Markers and pens in one of the few things I have from Paul's Soda Shoppe, the luncheonette/corner store my parents ran with my aunt and uncle from the '50s to the '70s in Rahway, New Jersey. Every time I look at it I am amazed at how small a cup of coffee was in those days. If I remember correctly, it also cost 15 cents.
I believe that words have power—to inspire and comfort us and to increase our awareness and affect both personal and communal change. In the late 16th century, Michel de Montaigne wrote, “I quote others to better express myself.” Here in the early 21st century, I take great sustenance from a beautifully phrased expression of a universal truth. I feel a deep connection across time and space with my fellow inhabitants of this earth. I have chosen quotes that are a continuing source of renewal for me. Each time I read them, they speak to me with fresh energy. I hope their immediacy and power will speak to you as well.
The Power of Words exhibition at the Clare Gallery closes this coming Friday. On January 14, I created the ten large scale calligraphic pieces in the gallery before an audience. I did a lot of practice and preparation but the actual work was done quickly and directly without guidelines or sketching. I used a 1.25" brush and Golden Fluid Acrylic diluted with acrylic flow medium. The smaller brush was for the author's name and the bamboo twig for stirring.
That day we were too busy driving to CT and then preparing the paper to have much time for nerves, but I did do some fretting the week before. Here is a gallery view before I started. I needed the stool for the top line.
I'm not sharing more of the process here as I'm writing an article for Bound & Lettered about that, but I do have a web page with photos of the individual pieces, a larger excerpt and the source of each quote as well as a little bit about my connection to it, an article from the Hartford Courant, and a video of part of the "performance." I hope to do more of this. My next goal is to feel comfortable enough with the performance aspect to write the word without quotes around it.
I am slowly going through my website and blog and updating it. One of my recent tasks was turning the Art Reading List into a pdf. This list is by no means comprehensive, just the books that have had a deep impact on my development as an artist. There is a link to the pdf at the bottom.
ART READING LIST
Zen Mind, Beginner’s Mind
In 1982, I took a workshop with Jaki Svaren, author of Written Letters, at a calligraphy conference in Philadelphia. What I learned about letters paled in comparison to the effect of my first introduction to Zen. I bought the book immediately and it opened up my thinking about my art and my life greatly.
In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities, but in the expert’s there are few.
The Art Spirit
In a calligraphy workshop in New York with Welsh calligrapher Ieuan Rees in 1983, I was introduced to The Art Spirit by the early twentieth century painter and teacher Robert Henri. It has offered inspiration and nourishment ever since.
An artist’s job is to surprise himself. Use all means possible.
The Shape of Content
I discovered The Shape of Content when I was teaching calligraphy at Rivier College and still feeling uncomfortable calling myself an artist. The book contains the Charles Eliot Norton Lectures that Shahn delivered at Harvard in 1956-57. I found the thoughtful analysis of what it takes to be an artist very helpful.
Art is one of the few media of expression that still remains unedited, unprocessed, and undictated. If its hazards are great, so are its potentialities magnificent.
Art & Fear: Observations On the Perils (and Rewards) of Artmaking
David Bayles & Ted Orland
I come back often to Art & Fear, sometimes for myself and sometimes for others, for just the right words of encouragement and perspective. They have a lot to say both about the work itself and the process of getting it out into the world.
Making art is a common and intimately human activity, filled with all the perils (and rewards) that accompany any worthwhile effort. The difficulties artmakers face are not remote and heroic, but universal and familiar.
Letters to a Young Poet
Rainer Maria Rilke
I first read Letters to a Young Poet when I was commissioned to do a quote from it in calligraphy many years ago. When I reread it in the early 2000s, this quote about patience spoke to me and has been a source of strength ever since.
In this there is no measuring with time. A year doesn’t matter; ten years are nothing. To be an artist means not to compute or count...
This quote, which ends with "Patience is all!" is the one that has been my rock. You can download a pdf to make a small scroll of it here.
The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life
I found The Creative Habit when I thought I had completed the Spirit Book Series (turned out to be a hiatus rather than an ending) and was feeling adrift. Twyla Tharp draws on her experience as a dancer, choreographer, and creativity workshop leader to present ways to bring the creative habit into the reader’s lives. She bring in stories from music, movies, books, and more. Each chapter also has exercises. The Creative Habit really helped me move on.
Everything feeds into my creativity. But without proper preparation, I cannot see it, retain it, and use it. Without the time and effort invested in getting ready to create, you can be hit by the thunderbolt and it’ll just leave you stunned.
Lewis Hyde The Gift was, and continues to be, most helpful as I try to understand the intersection of my work and the larger world. Hyde draws distinctions between gift and commodity economies and addresses the difficult place of art, which is fundamentally a gift, in the world of commerce. He draws on fairy tales, anthropology, and literature in an enlightening but sometimes dense exposition.
The process is always a bit mysterious. You work at a task, you work and work and still it won’t come out right. Then, when you’re not even thinking about it, while spading the garden, or stepping into the bus, the whole thing pops into your head, the missing grace is bestowed.
Art Lessons: Reflections From An Artist’s Life
Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord
Being an English Lit major and a writer of sorts, I couldn’t help but add my own two cents to the conversation. Part personal story and part reflection, this small book contains 7 essays. Each begins with a hand-lettered quote and contains hard-won truths about self-confidence and the lack thereof, patience, commitment, and the importance of learning from your own work and letting it be your guide.
We need to acknowledge that no time spent in creative activity is ever wasted. Sometimes we see it in specific ways. Bits and pieces of the past have a way of creeping into the work of the present. What was left behind as a tangent can become the basis of new work five years later. Sometimes the value is purely in the time spent with intention. Every time we become deeply immersed in our work, we break through the barrier of time into a sacred space where we lose ourselves in the creative process and gain strength, resilience, and patience.
Art Lessons is now available at the Loom Press website. Reading List in pdf form
The witch hazel is blooming, I love any chance to write words, and mother-in-law taught me to identify plants by their Latin Names. So I've decided to start writing out the names of flowers in Latin and photographing them with the flowers. My daughter got me onto instagram so this was first posted there and uses one of their filters. I like this quick bit of creativity and connection to the growing world in the midst of my usual work which takes place mostly in the studio. I'll continue to do it as the flowers blossom in the garden and post them here once a month. If you'd like to keep up with more frequent postings, you can follow me on instagram (@susankapuscinskigaylord) where I post other things as well.
to my online studio and journal where I share my love of making books, my art, and my thoughts on the creative process and the artist's life. Your comments are most welcome here and by email: susan(at)susangaylord.com.