A Conversation with Canadian Calligrapher Cherryl Moote

Happy New Year calligraphy friends! As we continue our faculty interview series, I’m pleased to introduce you to one of six of our Canadian instructors: Cherryl Moote!

Hailing from the greater Toronto area, Cherryl is a calligrapher, bookbinder and paper artist. She is the author of a popular series of instructional bookbinding manuals and is also a Certified Zentangle Teacher (CZT). She has taught at numerous calligraphy conferences and will teach a full week class entitled “Amuse Bouche” at Rendez-vous. Read on to learn more about Cherryl, her unique paper and book form “tasting” opportunity, and how a part-time job in the university library stacks lit a fateful spark.

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Where did you grow up and what first sparked your interest in letters?

I grew up just outside of Toronto in Brampton. My mother and father were both educators and when they went through teacher training they had to have perfect handwriting. What was interesting was that my dad was left handed and had been allowed to stay that way in a very rural one room schoolhouse setting. He turns his paper practically upside down and doesn’t write with a hooked hand. So I always had neat handwriting because I just wasn’t allowed to write in a messy style.

When I went to university I didn’t have much spending money. I was quite young and not of legal drinking age so my mom hadn’t included a budget item for going to bars. I got a job in the library stacking books to supplement my cash flow. One night I was putting away books and I tripped over a book on the floor. It was Edward Johnson’s book. I picked it up and was intrigued by the illustrations explaining vined illumination. I checked it out and spent my time in boring classes illuminating the margins. This was in the 70’s when Osmiroid pens were first coming out for the mass market. I was in the university bookstore and saw them and bought my first one. I taught myself calligraphy (badly!) from the exemplar that was included with the pen.

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You are known for your work as a calligrapher, bookbinder and paper artist. Which came first: calligraphy or bookbinding?

Calligraphy came first. When Reggie Ezell came to Toronto to teach his year long class in the early 90’s I made my first book. I got hooked pretty fast! My interest in paper decorating and folding and fondling came out of calligraphy and bookbinding.

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Which teachers have made the deepest impact on you and your work, and why?

Reggie Ezell gets top billing. When I started his class I was pretty much entirely self taught. As I say in my classes autodidactism is not for wimps! I had so many bad habits, some of which haunt me to this day. He taught me to be more disciplined about looking at letters and about practicing. He turned me into the supply junkie I am today.

Ann Hechle is another one of my calligraphic heros. I started going to the Sunderland Symposiums in England because I wanted to study with her. The first class I took with here was Sacred Geometry. It changed my perspectives in so many ways. Talking with her is one of the great joys of life.

Ewan Clayton. What more do I need to say. His teaching is brilliant. The Sunderland experiences that I have had because of his ongoing work with the symposium there have been integral to my being where I am today in terms of my style and my understanding of calligraphy. I value his friendship highly. The sound of his laugh is on my list of the best things in life!

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Where do you create, and how have you organized your work space, between calligraphy and bookbinding? What is your best time of day for work?

We moved last week, and in the new house which is a bungalow I have an office and a studio. The office is on the main floor and I have a small, slanted antique writing desk in it as well as enough supplies to work on a variety of bookbinding, journaling and collage projects. I also have a comfortable chair where I can work on my laptop computer. I am having problems with stairs which is why we moved. My studio is in the basement and I will be setting it up as both a fibre and paper place. It is quite large and bright as the land is sloped so I have an outside door and a full size window. It is so much brighter than my old studio which I am really looking forward to. For now I will navigate the stairs when I go there but in the future we will be able to put a lift in.

I generally spend my mornings in the office writing and working on the computer. I find that if I do that work first in the day, cup of coffee in close by, I can accomplish quite a bit. This dedicated writing time helped get all my books on bookbinding written on schedule. I find the best road to success for me is sticking to habits that support my work.

The rest of the day is spent working on other creative endeavours. I generally end up working wherever it suits my mood and my body best. It may be in my office creative space, in my studio, in a comfy chair sewing, out walking looking for inspiration….having done a solid three hours on writing in the morning I am free to choose.

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Could you share about one book project that has been particularly meaningful?

A few years ago I did a yearlong project where I focused on the natural world around me. I live in a busy city but we are blessed with a complex ravine system that is all protected land. I have been lucky enough to live in houses that back on the ravine but you get busy and forget to really look at the natural world around you. I made my goal for the year to pay attention to the seasons and the changes and to respond in text and in imagery. I took a class in botanical drawing and got over my fear of drawing. I am quite proud of the work I did that year.

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What are three of the most essential tools for your practice?

  • A pencil. I love working in pencil. I like a soft pencil. Palominos are wonderful.
  • A scalpel. My older Schwann metal handles and a new blade. Heaven!
  • An Omnigrid ruler. This is a tool that makes my cutting work faster and straighter than it could ever be any other way.

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Would you share a little bit about the development of your class “Amuse Bouche”? What inspired you to create this specific class and how would you describe your style of teaching?

I wanted to take advantage of the fact that I could drive to conference. I love teaching paper decorating but it is challenging when you are flying in or shipping cross border. I love teaching bookbinding, especially forms that feature beautiful paper and lots of design possibilities. And I wanted a French title. We were out for dinner one night and the chef sent out table a little plate of varied appetizers. This form of “tease” is called an amuse bouche in the culinary world. So suddenly, I had my title! I want to offer students the chance to try a little bit of all the tasty parts of working with paper and book forms.

I’d call my style of teaching immersive. I try to get the students to jump right in and play. I want them to be successful right from the start so I carefully craft the classes so that they are learning skills as they go that will help them create work they can be proud of. I also want them to have the ability to recreate the experience in their own studios so I always provide thorough handouts.

Image Title Cherryl (center front row) and her students at Letters California Style 2015

What does community mean to you, in the context of the lettering arts?

When I finally found the Toronto guild in the late 80’s, it became an important part of my life. I have made so many good friends in the calligraphic community, many of them because of the Reggie Ezell study groups.

I haven’t been a member of the local guild for a number of years. Toronto is a busy city and hard to navigate at rush hour. As I became busier with my own business and with family I found it nigh unto impossible to get across the city for meetings.

For me, Facebook has offered the blessing of staying in touch with the wider calligraphic community. It is such a pleasure to be able to communicate with all my special friends between conferences. The conference experience is so special and we share such a special bond because of them.

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Outside of calligraphy, what are some of your other interests and hobbies? What might be something about you that people would be surprised to learn?

In addition to paper I am also addicted to fabric. I have been a quilter and embroiderer for as long as I can remember. My grandmother lived with us when I was growing up and she had a needle in my hand long before I went to school. I always have a sewing project close to hand and I have often combined lettering on them.

In the winter I curl and that surprises many people. Curling is a sport played on ice where you throw 44 pound granite rocks towards a target painted on the ice. I started to curl about 15 years ago when my husband and I were looking for a sport to do with our teenage son. I curl with a cue like the paraOlympic curlers do. I have always had mobility issues and finding that there was a modification for handicapped players really opened up this world for me. I now skip my team which means that I get to call the shots! Curling is a complex game that involves geometry and strategy so it is a good workout for the mind. It is a team sport where you sit down for a drink after the game and chat so for someone who works on their own it is a great social activity.

Cherryl Moote

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