Darren Rhodes, owner of Yoga Oasis and founder of yogaHour, asked me to paint calligraphy in the teacher training here in Tucson. Yoga Oasis was making improvements throughout the space, adding artwork and structural interest to different areas. He took some time to think over what he wanted the mural to read and settled on the same inscription carved into the entryway of the main studio room:
Darren wanted the mural at the front of the room where teachers sit. I wrote a few drafts using a Broad Edge Zig Calligraphy Marker and sent them to Darren and Rachel, the studio manager. By the time they saw the draft, they had a new idea! They thought it would be really cool if the words were burned into the threshold instead! I loved the idea because it’s more permanent and fire has a tangible gravity to it. When a student crosses the threshold of yoga, they are metaphorically stepping into a fire. One of our teachers, Manorama says, “Consciousness, like fire, always wants to move upward.” Of course, I hadn’t brought a tape measure with me, so I measured the threshold using my bare feet. The threshold was 4 of my feet across, and the height was one of my hands, wrist to the tip of my middle finger.
The trick with calligraphy is to choose a hand that’s appropriate for the timing and occasion of the piece. Copperplate is so beautiful, but it takes time to get used to reading. A doorway is not the most appropriate place for this script, so I chose Uncial. I do the Certificates of Completion for teacher trainings at Yoga Oasis in Uncial. Sheila Waters’ beautiful pieces with decorative overlapping letters inspired me for this project. I made a few drafts with legibility in mind and then I put the pen down. My work is changing. Instead of doing what I think my clients want me to do, I do what I want within their parameters. At first I thought it was risky, now I think that’s why they hire me. For my work. So I lettered it the way my little heart wanted to see it done.
Getting this baby set up wasn’t too difficult. I used my L-shaped ruler to make sure the text was straight in relation to the doorway. Then I taped my design down and used carbon paper to transfer the image to the floor:
Carbon paper has a residue on one side of it. Applying pressure by tracing shapes will leave a mark on the surface the carbon is touching. I took a mini break in the middle of tracing the calligraphy outlines to deliver a birthday commission. When I came back, I buzzed through transferring the rest of the text to the floor. Then I fired up a woodburning tool and outlined the calligraphy in burn marks. I saved the shading for the next session.
This was the fun part. I rubbed off the rest of the carbon with a tissue and cranked up the heat on my tool. Each letter got some color to start with to differentiate it from the rest of the wood. I ran into parts of letters that I didn’t outline all the way because the carbon on the floor made me think I had! The two things you need for woodburning calligraphy, aside from a tool, are patience and a steady hand. It takes time for the tool’s contact with the wood to actually make a mark. After I outlined everything and filled it in, I went back over the letters and darkened some areas of the strokes so it would look like the letters had light shining across them.
You may notice that I was working upside down. I did this because the main light source was a skylight in the hallway and I was casting a shadow while sitting in front of the piece. Also, sometimes when working with lettering, it helps to think of the composition in shapes rather than letters. Working with lettering at a different orientation can help with that. Kind of like reading your copy backwards to look for typos, dot all the i’s and cross all the t’s.
It took me 3 sessions to complete this piece. Uncial is one of my favorite hands to work with and it was so much fun to take the extended time with it for such a joyous yet serious purpose. Honestly, I’ve spent countless hours in that room, 500 hours of yoga teacher training, I’ve taught in that room, had lunch in there, visited favorite teachers there when they were in town, and taken workshop after workshop. I worked on the threshold during this Covid19 pandemic, just as the protests for social justice were pouring into the streets. Day by day, I choose to believe there is more to the future, a brightness, and day by day I have to give 100 percent of my gifts and love toward building something I may never see the benefit of. That is my legacy: love, dedication, and determination against all odds.