Grab a book for National Reading Month!

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March is National Reading Month, which coincides with the birthday of the beloved American author/illustrator Theodor Seuss Geisel (1904-1991). In honor of this occasion, make time for a book or two during the next thirty days. Yes, reading aloud to your kids also counts!

The renowned Dr. Seuss — who penned legendary children’s books including How the Grinch Stole Christmas! (1957), Green Eggs and Ham (1960), and The Lorax (1971) — was born on March 2 in Springfield, Massachusetts. During a career that spanned seventy years, his books sold over 600 million copies.

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The multi-talented author never earned a doctorate degree, but he did graduate from Dartmouth College. He then studied literature at Lincoln College in Oxford, England for two years. There, classmate Helen Palmer — who would become his wife — complimented Geisel’s drawings and encouraged him to pursue that creative outlet. They got married, he dropped out of Lincoln, and the newlyweds returned to the United States in 1927 so that he could work as a cartoonist and illustrator for Vanity Fair magazine.

Learn more about this incredible creative individual at his official Random House website, Seussville.com.

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Note — This image of Theodor Geisel was obtained from website of the Campbell County Public Library in Kentucky. His signature was borrowed from Seussville.com.

Postscript to a meal

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If dessert marks the close of dinner, then a thank-you card serves as its postscript — an after-the-event affirmation of hours well spent and company fully valued. In this era of instant messages and time constraints, however, the thank-you card is often disregarded as either unnecessary or anachronistic. These beliefs could not be further from the truth. Rarely will a tweet or emoji-punctuated text make a memorable impression on a host. But a card featuring a personal greeting almost always will.

This blog post documents the process of preparing one such card for transit.

Two nights ago I enjoyed a wonderful evening of food and fellowship in the home of a dear friend. She and her husband — a man talented in both the woodworking studio and the kitchen — prepared a hearty meal of parmesan-encrusted chicken, cold corn-and-pepper salad with citrus vinegar dressing, steaming brown rice with peas, and freshly-baked cheese-herb bread pulled from a cast-iron skillet. Two other guests (my best friend and his wife) agreed that the fare was delicious.

After the meal, the five of us retired to the great room, where we sat in front of the fireplace and traded accounts of recent travels, memories of family courtships, and updates on hobbies ranging from photography to hatchet-throwing. As can occur on evenings spent indoors while wind rushes through snow-draped trees, time seemed to slow. Meanwhile, digestion proceeded steadily within our bellies. And before we knew it the hostess produced parfaits of fresh raspberries, brownie bites, and fluffy whipped cream. Our discussion continued as spoons clinked lightly while teasing the chilled dessert from tall glasses.

After returning home that night I dove into my supply of cards in search of the right thank-you to honor such a wonderful evening. The one I selected is pictured above. This card, which I purchased for $1 at Trader Joe’s, features artwork by printmaker Yoskiko Yamamoto (pictured below) of The Arts & Crafts Press in Tacoma, WA. Yamamoto and her husband, Bruce Smith, founded TA&CP in 1996. All of their publications “have been letterpress printed and bound by hand.” Please check out ArtsAndCraftsPress.com for an amazing selection of limited-edition woodblock prints, stationery, coasters, calendars, and more.

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To my pleasant surprise, I realized that the hanging lamp on this card features a mission-style design. The same aesthetic is found on the beautiful handmade furniture in the host-couple’s great room. (The husband built it!) Mission furniture emerged in the United States in the late 1890s, and got its name from California’s Spanish-style missions. The furniture’s focus on simple horizontal and vertical lines — often showcased in oak tables, chairs, and chests — contrasts with the ornate Victorian furniture that had long been popular at the time.

Mission furniture, which is linked to the Arts and Crafts movement, was produced by several famous artisans including Gustav Stickley (1858-1942), an American born from German immigrants. A number of fascinating resources exist for learning more about this influential furniture manufacturer including The Stickley Museum in Fayetteville, NY and the 20th century estate home that he designed (now a National Historic Landmark) at The Stickley Museum at Craftsman Farms in Morris Plains, NJ.

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My first step in preparing the card was working through a rough draft of the greeting by scribbling initial thoughts on a tablet. I almost always do this so that I do not make silly word-choice mistakes or run out of room when writing on the card itself.

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Switching from print to cursive (which I find more smooth and formal) I then edited the draft even further while transferring it to the card’s interior. Observe the date in the upper-right corner, something that I believe every hand-written missive should possess so that the recipient — who is likely going to keep it — can place it accurately in history. Note — The salutation is unfinished in this photograph, but was completed prior to inserting the card into its envelope.

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With the greeting composed, I next needed to choose a stamp to apply to the white envelope. I had a full sheet of “O Beautiful” stamps, which the U.S. Postal Service released on July 4, 2018. Each row of the stamps corresponds to a line from “America the Beautiful.” What we know today as one of our country’s most patriotic songs was actually first a poem published in 1895 by poet and social activist Katharine Lee Bates (1859-1929). The bright and varied colors of these stamps make them perfect for white envelopes.

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I chose the fourth stamp in “The Fruited Plain” series (second row from bottom) because it contained a collection of purples, greens, and golds that was similar to the colors in Yoshiko Yamamoto’s woodblock print. There is no reason that a stamp needs to coordinate with a card, but I found the parallels in palette to be very pleasing.

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Postscript (or “PS) — The next time you are invited to a home-cooked meal, please send your host a card or brief note to recognize the occasion. He/she will appreciate the hand-written message of gratitude, and I suspect that you will feel a surge of pride and accomplishment for honoring the time, care, and attention that the host invested on your behalf. A thank-you card is always a sign of good taste.

Note — The photograph of Yoshiko Yamamoto was obtained from a 2016 article on the website of Spaceworks Tacoma. The photograph of Gustav Stickley was found on the website for The Stickley Museum in Fayetteville, NY.

Blue light haiku

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Blue lights in morning
pull close above winter’s gray —
words like stars reveal.

What is a haiku? It’s a short, three-line poem of Japanese origin that juxtaposes two images, often following a 5-7-5 pattern of syllables. A reference to the season, or a kigo, is normally included to signal the time of year.

One of the most famous haiku poets is Matsuo Basho (1644-1694), whose likeness is presented here by Japanese painter and printmaker Katsushika Hokusai (1760-1849).

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You might be familiar with Hokusai’s legendary woodblock prints; they adorn everything from t-shirts to tote bags. Below is Under the Wave Off Kanagawa (c. 1830-31), which is also known as the Great Wave.

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Barnes & Noble sells a 200-page Piccadilly Sketchbook featuring the Great Wave:

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Thinking about trying your hand at a haiku?

Do it! And send it to me. Your piece might be featured on ink + sky.

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Note – The image of Hokusai’s woodblock print was found on Matsuo Basho’s Wikipedia.org page. The image of Under the Wave Off Kanagawa was obtained from the website of the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston.

New Year’s Adventure Journal

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On December 15, I finished the last page of my Viking Bear Journal. But several days prior to that I had selected a yellow composition book and an image — a greeting card from Trader Joe’s — to serve as my new journal, one that would take me into the New Year. Knowing that I would have to customize the journal by cutting up the card and affixing parts of it to the notebook’s front and back cover, I figured that I would make a post that includes before and after photos.

The above image features the tools that I used: an inexpensive composition book from Meijer, a metal ruler, an X-ACTO knife, 2″-wide STAPLES-brand packing tape, and a Creative Memories cutting board that I found next to a neighbor’s garbage can several years ago. (Why do people throw away functional objects?) The focus of this journal is the artwork featured on a Happy Birthday greeting card designed by Rae Ritchie. I found the card at TJ’s, so it only set me back one dollar. A buck!

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Who is Rae Ritchie? She’s a Minneapolis-based illustrator who has created work for a range of clients, from the Los Angeles Times to American Greetings to the Manhattan Toy Company. Purchase her prints and original artwork at her Etsy shop. Learn more about this talented designer at rae-ritchie.com, which is where I obtained this photograph:

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After spending ten minutes with the X-ACTO knife, ruler, and packing tape, here is the finished product:

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One aspect that I really like about this particular card is that it features artwork and text on the inside in addition to the expected “Happy Birthday” message.  The presence of the bonus language and illustration allowed me to adorn the composition book’s back cover with a small insignia:

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Wondering what that small red object is in the center? It’s a lantern. What better way to symbolize the concept of starting a New Year — and embarking on a new adventure! — than an old-fashioned lantern?

Here’s a photo of my first entry (penned several weeks ago) followed by a transcription:

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12-16-18  7:37AM — Starbucks, M-24

Yesterday I finished the last page of my Viking Bear journal, so today I begin a new one. This composition book lacks at [sic]* a cover, but I have selected the greeting card that will adorn the front (and back!) side. It’s a Trader Joe’s birthday card, and it will work perfectly because of its “new year” greeting and a scene of forest animals who are hiking into a “new adventure.” I’ll be proud to carry this notebook to the end of December, and then onto the first frosty days of the New Year.

Starbucks is quiet at this hour — only one other customer, a gentleman in shorts ( ! ) who is wearing an Oxford Wildcats t-shirt. There’s a few [sic] crew of baristas, probably six, talking cordially behind the counter. Even the drive-thru is slow. No music yet, which is nice. The silence is accompanied by pops, clicks, whooshes, and the low grumble of the garbage disposal: the sounds of preparing coffee and salvation for sleepy-eyed visitors. Before long the volume of the bean-machine will increase, and the silence of a Sunday morning will vanish beneath the clamor of orders and blenders and children’s voices.


My Challenge to You, Dear Reader…

Start your own journal in 2019, and begin a new adventure of writing, reflection, and renewal. If you choose to make this simple yet powerful investment in your health and well-being, please send me a photo of your notebook. I’d love to feature it on ink + sky as a separate blog post created exclusively for you. Think of the post as an affirmation of your bravery, initiative, and resolve.

Contact me here.

If you’d like some tips about the journaling process, please see my Getting Started page.

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* – [sic] is an abbreviation of the Latin phrase sic erat scriptum, which means “thus was it written” or “intentionally so written.” By including [sic] in my typed transcription I am alerting readers to the fact that an error — two, actually — was made in my hand-written journal entry, but that I am recording that error exactly as it was written.

Lucie Rice’s sports-themed cards

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Bowl game season is here, and if you have recently cheered on your favorite college football team at a friend’s party then you have several options for a proper thank-you: (1) send a thoughtful text, (2) place a phone call, or (3) mail a card like the one featured above by Nashville-based designer Lucie Rice. (By the way, doing nothing is not an option; hosts deserve gratitude.)

Curious about the cool purple dragon stamp? Learn more about the artist who designed it — as well as see the three other boldly-colored serpents in the series — in my post entitled Dragons are descending!

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Who is Lucie Rice? She is an artist and illustrator who, in her words, creates “whimsical and sometimes ridiculous imagery” for children and adults. Her work adorns book covers, posters, and corporate publications. In more than a few of her creations you can find references to animals, one of her passions. She and her husband live with two dogs, Lola and Hank. Learn more about this talented graduate of the Savannah College of Art and Design at LucieRice.com.

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Through her affiliation with the Jen Vaughn Artist Agency, Ms. Rice has produced a series of blank cards (i.e. ones that feature no internal greeting) for grocer Trader Joe’s. That is where I purchased the football and basketball cards pictured in this post. And because they were obtained from TJ’s, the price for each one was a mind-blowing $1.00. That’s more insane than a 60-yard field goal or a buzzer-beating jump shot launched from a yard behind the three-point line. One dollar!

When March Madness rolls around in three months, you can use this card to send a few words of thanks to whichever friend or family member invites you into his/her family room — and grants you access to hoop hysterics on a 77″ OLED 4K television.

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Ms. Rice has also designed a baseball-themed card, whose image I found on the Jennifer Vaughn Artist Agency website. As of now, TJ’s is not carrying it. Maybe in the spring?

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If you are curious about the writing supplies available at Trader Joe’s, please click on this link to reach my post entitled Trader Joe’s knows cards.

If you are interested in learning about how Trader Joe’s has risen to become the top-grossing grocer in America (based on sales per square foot), click on this link to reach my post entitled Succeed by defying conventions.

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Note — The image featured above was obtained from jenvaughnart.com.

Dragons are descending!

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These stunning stamps, which feature digitally-produced artwork, are available at post offices and USPS.com. A sheet of sixteen stamps — four each of four different designs — will set you back $8.00. Ordering from USPS.com adds a modest $1.25 shipping charge.

These remarkable dragons were created by Don Clark who, along with his brother Ryan, established Invisible Creature studio in Maple Valley, Washington in 2006. Here is an image of the siblings at the entrance to their two-story barn/workspace. The photo was obtained from the duo’s extraordinary website. Ryan is on the left; Don is on the right.

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The Clarks, who are talented designers and accomplished musicians, benefit from a strong family influence of creativity. Their grandfather was an illustrator who worked at NASA for 28 years. Their father tinkered passionately in his home, where he produced furniture and toys made of wood. The upper level of the Clarks’ barn studio houses a workspace that their formative forebears would be proud of:

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The online store at the Invisible Creature website features a range of products created by the über-talented brothers. Books, t-shirts, toys, prints, posters, and super-cool wool felt pennants are all available. If you are searching for a special present for December’s celebrations, check out the 2018 Holiday Gift Guide. There you will find, among other dazzlingly-designed goods, a Little Golden Book version of the Disney PIXAR film The Incredibles. Its illustrations were created by Don Clark. Here is an example of its retro-styled artwork:

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Do you have holiday cards to mail? Stop at your local post office or visit USPS.com for a sheet of Dragon stamps, which feature the Forever USA guarantee. You will always be able to use them to send first-class letters.

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Note — Except for the photograph at the top of this post, all of the images of Don and Ryan Clark and their products and artwork were obtained from the Invisible Creature website.