In this short life that only lasts an hour how much how little is within our power
– Emily Dickinson
The 2017 classes and travel began in St Louis this month. William Stafford said of his students:
It is not my job to praise or blame, but in the end, to be envious of their work.
This is what happens, in the end, I get to be envious of what my students have done. I only have a few photos– and so this is merely a glimpse of the work done in three days. Here are some samples of work with the "Greek" alphabet I am developing– and exercises in mark making and abstract painting. All of the images below are from the books the students made and stitched in class. The materials we used are watercolor, sumi ink, china marker and graphite.
Variations of this "Greek" alphabet have been developing over ten years– and more recently because the St Meinrad library– where I spend time on retreat– has many wonderful old books. Dozens of the books and manuscripts were carried over the sea by ship from Europe more than a hundred years ago, and date from a much older time.
I have been making up alphabets since I was a child– secret codes in diaries and love letters. Most of my recent alphabets are more complex, and begin with a study of writing I am drawn to. I am especially fond of the Egyptian Room at the British Museum. I am captured by the ancient writing, spending hours there– and so I have seen little of the rest of the museum...
I get to "know" the alphabet I am studying over time, internalizing the forms. The forms begin to change and become something else– with the roots going back to the original.
I purposely have designed this alphabet for my students, to reflect our Roman alphabet– to be simpler to learn, and accessible to those who have not studied calligraphy.
I am drawn, again and again, to the time before the separation between writing and painting. Think of the aliveness of our oldest (40,000 years ago) cave paintings– where the lines remain vital, unselfconscious and powerful. The painting is the story.
And so we combine, with our study of this alphabet, exercises in abstract painting.
In the spirit of Paul Klee: At the dawn of civilization, when writing and drawing were the same thing, (line) was the basic element...
I hope that my students learn even a fraction as much as I do in class. I return home full of ideas. What are you studying? If you indulged your curiosity, where would you go? I'd love to hear from you.