Summer Solstice Journal Page 2015

Summer seems to touch on a time out of time, when we cease our striving and doing, for a few moments, and simply be. My to-do list is slowly becoming my to-be list. Like the sun in the sky, I too seem to stand still.

Summer_Solstice Altar

At midsummer I feel a sort of threshold: looking back, looking forward, centered in the year. Even as the days grow hotter, they also soon begin to grow shorter as we begin the long journey toward that other threshold at Yule, winding in and out of the labyrinth, over and over again.

Summer_Sage Rose Lavender Bundles

Summer June Moon Page

Now is the holy time to gather my herbs and make medicine, to finish an old journal and begin a new one, to read the tarot for its mysteries and magic, to retreat to the waters and the wild at Wilbur Hot Springs for a few days of bliss, to slow down. In simply being, there is much solace and rest.

Summer_Sun MoonTarot

There is so much LIGHT. And this year both sun and moon shine so brightly on summer solstice, that both day and night are filled with illumination.

Summer_Mugwort Sunrise

Wilbur Mineral Water

Bliss 2016 journal page

May we all blessed be.


Believe In The Magic Of Kindness_screen

It is easy to forget that kindness can help to ease difference of opinion and lessen hatred. In these days of political discord at best and outright terror at worst, I can’t pretend that a little calligraphy will do anything to change that. Sometimes all we can do is try to add a little beauty to the world.

I begin with black ink on white paper, very old-school. I do the line work on an overlay – a translucent sheet of paper – and then scan it all into my MacBook Pro and composite the final artwork in Photoshop. This kind of flourishing is sometimes called “cabbage” by scribes. It is very fun to do but very easy to overdo. As decorated as this word is, I started out with more “cabbage” and pared it down. Each letter’s line work references the letter.

Magic Of Kindness_sketch

I created this as my contribution for the 2017 Heart to Heart calendar. You can read a little more about this long-running project here, or see some of my other work for it here.

May we all have a bit more of the magic of kindness in our lives and share it with those around us.


{ 1 comment }

A flowery hat for Beltane

‘Twas a lovely Beltane morning bringing up the sun with the Morris dancers at the Baylands. When we wake at 4 a.m. to roll out of bed for this sunrise ceremony of frolic and awe, we grumble and wonder at ourselves, but what if the sun did NOT rise because we were too lazy to help the dancers see it up?

My preparations for Beltane this year were sweet, and cautious. Taking some time off from my calligraphic creative work, I’ve spent the whole weekend honoring the turn of the Wheel, tending the altar and feeling the magic of summer’s arrival, another kind of creative work for me. After last year’s tumble down some stairs at the liminal time of dusk, I was feeling a bit wary and last night took care to offer a bit of milk to the Good People and ask for protection. Perhaps it is all superstition, but who wants to take the chance? With a nod to my Irish ancestors, I spent some time with Lady Francesca Speranza Wilde (Oscar Wilde’s mum) and her book, Ancient Legends, Mystic Charms and Superstitions of Ireland (1887). Another blog, Living Liminally, also offered some ideas.

And I garlanded my hat with garden flowers: roses, foxglove, yarrow and lavender: traditional herbs and pretty poisons. This most ancient practice, in its many forms, is a kind of charm to bring harmony between the human and natural worlds throughout the year.

I spent some time reading the lore I love at these festival times of year, and was especially impressed with “May Day, Beltane, and the Menace of May Eve” since it has plenty of history, particularly about the traditional protections I was interested in invoking. I was delighted with the professor’s quotation from one I consider to be practically a primary source: ”Morris dancing was a widespread seasonal spectacle, as noted by Shakespeare in All’s Well That Ends Well (1602-3): ‘A pancake for Shrove Tuesday, a morris for May Day’, and even today there are Morris dancers at dawn . . . to welcome – or conjure – in the summer.” Whatever would we do without our poets to remind us of the old ways? Here’s another, lovely, lovely . . .

So, forthwith, here are a few low light photos of this morning’s round of magic:

Predawn Abbots Bromley horn dancers and mummers

The horn dancers and mummers began the festivities.

Mad Molly morris dancers Beltane morning

Mad Molly brought an appropriate amount of shouting and crazy costumery.

Deer Creek Morris men and women

Deer Creek Morris men and women did a very fine job, and all together, we . . .

The Beltane sun arrives!

brought up the sun!

After our bit of dawn conjuring, we went and ate pancakes. Bringing in summer is hungry business!

There is more to be done to celebrate this favorite holy day, napping high among them. Until later, I leave you with a bit of advice from the professor:

“. . . let us celebrate May Day as a festival independent of the forces of standardization and profit: sing your own songs, dance your own dances, bring something special to you – blossom, guests, joy – into your home, and banish the evil spirits.”




Make Your Mark Class Demo

Calligraphy is “slow writing.” As the art of simple handwriting becomes more rare, learning to write slowly and beautifully is a meditative and rewarding practice.

This spring I’ve been teaching a class designed to demystify the tools and materials of my trade. If you have ever wondered what to do with that calligraphy pen with the funny tip, this class is for you. Scribal secrets revealed!

Make Your Mark: Calligraphy Tools and Techniques” will next be taught on Saturday, May 7, from 10 to 4, at the University Art store in San Jose.


This class presents an overview of the tools of calligraphy: dip pens, fountain pens, pencils, brushes and markers. Different inks are discussed, as well as best papers and other surfaces. Demonstrations also include writing with large pens, brush lettering, and unusual pens. We explore ways to fill the nib, keeping the ink flowing with reservoirs, , and writing with color. Learn to write with a variety of tools, including broad and pointed nibs, and understand different alphabet styles. As time and interest allow, techniques for working on projects are shown.


If you are interested in signing up for this class, contact me directly. You are welcome to bring any calligraphy pens you already have to class. A supply list will be sent with registration confirmation.

Beginner's Guide Cover

If you cannot get to the class but are still interested in trying your hand at this time-honored art, much of what I teach is included in my instructional booksBeginner’s Guide: Calligraphy and Illumination, published by Walter Foster in 2007 (cover pictured above), is out of print but can still be found through the secondhand and remainder market. It is my favorite for its reproductions of my alphabet exemplars at the actual size I wrote them, so that with a Speedball C-2 or a Mitchell size 1 nib, you can trace them until you get the hang of writing them freehand. The same content is also included in The Art of Calligraphy and Lettering, published in 2011 and still widely available (a page pictured below).

Art of Calligraphy intro hand detail


The Flowering Year

by Cari on 03/20/2016

in Wheel of the Year

Roman, Spring, maiden gathering flowers. Fresco from the villa of Varano in Stabiae, c.15 BC.-60 AD. Museo Archeologico Nazionale, Naples, Italy

It is astonishing to me that I am able to look upon this lovely image of a woman gathering flowers, every morning when I wake up, for a print of it hangs on my bedroom wall.  The original fresco was painted about 2000 years ago, in a villa built for the Roman nobility, overlooking the bay of Naples. The villa was in Stabiae, a town which was destroyed in the same volcanic eruption of Mount Vesuvius that destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum. So the painting has its dark history even as it emits light.

I have gazed upon this image on bright mornings and dark mornings. She gives me solace and beauty, even as she walks away from me. This is the power of art: that it can transport us to another time and place, seed a story, and open our eyes to wonder.

Today is the vernal equinox, though depending on where you live it might’ve been yesterday on the calendar. There is a wonderful article over at the Farmers Almanac to describe why this date shifts: it has to do with leap year, and it will be on March 19 or 20th now for some years instead of on the 21st as it has been. Equinox of course is the time of equal light and dark as we hang in the balance on the wheel of the year. At this equinox I feel a precarious balance between the bright and the dark. I’ve had another spring fall.

As this day, or sabbat as it is called on the wheel of the year, is called Ostara, I went on another Internet search to find the source of that name. Once again I found myself time traveling, this time back to Anglo-Saxon England and the venerable Bede who is the first and perhaps only chronicler to write about Eostre, which is often conflated with Ostara. It was picked up later by one of the brothers Grimm but the provenance of this name is very murky. Still we celebrate this time as the coming of the brighter half of the year and of many flowers.

May you too feel the stirrings of brightness within you.

Orange blossoms

Orange blossoms.

Orange calendula

Orange calendula.

Top image found here


The Quickening Year

by Cari on 02/01/2016

in Wheel of the Year

Imbolc_Quickening Altar

I love the word “quickening.” It is a very old word, found in medieval Anglo-Saxon herbals, and still used today. It usually means when a pregnant woman feels the child move inside her for the first time. It is also a nice metaphor for this time of year. At Imbolc, winter begins to rouse from its slumber. Those of you in snowy climes must feel that spring is still far, far away, but here in middle California, everything has greened up from all the rain, and shoots are pushing up through the damp earth. We are at the first days of spring on the old calendar, the turn that is called Imbolc by those celebrating the pagan old ways, or Lá Fhéile Bríde in Gaelic, or Candlelaria in Spanish, or Groundhog Day in the United States. This year I cannot say it any more eloquently that my friend John Cutrone over at Convivio Book of Days, so hie you over there for a lovely post about Imbolc.

Imbolc_Flowering Quince

The flowering quince is one of the first bushes to bloom at this time of year. I love its coral pink blush, which says that warmer days are near. I drew a little of it to decorate my “Q” on the journal page above.

I have been  quiescent this last month, (well, I am all about the “q” words today) – not exactly slumbering but quiet after all the activity of recent months. Everyone needs to rest. Resting for me is taking the time to cull and sort old photographs, scan them, add keywords, to finally make a comprehensible, searchable digital photo archive. It will probably take me all year to do this. And I’ve been writing after arising in the morning, not only by hand in my journal, but here at the keyboard. Brigid seems to attend me, kindling the embers of my imagination as I find my way through an old family story. It also will probably take me all year.

Last night I treated myself to a book that is perfect for this holy day, Tending Brigid’s Flame, using the sacred electrons to download the Kindle version to my iPad, quite quickly! It is full of lore and stories of Brigid, as well as meditations and devotions. It is a lovely book, by my priestess friend Lunaea Weatherstone, and as she has often done, she brought me back to my spiritual center. I sometimes think if I am not chanting a ritual or performing magic spells, that I have somehow strayed from my path. And yet, I perform many small devotions in my day that reflect my belief in what another friend of mine, Ruth Temple, calls the Sacred Quotidian (oh lovely, another “q” word). This just means the mundane, the “daily” as one of my children calls it, the ordinary that is extraordinary simply by virtue of our being alive to participate in it. For an example, my first act every single morning is to light the hearth candle. When I retire at night, I extinguish it. It is my job in the household. And thanks to the book’s chapter entitled “Brigid and the Power of Words” I am reminded that my writing is another act of devotion, whether musing in my journal, writing my family story, or even showing up here to commune with you, dear reader. Brigid of the poem, Brigid of the flame, Brigid of the forge: she is everywhere, making the mundane sacred. And to come full circle to the beginning of this post and my use of the word “quickening”, Lunaea wrote: “Brigid in springtime is the life force embodied. She is midwife to the world, drawing it forth from winter’s dark enclosure into the light.”

May we all feel a bit of Brigid’s magic today, as we remember that, in my own wordsmithing, “the wheel again will turn to spring, this blessed time much joy to bring!”


Labyrinth_The Deck Setup

The labyrinth with the heart at its center was the site and stage for a deeply personal family saga this year. At the winter solstice, our son married his beloved in the heart of this labyrinth. They joined paths by walking to the center and exchanged vows while poised on the heart.

My part in this was as designer and consultant, and toward the end of the preparations, as production artist. So, concurrently with my work on the big award commission, I helped create some very meaningful art for this special wedding.

The couple tried at first to find a location with a labyrinth on site. When that didn’t work out, I suggested that we could just make our own, and also make it portable. Lest you think I had taken leave of my senses, know that this couple had plenty of theatre experience going in, and between their expertise with floor cloths and my experience painting on canvas, we made our own labyrinth-to-go.

Labyrinth Floor Cloth

The making began at the summer solstice, with appropriate blessings and intentions for a beautiful process. We began by laying out an old-fashioned canvas painter’s drop cloth, 12 by 15 feet, on a plastic tarp. A coat of green house paint was laid down for the background. Then, using a contractor’s chalk box, and winding out the string tautly from corner to corner, we snapped two diagonal chalk lines to find the true center of the cloth.

Labyrinth Cretan 3-circuit 800px

The classical or Cretan labyrinth is built on a “seed” grid or pattern. We chose the smallest and simplest form of the classical labyrinth, which has only three circuits. More common is the larger form with seven circuits.

Labyrinth Seeds

By a process of trial and error, we figured the finished size, based on an 18-inch wide path, and calculated the center to be in the middle of what would be the first top curve at the center of the labyrinth. The center is not at the crossed lines, or any of the seeds, since this is a classical labyrinth and not symmetrical. This was the trickiest part, to find the proper center so the edges would be roughly equidistant from the edge of the cloth.

Labyrinth partial

The bride wanted a heart at the center of the labyrinth. I wasn’t too sure it was there until she finally chalked it onto the canvas, and sure enough, there was the heart. The couple painted it red with careful strokes.

Labyrinth_Painting the Heart

Of course, they wanted letters on their labyrinth: the four elements, Air, Fire, Water and Earth, in the four corners, along with the Alpha Omega and Om symbols. I used my tried-and-true technique of trial lettering on clear wet-dry acetate to proof the placement and size of the letters.

Labyrinth_Letter Placement

I had just taken a smashing good workshop with the charming and talented teacher Gemma Black to finesse my versal forms, and had the best time practicing them for this project, especially the David Jones variations. At the start, I was lettering with the paint straight out of the can; by the end I had mercifully thinned it quite a bit with water. Double-stroking the letters was a small price to pay for a much easier flowing “ink.”.


Here is the painted lettering, each word aligned with the diagonal red centering chalk lines. It was a pleasure to design and apply these words to this sacred cloth.





Labyrinth_Alpha Omega


Labyrinth_Cari Lettered Labyrinth

The final touch was the addition of footsteps on the path of the labyrinth. Since I had misgivings about letting the bride and groom walk on this hard-won creation with painty feet, we decided to make stencils from their own footprints.

Labyrinth_Red Feet

This idea turned into the most fun of the whole project. We chose red as the most sacred color for the prints, and the ticklishness of feet added a high note of hilarity to the proceedings. Two prints on paper were made of each foot, one with less and one with more paint. Then I blended both to make a new template, which was used to cut the four stencils of their footprints.


From the stencils we again made acetate overlays, and the couple experimented with many placements on the canvas before arriving at the decision to create an arch at the top of the labyrinth with footsteps going past each other, symbolic of the two directions they each were traveling before they decided to “join paths.” A very light yellow was chosen for high contrast rather than red at this point, leaving the heart the only red design on the cloth.


Now the stage was set and the labyrinth cloth rolled up, just before the first rain of the winter season, to await the big day.

Labyrinth_Rolled Up

The heart labyrinth made another important appearance, on the wedding invitation. Every part of this design was drawn and lettered in black ink, scanned and then composited in Photoshop for the final design, to be printed on card stock.

Labyrinth Invitation_detail

In the last couple of weeks before the wedding, I made one more piece of labyrinth art. I have made many wedding certificates in my business, Prose and Letters, over the years, for guests to sign after the ceremony, but this shape and layout was unique. In honor of their wedding date, the couple designed a new symbol incorporating the labyrinth into a solar symbol.

Labyrinth_Solar Symbol

On a large sheet of handmade Twinrocker watercolor paper that I had been saving twenty years for a special-enough occasion, I drew this new symbol with a Brause Ornamental nib (similar to a Speedball B nib) with shining gold paint. Then with red and green gouache I wrote the couple’s vows in and around the labyrinth, and penciled in signature lines in a radiating pattern for the guests to sign.

Labyrinth_Certificate Vows

The wedding of course was a wonderful, sacred, humorous and unique event. A couple of vignettes from the day have stayed with me. One was, despite the rehearsal and extensive planning, nothing had prepared me for hearing the distinct sound of the bride’s satin train rustling along the painted canvas of the labyrinth as she walked it, nor their beautiful dance of passing each other on separate adjacent paths and touching hands, before meeting at the heart in the center for their vows. And after all the months of planning, painting, and proofing, I had my poignant moment at the very end of the long day. Only six of the young people, and me, were left, and as we walked from the house, our paths diverged to walk to separate parking lots. The young folks, all children of my heart, walked down the long lit path, all convivial and replete with the day’s festivities, under the bright moon, and as I walked up my own path I kept turning back again, again, to watch and listen to them go on without me, my heart so full of emotion, joy, melancholy, and mortality. And that was my own taste of the heart of the labyrinth, that darkness and light all together, in that moment.


Labyrinth Heart_Green and Red

A labyrinth is like a year. There is only one path in, and the same path out. That is the path you are on. You can’t get lost. You know the center will always be at the beginning or ending of the path. But even though the path is the same, it is never the same when you walk the labyrinth. You, and the world, are always different.

At the winter solstice, we are at the center of the year. The year is like a spiral, coming around again and again to the same seasons, but in successive layers building one on another, a three-dimensional spiral. At this darkest time, it feels like the ending AND the beginning of the year, when in the circle of the year, one year dies and another begins anew. It is the darkest time, in the place where beginnings and endings happen, the womb, the tomb. We stay on the path of the year ahead, because we know, from past circlings, that if we walk our path, we will always return again to center. It’s a certainty.

Labyrinths are often confused with mazes, but aside from their use of turning and of paths, they are quite different. Mazes are made to confuse. Labyrinths are made to mirror a soul journey. Mazes are puzzles; you must make choices to further your progress. In a labyrinth, the only choice is to enter and walk the path. It is said that you enter a maze to lose yourself, but you enter a labyrinth to find yourself. A labyrinth is a reflection of faith, a spiritual exercise to find your way home.

The middle of a labyrinth can hold many things: a bench to sit upon for meditation, an altar for offerings, a tree or a flower garden. At the center of this labyrinth is a heart. The heart at the center of the labyrinth is the love that connects us all, wherever we are on the path.

This link has a wealth of history and labyrinth lore, and this one has a rather wonderful animated graphic which shows the steps for drawing a simple classical labyrinth.

About labyrinth creation, more to come . . .

Labyrinth_Red Green Paint


Matthew 25 Award_Names Detail

During the summer months of this year, I spent many hours perambulating between my studio and my computer screen, creating a modern manuscript in a medieval style. The job inquiry came in late May, and the final artwork was delivered the first week of October. During those four months, I used just about every trick in my creative skill set: editor, calligrapher, painter, graphic artist, printer, and packer.

The project began, after the initial telephone consultations, with some pencil sketches. The client, Catholic Charities of Santa Clara County, wanted to visually convey the nature of the services they provide to the community. I offered some ideas, beginning with an image of opened doors to contain the well-loved biblical scripture known as Matthew 25. We tried out various versions of the text, ranging from the entire passage to just selected phrases. The images of opening doors were garnered from internet sources to aid in the drawings.

Matthew 25 Award_First Sketches

A more traditional design was wanted, so I combined aspects of two designs into a new drawing. Then the calligraphy trials began. The client had expressed a desire to emulate the medieval style of my Fra Giovanni print, so a copy remained on my work table as I progressed. Small pencil drawings were made to be included later in the delicate vine style of medieval border.

Matthew 25 Award_First Ink Trials

Since the quotation was to be the centerpiece of the design, that was explored first, to figure out proportions and sizing. Happily, the lettering style requested was the bâtarde style which I was scheduled to teach in October, making my summer practice congruent with my fall teaching gig. The final lettering was done on smooth layout paper with walnut (peat) ink to emulate the brown lettering of old manuscripts. I made extra letters in the right margin to substitute for less-than-lovely letters during digital compositing. I found it necessary to write this ordinarily wide hand narrowly to fit the text, and make the interlinear spacing more generous for a contemporary feel, allowing some air for the letters to “breathe.”

Matthew 25 Award_calligraphy trial

For this I used my “Kells” guidelines: twenty years ago, I studied my big Dover thrift edition of the Book of Kells, and discovered that the line spacing was not every other line, or every third line, but about every two and a half lines. The guidelines I drew from this study, and reproduced in different sizes, have served me well over the years, not only for uncials and other majuscules, but also styles with short ascenders and descenders like bâtarde.

Matthew 25 Award_Kells Guidelines

I lettered the highlighted parts of the text in small caps and in color with gouache on hotpress watercolor paper.

Matthew 25 Award_Color Lettering Trials

Color trials of the borders were also made on an Arches 90# hot press watercolor paper. I like to use mixing brushes with handles in the same color family as the paint to help me keep the media sorted. An old ashtray makes a great water dish with a place for the brush to rest.

Matthew 25 Award_Workspace

The banner was painted on a white Fabriano Artistico with shades of yellow gouache. The lettering, done with a pointed pen and ultramarine gouache, was made separately in a versal style, and then combined with the yellow background banner using Photoshop magic.

Matthew 25 Award_Banner

Work on the final border design began with pencil outlines of the center rectangle and of the vine border, loosely drawn around the small pictures. Then I used thinned down acrylic ink in a pointed pen for the drawings, and the same ink in a ruling pen against a straightedge for the inner border. The acrylic ink made the outlines waterproof for filling in with color paint.

Matthew 25 Award_ink drawing

The final design sketch was ever near as I began work on the final painting. The original sketch was drawn on a legal size piece of paper, but later enlarged and printed on larger layout paper to approximate correct proportions for the finished work.

Matthew 25 Award_Drawing Table

The final paintings: the red plate looked too pink, so I painted an alternate blue plate which was more pleasing, as well as being the client’s logo color. All of the painting was made lighter and more contemporary looking by adding white detail on top of the solid colors with a 000 brush. Because the prospectus was to create a print that could be given multiple times, I made the various parts of the final artwork on separate papers, unlike a job where I create the entire work on one sheet of paper. This method of working requires a good working knowledge of digital design, as I scanned each section into the computer and composited them all in Adobe Photoshop and InDesign. The weekend workshop I took long ago through my local university’s extension has served me well, as I am able to translate my calligraphy and painting into digital form and create prints, books and commissions like this one. Otherwise I would have to outsource it, which is not how I like to work.

Matthew 25 Award_Paintings

The client’s logo and the “60″ were dropped into a separate layer at the bottom of the design. The “60″ stayed in the original typeface, but I traced the lettering of the organization with a broad-edged pen to meld better with the rest of the calligraphy.

Matthew 25 Award_logo

After considerable compositing, I had nearly 40 digital layers in Photoshop, and nine layers in the InDesign page layout, before it was ready to print. The photo below shows one of the tasks in Photoshop. I had originally written the entire quotation text in brown ink, then rewrote the important phrases in red, blue and green gouache. In the process my spacing became tighter, and though I was happy with the lettering, it didn’t quite fit with the foundation text. So into Photoshop it all went. I separated out each phrase, the one with preferred spacing in the brown ink underneath, and the one whose spacing needed correcting in a layer on top. Then it was just basic letterspacing to get it to look right, or kerning as it is known in the world of mechanical (now digital) letterforms. You can see in the “you welcomed me” phrase how each letter is selected and given more space between them.

Matthew 25 Award_Photoshop Editing

I made the final prints on my newly acquired Epson 3880. It turned out to be a good purchase and just right for this job, for it takes non-standard art papers, in this case Arches 90# hot press watercolor paper. A service bureau would likely not have printed on a fine art paper for me, but this was necessary so I could then write on the prints with a calligraphy pen afterward, to add the names.

Matthew 25 Award_Epson 3880 Printer

The printing only seems fast in this photo but it’s a nice visual of the feeling I had watching these things whoosh out of the printer after so many weeks of hand labor on the original art.

Matthew 25 Award_Epson 3880 PrinterSpeedy

Below is the pencil mockup of the proposed design, and below that the finished print before adding the names.

Matthew 25 Award_Final Design Sketch

On the final prints, dots were added with gold paint for texture in the border, and the names lettered in alizarin crimson and flourished with the same gold paint, as seen in the detail photo at the top of this post.

Matthew 25 Award_FINAL

I mentioned my packing skills, but have no picture to show. In another life, I worked in the shipping department of a small pool supply company, and later helped my husband run his family moving and storage business. Packing is a skill like any other, and I fretted over the delivery of these awards. Framed, they were 20 by 28 inches, and with the corner protectors were nearly 30 inches high. I couldn’t find individual boxes for each one, much as I would have liked to. I didn’t have time at this point to hang out in the Michael’s framing department and try to snag those rare boxes that would fit a single framed piece. But UPS had a picture box exactly the right size, double walled, and the three awards fit perfectly and tightly within. These framed artworks were not going to be damaged on MY watch.

All in all, this commission was a delight to complete, and I especially liked taking one of my prints to my workshop later in October to show my students. Rare they may be, but there are still occasions to use the skills needed to create a medieval-style piece of calligraphy art.


A Remembering Altar

by Cari on 11/02/2015

in Wheel of the Year

Remember_Samhain Ofrenda

This year my altar for the dead is small but heartfelt. Having just returned from a week in Seattle, I’ve been absorbed in the prosaic chores of laundry and others sorts of reconnoitering. But the home front didn’t feel complete without a nod to the ancestors and other beloved dead who seem to draw near at this sacred time of the year, when the veil between worlds is said to be thin. So marigolds were collected and a few favorite photos placed among the dried autumn leaves. In my part of the world, where Halloween gives way to Dias de Los Muertos, this is called an ofrenda, meaning quite literally, an offering. I love this word, for it speaks to the participatory nature of this practice, not exactly a worship, but an invitation, a welcome.

That is my mother on the left, lively and dancing toward the end of her life, and always a cutup for the camera. Behind her is her birth mother, only partly seen, yet someone whose life and death have been calling to me for a long time. At right is my father holding me as an infant, the love and pride on his face so evident I tear up every time I look at it, for that love and pride became elusive as time went by. Such is the nature of memories, the bitter mixed in with the sweet and watered by tears.

“Remember” says the calligraphy in the center. This was done as a demonstration in my workshop for the Write On Calligraphers in the Seattle area, as we studied the bâtarde hand of medieval Europe. Bâtarde means quite literally “bastard” for it was the running hand of the more formal Gothic bookhands, taking as many forms as there were scribes. The big “R” is a versal majuscule, drawn with double pencils and painted with a light cadmium red gouache, then touched with a brush full of bright gold gouache to make it shine.

Bastard is a word and concept that is reviled, and caused much suffering to my mother. It simply means of “natural” rather than “wedded” parentage, and is an idea born of patriarchy. There is a story to tell about this, and that is for another time. But in a wyrd way, everything in this picture fits together.

Blessings of the darkening season to you.