Thursday, November 5, 2015

power up

One of the Instagram challenges I’m participating in prompted participants to letter a modern convenience that we are grateful for. I’ve seen a few of the results and I wasn’t surprised to see smartphones and such, and I agree with those choices. My selection, however, is not quite as recent, and I know it’s one that we have taken for granted.

For nearly four years we have used solar panels to power our home. It’s been fantastic not having to pay a monthly bill for electricity, and it’s been particularly wonderful knowing we didn’t have to pay the $60,000 that was quoted to add company-provided power to our property. The obstacle we’ve had to face, however, has been a system that is too small.

We have nine 120-watt panels and eight batteries, together allowing 1kW of power per day. With care, that’s enough for a day of power, but it doesn’t allow for any reserves. That means that when it’s not sunny, we’re in trouble.

Our first winter was one without sun. We ran the generator daily to compensate. Last year was extraordinary because we used the generator just once. This year, however, is looking just like winter Number 1.

When it’s cloudy as often as it has been we have to turn off the refrigerator at night, we unplug computers and clock radios and anything else that might draw even teensy bits of power. We can’t use a microwave or even a toaster. Happily, our stove and oven are propane-based; otherwise I’d still be using the camp stove we got from Canadian Tire in the summer of 2011.

We don’t plan to live here beyond next July or we would have built on our system this fall. With a move in the works, however, we’re going to suck it up and live with what we have.

This kind of balancing act has taught me to appreciate flicking a switch without having to first calculate the impact it might have on the rest of my day.

In honor of electricity, here is the lettering piece I submitted to the challenge:

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

learning to draw

I'm pretty proud of this apple. It's not fantastic - I'm not delusional, I swear - but I never could have done this before last night.

Here's how it started:

This page represents the first lesson of Learning to Draw, an illustration class led by Oksana Zhelisko at The Paint Spot in Edmonton. We used 2B and 4B pencils from the Gioconda Mini Art Set, pictured below.

We were to use pressure on the pencils to go from dark to light using a variety of shapes and techniques, including cross-hatching and wacky circling. It wasn't as easy as Oksana made it look on her sample page.

Every student agreed we'd have to practice these. I usually practice lettering and calligraphy while watching TV, so I'll just add this to my routine.

On the three-hour drive home last night I pondered how amazing and unexpected it is that I'm still interested in becoming an artist after so many months. Is it because I've not had to work full-time, allowing my interests to enter my heart more deeply without distraction? Is it because of the determination I'm cultivating? Is it because this is who I am? All I know is it's unusual: I've been passionate in the past about social media, poker, and cycling, for example, and I have even participated in some of those interest for a period of several years, but I have never felt this deeply about anything before. This feels more real, although I know that feelings shouldn't be given too much weight.

Ultimately, however, it's hard to imagine that I could become so much more skillful - relatively speaking - at something that I would eventually stop caring about. If that were to happen, mind you, I can at least be grateful that I've added those skills to my life.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


I have to put 600 more words to page today. I also have three lettering challenges to participate in, and I'm leaving home in about 45 minutes to attend the first of three illustration classes in Edmonton. It's going to be a big day.

The writing goal comes from Sean McCabe, who produces short, excellent, self-improvement videos at I've taken the goal on because writing is good for me. I want to do it more often than I have been doing. I want to move past the procrastination, the excuses, the doubt, and the fear of failure.

Having goals, I realize, provides some structure to my day. In fact, that's probably the biggest benefit I've noticed: I don't waste time moving aimlessly from one task to another, only to find at the end of the day I haven't really accomplished much. I have to fight distraction and stay focused. I feel good at the end of the day, even if I haven't completed everything from my list, because I know I've done the best I can.

I'm 50 years old and I'm telling myself it's not too late to start something new. Certainly that's one advantage of turning to art: nobody is going to refuse me entry into the field because entry depends entirely on my own efforts.

I experience moments and periods of doubt, and I've mentioned those in previous posts. But I have enough life experience to know that doubt can pass, that it can be overcome with effort and faith in myself. Every good letterer I've listened to has talked about practice, and practice is something I can do easily. I just have to make it a goal. And I have.

Two things frighten me, however; the first is the travel Sean and I will be doing as of the 22nd of this month. As excited as I am about spending time in Amsterdam, Johannesburg, and Rome, I am anxious about how little time I am likely to have for practice. My goal for that period is to have one hour a day to do something relevant; I hope that doesn't prove unreasonable or unattainable. I'll probably make it a morning practice to avoid the expectations of others.

The second source of anxiety will be more permanent: the work that I will be returning to in January 2016. Being at home full-time has provided me with incredible opportunities and advantages that will no longer be available to me once I'm working 40 hours a week. Again, I'll probably be limited to an hour a day. That's not much.

Sean McCabe has another practice that might help, however, if I can get my employer - who is unknown at this point - to agree to it. McCabe takes a sabbatical every six weeks. He works for six days a week, takes one day off, and after six weeks of that he takes a full week off. It amounts to the same amount of time worked and time off, but that full week of no professional obligations allows him to give significant attention to other interests. It's refreshing, and it's brilliant.

One way or another I want to stay on this path. I don't want to lose my way or forget how much lettering and Zentangle and creativity mean to me. If that were to happen, I would lose a valuable part of myself that has taken several months to cultivate and encourage.

Monday, November 2, 2015

second home

This morning I launch - or relaunch, more accurately - my Wordpress blog. It will focus entirely on lettering and I plan to contribute to it weekly at minimum.

My first post, which I have yet to write, will include a list of the resources I've accessed so far. Please contribute to the list if you can by sending me an email at or by posting a reply to the post once it's up. The blog can be found at

This blog will continue as an outlet for more personal thoughts and for non-lettering projects I pursue, including Zentangle. Again, I plan to publish a new post at least once a week.

My goal is to have a regular writing practice. I got the idea from Sean McCabe, a prominent letterer and highly-focused business owner. Sean writes 3,000 - 5,000 words every morning, he produces a podcast, short daily videos, and hosts live classes occasionally. He’s also got a remarkable series of hand-lettering lessons, and he’s responsible for an active community of equally motivated people.

Like anyone else would, I have high hopes for this practice. The challenge will be to keep the commitment to write every day, and as we all know, that’s easier said than done. Encouraging words - and the occasional cattle prod - are welcome and invited!