World Calligraphy Day!

I was gone over the weekend and came home to an e-mail from John Neal Bookseller, a calligraphers Mecca in New York, that the 16th of August is World Calligraphy Day. More than one project involving calligraphy is perking in the back of my skull, so I thought I would do a little bit of practice and show some older pieces as well.

This is the Song of Amergin, an ancient Irish poem with many wildly varying translations. In the two pictures above, I’ve used my interpretation of an Anglo-Saxon hand using the Anlgo-Saxon runes thorn and wunjo. Several of the other letter-forms are also archaic, like the long ‘s’, d, f, g, k, t, and the ‘u’ used for both ‘u’ and ‘v’.

I wrote the poem out again using more modern letter-forms, but I goofed in line six. You can see the word ‘the’ beginning with thorn. Some habits are hard to break.

I did these without guidelines as an exercise; an attempt to get my hand to remember how to write these shapes. The images below are some old pieces I did when I played in the SCA. I think my hand was steadier back then.

AngPelInk1_SmMuriel AoA_SMPromissory w-Seal_SMFMN painted_Sm


Andy, John, and the Doctor

I got to thinking about iconic images. What are they? What do they mean? What makes them iconic? If we look up the definition we find that iconic is  a: “widely recognized and well-established” and b: “widely known and acknowledged especially for distinctive excellence” (Merriam-Webster Online). According to my 1951 Webster’s New Twentieth Century Dictionary, iconic means: “Relating to or resembling an icon or an image of any kind…” There is no inference of quality in the older definition.

Do a Google image search of “iconic art” and you will find a fascinating collection of work, much of it derivative. Andy Warhol is well represented, but there may be more interpretations than actual Warhols. The Girl With the Pearl Earring seems to have surpassed the Mona Lisa, and yet you have to scroll more than half way down the initial set of images before you find the Vermeer painting by itself, rather than as a comparison to someone else’s take on it. This is just the internet at work. A closer look at the sources of the top hits shows effective search engine optimization, not necessarily great art. We have accepted this kind of search from an algorithm where in the past it would have been conducted by art directors or curators.

It's Much Bigger On The Inside

It’s Much Bigger On The Inside

St. John

St. John

Ode to Andy

Ode to Andy

So what do I post today? Why three derivative works, of course. But if I was going to look at iconic imagery from the present to the distant (and not so distant) past, then I had to use these images.

The blue police box will be recognizable to many as the T.A.R.D.I.S. from the long running Dr. Who TV series. The series itself has achieved iconic status, at least in my mind, and I don’t consider myself a real fan. If I had not done the T.A.R.D.I.S., my geeky family would have disowned me.

St. John is indeed a portrait of St. John the Evangelist. The basis of the art is St. John’s portrait in the Book of Kells, an illuminated Irish manuscript from the 9th century. Follow this link to the Trinity College web site and scroll down to folio 291v. You can zoom in on the portrait and compare it to mine. And what’s with the high contrast and bright colors in my version? It’s from the 1967 portrait of John Lennon by Richard Avedon. Two iconic images in one.

Nothing says ‘iconic image’ to me more than Andy Warhol’s 1962 Campbell’s Soup Cans. This work helped to define the pop-art movement which is, as I see it, the foundation of pop-culture today. And it doesn’t seem too far a stretch to compare it to the results of my Google image search. If Andy Warhol were still alive, might he not pose a Barbie doll to look like a Vermeer painting?

What are we doing? We take ordinary, everyday objects and change them in ways that make us look at them (and ourselves) differently. Isn’t that what art is supposed to do?

How It All Started

Sometime in mid-May I was doodling in my sketchbook, trying to come up with some ideas for the  30×30 challenge and I drew this girl drawing on her tablet and listening to her i-pod. It got me to thinking about “i-culture”, the seeming need to be plugged in to technology, constantly in contact with the internet. It’s a very different paradigm than the one I grew up with. There are aspects of it I embrace. There are parts I think are detrimental to society. But my way of working is not entirely relevant to the modern world. I must adapt to the new technologies and the modes of thought that go along with them.

i-knot: Student Edition

i-knot: Student Edition


The key word for me here is ‘adapt’. To adapt is not necessarily to conform. I will continue to paint with watercolor on paper, even grind my own pigments, but I will also continue to expand my working knowledge of Photoshop as a valuable artist’s tool and social media that can help bring my work to a broader audience. I am a dinosaur that chooses to grow fur. But I digress.

I called this series ‘i-knot’ for what I hope are obvious reasons. I don’t mind poking fun at institutions or fads (or nearly anything else) but I also want to see the good wherever I can. Even in what I’m poking fun at. So my character, while all tangled up in her technology, still has a smile on her lips and is creating art on her tablet.

It’s not my way of doing things, but that doesn’t mean it’s wrong.

A Challenge and a Question

The raven is getting put on hold for a bit, as I now have a more pressing deadline. Thirty pieces of art in thirty days and I am one of thirty artists taking on this crazy challenge at Avanti Gallery. And it is a challenge. Just creating one piece of art can be problematic. Multiply that by thirty.

At least these are small pieces, 4″ x 4″, in whatever medium we prefer, which for me is watercolor. But the concept? Phew. There’s the challenge. If you have seen my recent posts, you’ll know that I have been on a bit of theme lately. So I thought, why not stick to it? What could be better than filling out part of my portfolio with thirty lovely little pieces of Celtic art.


I decided (and not for the first time) to seek my inspiration from the Book of Kells. (If you are unfamiliar with this manuscript, follow the link. Many hundreds of years ago, someone declared it was “not the work of men, but of angels”.) But somehow I got to thinking about the images, their meaning to the artists who painted them, and to the monks who viewed them. What do we have today that could possibly compare? In this age of Google image searches and internet memes, does the art we look at hold any meaning? I hope it does. This pondering led me to images that will be familiar to many, but rendered in a unique way. Yes, that is a rubber duckie you see in the picture below, as well as a British Police Box used as a prop in a certain long running TV show, all done in Celtic knot work. And there are images that may be unfamiliar to you in their original form, but altered, they show something of the common world around us.


So the question is, does seeing these images in a new way change their meaning for you? Good art should open itself up to the viewer; allow itself to be given meaning by the viewer. I have no idea if my thirty bits of Celtic inspired nonsense achieve this. But at the very least, I had to ask the question.

The artwork isn’t done yet. What you see above are the pencil layouts and one inked in piece. They are in the process of being painted and I hope to show some of them here before the show comes down. Then, back to the raven. Oh yes, and here’s the Facebook invite to the opening night party.

Painting Outside the Lines


This is a foxglove growing next to my studio. It is not what one normally thinks of when one thinks of foxglove. That tall, spiky flower to the left is what we expect, not this strange frilly cup. I assume what we’re looking at is a mutation. (Any botanists reading this feel free to step in with an informed opinion.) But it really seems to me as if nature is painting outside the lines.

As a representational artist, this concept brings about an involuntary twitch. However, if I stop and think about it, (breathe, calm down, it’s just a flower) it’s kind of inspiring. After all, if Mother Nature can do the unexpected, why can’t I?

In a workshop with the wonderful Dan Santat, he lamented the fact that so many artists paint the sky blue (mea culpa). He suggested orange, or purple, or green, if that’s what the painting needs. The minor disclaimer here is that he was specifically referring to children’s illustration, but I think the concept can apply elsewhere.

I recently read ‘Grave Mercy‘ by Robin LaFevers. About a quarter of the way through, I almost stopped reading. It felt like a very predictable plot-line unfolding. The friend who recommended the book said, “Just keep reading”. I’m glad I did. Everything I expected to happen, did happen. Just not in the way I expected it to. Ms. LaFevers was painting outside the lines.

I’m currently working on some art that is interesting in the concept stage, but it’s not right yet. That’s because I haven’t taken it far enough. I’m still too close to what one would expect.

For some of us, it’s a difficult thing to do – paint the sky green, write a likable villain. But it’s where our best work can come from. How do you take things beyond expectations? Do you exceed pre-defined borders in your art? Tell me why. Send me links.

Let’s enjoy the view from the edge of too far.