LetterWorks 2017

When you realize that you are shoe twinsies with the conference co-director…Last year Judy Sommerfeldt, Joan Merrell and I were in Carol DuBosch’s folded pen class. After receiving my sketchnotes from class, they asked if I would be willing to help with the conference LetterWorks2017. I was honored.

A little context for those of you just tuning into my lettering journey…

Last year in March I was assigned so much work I got sick from the stress. I promised myself I would take time off when it was convenient for my client. Not seeing an end in sight, I started making plans for a force break. Because studying with calligraphers, sign painters, and graffiti artists was my big goal for 2017, I started researching who I wanted to study with next. With enough time off saved up and good timing, I took the opportunity to attend A Show of Hands in Asheville, North Carolina (June) and a Sign Painting workshop with Mike Meyer in Mazeppa, Minnesota (July). That trip started me out on a lettering journey that I thought would augment my graphic facilitation practice nicely. The journey continues and this week is so notable, I’m going to attempt to capture the highlights.

Fun to meet up with friends from last year while instant friendships come fast and easy.

Pictured left to right, top to bottom: I finally met up with those I follow on Instagram: @breckenhand and @dletterz. Ann has great taste and knowledge on what classes to take so we meet at the end of each conference to exchange notes. We had a blast at the Newbies meeting and I was excited to meet Rebecca. Every time I saw her she was helping others and sharing her excitement about the conference. Sylvia is one of those generous souls who puts other’s needs before her own, letters beautifully and lives gracefully.

The international calligraphy conference is hosted by a different guild in a different region of North America each year. Unfortunately they aren’t consistent with the event name so they can be difficult to find—unless you have been in the scribe community for awhile. Last year the event was called A Show of Hands. This year’s LetterWorks event was held in Ogden, Utah. Next year’s event is called Seattletters and will be held July 14-21, 2018.

Upon arrival, it’s obvious this guild had an army of people to draw from to execute what has taken 3 years to organize. Because so many of the volunteers were new to the scene it had a refreshing, energized vibe. While last year I rented a tiny house for the week, this year I opted to stay in the dorm so I could be immersed in the conference. Because Ray and I had been on the road and I hadn’t had a wall or large flat surface to work on, I had to get to work right away to prep for the Newbie meeting the next morning. I met with Suzi Brown that afternoon and began preparing for what had planned to be a welcoming experience for those who were attending the conference for the first time.

Answers to FAQs were captured in real-time during the Newbie meeting. The completed version of this 4′ x 6’chart hung near the conference office all week.

I wanted the newbies to not only receive the information they needed to thrive this week, but get to know one another and express their interest in calligraphy. So I asked each attendee to create a quick avatar of themselves to share with others. Using a large sticky note they each drew a quick sketch of themselves, included their name, classes they are taking (because it’s the #1 question and conversation starter at the conference) and one goal, vision or aspiration they had for the week. I asked them to introduce themselves to one another and take selfies as a way to network and make connections.

While this was their first time attending conference, many of them had been practicing calligraphy for awhile. So I divided the room into five areas of the room according to experience: 1-3 years, 3-5 years, 5-10 years, 10-20 years, and asked those with over 20 years of experience to stand next to me in case I could learn my osmosis. Once they were in place I asked those new to the field to look to the seasoned calligraphers for insight and advice. Then I shared something I overhead at lunch. I had the great fortune of sitting with Carol Pallesen who asked Annie Cicale, “Remember when we were taking Hermann Zapf’s class at RIT in 1986?” In the moment, I thought I would fall out of my chair. When I shared this with the Newbies I saw those new to the field get weak in the knees and give “saucer eyes” while those seasoned calligraphers knowingly nodded in agreement. Then I asked those seasoned to take time this week to share their wisdom with those younger to help carry their story forward.

After the Newbie meeting I attended the class monitor meeting. I then felt fully inducted into the scribe tribe. Full of questions and excitement to be supporting Carol DuBosch and the students while taking her “Bone” class, I took copious notes so I could be the best-darn-class-monitor-I-could-be.

Carol DuBosch shows examples of her work to the class and sets the tone for the next two days.

“Bone” was designed by Jaki Svarem with the intention to teach students pen manipulation for brush Roman caps. We started by using walnut and Higgins ink with an Automatic Pen (4, 4a, or 5) and graduated to watercolor and other writing tools.

Sketchnotes and first attempts at using color while writing Bone.

I have heard and agree to the claim that Carol DuBosch is a teacher’s teacher. With 50 years of experience she is a master of her craft and her pedagogy is unmatched: graceful presentation with impeccable timing and a hint of humor to keep students engaged yet at ease as they learn, experiment, and create.

Now pair that with learning Bone and you will discover that this hand is extremely addictive and elusive. Because Bone is most interesting when the letters overlap, just about the time that you get a certain stroke or letter down it seems to slip away as soon as you put it in relationship with another letter. I can see myself practicing this hand daily. My challenge will be to figure out a way to incorporate it into graphic recordings.

While Bone can be used in visuals, I think this flipchart agenda is likely to be more accepted by my calligraphy scribe peers versus in a corporate environment.

Once I was able to show the value of visuals at the Newbie meeting, I was introduced to Brecken, the president of the Utah guild, who was leading the Guild Rep Meeting. She was seeking support for the meeting (that she had not attended previously) so we met over dinner to discuss the needs of the group. This is my favorite kind of discovery meeting: the client is assigned to do a task but the ambiguity is so high ideas are endless. The natural tendency to make assumptions are quickly resolved by following value-based tenets like: assume noble intent, hold a space for others to be successful, work with the energy and strengths of the group, and find and fill gaps.

Together we planned a meeting that would answer the questions of the group (previously submitted via email), harvest knowledge on topics like guild growth, conference planning, and workshops and programming. Between the time we met and the meeting, I did my best to seek out as many guild representatives to learn about their guilds and encourage them to attend.

When we got to the Fireplace Lounge, surprisingly there were several large round tables set up to accommodate up to 50 people when we were only expecting a handful. To our surprise, we had to bring in more chairs! Thinking quickly on my feet, I changed up the structure of the meeting while preserving the agenda:

1) HARVEST the valuable knowledge that’s available in the room and throughout the guilds
2) DOCUMENT the process so that it can be repeated
3) SHARE and continue these important conversations
4) TAKE ACTION! How we contribute will define the health of our guilds and our community

After Brecken welcomed everyone she turned the meeting over to me. Always starting with Appreciative Inquiry, I asked participants to share any exciting accomplishments their guild has experienced over the past year. We then gathered representative’s names and roles from each of the guilds in attendance so that we could document and share what gets accomplished in the meeting. One of the biggest concerns of guilds is growth. In just 15 minutes we were able to discuss, distill, and share over 50 unique ideas of ways guilds can or have successfully grow engagement.

Many thanks to Joy Deneen for helping guide the group as both a group lead and president of the Montreal guild, who incidentally will be hosting the 2019 conference. And to C.C. Sadler for documenting the meeting and helping serve as a subject matter expert in the room about process.

I won’t bore you with the action items or other details of the meeting. I share this because as an artist/graphic facilitator this was a perfect match of my skills and passion. I was in complete Flow and my hope is to do more outreach like this to support the calligraphy community.

Since I had met all of my goals for the week: sketchnoting, graphic recording, facilitating, graphic facilitating, coaching and filling others buckets, it was time for me to self-actualize some of my ongoing stretch goals. One of which I have been working on for years is to build a bridge between my fine art and commercial work. I have had a foot in both arenas my entire professional life. Commercial work supports me financially while my fine art satisfies my creative side and passionate urges. Making another attempt to build that bridge was my intention going into Amity Park’s class.

Arguments of Intelligibility: Entanglements & Disjoint Union. Ink, graphite, gesso, and pastel on found book pages from a Japanese reverence book.

Midway through this 2.5 day class, I had an existential crisis—probably a natural way to cope given my intention and ongoing challenge. While in it, I didn’t realize it. It wasn’t until I looked up at the wall of student works did I realize that my work did not look like the others. I won’t go into all of the logical reasons why but I will say that going through the motions helped me in a profound way that I look forward to carrying forward during my artist residency at Elsewhere Studios in Paonia, Colorado next month.

Just about the time I thought my presentation opportunities were over, I learned of one more opportunity to expose calligraphers to the type of work I am doing with graphic facilitation. After the faculty closed their shops at Market Place, Serendipity began. In a rush, I grabbed my Neuland gear (forgot my phone) and found a table to let others get a taste of what it is like to use the tools. I enjoyed watching them translate pointed pen and broad edge hands when using the ArtMarker and BigOne markers. I answered questions, let people write/draw, and even gave out some swag to those who showed great interest in the work of a Visual Practitioner. I have a lot of follow up work to do as there are at least 4 calligraphers who have the excitement are ready to jump to the wall. They just need some training to hone their existing skills.

All week people have been curious about graphic facilitation. I took the opportunity to show them and let them write with Neuland markers on practice paper at Serendipity—an evening event where we exchange tips, tools, and tricks.

As I was walking out of the building I was greeted by my good friend from Durango Louise Grunewald. I wanted to show her the Neuland ArtMarker and see what she could do with it. Before I knew it, I had created a pop-up station for the master calligraphers who missed my booth for Serendipity. Unfortunately I didn’t get a picture of them working. Honestly I was quite distracted watching Yves Leterme, Louise, Jenny Nicholson, Carol Palleson, Joy Deneen, and Annie Cicale all lined up throwing flourishes and making marks I didn’t know these markers were capable of—they certainly haven’t found their way out of my fingertips yet, but I’m working on it!

Sample work of calligraphers play with Neuland’s ArtMarker and BigOne.

Phew! What a week. I can happily report that I connected with newbies and masters, networked with the movers and shakers, bonded with the intellectuals and artists, worked alongside of the professionals and those trying techniques for the first time. I spent half the week with my dear friend Fritzi–the eldest person at the conference and with one of my calligraphic mentors, Carol DuBosch. It’s a week built on the heels of last year’s event, one that I will never forget, and another growth opportunity and major milestone in my lettering journey.

When I reflect on the short time I have spent with Carol and what a profound impact she has had on my life, I can’t help but think about the possibilities in the coming year.

One thought on “LetterWorks 2017

  1. Heather, this is wonderful. I’d like to know more. I love what you do. You were a doll at the conference and I really enjoyed meeting you. But I’m very interested in your work and journey. Keep me in your circle.


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