Make Your Mark @The Compound Gallery


Are you afflicted with kinesthetic connection? Do you still like to write or draw with a pen or brush on paper? Do you get an oxytocin hit from feeling the feedback of the paper through your mark-making tool?

We have help for you. The only cure is to get closer to that connection. Make Your Mark gives you the means of making your own writing, drawing, painting tools. In three hours you’ll learn to make a quill pen, a reed pen and a soda-can folded pen (modified ruling pen). You’ll also get the chance to play with these tools with different paper and media – ink, gouache or watercolor.

Once you know the ancient (anything older than last year is ancient, right?) ways of making your own tools, you’ll have the means to connect even more with your work.

Make Your Mark workshop at The Compound Gallery
1167 65th st. Oakland, CA 94608
Saturday, June 18, 2016. 1:00 – 4:00 p.m.
$33 workshop + $7 materials = $40
Feathers and bamboo sticks if you want to bring them.

Custom Cards for Moto Traveler Mark Donham

I met Mark Donham in 2008, as part of an online motorcycle community called Mark lives outside of Portland and is a very accomplished rider and traveler. His wife, Chris suffered from early-onset Alzheimer’s and he quit his job to care for her in her final years. After that, he decided to take a ride around the world. The idea was to experience travel on a motorcycle after the challenge of caring for Chris. Mark documented his trip that is just wrapping up here.

Mark stayed with me on a couple of trips south and north when I lived in Penngrove at the Bank Ranch, and I stayed with him in Portland when I rode up to the Pacific Northwest in 2009. He chose to visit me on his way back to Portland after landing in LA and getting on his bike to ride home.

Mark going all analog on his social obligations

Mark going all analog on his social obligations

This morning Mark mentioned that he’d like to get some cards to send to friends that hosted him on his trip. Having just spent time in South Africa, he wanted to send thank you cards. I offered to make him a few custom ones, so we worked most of the afternoon on coming up with a few custom cards that he could send his hosts in South Africa, LA and along the way up the coast.

Original artwork for custom cards.

Original artwork for custom cards.

Mark is a very talented guy and has a good aesthetic sense, but isn’t skilled at creating visual art. So I wrote out a few versions of the simple message of Thank You and he reviewed them and then picked three.

On his trip, he would do this fun jump and set up his camera and do a self-portrait of his jumping for joy. Mark took one of those pictures, scaled it down and then used a filter on it to make it read well in black and white. He then scanned my artwork and came up  with three different cards.

Thank You - variations on a theme

Thank You – variations on a theme

It was a great way to spend the day because we talked about his trip, his future, art and what’s important about life.



I’m glad I got to contribute to Mark’s trip by adding a calligraphic touch.

Mark, thanks for letting me spill a little ink on your trip!



Ruling Pen Workshop

Workshop Flyer Written WIth Ruling Pens

Workshop Flyer Written WIth Ruling Pens

How to Write with a Ruling Pen on Vimeo

Click link above for a short video

I’ll be teaching a workshop on how to use a fun calligraphy tool – the Ruling Pen. For the last 80 years, scribes have been using this “new” writing instrument to express themselves by making letters that break away from the broad edge pens of past scribes.

The pen makes its mark by being pulled and the ink is dragged out of the side of the instrument. One can vary width by what part of the instrument is being dragged across the surface – sideways. Using the pointed tip gives the scribe the chance to make small, fine letters. Working with the side of the tool, greater width strokes are possible.

Because the color is pulled out the side, there is greater inconsistency to the edge of the letterform. Add a rough-textured paper and the result is an even coarser edge. Often, splatters appear on the paper as the color is flung out when the pen is drawn across the uneven surface.

All skill levels can take this workshop. 

This workshop will teach how to use the tool, adding color and working it to greatest advantage. Students can use their own handwriting or modify calligraphic hands that they’ve learned.

The workshop is $60 for four hours of instruction and practice. The $10 fee supplies paper, ink and gouache colors to use in creating your written art. We will experiment with different papers to understand how to exploit the tool’s unique mark-making characteristics.

Ruling Pen Workshop  – Sunday, October 27, 2013
1:00  –  5:00 pm $60 +  $10 materials fee (paid at workshop)

Negative shapes

Stained C Gouache on paper

Stained C
Gouache on paper

The positive defines the negative – that is how letters work. Manipulating that relationship never gets old for me. This big ol’ C was fairly simply and directly made – a few colors painted and blended on a large sheet of paper. It got a little interesting when I sprayed water on the painted surface and let it bleed. There’s a three-dimensional quality that comes about in the staining that is far greater than on the paper itself.

A 12" square S made with acrylic paint

A 12″ square S made with acrylic paint

After talking with a few artists, I decided to move up to paint. Starting with an “open” acrylic, I gave it a try on a manufactured gessoed 12″ wooden panel. I was surprised at how easy it was to work with the color and how well it responded to watercolor technique.

B drippin'

B drippin’

And this one – where the negative becomes positive, leaving the B shape as the background. With a little staining, once again. For some reason color bleeding into the white space attracts me.

Familial diversity


Letters – in the world of calligraphy and type – come in families. There should be a resemblance to the one next to it because legibility is measured by the repetition of similar patterns and shapes. When a letter doesn’t resemble one next to it, reading comprehension is lowered – it takes longer for the eye to recognize the negative shape of one letter if it isn’t in the family of its surrounding forms.

I’m not trying to make a family of letters to be put together to make words flow together, easily read.

My exercise has been to focus on each letter as if it were independent of its day job. These letters stand (mostly) alone in their finest or most outrageous garb.


Maybe they’re a little skittish, or excited or they might be understated and simple.


I come to the page and watch them develop in front of my eyes, like a dresser that is guided to do their bidding.