More Than a Scribe: A Conversation with Sherrie Lovler

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On Softer Ground: An Art & Poetry Talk with Sherrie Lovler
Sunday, November 5, 2017 from 4:30 to 5:30 pm
SVA Annex, 214 E. 21st Street, Room 702A
Free and open to the public. Guests are welcome. More here.

The Society of Scribes is pleased to welcome California calligrapher, painter, and poet Sherrie Lovler to lead the workshop Big Magic: Taking Calligraphy Out of the Box on November 4 & 5. Sherrie was the top student of the late, legendary Dick Beasley and over the last 30 years she has gone on to winning awards for her imaginative book design and poetry combined with her evocative paintings. I have visited her Santa Rosa studio on numerous occasions and recently posed these questions to her regarding her work and the forthcoming class. Her workshop is sold out, but everyone is invited to her Poetry Reading & Art Talk on Sunday, so you may still join the conversation!

You have been an accomplished lettering artist for many years, but there has been a dramatic transition in recent years to calligraphic painting. What has caused this shift, and how has it evolved?

My interest in abstract calligraphic painting began in 1988 when I studied with Dick Beasley in Flagstaff, Arizona for a year and a half. After a time painting “in his style” I needed to go deeper into my own path. My breakthrough happened in 2010 after I began writing poetry as a disciplined practice. I set myself the task of doing a painting for each of my poems to post on a blog I was starting. I wanted my paintings to feel like a companion to the poems, to feel like they came from the same source.

Your poetry is lyrical and abounds with sensuous imagery. Did you find that just making beautiful letters was not enough to convey the message and tone of your writing?

It wasn’t so much of a decision, but an evolution. The more I used my own words I felt a freedom in not being a servant to the words anymore. The paintings came from the words, but had a different purpose.

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Has your painting influenced your poetry? Has your poetry influenced your painting? I know that the paintings are abstract compositions and cannot be conceptualized, but after having written a poem to your satisfaction do you sometimes get an urge to paint something to accompany it? Can you translate those emotions into something concrete?

My poetry has definitely influenced my painting, since I usually write the poem first and then do a painting to accompany it. My aim is to translate the emotions of the poem into a visual presentation. On occasion I have written a poem inspired by a painting. But something even deeper happens. When I began writing poetry I felt like I opened a gateway into the unknown, the intuitive realm. My aim was to keep that gateway open as I painted. By working in both disciplines something magical seems to happen. It’s like doing collaboration with someone you work really well with.

Were you always interested in language?

I began writing poetry in the 4th grade and won a poetry competition in 6th grade. Between the ages of 16-20, having learned calligraphy at 15 in a high school graphics arts class in the Bronx, I created poetry-based greeting cards for my family and friends. I still have the poems and a few of the cards that my parents kept. Some of these were elaborate booklets with many stanzas and drawings. I was experimenting with calligraphy, too, and created some of my own alphabet designs.

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As calligraphers we are concerned with words and messages. Do your paintings have a connection to the words, or do you think they can stand alone as a celebration of the calligrapher’s toolbox?

Since my paintings mostly derive from my poetry, I am still connected to words and messages. All of my work is calligraphic. I use the marks and flourishes that I learned through years of disciplined study. I use ink, paper, watercolor and gold leaf, as well as inspiration from illuminated manuscripts. I use round brushes, flat brushes and homemade tools. My paintings stand alone or with the words. I show them both ways.

What do you say to students who believe that cannot conceptualize an abstract calligraphic painting?

The way I teach, and the way I work, is that these are not conceptualized paintings. I have no idea where the work will go. It is making a mark and seeing what is called for next. It is all an adventure. I teach about the elements and principles of design, so the student has some guidelines to work with. If everything is the same size, we add marks of another size; if it is all of the same value, we see what can be done to add more interest. We talk about emphasis – where the viewer’s eye enters the page and how it moves around. We have a conversation with the page. And if a whole page doesn’t work, we crop the image. There is a certain freedom in knowing that not every mark will be used, not every drip will show.

— text by Barry Morentz, photos by Sherrie Lovler of her students and students’ work from “Big Magic” at LetterWorks, Utah 2017