A Conversation With American Calligrapher Amity ParksNovember 26th, 2018
Now that our international faculty has been revealed and our class catalogue is up, we are delighted to launch an interview series on our blog! We will shine a spotlight on each of our esteemed faculty members, so you can learn more about their background and influences, get a peek into their studio, learn about their favourite tools and even discover a bit about their interests outside of the world of calligraphy. These interviews will be published bi-weekly, giving you the opportunity to get to know each instructor.
As we have opted to go in alphabetical order by first name, I am pleased to kick off this series with Amity Parks! Amity is an American calligrapher, and you are likely familiar with her beautiful graphite lettering and perhaps even own one of her calligraphed paint pots, which are always a hit at conference market nights! She will be coming to Québec this summer by way of the Big Sky State to teach a full week class called Bold and Blended: Chunky Capitals and Minuscules in Belgian Bister Inks. Read on to learn about the inspiration behind this class, details about Amity’s calligraphic journey and just how early she gets into the studio every morning!
Where did you grow up and what first sparked your interest in letters?
I was born in Pawhuska, OK, but my family moved a lot when I was a kid so I grew up in several places, including Bartlesville, Oklahoma; Heidelberg, Germany; Grand Junction, Colorado; and Sapulpa, Oklahoma. When I was 16 we moved to Bonn, Germany and I went to high school at Bonn American High School. It was that time in Europe where my interest in lettering started. My family and I would travel all over Europe and go to museums, and I fell in love with illuminated manuscripts. I couldn’t get enough of their intimate scale, the elaborately detailed paintings and the beautiful writing.
What was the first hand that you learned, and which hands resonate with you most today?
I was self-taught for the first few years that I did calligraphy. I copied Edward Johnston’s foundational first, out of his book, Writing & Illuminating & Lettering, then I copied Blackletter from manuscripts. Today my favorite hand is Roman caps and its variations. I love how versatile they are, from formal to casual, serious to playful.
Which teachers have made the deepest impact on you and your work, and why?
I’ve studied with so many wonderful teachers that that is a hard question to answer. A few include Sally Sanders, my first teacher, who helped me break the bad habits I had from being self-taught. My friend Peter Thornton has to be mentioned, for his skills as a teacher, calligrapher, and his willingness to give serious feedback and critique of my letters for the last 25 years. Carl Rohrs, because it was in his class that I had my epiphany that I needed to practice if I was ever going to be very good at this. John Stevens for setting the bar very high and making me see details. And of course, Brody Neuenschwander, whose creativity and courage to break the rules is the hardest lesson of all. That just scratches the surface, and I’ve been lucky to study with so many great teachers. Even though I spend more time on the other side of the desk these days, I’ll always consider myself a student of lettering.
Where do you create, and how have you organized your work space, especially between calligraphy and ceramics?
I work at home in my basement studio. We have a full finished basement and I have a large room for my studio and my husband has his pottery studio in a few rooms down there as well. We had to run a second electrical line into the house when we moved in, for our kilns, and we’ve made sure we have good lighting, so it doesn’t feel like we are underground. When I’m not on the road teaching, you can most often find me in my studio working. In most houses the kitchen is the heart of the home, but with our family, it’s the studio.
You are known for being an early riser. What do you like about doing calligraphy in the morning and do you have a particular routine or structure for your practice?
Yes, morning is the best time for me. I wake up alert and with a steady hand and after the coffee is made I head right down. I love that time of day, when the rest of the house is still asleep and there are no distractions. I used to practice everyday from 3am-6am religiously because I had an office job to go to at 8am, but now that I work from home all day, I don’t get to the studio until 4:30 or 5 every morning. As for a practice routine, I spend most of my time now making artwork or developing new class ideas and materials. Everything I do is practice, in one sense. I also love being a student, and try to take at least one workshop a year. That is one of the wonderful things about our art form, there is always more to learn.
What are three of the most essential tools for your calligraphy practice?
A pencil, my 1/4” Automatic pen, and a number 2 pointed sable brush.
I know you are active in your local guild and that you also frequently travel internationally. What does community mean to you, in the context of the lettering arts?
When I started doing calligraphy at sixteen I was self-taught and for 10 years thought I was alone in the world. Only after I got out of grad school and signed up for a calligraphy class through our local continuing ed did I find out that there is a whole community of lettering artists out there. I joined my local guild, the Missoula Calligraphers Guild and Big Sky Scribes and started attending workshops and heard about the network of guilds in the US. After attending the international conference in 1994, I learned of the global community. Now with social media, lettering artists around the world are connected and sharing. It’s wonderful seeing work and meeting people from so many countries and cultures, and is one of the primary reasons I love our field. It still amazes me that so many of my lettering heroes have become my closest and dearest friends. Most of why I teach is to have the opportunity to meet and engage with our wonderful community.
What was the genesis behind your “Bold & Blended” class? What inspired you to create this class, and how would you describe your style of teaching?
The Bold and Blended class developed out of the work I was doing during and after a 40-day sabbatical in Bruges, Belgium in 2016. While there I was introduced to a new kind of ink (Bister) that some local students were using. They are common in Northern Europe, but were mostly unknown in the States. I started using them alongside a new bold hand I was experimenting with. The bold caps I teach relate to the Roman Square Caps, but I was looking mostly at a version I saw in some old work of Brody Neuenschwander’s. They developed into my own style over time, and they work beautifully with the Bister inks because of their bold strokes and tight spacing. I was posting work on social media and showing it at workshops and the community showed strong interest in them, so it seemed natural to offer a class that blended the materials and the hand. It was a challenge at first to source the Bister Inks, but with the help of John Neal Booksellers, they are available through his shop now.
I’ve always described my style of teaching as a product of having been a student myself for so long. I attended a lot of workshops over the years, and try to blend all of what I loved about them in my own classes. My goal is to provide a warm and enjoyable environment, to share my knowledge in a clear and quality way, and to make sure everyone has an experience that I hope motivates and inspires them to keep trying when they leave the classroom.
Outside of calligraphy, what are some of your other interests, hobbies and/or pursuits? What might be something about you that people would be surprised to learn?
Is there an outside of calligraphy? So much of what I do revolved around it that it’s hard to distinguish. Travel has always been one of my passions since spending a lot of time in Europe as a teenager. Now most of my travel is related to calligraphy, but I thrive on and am inspired by seeing new places and meeting new people. I live in Montana, so I would have to say enjoying the outdoors, hiking and camping with my family is a great way to escape from the studio now and then. My calligraphy community might be surprised to learn that for the last 12 years I’ve been the majority owner of a corporation that does nationwide service on equipment for the banking industry. I am also an enrolled member of the Osage Nation, and was born on our tribal reservation in Northern Oklahoma.