My daughter is right. I’m not dead at all, dammit, and I’m going to continue my quest to be enlightened and to do good. Maybe I’m not sure how, yet, but I have confidence that my path will come apparent.

This thought liberated my mind enough for some global reflection on society for the past 75 years or so:

It’s all about communication. Letterpress newspapers and telegrams have given way to e-magazines, tweets and text messages. Google Glass is showing us that you no longer need a keyboard to look up a person’s data; you just need to literally look up at the person, and a stream of their personal data appears. Other interfaces soon to be invented will allow our thoughts to control devices and communications, making any 3-dimensional media obsolete.

I’ve always been wary of Facebook and its seeming disregard for any shred of privacy we once thought we had as individuals. More insidiously, the web crawlers and cookies that are scattered everywhere we tread (like the breadcrumbs Hansel and Gretel used to find their way home) track our every move, and seemingly even our thought patterns. I don’t have a Facebook account, but I know that every keystroke I make imprints another portion of my identity into the eternal “cloud.”

You know, I need to take a moment to demystify the cloud. Calling is a “cloud” gives it greater cachet and significance than it deserves. The “cloud” is just a collection of remote data servers, basically hard drives, located outside your computer or device. It does not share the heavens with the Almighty, but lives in scattered, sometimes isolated rooms, in buildings here on earth, fed by long, steel and fiber-optic cables buried underground and under the ocean. It is simply a system of remote data storage, and nothing more. Big deal.

Now back to my mistrust of Facebook. Young people don’t seem to share my paranoia.

The hate of the 1940s caused society in many countries to close itself off and compartmentalize, as a means of survival. Hiding from Nazis and other fascists, extreme circumspection, a lack of sharing of any kind of personal information, were frequently the only defenses against annihilation.

If you look at all of humanity as a huge, collective being, maybe World War II can be viewed as a period of disease in our collective body, brought on by self-doubt (the need to blame someone else for economic and other woes), resulting in self-injury (the brutal targeting and massacre of specified groups), and the consequent need to seal off the wound in order to recover (lack of communication and ultimately the Cold War). Sealing off from other people assured survival. Or at least it seemed so to millions of shell-shocked individuals.

Maybe the Millennium is finding out that being closed off to other people is not the answer.

Maybe we’ve learned something from that. Maybe it’s that by reaching out to others as part of ourselves, we are affirming ourselves and assuring our mutual survival. It seems that the most prosperous human beings are socially adept and enjoy working with a range of other individuals; sometimes to achieve a common goal, sometimes just to catch up, empathize, or exchange stories. This is what makes social media—a vehicle for connecting with large groups of individuals—so attractive.

The impulse to continue to fight and “win” (currently exhibited by more than one aggressive group on the planet) is really an inconvenient anomaly, like an illness, or a virus, and the rest of the collective “patient” (humanity) needs to be patient and optimistic while the disease runs its course. Can you imagine if your liver declared war on your stomach? Or if your hands decided that your feet were an inferior race, and rallied the rest of your body to eliminate them? How far along would you be then?

Glad I could put everything into perspective. What do you think?

Babysitting the Garbage at 4 a.m.

Dark Night Crescent Moon

We bought a delicious whole salmon two nights ago. Wild caught. Super fresh. Almost unheard of, from Lucky, at $3 a pound! We feasted on it with friends and family. It’s summer now; all the kids are home from school and we are spending a lot more time at home. We produce a lot of garbage.

This morning was garbage pick-up. I had called yesterday to have them take an extra bag. They charge extra for each bag that doesn’t fit into their standard gray plastic “toter.” They always come early in the morning. Last night at around 6:00, following urgent proddings from my husband, I put the overflow from our curbside can into a big black plastic bag on the sidewalk. I went out to my exercise class, and when I came back, there was a gray cat poking his paw through the bottom of the bag, pulling out food and eating it. When I came over for a look, I could see he had found the salmon remnants. I could picture where this was going: a ripped open trash bag with the contents strewn out all over the street, and the scavenger company leaving it there for me to clean up. Oh, no you don’t, my little feline friend.

It was a contest between me and the gray cat.
Who was more tenacious? Whose persistence would prevail?

He was not about to leave. I made a big gesture and he darted under the parked car near the trash cans and then became invisible. I went in to tell my husband. After some back and forth, he found another large black trash bag and we put the ripped one into it. He then brought it inside the kitchen, where it would stay until “later.”

It was a contest between me and the gray cat. Who was more tenacious? Whose persistence would prevail?

At this point, I had to make a choice. Did I want to go through all of the messy, ant-ridden trash and separate out the non-food items so that the “outside” bag would be unattractive to cats? Definitely not. Did I want to get up at 5 a.m. to put out the fishy garbage bag right before pick-up? Not really. But unless I wanted to pay the extra six dollars for nothing and still have extra garbage waiting around all week until the next pickup, the latter seemed the only reasonable option. I figured I’d go right back to sleep after depositing the bag.

It was one of those “on-call” nights—you know, when you don’t really let yourself sleep soundly because you know you have to get up at an ungodly hour and you don’t want to miss it. The alarm was already set for 6:45 for my husband. The garbage truck would be long gone by then. But I didn’t want to change the alarm time and then forget to re-set it.

At 4 a.m. I opened my eyes and looked at the clock. Dare I let myself go back to sleep? I was not ready to get up. Still, I needed to make sure to get the bag out to the corner by 5:00, as instructed by the Scavenger company. I lay back down on my pillow, not daring to lapse back into dreamland, but resolving to maintain a “conscious” rest. I looked again. It was 4:40. OK, I said to myself, it’s probably safe to put out the bag now. The cat has wandered off to molest someone else’s garbage, or gone to sleep by now. As I left the bedroom, I pulled up on the door so it wouldn’t stick on the frame, and latched it slowly and noiselessly. It was very dark in the living room. I turned the switch in the kitchen to shed indirect light on the front door. I did not turn on the front porch light. Carefully grasping the bag of fish-laced refuse, I silently opened the front door. A neighbor’s porch light faintly illuminated the parked cars across the street. Just above the black rooftops, a large, waning crescent of a moon lounged, a lone morning star floating two inches diagonally above. The world was still asleep. I would stealthily pose the bag against the garbage can and all would be well.

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Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa

Mission San Luis Obispo de Tolosa was founded in 1772 by Father Junípero Serra in the present-day city of San Luis Obispo, California. It was the fifth of 21 Spanish missions built by the Franciscan order of the Catholic Church between 1769 and 1823 in what was known as Alta California. Named after Saint Louis of Anjou, the 14th century Bishop of Toulouse (France), the mission gave its name to both the city and the county of San Luis Obispo, on California’s Central Coast.

King Carlos III of Spain saw the missions as a means to expand and protect Spain’s interests in Alta (upper) California (especially against the Russians who were making inroads southward from Alaska along California’s coast), while the Franciscans saw them as a means to expand the influence of the Catholic Church and to “civilize” the many tribes of indigenous peoples who inhabited the various regions of California.

Along with the Catholic faith, the missionaries brought disease and cultural decimation. A thriving tribe of over 15,000 Chumash Indians inhabiting the area were considered “souls to be saved.” The Spanish settlers forbade them to speak their native tongue or practice their accustomed dances and rituals, forcing them to build the mission, while imposing their language and faith upon them.

MSLO Main Nave

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Open Your Eyes, Kitty!

It must be summer. And I must have very strong mothering instincts. Well, I know that I do, since I happen to be a mom. Anyway, they led me to become kitten rescuer extraordinaire today.

(I should preface all this briefly by saying that I have never been a cat person per se. I have not had any personal grudge against the species (though many in my family have); it’s more that I haven’t had a lot of experience with cats.)

Somehow, I had talked my teenage daughter into washing my car (oh, I remember now: I had offered her money). As she was dutifully finishing up, I went to get a towel so I could “help her” dry. As I went to get the towel, I heard insistent mewing from the back yard. My daughter has always had a soft spot for animals, and the feral kittens in the yard are no exception. I told my daughter, and she came running. I dried the car myself.

Let me back up a moment. When I say “feral kittens,” I say it with a proviso, in deference to a tacit, but very real, agreement between this particular family of Felis silvestris and my own Homo sapiens unit. You see, the mother of this mewing kitten (the latter being now approximately seven weeks old) was once herself a mewing feral kitten, prancing naïvely between our neighbor’s front-yard rose bushes with her litter-mates, while Mom was otherwise occupied. It was cold and windy, and night was about to fall. Her mewing had triggered my (then pre-teen) daughter’s maternal reflex, and mine, too. Despite my husband’s caution (“The mom will smell your scent and abandon her kittens!”),

we scooped up the two slowest ones and brought them into our living room, delightedly stroking their tiny little heads and letting them curl up in our laps and cling to our clothing with their tiny fish-bone claws. We had serious concerns that the mom might have abandoned them. We would be the benevolent and compassionate animal welfare monitors, who would responsibly take the kittens to the SPCA to have them spayed and neutered and prevent unchecked population growth (already evidenced by a cat under every parked car on our street). I even went to Safeway and bought some kitten formula and a few cans of kitten food (they hated the formula but ate the food). We kept them in a box on the back porch with a little towel to keep them cozy, while we feverishly looked up how to care for kittens on the Internet.

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At the De Young

IMG_0395

It’s never a bad day to visit the Fine Arts Museums in San Francisco. My teacher membership has been well worth the price this past year.  I was able to see Monet’s paintings along with other “Impressionists on the Water” last July, and last week I took in the Georgia O’Keeffe exhibit at the De Young Museum in Golden Gate Park. Going to the park is an experience in itself, always worthwhile, always rewarding, no matter the season. But spring has a particular allure, with burgeoning blossoms in cherry trees, rhododendrons, and every other imaginable type of plant in flower. I can see why Georgia O’Keefe’s paintings of flowers and nature are so universally liked. The exhibition covered the period from 1918 to the early 30s, when she retreated from New York City to Lake Geoge (to photographer Alfred Stieglitz’s house) to connect with nature and paint her favorite things: mostly flowers and trees.

While her style was very subjective, frequently abstract (as in many paintings of flower details), and never quite realistic, she had a very good sense of artistic composition. I particularly appreciated her paintings with a good use of contrast (Red Canna, 1919); texture (leaves, 1923); and the often exaggerated organic line (White Birch, 1925). She shared my fascination with trees. Her Chestnut Grey (1924) is particularly delightful, with its grand denuded, pruned trunk silhouetted against the sunset and distant mountains, punctuated by an evening star.

Like all artists, she experimented with different treatments of her subjects, almost venturing into realism on one end of the spectrum (Dark Red Apples & Tray, 1920-21), and bordering on surrealism on the other, in her subjective treatment of form and fluid line of natural elements (Stamp in Red Hills; Pelvis with the Distance). Many of her abstract floral paintings are strongly suggestive of female genitalia. Her visual experimentation with these forms can perhaps be understood in her words: “I feel there is something unexplored about woman that only a woman can explore.”

Addicted to Adulation?

(The What, the Why, and the How of Good Writing)

Translucent Rose

A few days ago I posted a poem entitled “outdoor backstroke” on my blog “From Under the Pages.” For some reason, my blog readership the following two days shot up to almost 300 percent the previous weekly average. I got a “spike in stats” notice from WordPress: my hourly views had reached 50 times the previous average. I kept getting those lovely little orange “like” stars and “follower” symbols on my dashboard. I drank it up. “People really like my writing!” I told myself. It really felt good.

I derived an unexpected feeling of gratification, even pleasure, from this sudden surge of approval. It compelled me to check my dashboard every few minutes to see who else was following, and how many more likes I had gotten. And in the midst of it, I noticed how dependent I seemed to be getting on those little orange stars and plus signs. They signaled approbation, encouragement, even… love? They satisfied some inner desire, some overlooked need, some obscured, ravenous, approval-mongering id.

I even felt the temptation to try to replicate my newfound success by giving my readers more of what they liked–just so I could get more cascading stars and plus signs.

Whoa.

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My Phone Will Never be Smarter Than Me

Little Bubble #2:
Smart Phones

Xmas tree

Did you have a good Christmas? Were your spiritual and material ambitions accomplished? I had a nice couple of weeks off of work. We had a few low-key holiday celebrations with family and close friends. Perhaps the most memorable thing I did was to lobby for, and help plan, a family vacation in the snow. We’ve been up a few times before, but it has been a few years since our last visit. The kids are teenagers now, and it was a good time to get them out of town and doing something different—that they enjoy. We also spent time visiting with some good friends we hadn’t seen in a long time.

As far as presents go, I’ve learned that if you really want something, you need to get it for yourself. I got myself a smart phone, bringing me irreversibly into the 21st Century. I fought it off for a long time; I really did.

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