Calligrapher's reflection 2020 - 2021
Following is an article just written for the Canberra Calligraphy Society.
Twenty-twenty started as quite a frightening year for many in South East Australia. Traumatising communities from the Queensland border to our beautiful Tasmania. Bushfires that had been raging throughout various parts of the country since September 2019 were now out of control. By late December Canberra residents and other visitors were trying to flee the south coast. We here in Tasmania also had our own bushfires to deal with. Twenty-twenty started badly and then turned worse. An illness, an emergency, a pandemic.
On the twenty-fifth of January the Australian news headline read:
The first case of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) has been confirmed by Victoria Health Authorities this morning. The patient, a man from Wuhan, flew to Melbourne from Guandong on 19 January.
On the twenty-sixth of January I flew to Canberra to spend some much-needed family time and to catch up with hometown friends even thought the fires were still burning. Everyone was talking about the fires and shared their experiences. Our communities had common concerns which effected everyone if not physically then psychologically. The world was sympathetic to Australia as times were very hard for most in the bush. At the same time though our minds became over-engaged with first of all the small changes we had to make due to the coronavirus then much larger consequences of the pandemic. We experienced lockdowns, job losses, hygiene regimes, supermarket scrums and, yes, a whole new world order not seen in our generation.
As a calligrapher and artist running a studio based practice and a healthy teaching program I, like everyone else had to adapt and work positively in a way that didn’t see me loose my mind, my work and my sanity. And I am extremely fortunate unlike many to be able to control my own working environment. On March fifteenth I cancelled a five-month teaching tour of the northern hemisphere. An endeavour that was two years in the making was gone in an instant. I was so relieved even though there were neither ongoing commissions nor any type of income. While I enjoy all my teaching adventures it is extremely hard work as I am the one responsible for each and every person in my workshops to reach their potential indeed exceed it.
Whilst I had cancelled everything we were still having workshops here in Australia by visiting internationals. Our lettering shed was still going and face-to-face classes were still happening. Late March I took a workshop by American book artist Daniel Essig as well as signing up for classes with Marina Soria.
At the end of March I was to go to Sydney to teach for the ASC an Arthur Baker workshop. Thereafter we were to welcome Marina to Hobart. I spent a good deal of time on the phone with Shas Baker discussing the state of covid affairs as borders were starting to close. At first we hesitated about doing anything drastic but at the last minute the Tasmanian border closed and though I could get to Sydney, I may not have been able to return home. I suggested to Shas it could be worse for Marina if she continued her travels here. Cancellations started all over the world from then on even though many still believed it would blow over in a month or two after which we could carry on.
The first thing I did was look up the last world pandemic, the so-called Spanish-flu of 1918, I wanted to know how long it lasted. Two years. I wanted to know the countries affected. The entire world. So in my mind I knew it was going to be a long time before we would become a healthy country again.
With no work and no income I was fortunate that my partner’s position in the Orchestra was safe and our income was solid. My accountant bless her, wrote to say that I might qualify for JobKeeper. A miracle. For the first time in my life the Australian Government gave me some money. Pure relief.
I signed up for a course run out of the University of Tasmania and received a commonwealth-supported place in The Wellbeing Toolkit that lasted one semester. I chose my units well:
· Human Performance in Extreme & Unusual Environments
· Making Home
· Arts in Health and Medicine
· Stress, Self Care and Mindfulness
Each module related to me personally feeding my mind with the power of positivity in particular the last three. Making Home was not about fluffing the cushions in the lounge room but rather about our home environment where we are safe and feel comfortable, a space of simplicity and beautiful, useful things. It enabled me to have my/our place home where I could be content. With the idea that this would spread to our immediate community. My time (and my mind) was starting to fill up.
Meanwhile in the studio I messed about doing what I do best, making art. Fortunately an interior designer from Sydney needed artwork for a new hotel lobby that they were decking out. These were works to “blend-in” not “stand out” so after many trials and tribulations I managed to sell a few works. This kept me busy while studying.
I started filming little snippets of calligraphy training to put “out there” for a small price. As one of my overseas slots was to do Foundational Hand course filming with Harvest Crittenden of Acorn Arts I managed to organise myself with the technology to complete all the filming from my studio. Voila, we now have a FH course running on the Acorn Arts Platform. I am extremely happy with the results having run our first five-week session all online. I am on hand for the five weeks to interact with my students on a daily basis. I mark up all their work and feed it back to the forum. Now with the videos all done it gives us the opportunity to run it perhaps twice a year.
Then along came a word I had only heard on a car television advertisement zoom, zoom, zoom! A friend from Europe wrote to me to ask would I mind if she suggested my name to a friend of hers who ran a platform of teaching lettering arts via Zoom. What’s zoom? With hindsight it seem a pretty silly answer. Sure, why not? So she put me in touch with Riccardo Ali and the rest is history. I have taught some workshops for Riccardo on his Calligraphy Italia platform, Adolf Bernd, Art Deco lettering, Gold leaf sgraffito and a four week course on Hermann Kilian.
When Pam Kemp and I were in England a few years ago I taught at Ardington School of Crafts run by Yvonne & Simon Sonsino. As part of their initiative to keep the school open they started a series of classes called Ardington Academy Live Plus. Over the past year I have also taught for them via Zoom five x four weekly workshop. The classes included: classical Italic, Hermann Kilian, Cnut Charter Hand, Versals & Ampersands. With the time-slots for me in Australia going late into the night or early in the morning it has certainly been a marvellous worldwide experience from the comfort of my own studio. Phew, I am exhausted.
I have also taught a few workshops for other Societies around the world some gratis and some paid just to keep everyone’s head, hearts and hands active during the pandemic. But there is one more activity I have undertaken in my covid-stride this past year. In March my poet/calligrapher friend Linda Lanza started a small group of friends to take part in creative writing sessions. Run out of Linda’s New Jersey studio I jumped at the chance to meet with the group of like-minded artists on Sunday mornings at 6am. On a weekly basis we have a new theme along with prompts and word catchers and a great deal of encouragement to write. If we wish, we share or written works, some poignant some wretchedly sad, some deep and meaningful and others fun and flippant. Originally the sessions were to run for a few weeks the duration of this pesky flu but of course we are still meeting. We are now up to our 46th week of writing with no let-up in sight.
I am very fortunate enough to have sat out the covid-19 pandemic on my backside in my studio wearing pyjama bottoms and a beautiful blouse, keeping warm and creative making art and sharing with friends in winter and keeping cool in the now summer months of twenty twenty-one.
“Humankind is a curious creature. We are
makers of things and survivors’ of obstacles.” Gemma Black