Timed Writing and a Poetic Treat from Flo Oy Wong

Flo Oy Wong speaking at an Asian American Women Artists Association meeting. Photo by Mary Gow
Flo Oy Wong speaking at an Asian American Women Artists Association meeting. Photo by Mary Gow
When Flo Oy Wong told me about the 1.5 hour workshop “Lay the Foundation of Your Poetry Practice” with Keiko O’Leary at the Sunnyvale Public Library I knew I had to go.

(Flo is an artist, teacher, activist and poet. Among her many accomplishments, she is co-founder of the Asian American Women Artists Association).

The description of the workshop really caught my eye:

Lay the Foundation of Your Poetry Practice

Connect with your own authentic source of poetry, with instructor Keiko O’Leary, and explore a simple method of getting words on the page so you never run out of ideas again! Discover or rediscover this method of getting ideas, avoiding writer’s block, and completing pieces even if you’re not a full-time poet. Non-poetry writers are also welcome!

And reading Keiko O’Leary’s bio inspired me too:

Keiko O’Leary helps people answer the call to create. A trusted editor and beloved writing group facilitator, Keiko’s own creative practice includes poetry, essays, and fiction, as well as calligraphy and book arts. Keiko maintains a voluminous correspondence with students, colleagues, and friends.

Upon arriving Librarian Christina Shen greeted everyone as we got seated. Then she arranged the desks in a circle.

Within a span of 90 minutes we wrote a two short pieces, one from a ten minute exercise, the other a three minute.

Due to the number of attendees we shared our writings within small groups of four. Flo was in my group. I liked her poems so much I asked her if I could share her work here.

She said yes and sent along the poem she wrote in the ten minute exercise. Here it is:

When the Stars Tickled the Sky
By Flo Oy Wong

I remember when the stars tickled the sky and the birds were jealous.
They chirped in loud sounds saying, “No way!” They wanted the stars to tickle them.
But the problem was that the stars only came out at night when the birds were not to be seen.
The birds decided to tackle this problem.

“How can the stars see us if we don’t come out at night?”

“I know,” A bird bellowed.
“We can wear bells on our toes.
Tinkle, tinkle, tinkle. The stars can hear us then.”

Another bird chirped, “No! That is the stupidest idea I have ever heard.
Where are we going to attach the bells?
We’re flapping our wings so fast.
The bells will fall off.”

“Let them fall off,” another bird yelled.
“Then maybe the stars will chase us.
Maybe they will catch up and even tickle us.”

“What a great game,” another bird chortled.
“This will be so much fun.”

“No, no, no,” A yellow-feathered bird flapped.
“We can’t have stars falling from the sky chasing us.
The astronomers are reading the sky at night.
If all the stars chase us the astronomers will not be happy campers.”

“Oh, what should we do then?”

The leader of the birds flapped her wings and put one above her right eye.
She tapped it several times, hoping that another idea would come.

“How about this?” another bird said.
“Why don’t we just stop being afraid of the dark night?
Sure, the coyotes come out at night and might snatch us.
How about painting our bodies red and gluing some glitter on our beaks?”

By Flo Oy Wong
September 7, 2017
Sunnyvale Public Library
“Lay the Foundation of Your Poetry Practice”
with Keiko O’Leary

Thank you to the Christina Shen and the Sunnyvale Public Library for hosting this event with Keiko O’Leary. You can find out more about Keiko at her website and also at Write to the End. More about the library’s events at https://sunnyvale.ca.gov/community/library/default.htm

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Exciting Lines: Calligraphic Abstractions and Enjoying Ink Going Off the Page

Sherrie Lovler began her “Calligraphic Abstractions” workshop with a poem she wrote:

Stay here
my mind
who wants to wander
on her own.

Stay here.
Sit with me.
Enjoy this place
that houses you
and nurtures you
with food and wine.

Stay here
in silence.
As thought arise
let them pass.
. . .

-from “Meditation,” by Sherrie Lovler, p. 57, On Softer Ground: Paintings, Poems and Calligraphy by Sherrie Lovler

The name of the workshop appealed to me because much of my work, especially my cameraless compositions in the darkroom, are calligraphic in nature. You can see examples of them at http://www.marygow.com.

Attending this workshop was a huge treat to my creative self.

I’ve admired Lovler’s work since I saw it at the Friends of Calligraphy’s Kalligraphia show in 2012 at the Skylight Gallery of the San Francisco Public Library. An internationally known calligrapher and artist, she’s author of a book: On Softer Ground: Paintings, Poems and Calligraphy.

Her course included a reminder of the fundamentals of art wrapped into a effectively directed workshop about learning to trust oneself, the marks one makes AND how to make those marks dynamic.

These were two days of intuitive empowerment. A chance to let go and have fun yet understand the required discipline within freedom.

Mary Gow - Calligraphic Abstraction
Created this during the workshop. “Calligraphic Abstraction No. 2,” by Mary Gow, Sumi and Walnut Ink on Arches Paper

The workshop totally echoed a love of lines for all involved.

Starting with a Chinese ink brush and dipping it in sumi ink, I drew out thin and gradually thicker lines.

I’ve had a Chinese ink brush since I took a Chinese ink brush painting class in San Francisco’s Chinatown thirty years ago, but I had not exercised it this way before.

Moving the brush from right to left across the page, I eventually began turning the brush onto its side. My pointed brush could make a three-inch thick line!


Later on Sherrie demonstrated how to make a folded metal pen from a sardine can, a chopstick and tape. That would be a pen we could use to write in our own special shorthand.

One of my favorite exercises we did is one I’d like to repeat at home. We wrote a sentence, then a little larger and quicker, and we kept speeding up the process. The objective was to get into one’s own rhythm, to find one’s own free-form that became excitingly alive lines.

I want to keep working on this with the new folded metal pen.


The next tools were super wide flat brushes, 6 and 8 inches wide. They reminded me of how I loved using the wide brayer when I was making monotypes a decade ago – my favorite piece using the brayer was highlighted in an article about my work in the San Francisco Examiner in 2011. Now I add extra wide paint brushes to my vocabulary!

Sherrie gave demos of how to use each of the tools she introduced.


She showed us how to use gold leafing and accent marks to draw the eye into our creations. Note the red square on the image above.


We also learned how to bind a small book!!

Here’s the collaborative cover of my book:

Collaborative Cover, Mary Gow's hand bound book
Collaborative Cover, created in “Calligraphic Abstractions” workshop; Mary Gow’s hand bound book


In two days’ time Sherrie also shared her thoughtful handouts that touched upon:

o The Elements of Design
o Brushwork
o Lessons in Color
o Composition
o Sumi-e
o Principles of Wabi-Sabi
o Lettering
o Japanese Stab Binding


What Sherrie said about intuition really spoke to me.

Get to that place of working from your intuition.

All of a sudden I get this quick impulse, and I start trusting it, and let it lead me.
-Sherrie Lovler

In every painting you get lost . . .
There’s a place you get stuck
And you work your way through.

Let the unknown happen in your work
Because it’s a journey.
Sometimes a hard journey.
But you get through it.

-Sherrie Lovler


When I make art I usually want to relax and let myself wander on the page. In spite of the messy middle stages, there will be an opening at the end. It’s like a storyline within the piece.

Lessons come from the doing, don’t they? On the first day I created a massive array of markings on one of the large sheets. I left that day feeling like it was just a huge mess. I left thinking that on day two I’ll make a new painting. But on day two, after looking more closely, what I thought was a huge mess wasn’t a mess at all. I found some jewels.

Using the cropping method Sherrie repeatedly showed us, I discovered the jewels within this piece, waiting to be discovered.

A major lesson I got from Sherrie was a love of working without thinking about how a painting SHOULD be, and rather letting it happen.

I loved that she doesn’t preplan her paintings. She doesn’t work from a prescribed size. Each painting is a journey that she doesn’t know ahead of time where it will take her.


I love books and I loved that Sherrie wanted us to each leave with at least three finished pieces — one being a finished hand bound book with at least three pages.

Wow, I’ve always wanted to do this! And she showed us the Japanese stab binding method.

Now I’ve learned how to hand-bind a small book!

I can’t wait to make more!


Even during the workshop the look of my daily drawings changed. (I painted after I got home each day).

Attending “Calligraphic Abstractions” affirmed the value of painting ahead of my thinking/critical minds.

It’s in that space of ease and surrender that my best work often emerges.

Sherrie Lovler’s workshop definitely showed me how me to get to that exceptional space more often.

– – – –
Read more about Sherrie Lovler at: http://inkmonkey.com. Find out about her upcoming workshop Nov. 4 & 5 in New York at http://shop.inkmonkey.com/big-magic-p/30058.htm. Treat yourself to her art and poetry at http://artandpoetry.com

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A Love of Lines

As I’ve been painting and writing steadily for a good while now, I realize what’s missing is sharing it with you.

And going through the process of creating what I enjoy most, I’ve found that my love of lively lines just won’t go away.

Here’s something I painted today. It’s a watercolor that’s 8.25 inches by 10.75 inches. I hope you enjoy it.

"Serenity's Search,", watercolor by Mary Gow
“Serenity’s Search,”, watercolor by Mary Gow

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NASA’s Awesome Generous Gift to Image Lovers

Star Life Cycles image courtesy of NASA Goddard Flight
Star Life Cycles image courtesy of NASA Goddard Flight
For the past few years I regularly search for images of space, stars and the Universe. This process has recently been made much easier!

NASA has shared a huge gift with the world by making available 140,000 images, videos and audio files from about 60 different collections.

You can go crazy searching the image collection here.


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