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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.