Spotlight: Caitlin Dundon, Mixed Media Artist and Calligrapher
A lover of color, pattern, depth, layers and words, Caitlin Dundon creates mixed media art that is as much about the process as the product. The result is work that draws the viewer in visually and engages further thought with calligraphy.
How did you find yourself on an artist’s path? Always there? Lightbulb moment? Dragged kicking and screaming? Evolving? Why calligraphy?
I have always been an artist and a writer. I was encouraged by my parents at a very young age to always be making art and writing in my diaries or journals. There was never any “lightbulb” or “aha” moment, it was only a matter of figuring out how to make a living doing what I love.
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Reading and books were a part of my life from the beginning and not only at bedtime. My father had a set of calligraphy nibs that I discovered and started playing with at the age of 8 or so. I loved the way dip pens made me feel like I was Shakespeare. I remember the romantic notion of writing an old-fashioned antique-looking letter that someone would discover in some faraway shore, a message in a bottle.
What inspires you? Are there recurring themes in your work?
Nature constantly inspires and rejuvenates me, whether it is simply seeing the different colors of flowers or patterns in a leaf, etc.
I often create pieces that have birds or flowers or simply the deep blue colors of water or greenery of the natural world.
If we asked a good friend of yours to describe your style, what would they say?
Colorful and creative.
What is the most important takeaway you want readers to gain from your book, The Painted Word: Mixed Media Lettering Techniques?
My desire in writing the book was not only a need to share what I have discovered in exploring a variety of techniques that will allow readers to “put a word on it,” but also encourage readers to try new ways to play with tools and supplies and not be afraid of making mistakes.
With mixed media you have many options to fix or sand off or paint over anything you consider a mistake and the results end up being incredibly beautiful. This is not a bunch of dry and serious lessons in lettering, but a way to take whatever level of writing you have and use different mediums to let your art “speak,” or if you do not like your own writing, using stamps, stencils, collage and printing to inspire your art instead.
When you first think about a piece of painted calligraphy, which comes to mind first? The painting or the words?
Sometimes I have a quote or something I have written myself in mind before I start a piece, but I have grown to understand that having preconceived notions about what I want something to look like sometimes leads to disappointment. By allowing myself to just start – to just add some paint and gesso to the blank panel or paper in any color or pattern – I open up so many new directions that I didn’t know I needed to go. By far the most important part of my work is the process while I am experiencing it, and not necessarily the finished piece.
Do you focus on one piece from start to finish? Or do you work actively on more than one project at a time?
Working on one piece from start to finish is very limiting. By having several pieces of paper, wood panels or journals handy I can move paint from one piece to another. It is less wasteful, but it is also where discoveries and magic happen.
Which part of your process do you enjoy most? Why?
I enjoy the sheer process of putting color on the surface, layering another color on top, layering lettering over and under things. It is the combination of all the colors and linework that excites me.
Do you have a dedicated space for creating? If so, what does it look like?
I do currently have a separate art studio in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood in a building called StudioWorksBallard. Each floor has a variety of independent businesses, not just artists. They include a nail salon, candle maker, CPAs, therapists, and even a drum teacher.
I think it is very important to have space to create. For me, I like having a professional studio to commute to. I am not distracted by laundry or dishes to do when I am there. I can also use the building conference room for private calligraphy tutoring and classes. My space is small at 9 feet wide by 14 feet deep. But it has a huge window with lots of sun, high ceilings, a dedicated space for my laptop and larger monitor, shelves for books and greeting card stock, rolling carts for supplies and a commercial baking rack; the rack has trays that fit paintings up to 16” x 20”. This allows much needed drying space.
When I am home I am mostly relaxing with my husband or watching TV or films, usually not doing art. Occasionally I will work at home on tracing paper and do some sketching or layout a design idea or write in my journal on pages that are already painted.
How does your studio organization contribute to your work process?
Because my studio is so small there is a constant need to clean and organize. I am not quite there with the perfect setup. But trying hard to adapt a lean Japanese strategy: tools are stored, used, then returned to the same place. So I can find them again. In the past I have wasted a lot of time looking for a pair or scissors or an X-Acto knife that is somewhere buried on a desk. Once I cleaned up and found I had 5 pounds of writing instruments and 20 pairs of scissors!
Are there indispensable tools and materials in your studio? How do they improve your work?
Paper towels, water, white gesso, black gesso, Golden acrylic paints, NIKKO G pointed pen nibs, e+m straight pen holder, FW White acrylic ink, Golden high flow in carbon black, 1” flat brush and ½” flat brush, 9” x 12” Fabriano Artistico hot press watercolor paper, Macbook Pro, monitor and Epson scanner.
I could not live without gesso. I use it for priming things, as a resist by applying it partially to paper, for texture by running tools through it and stamping into it, through stencils for layering, and over collaged items as a wash. 9” x 12” is my favorite size. That’s big enough to play and explore but not so big that I cannot scan it in one pass. Although I do work larger. I scan things like backgrounds and patterns in pieces for work in licensing, creating layers in Photoshop.
I love the ability to work on my Mac from anywhere to finish class materials, work on my next book, and of course promote myself on social media. And yes, a smart phone is also indispensable for inspirational photos and posting on social media.
What is your favorite lesser-known tool for your trade? Have you taken something designed for another use and repurposed it for your studio?
Lately I have been using embossing powder, embossing markers and embossing fluid – a medium typically used for scrapbooking or for making rubber stamp greeting cards – to work with acrylic paintings and as collage medium.
What plays in the background while you work? Silence? Music, audiobooks, movies? What kind?
Almost always have music playing, even if I am writing. I love having a soundtrack for my life. Usually just Pandora with shuffle on and a mix of: Mosquitos, Black Box Recorder, Leonard Cohen, Django Django, Vampire Weekend, Moby, Gotye, Annie Lennox, Laurie Anderson, Talking Heads, Wildlight. Sometimes I go more retro Inkspots, Billie Holiday, 60s French Pop, Frank Sinatra, Doris Day or Johnny Cash. When doing something very basic, cleaning or having lunch, I might listen to a Ted Talk on creativity or happiness.
When you travel to teach workshops, do you create on planes and in waiting areas? What is in your artist travel kit?
I would love to be one of those artists doing creative art journaling in color right there in the moment. But usually when I am waiting in an airport I need some down time to just sit and people watch. Sometimes I write in my journal with stream of consciousness. But more often with lists of things to do to get a jump on organization or preparation for upcoming classes, website updates.
I am usually prepared with a fountain pen with brown or black ink and maybe some Inktense pencils (these are water soluble but permanent when dry) a Faber Castell PITT pen or Pentel pocket brush pen, and an Aquash brush (can be filled with water) and a lined or unlined journal.
What has been your biggest challenge to being successful in a creative field?
The biggest challenge has always been keeping enough income going to live and enjoy life and pay those pesky bills and health insurance. I also find lately that keeping up the momentum is extremely hard.
I would be content to just putter away in my studio and create things. But to be successful these days one has to be posting on Instagram and Twitter, updating website with new classes, submitting applications for gallery shows, and submitting proposals for teaching in new locations.
Which current artists do you admire? What draws you to their work?
I admire the work of fabric and textile designers, drawn to the patterns of florals and colors in particular. I also love a lot of children’s book illustrators, artists like Lisa Congdon who are crossovers in many worlds. Right now I am enamored with the colorful and whimsical illustrations of Jennifer Orkin Lewis. But I also love the more fine art elegant mark making of Belgian calligrapher Yves Leterme.
Tell us about your website. What do you hope visitors will gain by visiting?
My website currently has listings of book signings, art demos and classes and retreats where I am teaching. I also sell original art, books, greeting cards and an online calligraphy class as well. I also have a blog and enjoy sharing some new art or techniques; not have the website be just a shopping experience but an education and inspiration as well.
Do you lecture or teach workshops? How can students/organizers get in touch with you to schedule an event?
I am absolutely delighted to lecture (with power point presentation) or teach workshops. I love scheduling “mini-vacations” around events that I might have scheduled in cities that I have not visited before. Organizers can reach me via email email@example.com. I am still scheduling for 2019 and have started to look at 2020 as well. A variety of classes from simple pointed pen or brush calligraphy to 1-day, 2-day, 3-day or week-long mixed media and painting workshops offers options. I would love to teach in Chicago, New York, Rhode Island, Maine, Australia, Japan, Taos, Santa Fe, Denver, San Diego, Hawaii, Italy, France, England, Denmark, Sweden, New Orleans, and Key West to name a few!
What’s next for you?
I am putting finishing touches on an online calligraphy class that will be downloadable in April. I am also starting to work on another book and want to learn more Photoshop and Illustrator techniques so I can get better at designing fabric. Can you tell I like to keep busy?
Learn more about Caitlin on her website https://www.handwrittenlife.com/.
Interview posted March, 2019.
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