These days, typing words and letters on a keyboard has, for the most part, replaced physical writing as our primary way of exchanging information. Many of us simply type out what we want to say in an email or text message, choose the size and style of the font we find appropriate, then click print, send or share.
But artist Carol DuBosch finds that writing things down and expressing herself with pen and ink is still very important, not just as a way to communicate information, but to communicate feelings and art.
The master calligrapher has spent 50 years studying, practicing and writing beautiful letters in a way that is becoming increasingly rare: using pen, paper and ink.
“I’m a long-time member of the Portland Society for Calligraphy — 35 years, I’ve been a member,” says DuBosch.
Her home studio looks more like a small art supply store, replete with every type of writing implement imaginable. There is even a collection of pens that she herself has constructed. One of them is made from an old toothbrush topped with a pen-tip made from an aluminum soda can.
When asked about the unusual pens, DuBosch says that it is common for calligraphers to make their own tools.
“The aluminum from pop cans is very popular,” explains DuBosch. “But these days, the newer cans are made with less aluminum and it’s not as good, but people still use them.”
Aside from her own personal work, DuBosch teaches several calligraphy courses at organizations all over the Pacific Northwest. She is also a regular among the winners and honorable mentions in The Washington Calligraphers Guild’s Graceful Envelope Contest. Each year, The Guild solicits entries in an international competition around a theme for designing decorative envelopes. Winners are chosen based on artistic hand lettering, creative interpretation of the theme, and effective use of color and design, including incorporating the postage stamps used to deliver the envelope.
DuBosch finds competitions like the envelope contest particularly appealing. She says that one of the most enjoyable aspects of her work is the opportunity to interpret others’ ideas and concepts through the lens of her own emotions and feelings.
“We [calligraphers] can, of course, write whatever we’re thinking, but some people don’t feel adequately able to compose things — to write their own text,” she says. “We’re always looking for words to write because that’s part of what [our] craft is — content for using our art.”
One particular source of inspiration — not only to DuBosch, but to the entire Portland Society for Calligraphy — is the works of former Oregon Poet Laureate William Stafford, whose centennial is being celebrated this year.
“We’ve connected with the Friends of William Stafford and we’re going to hang an exhibit of 40-plus pieces of artwork done by our members that are the words of William Stafford,” says DuBosch.
DuBosch has been working on her submission for a while. She sought copyright permission to produce two different pieces of art, though she will submit only one to the exhibition.
Right now DuBosch is deciding between a calligraphic interpretation of Stafford’s poem Deciding and a quote by Stafford from the introduction to one of his books of poetry: “I must be willingly fallible in order to deserve a place in the realm where miracles happen.”
Whichever she chooses to submit will be placed on exhibit along with the works of 40 other calligraphers at Marylhurst University and the Main Branch of the Multnomah County Library in downtown Portland. This exhibition will be part of the yearlong celebration of William Stafford’s centennial and will open in April.
To learn more about William Stafford, tune in to “Discovering William Stafford: An Oregon Art Beat Special” on Thursday, January 16 at 8 p.m. on OPB TV, to State of Wonder on Saturday, January 11 at noon on OPB Radio and to Think Out Loud on Friday, January 17 at noon & 8 p.m. on OPB Radio.