‘Names of Jesus’ Christmas Print

Christmas tree printIn my home there’s an old tattered King James Version of the Bible given to me by my aunt on the occasion of my graduation from high school. While leafing through it several years ago, I came across a long forgotten section called the Names and Titles of Christ. It was early Autumn, so in anticipation of preparing our own calligraphic Christmas card, I decided to incorporate these names and titles into a Christmas tree. After talking it over with my trusted Art Director (wife Jean), we went to work designing the tree.

At first glance it looked simple. However, it was complex to arrange names of varying lengths to form the proper shape. We also had to consider appropriate contrasting red decorations and finally something for the tree to sit upon. The result was a beautiful, meaningful Christmas card.

The original was lettered on Arches 140# white hot press cotton rag paper using our favorite gouache paints by Windsor Newton. Fortuitously we had just completed it when the Director of a choral group, The Singing Christmas Tree, called to inquire about having a Christmas-themed print made for each of their 300 members. When the choral master visited our studio, he was amazed to see our just-completed tree and quickly chose it to gift each of their singers and staff. The prints were made, matted in red, and placed in individual acrylic sleeves just in time for their performance.

As always, when we make prints for customers, we make extras to sell to others. Those reading this article are in luck, because we continue to make new prints of our Names of Jesus Christmas Tree every year. View all the names that make up the tree, read the sentiment inside, and learn how to order a box of cards from my daughter Holly’s website- or see all my works – and place your order early!


Vespers was one of many poems composed by William Stafford, who served for many years as the poet laureate of Oregon. As I pondered over this poem it seemed to me that it foretold the ending of the life cycle for all of us. And so it was fitting to enter this piece in a traveling exhibit in Oregon that commemorates the 100th anniversary of the birth of William Stafford.

VespersIt seemed appropriate to me that so somber a piece should be lettered on black paper and so I used Arches 140# black, cotton rag paper to tell this story. Somber though it may be, for many of us the end of life is a cherished new beginning, and  so the use of 23K gold leaf with intricate filigree to brighten the darkness. The pinkish toned lettering (using Windsor Newton gouache) of the poem itself,  depicts the setting sun (vespers) as portrayed in the poem. Lettering on black paper, as you might imagine, is quite difficult because you cannot easily see the pencil markings. However, by using a very soft lead pencil and by shining the light on the drawing board at quite an angle, the lead pencil markings were discernible, making the lettering doable.

The traveling exhibit, which has upwards of 50 calligraphed poems by William Stafford, will be at the Collins Gallery on the top floor of the Multnomah County Library, Portland, Oregon from September 29 through November 9th. It will then travel to the library in Salem, Oregon’s state capital, until the end of the year.

The Making of a 10-Year Project

Many calligraphers have attempted the “Love” piece, so when we began the project some 10 years ago, we were challenged with creating something different.

We decided to begin with a very large “L” as the dominant feature followed by the word “Love” as a reverse blue with a gold surround. The scroll work is traditional French style illumination.

Clifford Mansley calligraphyOriginally, we thought we would include figures or faces of a man and a woman, but each attempt left us less inspired, so we dropped the idea and tucked the project away to await the inspiration we knew would come. From time to time we would pull out the project, mull it over, and return it to the files.

Finally, last year, an inspiration came which seemed to work. We abandoned the portraits or figures idea and decided to use blue for male and pink for female and create a symbol representing each. This was an “aha moment” and seemed to work well with the rest of the design.

We entered “Love” in the Calligraphy exhibit at the Oregon State Fair and were pleased and rewarded to receive the 1st Prize.

The “L” in the work, in fact all gold in the project, is 23K gold leaf. The silver is palladium, an extract of platinum, chosen because unlike silver it doesn’t tarnish. The colors are Windsor Newton gouache and the black is Sumi ink. We used our favorite paper (well, other than calfskin) which is 140* Arches cotton rag Hot Press. Our materials enable us to correct ink or gouache easily and restore the paper for lettering so that corrections are hardly detectable. We actually “shave off” the error with a single edged razor, buffer it with an electric eraser to smooth the surface, then rub gum sandarac to heal the paper so that it doesn’t bleed.

The “Love” piece was a frustrating project until we allowed inspiration to come in its own time. Maybe that’s the secret to creating beautiful art. Never force it. Let it happen in its own time. Creating the final piece became a great pleasure.

My Zanerian Experience

[This is an excerpt of my article in Bound & Lettered, Volume 11, Number 2, Winter 2014.]

Zaner-Bloser Company building in CincinnatiAs a boy, I had terrible handwriting. This was not happily received at home, as my father had, at one time, been a penmanship teacher in the Philadelphia public schools. However, The Educator, a periodical from the Zaner-Bloser Company, arrived at our house every so often, and at some point the beautiful writing and calligraphy on its pages became an interesting challenge to me. So, while I was in the Navy during World War II, I used some of my spare time trying to emulate the Engrosser’s Script (a hand similar to Copperplate Script) and Old English lettering in the issues I had with me.

I was discharged from the Navy in June of 1946, and while the GI Bill was there to provide funds, I could not possibly enter college until the winter term. With all that time on my hands, I was determined to spend some of it attending the Zanerian College in Columbus, Ohio. (This college of penmanship was part of the Zaner-Bloser Company.) At nineteen years of age, I took the train from Philadelphia to Columbus, arriving in mid-September 1946.

Continue reading the (pdf) reprint »

Christmas – one of Vivaldi’s 4 Seasons?

The Christmas season has a way of bringing back memories — and I have quite a bit of past from which to draw! Lately, I’ve been thinking about one of Heirloom Artists’ best Christmas card customers — Bill Hollingsworth and his wife Kay of Issaquah, Washington.

Bill was a minister and my wife Jean’s brother; Kay was a concert violinist. They had friends spread all over the country and overseas, so every year the Hollingsworth’s bought large quantities of Christmas cards from us. In turn, we gave them several original pieces of calligraphy as gifts.

A number of a years ago, when Kay was playing with the Northwest Chamber Orchestra Players in Seattle, the orchestra elected to add Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” to their program. Kay asked if we were interested in designing the CD jacket for the audio recording. We were. Jean, Heirloom Artists’ Art Director an artist in her own right, jumped in with her usual enthusiasm by sketching what four seasons might look like through a window. The text, of course, would be pure calligraphy. I might mention here that Jean and I met because of our mutual interest in classical music.

We did several renditions for the orchestra’s art director, and they made the final selection. As is often the case with artists and their artwork, we preferred our original, more colorful, concept to their more subtle rendition, and the final printing lacked the color punch we envisioned. However we enjoyed doing the project and are pleased to have a copy of the CD made from those performances.

Our original concept design:

Vivaldi draft

The final printed CD jacket:

Vivaldi final