Why do it by hand in 2016?


ACSdoc, recipient blurred

Image blurred to protect the recipient’s privacy

It’s so easy now. You open up a Word Doc and grab down some text. A little formatting, maybe cut-and-paste a graphic and then you e-mail it off to the Graphics Provider who prints it out onto decent quality paper. Drop it into a readymade frame from your local craftsy store (All framing 60% off!). Now you can present that to your honoree. Excuse me if this seems like somewhat less of an honor than receiving a hand-lettered and illustrated document by a quality Calligrapher. Framed by a skilled framer.

. e.jean award (6) e.jean award (1)

Honoring e.jean Lanyon for a lifetime of contribution

What I do is hard. It’s rare. It’s beautiful. And, it’s appropriate as a recognition for someone who has labored a lifetime for your business or cause. True appreciation is so very rare and has always been thus. Folks who receive my documents are special. Important. And the documents are cherished.  They become the centerpiece of folks brag walls. Folks who have a lot to brag about. They get handed down to the next generation. Now that’s a worthy honor.

You don’t learn about Business in Art School. Part 2


Flourishes don't just end up in the right place by Magic. You have to make them.

Flourishes don’t just end up in the right place by Magic. You have to make them.

LESSON ONE! You need to charge enough to make a reasonable life for yourself. Period. DO NOT look at the bottom line for the project and compare it to what you can afford. You are not the client. You have no idea what value they put on your work. If you put a very low value on the project, your client will not appreciate the bargain they got. They will assign you a low value. After all, you did.

I had no idea what I was doing. How do you figure out what to charge? OH MY HEAVENS! People won’t pay that much! If only I’d known.

Market research? What’s that? I’ve spent a lot of time and energy looking at how I charge for my work. You should too.

The good news is that I’d had a business before. Clothing repair. I had a price list.  Hemming. Replace Zipper. Sew on buttons. Etc. Hey, I was 12. It was good practice. I never wanted to babysit or wait tables. Not that there’s anything wrong with those jobs either. Just not for me.

Working from home on Calligraphy projects, I made every single mistake in the “book”. If only I’d known there was a book. If only I would have read it. What, you may ask is this “book”? It’s a Metaphor. OK? It’s all of the books about business that you don’t want to read. It’s learning about business. One lesson at a time. Hopefully before you’ve been bitten in the ass enough times that you can’t sit down anymore.

By this time I was working at a furniture store doing layouts for ads. At least I was drawing…furniture…for ads. I hated my boss. He was an unreasonable jerk. I was being treated as a “Pile On”. If you don’t know what that is, then you may very well be one. I learned about this from “What men don’t tell women about business: opening up the heavily guarded alpha male playbook.” by Christopher Flett. Women, and maybe men too, you should get this book and read it, NOW.  Thanks Mr. Flett. You taught me a lot. A “Pile On” is someone that wants to be seen as “nice” and will accept any unreasonable task piled on to her (usually) desk.

Well, that job didn’t last long. Time to put it on the line and claim my own business. I was strongly motivated. And you. You’re an artist, right? You need to spend your time honing technique, right? Business is for those button-down types and that’s not you, right?  If you’ve got someone who can support you while you create, that’s amazing. You should appreciate how lucky you are. Otherwise, you’d better learn how to make it pay.


You don’t learn about Business in Art School

As a Calligrapher and Watercolor Painter, I’ve made my living for the last 40 years, and supported my family, doing what I love and getting paid for it. I’ll be offering information to other Artists that just might make the path easier.    -Riva Brown

You love to Paint, right? Or build Ceramics? Or carve Marble? You’ve educated yourself in these skills. You have not learned anything about Business. You are an Artist, right? Business is for them. You are most assuredly not one of them. You’re an Artist, right? You shouldn’t even have to think about this stuff. But, let me tell you….you have to think about this stuff. Because a funny thing happens. At some point you want to go out into the world and earn your money as an Artist. And there you stand with your mad skills on how to paint a Painting or build in Ceramics. And you, my friend, are completely f**ked. You might be a married person who has always been the stay-at-home partner and now you have no idea how to earn a dollar for yourself. Or, you might be a college graduate with no idea how to pay for your next meal or put a roof over your head. Now your options include something like

1. Remain dependent. You don’t actually have to earn a living…lucky you.

2. Join the Military, a real option for younger folks.

3. Hire on to any job you can find where your Art School skills will at least not get in the way. Great. A degree in Oil Painting and now you’re a Greeter at Walmart.

4. Hustle your Artwork to anyone you can think of. Any way you can think of. Imagine if you’d taken a class that helped you to prepare to do just that? At this point you don’t even know what you don’t know. Who do you to talk to and where are they? What collateral material do you need? What the heck is collateral material? How do you make a plan to attack these things? When will you do these things and still have time to paint?


BUSINESS CARD AND BIO SHEET. Why? Let’s say you’re going to approach a Gallery owner. You do not have a Business Card. So you fumble around looking for pen and paper to leave them contact information. And you do too want to leave them contact information. Without a Business Card, you ask them for a piece of paper…because you didn’t bring any paper….and write your contact information down by hand, hopefully legibly, while they roll their eyes. Don’t forget anything! You.. do.. not.. look.. professional.

SELF IMAGE.  What image do you want to project when you go? Professional? Artsy? Left of center? Slightly insane? Totally Psychotic? If you don’t choose how you want to look but instead you head out in whatever you happen to be wearing, what impression will you leave? If you wear your Painting Clothes will you look Artsy or Homeless?

DO YOUR RESEARCH. You can actually visit the gallery before you try to pitch the owners. Look at the work. Jot down the names of artists whose work is similar to yours and call them to ask about their experience with the gallery. Go online. Find out what kind of art the Gallery represents. Make sure your work is a good match for their offering. Find out the names of the Gallery Owners and the staff members. Look at their pictures. Be able to greet these people by name when you go in.

YOU’RE IN THIS FOR THE LONG HAUL. Don’t get frustrated by your first efforts. I once had to contact a gallery owner…who liked me…7 times before he agreed to show my work. It wasn’t meanness. Professionals are busy. Don’t take it personally.


Carl Sandberg’s “Fog”


Carl Sandberg’s “Fog” Commissioned as a gift by a client who’s friend recently lost a beloved cat.


The fog comes on little cat feet.

It sits looking over harbor and city on silent haunches and then moves on.

Carl Sandberg

The original sketch felt too predatory, too threatening. The second sketch nailed the idea down. Below, is the beginning of painting the Cat. The Whiskers will need to be Masked because painting around lines that fine just isn’t a good option for me. I’m using Windsor Newton Masking Fluid and a metal pointed pen to draw in the Whiskers. The Fluid is a little gloppy, but the metal pen can keep the lines fine.DSCN5017DSCN5031 DSCN5019

Dried Masking Fluid is shiny and it resists liquid. No paint can adhere to the paper underneath the dried Mask.


Cat, Layer One. Viewed at an angle. There’s a tinge of Orange to suggest the Tabby, and to have the Cat advance. The second pass begins with the dark tip of the tail.


And the center stripe down the back.

DSCN5023 And the horizontal stripes off of the center line. Detail on some of the M shaped markings over the Cat’s eyes, but the area is too dark. That will be lightening that later.

DSCN5026 Test the dryness of the paint with the back of the hand. A still-moist painting will feel cool. A dry painting feels warmer. The back of the hand is more sensitive to temperature than the fingertips, and easier to use than the wrist.


The next layer can be painted now without worrying about the moisture crawling into an almost dry under-layer.


The foggy Harbor begins to emerge.


Checking this wash to make sure it’s dry. I don’t want the brown of the tail to bleed into the grey mist of the harbor.


Wetting the tail with clean water


Calligraphic contour lines painted onto the wet tail bleed a little which softens the lines and makes them look more fur-like. By the time  the last mark (far left) was made the underneath surface was almost completely dry, so that mark is more hard-edge.


Little Calligraphic strokes begin the Tabby markings. DSCN5042

Once the Yellow was painted on the eyes, the whole thing got more intense.


And some more Calligraphic details.


And some of those cute spots that Tabbies have near their stomachs. Now the  landscape. It needs to stay soft and neutral. A  slightly Bluer mixture of Grey allows this to recede.


The pale Grey sky was painted next, leaving a lighter area above the bridge to suggest the fogged over Sun.


The land mass needed to continue to the left edge of the paper

DSCN5046 With the Mask removed, the White of the paper is revealed. Some of these lights will need to be softened. I’ve lightened the area over the Cat’s eyes and added the M detail.


Preliminary lettering for the poem. It’s got to fit correctly. It’s lettered into the margins of the paper that the painting is on. Because there’s a paint film on the paper where the lettering will eventually go, it will reacte slightly differently than it does on the unpainted paper. It can be an issue, but I don’t expect any trouble.


Placing the text.


Tick marks show approximate placement of the lines.


Almost done. Lettering in place. Mask removed. But the edge of the cat where it meets the water and the land mass is too harshly white. Also, the Whites in the ears and the top of the head have to be adjusted.

DSCN5055 All done.



Rest, A Verb. The Script of a Guided Meditation for Yoga oriented Jews, or Jewish oriented Yogis


Legs Up The Wall

Viparita Karani: Legs Up the Wall. A restful Asana. Original Art by Riva Brown.          The following is the text of a “Sermon” in the form of a guided meditation

The 4th commandment directs us to rest. That’s it, no instructions. And we don’t have a clue what to do to rest. Can you stop thinking about your job, your classes, your hobbies, your body, your family members, your obligations, your sports, your habits?   Can you stop thinking about your failures, your victories, your illnesses, your weaknesses, your strengths?

What would it be like to sit in a chair and rest? To let go of the tension you hold in your bodies? When we stop thinking about the subjects that make up the ordinary background noise of our thoughts and we begin to rest, perhaps we open up some space to notice the Holy. We sometimes refer to God as “The still small voice”. How are we supposed to hear that when there is all that noise in our heads, and tension in our bodies?

The V’Shumru we read every Shabbat ends, “Shabbat Va’Yenafash”. The word Nawfash means rest, relax. Nefesh means soul, spirit of life, person. Shabbat Va’Yenafash, can be translated “Shabbat was Inspirited”. An awkward phrase, but let’s take it to mean that Shabbat is located inside of each of us, within our spirit, or soul. If this is true, then it could be an interesting exercise to try to contact that internal Shabbat. And, I actually do mean “Exercise”. We say that Shabbat is Rest. But our Rest- Muscles are seldom exercised. Perhaps they are even atrophied. It seems counter-intuitive to even say “Rest-Muscles”,

Together, let us see if we can detach a little bit from our work-a-day lives and flex our Shabbat muscles. Yes, this is a group participation Sermon. It is a group Meditation. Maybe you’ve been interested in trying a meditation practice, but it just didn’t seem Jewish. I’ve tried to include a lot of what I’ll call Jewish Hooks in this exercise. There are traditions of this sort within Judaism, but we don’t encounter them often.

And, no, you don’t have to participate if you don’t want to. You can just listen. And, you can change your mind. If you’ve decided one way and want to, you can decide the other way at any time. You may hear me say something that you don’t like, or disagree with, or that you believe is untrue. Come up and talk to me later. There are copies of this sermon available, so don’t hold the thought now. Let it go.

There are hand motions associated with this. They are easy, and we’re going to learn them now. Always hold your hands comfortably. Straining or stressing defeats our purpose. Feel free to modify these positions so you are comfortable.

Lower: Place your hands on either side of your belly, thumbs up, and the pinkie edge of your hands pointing to or resting on your thighs.

Middle: Place your hands so that your thumbs just touch the bottom of your ribs, fingers point in.

Upper: Place your hands up so that the fingertips point towards each other along the center line of your ribs and your thumbs point upwards.

Now, let’s make ourselves comfortable. Remember bed-time stories? They help us disconnect from our every day world. They are a transition to sleep-time. They allow our rest muscles to stretch. This is going to be very relaxing. It would even be ok if you fell asleep, but if you start to snore, perhaps your neighbor will softly touch your arm to bring you back to awareness. This exercise can easily lower your blood pressure, so if you have toxically low blood pressure you may wish to not participate. Remember, if you do not want to participate that’s fine. Just listen then as your would with any other sermon. Notice your posture. If you’ve ever tried to sip a drink through a kinked up straw you know that it’s harder to do than if the straw is straight. So, we’ll spend the next few moments adjusting our posture so that the spine is not collapsed and you are sitting comfortably. Place you feet flat on the floor. Lift up through the top of your head. Feel your head centered on your neck.  Shrug your shoulders up, back and down. Let your arms hang from your shoulders. Let your hands lay on your thighs. Wiggle your hips from side to side to find evenness. Tilt the top of your sacrum back to flatten your low back.

Having done all of that, now, just relax everything and be comfortable.

Inspire, to breathe in or to create a new awareness or new life.

Continue this breath while you continue to listen. On the completion of your next exhalation, move your hands up to the second position so that your thumbs just touch the bottom of your ribs, your pointy fingers point to your navel. Breathe in. This is the middle breath. Notice how long it takes for your inhalation. Your exhalation.

lf this breathing exercise feels stressful at any time, or If you feel yourself becoming light headed or short of breath, just return to your regular breath and then join back in when you feel better. We tend to breath in restricted ways. But just for now, we are going to allow the Nefesh, the spirit, the breath, to flow unimpeded through our bodies. This is the first rest muscle that we need to strengthen. Continue this breathing. We can survive without food for many days, water for several days, but without breath, only a few minutes. Think of the place on your head where a Yarmulka sits. Turn your inner eye to that location. If you have trouble with that notion, then just imagine that location. There is a suggestion that there is a link from this point on your body directly to the Ein Sof. There aren’t a lot of muscles there, but we begin there. Imagine receptivity. Imagine the peace of Shabbat entering your body, beginning at the Yarmulka, the crown or Keter. Or think of warm sunshine flowing down from the sky and hitting the top of your head. Let’s begin to notice where we hold tension. When you say, Shema, listen. Notice how listening causes your awareness to radiate outward into the world. Try to relax that hearing. Draw your hearing deeper inside your head. Imagine a straight line connecting both ears. Now imagine that you hear, from the mid-point of that line. If you are a sighted person, your eyes are the brain’s first receivers. They provide much information to the brain and the brain uses much of its power on processing that information. Scrunch up your eyes. Then release that tension. Feel, or imagine, your eyes receding into your skull. Feel your eyelids relax. Feel your eyebrows relax and widen to either side. When we don’t like something, we scrunch up our noses to show distaste. The way we hold our bodies affects how we hold our emotions, and vice-versa. Allow the skin on the bridge of your nose to elongate.

Do a quick scan of everything you’ve just relaxed and see if anything has tightened back up out of habit. Body based habits are very hard to break, so don’t be surprised if tension has returned to some of these areas. When we speak or sing a prayer we use our voice box. Notice this area now and release any tension there. Our heart space can hold a surprising amount of stress. This can be where we worry about our partners, our parents, our children. When things go wrong with our loved ones we can feel it in our hearts. We Jews often wear a Magen David, the 6-pointed star as a piece of Jewelry near our hearts. Even if it doesn’t feel to you like any of that Loved-One stuff is true, our hearts still work incredibly hard, every minute of our lives. We know that if the heart stops, life stops. Still, imagine your heart resting. Now turn your attention to the location of the lower breath. Now that we are relaxed and our minds have quieted somewhat, we are in a more receptive state. We are ready for prayer. Now, a reading from the Gates of Prayer. “Kodeshet HaShem” (…read in Hebrew) “A time can come to us when our hearts are filled with awe: Suddenly, the noise of life will be stilled, as our eyes open to a world just beyond the border of our minds. All at once there is a glory in our souls! HaEI HaKadosh. The Holy God! O majestic Presence!  O world ablaze with splendor!

Keeping your eyes gently closed, very slowly now, we’re going to return to the world around us. Notice once again that you are sitting in a chair. That there is a room around you. Feel the soles of your feet on the floor. Flex and stretch your fingers. Wiggle around in any way that feels good or needful.

When you are ready, slowly open your eyes. Notice how you are feeling right now. Is it different from when I  began to speak? I hope you are feeling relaxed. I hope you were able to engage your rest muscles and enspirit Shabbat, Shabbat V’Yenafas. Remain in this awareness of contact with Awe. Feel that energy in your body. Allow it to rejuvenate your cells. Allow it to be inspirited. Shabbat V’Yenafash.