Musings on Being the Artist of Your Day

Category: Calligraphy (Page 1 of 3)

Wabi-Sabi-ish Painting

Pink Watercolor by Mary Gow

“Wabi Pink,” watercolor on paper by Mary Gow.

Recently I took “Wabi Sabi Abstract Painting” with Sherrie Lovler. (A few years ago I took a two day class with Sherrie called “Calligraphic Abstraction,” in person, in Sebastopol, Calif.). This Wabi Sabi class was virtual thanks to the O’Hanlon Center For The Arts in Mill Valley, Calif. The whole class description is here.

I might already be painting wabi-sabi style and not know it. Going with the flow and relaxing into what is – is that what wabi-sabi is about?

After some research I found out wabi-sabi is about finding beauty in every aspect of imperfection. Perfectly imperfect.

Could spontaneous, automatic, gestural painting also be synonymous with wabi-sabi?

In the class we reviewed what wabi-sabi art is. We practiced painting the enso – fluid circles early in the class. With Sherrie leading the way with suggestions on starting our paintings, we went through the exercise of creating a few compositions.

This pink purple exploration is what flowed yesterday morning.

Here’s one piece I created in Sherrie’s class.

Mary Gow- Wabi-Sabi-Painting-2021

Wabi-Sabi Painting by Mary Gow

At times I found myself ‘working at” creating something to look naturally at ease without trying. I made a few examples of pieces I wanted to share with the class that I felt were truly wabi-sabi — many I felt were my explorations ink brush work. . . which I loved.

My natural artistic painting style is to go with the flow of what I’m feeling. . . enjoy the process more than fixate on what the end must look like.

Season of Heartful Hope

Calligraphy by Elena Caruthers

“Sing Out the Old Year,” calligraphy by Elena Caruthers

During this holiday season, gatherings on Zoom mean no need to get dressed up or feel self-conscious about that dish to prepare and bring to the potluck. From the Friends of Calligraphy’s holiday party my name was drawn for receiving a door prize. When I unpacked it, I found this beautiful card by calligrapher Elena Caruthers. From someone who loves to make cards I equally I love receiving them. Thank you Elena!

Today the first Covid-19 vaccines were administered in the United States. This is a momentous day. However, we must stay vigilant in looking out for each other and wearing masks. We will get through this!

“Optimism is the faith that leads to achievement. Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” – Helen Keller

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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

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: Find out about her upcoming workshop Nov. 4 & 5 in New York at Treat yourself to her art and poetry at

When Poetry, Calligraphy & Music Collide

"Awesome," calligraphic piece by Mary Gow

“Awesome,” calligraphic piece by Mary Gow

By Mary Gow

A shrill violin, then a furious drum beat accompanied by a bass guitar with a steady beat, then the bass goes deeper, the violin goes shriller.

My hand is struggling to let go of my mind while pen moves across the page.

This was my first workshop where I listened to experimental music and was prompted to interpret it on paper. A process not to be confused with painting while listening to music.

This is a deliberate call upon my hand to perform according to tempo and beat. I usually enjoy painting to music or Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. My first creations from this calligraphy and poetry workshop were a bit sad looking, I hate to admit.

I know what wondrous expressive calligraphy looks like and it wasn’t flowing for me.

But I had to pardon myself and let myself absorb the great learning that comes – yet may begin with frustration. I knew what I wanted to put down on paper and what would look good. But I allowed myself to draw something crummy looking, something that didn’t have rhythm and proper spacing like the music did, and I even taped it up on the wall when it came time to show our work.

That in itself was a breakthrough for me. To be okay with putting up work that I knew didn’t represent all I could do. I put it up at the risk of getting feedback, yet, it felt liberating to allow imperfection to be on public display.

I’ve attended a LOT of workshops yet this was my first one ever that calligraphy and poetry were combined with music. And within the workshop the calligrapher and the poet explained how they are collaborating with musicians.

One of the calligraphers I admire the most in the world is Thomas Ingmire. He should be designated a National Treasure as far as I’m concerned. His spectacular work transcends letterforms. He’s won numerous awards and his work has been recognized internationally, so I’m not alone in this admiration.

Ingmire has been collaborating for ten years with British poet, David Anwnn (pronounced Ah-newn). Like a dialog, Ingmire reads Anwnn’s poetry and reflects on it then creates calligraphy from his reflections, Anwnn answers back, and it continues and continues.

Both appeared and spoke of their collaboration at the Book Club of California on Thursday evening, April 7, 2016.

I knew that night that the workshop they were giving two days later would be unlike any I’d ever experienced before. And I was right.

The workshop was a starting point for me to keep going with what was introduced.

Listen to some John Zorn when you can.

Get lost and found in calligraphy by Thomas Ingmire.

Take yourself somewhere you’ve never been through David Anwnn’s poetry!

And don’t give a darn whether anyone approves of what you’ve drawn or painted or written. What is real and true is what matters and it might take a workshop to kick start the remembrance of that.

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