I love calligraphy.  The pens and inks and alphabets.  I aspire to one day be proficient at it myself.  But until then, I admire those who practice the art.

I read this Wall Streen Journal article a while back about calligrapher Bernard Maisner.   The article ended with:

Yet Mr. Maisner believes that calligraphy answers a demand for beauty and vitality that technology, however advanced, cannot. Calligraphy, he said, “is not meant to reproduce something over and over again. It’s meant to show the humanity, the responsiveness and variation within.”

Yes! And that’s how I feel about handwritten letters versus email and texts.  Beauty and vitality are precisely what I see in the letters I receive.

But any man who, like Maisner, charges over one thousand dollars to write 8 first names on small cards that can “act as a place card along with a take-home gift” is not really preserving calligraphy for the masses.  He’s an artist and he, like many other successful artists, reserves his work for the super rich who can afford his services.

I have no problem with that, but I propose that we all let our artists within run free from our inner critics and just take up a dip pen and try it ourselves.  I’m going to go play right now!

P.S. Check out these pictures of Maisner’s collection of antique writing gear.  They are drool worthy!

P.P.S. And if you want a tattoo of calligraphy, you can get Maisner to design it for you!

Graceful Envelope Contest

Calling all mail artists, doodlers, calligraphers and crayon wielders! The National Association of Letter Carriers and The Washington Calligraphers Guild are holding their 18th annual Graceful Envelope contest.

Deadline: April 30th postmark
Theme: “D-liver D-letter D-sooner D-better”–create a Graceful Envelope around anything that begins with D.

Rules: Only the front of the envelope will be judged.  Address and design must be hand rendered. No computerized type or images. Send the envelope through USPS as First Class Mail and do not wrap it in anything else.

On the back of the envelope (the entries won’t be opened), include your name, address, email address, and your age group (adult, junior Grades 6-12, and child Grades 1-5)

Winners will be chosen based on artistic hand lettering, creative interpretation fo the theme and effective use of color and design. Winning designs will be selected for display in the lobby of the National Association of Letter Carriers building in Washington, D.C. and on the internet.  Winners will also receive certificates.

Address the envelope to:
The Graceful Envelope Contest
Washington Calligraphers Guild
P.O. Box 3688
Merrifield, VA 22116

See for last year’s winners of the “Time Flies” theme.

Thanks to author Rick Hodges for alerting me to this contest. His article, The Meaning of Mail, in the December 2012 issue of The Postal Record featured Save Snail Mail and others who enjoy sending and receiving post.

In Defense of Paper

Given the trends toward going paperless–in offices, with bank statements, with e-readers–many have declared that paper is dead (or is at least in its final throes of the dying process).

Well, paper makers are going on the offensive and stating their case for paper.  Domtar’s “Paper Because” campaign caught my eye recently with a full-page ad in a magazine:

The ad says: “Paper because it’ll be remembered longer on paper.”

The copy at the bottom states: “The first book ever published was the Gutenberg Bible. Printed in the 1450s, 21 complete copies still exist today, 550 years later.”

And then it points people to a website:

Intrigued, I visited the site.  It is hosted by Domtar, a paper manufacturer, so at first I thought this website might be something like those “high-fructose-corn-syrup-is-good-for-you” websites created by the country’s corn farmers–that there was a distinct conflict of interest that may encourage them to provide lopsided evidence.

And that may be true, I haven’t done any investigative journalism on Domtar or all of the facts presented to rule that out.  But this website provides detailed information about Domtar’s paper manufacturing plants, the sources of the pulp, the environmental impact of their different lines of paper, and some myth vs. fact information that seems compelling.

But the website moves beyond Domtar and into a general plea for the public to appreciate the purposes and pleasures of paper.  They give a nice shout out, for example, about the joys of receiving a hand-addressed envelope in the mail.

An introduction, written in the form of a letter from “paper” to the general public, shares various factoids and one gave me pause.  It pertained to “advertising mail,” which we lay people know as junk mail.

Paper creates jobs in communities where people need them most. More than 3.5 million Americans have jobs that directly or indirectly depend on advertising mail — and many more work in companies that process and manufacture paper. It’s also a critical component of the mail system, accounting for nearly 50% of U.S. mail. So not only does paper make it possible to quickly send a letter to someone you love — it also ensures you still have access to six-day-a-week service, and low postage prices.

So my personal war on junk mail is actually–counter to my purposes on this blog–killing snail mail!  Those of us who love to send and receive physical mail and also want to reduce unnecessary waste are caught in a bind.

Well, there is hope.  It turns out that the U. S. Postal Service has been increasingly reliant on “advertising mail” in recent years as mail sent with first class stamps (i.e. personal letters!) has declined dramatically. Bloomberg Businessweek’s May 26th cover story (titled “The U. S. Postal Service Nears Collapse”) reported:

[The U. S. Postal Service] relies on first-class mail to fund most of its operations, but first-class mail volume is steadily declining—in 2005 it fell below junk mail for the first time. This was a significant milestone. The USPS needs three pieces of junk mail to replace the profit of a vanished stamp-bearing letter.

So, if we bought and used more 44 cent, first-class postage, we could fight unwanted advertising mail without having to cripple the USPS.

To save snail mail, the environment, and your relationships with folks out of town, send your first-class mail out today! There are some very cool stamps available for purchase right now to do just that.  I’ll share my favorites in a post soon.

French stationery #4

Here it is, my fourth and final installment on the stationery finds I made while I was in France.  I’m sad to see this little series end, but I saved the best for last!

I hit the stationery jackpot in Paris.  On a single street–Rue du Pont Louis Philippe in the 4th Arrondissement–I found four great shops.  The first one I went into was a design studio that offered a small selection of unique, Paris-themed cards.  I chose this foldable diorama of famous Parisian sights as a souvenir of my trip:

I then visited Calligrane, which is the single-most posh stationery store I’ve ever been in.

The shop specialized in  fine-quality Japanese paper, the stationery was impeccably displayed, and the shop keeper was a crisply dressed woman who was clearly used to serving a clientele of the rich and famous.  And the prices proved it!  Small paper journals ran 45 to 60 Euros (about $65 to $85)!  I was able to find three flat cards I could “afford.” The picture doesn’t show the great patterns on this divine, rough-edged paper, but here it is anyway:

I also picked up a packet of five sheets of paper that came pre-folded into their own envelope:

Next, followed my favorite stationery store of the entire trip: Melodies Graphiques.

Here are the front window displays:

I swear, my heart began beating faster when I saw these windows! They’re spectacular!

The shop keeper, Eric, is a calligrapher and the walls of his shop sport envelopes of the letters he’s received from what he called his “fan club.” I think they were thank you letters for his services, notes from fellow calligraphers, etc.  But they may have been just letters from folks who really loved his store.  I know I’m one of them!

Melodies Graphiques had cards, stationery, journals, calligraphy pens and inks and other little gifts.

Here are a few pics of his shop:

And here are the things I brought home. Two pens–a swirled calligraphy pen with removable nib and a delicate red pen that writes like a dream when dipped in ink (the shop had a display that let me try it before I bought it).

I also picked up a few sheets of this paper:

And some French royalty stationery:

Here’s one of my favorites, a gold-embossed, flat-card set with the quill pen image:

And my favorite piece was this large flat card featuring some wonderful calligraphy in the image of Montmartre’s Sacre Coeur Basilica. Even the envelope is gorgeous!

A close up reveals the “sweet” words used to make the bushes on the hill going up to the church:

Wow! So many wondrous things! Oh, I wish I had a store like that!

The fourth shop, which I only had an opportunity to window shop, was Papier Plus, and it featured brightly-colored journals and books.  Definitely worth a look if I’d had more time.

P.S. Since this is my last installment about my trip to France, I wanted to share a few pictures of some of the amazing paintings France had to offer. They’re from the Orangerie Museum in Paris

Here are the waterlily paintings that circle around two oval-shaped rooms constructed especially to house these fabulous works by Monet.  You feel like you’re in a rowboat in the middle of the pond, and that it’s every time of the day, depending on which direction you look!

And I leave you with a Renoir I found enchanting:

Au revoir!

French stationery #2

My first official stationery shop stop occurred in Strasbourg at Monogram.  Here I am outside the store.

This shop offered a card selection, fine-quality stationery, journals, and an impressive selection of pens and inks.

It was hard to choose, but I walked out with this lovely pink paper and gray envelopes, made in Belgium:

I also found refills for my favorite French pens which I had bought here in the states, but had been hesitant to use often because I didn’t want to use them up!  I bought out Monogram’s entire stock and can now continue to write with them for a long time to come.  Woo hoo! 

A fun thing about stationery in non-English speaking countries is that you can sometimes find some entertaining English translations.  Here’s one:

P. S. Another great find in Strasbourg? Pastries!  Chocolate-filled beignets were “in season” for Easter and they were soooooo yummy.  Other delicious pastries included this “peach” which was a delicate pastry, filled with pastry cream, sporting a candied peach center and entirely covered in almond paste, and rolled in coarse sugar.  It was divine:

There was a pastry/chocolate shop every 50 feet in Strasbourg.  They were all decked out for Easter. 

Here’s a shop in the town of Colmar (also in the Alsace region, like Strasbourg), notice the chicks and eggs are in egg crates?

Interesting note, they had Easter bunny-themed decorations in Strasbourg (in the Alsace region, which has gone back and forth between Germany and France over the years), but Paris and much of the rest of France doesn’t have bunny imagery for Easter.  Who brings the candy to children Easter morning in Paris?  Why, the “Bells of Rome” of course!

Post cards from Carolyn Sewell

I was over at Doodler’s Anonymous (I do love everything pen and ink…) and ran across this posting of Carolyn Sewell’s work on post cards.

Her illustrations are awesome, and I fell in love with her many “mom and dad” addressed envelopes.  They are part of a year-long project she did for her parents’ anniversary.  She sent them a year’s worth of postcards…you can see the results here: Her Flickr stream of them is amazing.

She’s keeping the postal workers busy!

Wow!  Such inspiration. Hope you enjoy.

Fountain pen fantastic-ness

I need to admit something.  I love pens.  Well, truth be told, I am a pen fanatic. I have more pens than I could use in a lifetime but new ones seduce me all the time.  Amazingly enough, until recently, fountain pens were not part of my collection.

But all that has changed.

I just bought some Noodler’s ink in the colors Bay State Blue and Nikita Red. They came in 4.5 oz. bottles with dropper lids to refill the delicious fountain pens that accompanied them in their box (free!).

Bay State Blue came with a fountain pen and a brush pen. Woo hoo!

I ordered both inks from Goulet Pens.  They have a great blog, Ink Nouveau, which you should check out if you are a pen lover.  Their enthusiasm about fine writing instruments is infectious.

I’ve been using my Nikita pen to write all week for work and it has made me so happy.  It feels like a little escape from work each time I use it. 

A fountain pen makes such a graceful, crisp line and feels so sophisticated.  Even better, it’s refillable (eco chic) and, ultimately, less expensive than disposable ball points.

I can’t wait to write lots of letters (and to-do lists, and journal entries, and doodles) with these gems. 

Do you have any favorite pens I should know about?