Archive | Hand Lettered

Celebrating National Poetry month with Jan Owen

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Celebrating National Poetry Month by showcasing works at Abecedarian Gallery that present poetic form in an interactive format.

Maine artist and musician Jan Owen works with poetic form; combining words with her own sense of rhythm. Captivated by the gestures found in handwritten letters, she often works with texts written by others. More than marks made on specific surfaces, Owen’s work integrates surface with mark. To this end she often works on translucent materials that are layered, such as in Silence of the Night, Brush Palimpsest or Binary Code.

Jan Owen - Brush Palimpsest

Not only is the material used for these works translucent (Hollytek) it is lightweight and has an ephemeral quality. Whether hanging, as the scroll books do, or presented in bound book form, when these works are on display, the slightest breeze causes a lovely shift in the relationship of the uppermost layer to the partially obscured layers underneath.

Jan also integrates mark with surface by using materials woven back into the surface. For her series of hanging accordion books, she weaves with Tyvek to which she has hand-applied surface colors. Using other paste-paper techniques, this rich surface then holds the words of a variety of poets (one reason I am so taken with these works is that she uses words by poets I resonate with – Octavio Paz, Pablo Neruda, Rilke, John Muir, Thoreau and Whitman.) Rather than presenting one poets entire text, she often weaves and layers words from these different sources and presents a new way of interpreting her selections.

A stunning example of this weaving is evident in Sunflower

I love the gestural lines and pattern of hand lettered text which now faces the seductive, shiny beauty of technology. We trust binary code and the web for our communication and interaction with others. The poems included in this book remind us there are things we should do while we are young and not virtually.

Jan Owen - Sunflower, detail

Sunflower, So Calm So Deep and Each Day are hand lettered on paste paper with woven Tyvek; the form a hanging accordion fold book with case.

Each Day

Jan Owen - Each Day

When we’ve hardly begun summer, the days grow shorter. The poems selected for this hanging book are about words and writing in the darkness.

Silence of the Night uses several layers of white and black painted Hollytex to create a sense of layers of silence that Thoreau describes. It includes text by Thoreau, Neruda and Rilke.

Writing on translucent pages of Hollytex with brushes and pens allows a beautiful layers of marks and lines. The words seem permanent and fragile.

Jan Owen - Silence of the Night

Jan’s work was included in Hand Lettered, Transparent/Opaque, the Beautiful Book and will be featured in Transparent/Opaque 2 during summer of 2012. Her works are available at Abecedarian Gallery’s online shop.

Mamiko Ikeda in Hand Lettered

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Fans of Denver artists’ Mamiko and Homare Ikeda will likely be delighted at Mamiko’s Couple in a Box series. The small boxes (measuring 8 x 3 x 3/4) contain two hand-drawn scrolls with story panels depicting various aspects of Mamiko and Homare’s daily routine. The short narratives are delightful and universally appealing. Crafted from paper, each hand painted with watercolor, the laminated boxes open matchbox style. Two scrolls of paper, sumi ink, bamboo picks and string are nestled inside. Each scroll and set is unique and sells for $50.

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Also on display are monoprints by Mamiko that effectively combine monotype printing with brush calligraphy. Each of these works convey the meditative aspect Mamiko approaches all creative endeavor with.

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Born in Tokyo, Mamiko learned Japanese style calligraphy from her mother, Shotei Miur, a master calligrapher. Mamiko moved to Colorado in 1995 to study Native American culture, in particular their storytelling. Her interest in storytelling and manga animation are evident in the Couple in a Box series.


Online catalog here

Justin Quinn’s Epic E’s


Justin Quinn’s works, based on Moby Dick, are on view at Abecedarian and will be through December 17. There is an online catalog here with a few details; I recommend viewing these works in person so if you are in the area and can come see the actual work I hope you make the effort – it is worthwhile.

My introduction to this work came via a gallery visitor describing this project to me – he said quite simply “Have you ever seen Justin Quinn’s work? He re-wrote Moby Dick using only the letter ‘E’” – What? I thought and probably said out loud . . . Quinn has indeed altered Melville’s epic novel by changing all the letters to the letter E, thus abstracting the text away from something that is read into something that is seen.


After viewing Justin’s work online I invited him exhibit some of this work at Abecedarian during the hand-lettered exhibition. He graciously agreed – what a treat it has been having the work here. I was quite simply not prepared for the elegance of this work.



A project spanning five years, housed in  two cloth covered, hand bound books, the covers slightly stained and worn. What is inside is remarkable. Page after page of the letter E – in its capital form, a series of 3 marks made over and over and over again, in graphite, page upon page of meditations.

In Volume I, the traditional page layout of left to right, top to bottom. Personally, I am most charmed by the page numbers, title and table of contents pages.


The second volume, Moby Dick Volume II or 174,649 times E, is more a suite of drawings, following its own logic rather than following traditional page layout. Quinn thinks of the process of producing this book as a collaboration between himself and Melville.

This set of volumes is accompanied by a wall installation of Volume II.  Photocopies of Moby Dick Volume II have been photocopied and its structure exploded. No longer a unique book that is viewed in an intimate way, it has been rendered in a limitless edition and viewable in a very public way.


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Also on view is The World over Nothing or 1,864 times E, an intaglio print version of a passage from Moby Dick, one that ponders the monotony and sublime sameness of existence, placed above a blank page spread. In some ways these intaglio plates look more like a book than a book does.



Both of the volumes are for sale individually or as a set. The entire photocopied versions are also available, as are individual pages. The intaglio print, in an edition of 6, is also available. Please contact me for details.

Jan Owen in Hand Lettered

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One of the first shows I curated at Abecedarian was one called Transparent/Opaque. Jan Owen (Belfast, Maine) was included in that exhibit. I’ve been curating her work into group shows ever since.


Jan is a featured artist in Hand Lettered, on view through December 17, 2011. Click here to link to her online catalog.


Jan’s calligraphic skill is remarkable, she has decades of hand-lettering experience. She is skillful at combining traditions in her field (the architectural blocks of early manuscripts for example), with aspects from other fields (as a musician herself, she understands rhythm as an integral part of calligraphic mark making), a love of poetry and literature (both traditions also rich with history and rhythm), and an ability to embrace traditional technique (18th century methods of creating patterns on paper) with materials of our era (she uses both Tyvek and Hollytek extensively). Her weaving of tinted Tyvek works particularly well for the seeds of Sunflower, pictured below.


Owen Sunflower detail


What I find most engaging about the works on view at Abecedarian is her use of well chosen texts alongside compositional and letter forming skill in a presentation that invites a viewer into an intimate viewing experience.  Many of her presentations are elegantly practical, such as her vertical accordion books that fold up nicely as books, that unfolded are installed as wall hangings.


Owen Audible Sound


In addition to richly painted surfaces providing background for her texts, Jan has started adding dimensional texture to these pieces, in the form of tinted and woven Tyvek. In other works Jan creates depth by layering Hollytex, a strong translucent synthetic.


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My personal favorite in this exhibit is Brush Palimpsest, in part because it includes text by Octavio Paz. In this piece the many layers of translucent book pages add  depth while maintaining a sense of intimate quietude. Brush Palimpsest has been purchased by University of Miami, Otto G. Richter Library, Special Collections.


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She has taken the notion of layering to create layers of silence even further in the more recent piece Silence of the Night, a multi-layered wall hanging of translucent pages.