Flourishing Children

One of my favorite things to do is give demos for kids. It's so much fun to watch the way their eyes light up when I flick on a torch, hammer metal, blow the remnants of gold leaf across a page, or swoosh a big sparkly flourish. In fact, it might be a toss up as to who is having more fun, my young audience or me.

Kids never ask the rote questions that adults do. They are never afraid to show their wonder and excitement. I'll never forget the adult artists who demonstrated at all the craft shows my mother took me to in the 1970's. The spinners and candlemakers were my favorites. Their repeated motions made me believe anything was possible with enough practice and determination. Their creativity ignited my desire to learn and do.

I had an opportunity recently to demonstrate calligraphic flourishing and Spencerian script at Maker Faire in Atlanta. The kids that watched me write their names were among the most patient of creatures I've ever witnessed. When nibs wear out, and metallic gouache gets thick, nothing wants to flow out the pen. At one point I ran out of black paper strips and had to cut more. With a line 6 little kids + twice as many adults deep, I could barely remember how to measure and use a paper trimmer. Seriously, under stress it's the easy stuff on which my brain's RAM maxes out.

Weirdly quietly they waited as I slowly swirled, swooshed, and flourished their names in my best possible on-the-fly Spencerian script with no guidelines. I did my best to explain and letter at the same time, always a dangerous feat as what comes out my mouth can easily come out my pen at the same time instead of what I'm supposed to be writing. - I only misspelled one person's name. I left out the first h in Siddharth and so had to explain my brain's fondness for missing ascenders if they are in a row. Once I make an upstroke, some neurological decision is made that I'm done with going up and only going down and across remain. I had to tell the story of the year I left the k after the S out of my son's name on his birthday cake and the next year when I left off an h and wrote "Happy Birtday," all while I relettered the name, carefully swooping up "ddh" and wondering if I could get as pleasing flourishes on the second try as I had on the first.

There were quite a few of us demonstrating over the weekend. I heard one person talk down to the kids that wanted to watch. She would write their names IF they promised to read real books and use the strip of paper with their names as bookmarks, and only IF they would get interested in calligraphy and learn how do do it.

I wanted to scream.

I was a kid who loved books, loved to read, and was goofy for bookmarks and bookplates, yet I know exactly how I would have reacted to being spoken to like that. I've always been obsessively conscientious of other people's creativity and cannot bring myself to throw away or ill treat someone else's artwork no matter what. I would have felt compelled to keep such a bookmark, but I'd have shoved it in a drawer out of sight so as not to be reminded of being spoken down to. I'd probably have avoided calligraphy and calligraphers for a long while too just in case that sort of attitude was the trend.

One homeschooling parent asked my opinion on most school systems no longer teaching cursive. I explained that I feel schools should offer the option of learning cursive, that it's important that people be able to read it, but that no one should be forced to learn anything or forced when they might not be ready. Why people believe whole groups of children should learn the same thing at the same time because some school board decrees it is beyond comprehension.

Another homeschooling parent seemed more concerned that we all know she had told her kids about calligraphy and paper making than in giving the kids any sort of hands on feel for a pen or brush. The kids were adorable. In different circumstances I'd have handed them my pen and paints, which brings me to my impromptu assistant.

For just a split second I'd gotten up from my chair, and a little boy about 9 years old walked up to my set up and started using it. I took a deep breath as he grabbed my hand turn nib holders made by Heather Victoria Held's husband, Chris, and I gently convinced him to let me show him what I was doing first and then I'd let him try it.

Oblique pen holders are not the most intuitive of instruments. Neither is loading a nib with metallic pan gouache. To watch this child move the pen different directions and immediately be able to control the pressure of a pointed nib to create thicks and thins without pooling out all the ink was amazing. Most adults have trouble doing that until they've had hours of practice. My assistant came back a few more times throughout the day. I took his mom one of my cards with Paper and Ink Arts's website written on it, explained she had a budding calligrapher on her hands, and begged her to order her son some supplies. I asked her son to email me pictures of what he created in the future.

We never know what we do that might open up new vistas to tomorrows adults. 


John said...

When my kids novels came out I did a lot of school visits and creative writing classes. It is amazing how much more open kids are than adults to new ideas and just having fun. Keep up the connections, it's a lifeline to reality.

Mare said...

What a beautiful blog post!

I did have to giggle when I read about the other adult who would only make bookmarks for the kiddos who promised to read. I have a feeling the Miss and I met her a few years ago when we came to watch you create your beautiful kind of magic. If it is the same person, I remember Renee saying to me as we walked away, "Why can't I just love to read because I love it? Why do I have to read because someone tells me to do so?"

You were such a gift to that young man! Please keep doing what you do best....inspiring future artists. :)