Whenever we attend a presentation, we expect to learn something. What we might not expect is to learn what the presenter thought and how they felt during their own learning process. But that’s exactly what happened when Maura Lynch presented the first half of the first program of our new calligraphic year on Saturday, September 17, 2016: Maura dispensed a bouquet of pithy thoughts and subtle insights she gained during her year-long studies as the beneficiary of the Jo White Scholarship for 2015. Her talk was titled "Follow the Lead of Your Teacher and Other Lessons from a Year of Intensive Calligraphy Study."
Since she was a child, Maura has loved pens, paints, and paper. To satisfy her adult creative longing, Maura enrolled in Judith Michalski’s community education class in Italic lettering and was enthralled with what she learned. Later, at a Midwest Art and Lettering Retreat class, Maura wondered while taking Carrie Imai’s “Foundation Meets Bone” class how she was going to become a calligrapher by learning variations alone. That conundrum fed Maura’s desire to seriously learn calligraphy, an incentive to apply for the scholarship.
Enjoying the journey
As the scholarship designee, Maura studied with Colleagues member and longtime instructor, Jean Formo. During seven sessions throughout a one-year period, Maura learned about and practiced calligraphic hands, techniques, and related art forms. She learned that “practice is not a dress rehearsal; it’s the show.” While musicians learn scales and practice them, calligraphers learn lettering and practice it. Maura entreated us to, “Treat your practice as though it matters, because it does.”
As Maura practiced the Foundational hand, she discovered the importance of warming up, encouraging us to “do your pen aerobics!” She admitted she struggled to make adequate single strokes but found that the repetitive pattern made by the basic strokes was “pretty” and that she was never bored while practicing.
Maura mentioned Jean Formo’s high standards and how Jean’s written comments on Maura’s work continue to constructively guide her. When a sheet of Maura’s work fell on the floor during a lesson, Jean blithely stated, “We were going to cover that today,” meaning we can learn a lot by viewing our work from literally different perspectives. The piece Maura created from that lesson? “Check your work upside down.”
Joy in the process
Regarding some of the calligraphic media she explored, Maura admitted that she learned from Jean to mix gouache that is “not too thick and not too runny; just so.” And she’s progressed from not being able to spell the word “gouache” to having it be her “newest best friend.”
As images of Maura’s increasingly complex and confident work beamed brightly on the wall, we heard about more discoveries she made during her study with Jean and from her own home practice. “Do not rush. Speed is the enemy of precision.” “Preparation is the enemy of surprise.” “I do this because I love it. It’s so nice to have that outlet for the creative within myself.” And finally, a phrase to inspire all of us: “Letter for the love of it.”