Inside the broad heart of Carrie Imai: Rebellion, Color, Patience, and Dignity.



In anticipation of Carrie Imai’s upcoming July 5-7th workshop “Foundation Meets Bone” Victoria Lansford conducted a compelling interview with Carrie Imai, giving us a glimpse of what magic she might bring with her.


Victoria:  You’ve worked as a teacher/consultant on some big film productions such as the movie, JOBS, and HBO’s series, Rome.  What is it like to fit the calligraphic art-form into the specific and speedy demands of directors and actors?

Carrie:  The world of media is certainly an exciting one and one that was fun to visit – but I wouldn’t want to live there.  The director for the “Jobs” film phoned me about 4 days before shooting and needed EVERYTHING…artwork for Jobs’ home, the classroom, board demo paper for the teacher, supplies for the teacher and all the students, journals and homework and even the students for the classroom!  They fortunately came to the right person – I had everything they needed – even the students, who were from my class at UCLA.  They wanted to know if I could train the actors to do calligraphy.  I told them I was a teacher and could do that, but could only make them “look like” they knew how to do calligraphy in the hour I had to train them.  Interestingly, Aston Kutcher, who played Steve Jobs, already knew some calligraphy through a class he had taken.  I was the calligraphy advisor on set to be sure everything looked authentic.  Fun to do but a lot of hurry up to wait.  But it pays well and it’ll be fun to see all my artwork on the big screen. 

Victoria:  If you were stranded on a desert island and could only have one type of pen, one type and color of ink, and one type of writing surface, which would you pick?

Carrie:  Without question it would be my Automatic pen, Arches Text Wove paper and my faithful Prang watercolor set.  Use these all the time.  The large (#4 & #5) Automatic pen allows me to manipulate smoothly.  The Prang watercolors are brilliantly colored and ground fine so that they are transparent and blend beautifully with eachother.  Arches Text Wove paper has changed it’s sizing recently, so has some resistant properties in the sizing.  But it still is a good surface for writing and holds watercolor well.  You can paint a wash as a background and it does not buckle as most papers do.  This surface of background watercolor also improves the resistant qualities.  I’d be a happy camper.

Victoria:  You have a great sense of color and aren’t afraid to use it.  What is the most difficult color for you to work with or combine in a composition?

Carrie:  I love color and use it with some abandon.  I find that the combination of colors opposite on the color wheel – complimentary (orange and blue, purple and yellow, red and green) are the most successful.  And if you go to the secondary opposites – blue-green and red-orange; blue-violet and yellow-orange, etc., you get a whole new set of compliments.  I have the most trouble using the primary colors – red, blue and yellow.  I tend toward the jewel colors of purple, violet and red-violet …doesn’t every female calligrapher??

carrie studio

Victoria:  What is your studio like?  Is it tidy with a place for everything or creatively chaotic?

Carrie:  My studio is far from tidy.  I’m usually preparing for or cleaning up from a workshop or class.  And it seems that when I work, I need to get everything out to do it.  It’s a small room to boot – about 10’ x 11’ and contains a flat file, a file cabinet, my desk, a metal tool chest for my supplies and my computer desk and printer – pretty crowded.  But I feel at home there and have learned to live within the chaos.  Though I feel the need to neaten up before I start work.  I think it’s a method of avoidance, but I’m not admitting to that.  I’m attaching a few pictures that were taken for an issue of Calligraph (SfC’s annual magazine) on studio spaces.

Victoria:  Not only do you do Jacquie Svaran’s Bone hand well, you’ve gone on to create your own “Imai-Talic.” which, if I may say so, is pretty darn fabulous.  What drew you to hands with pen manipulation?  Was it the visual look or more the feel of the process?

Carrie:  I have been kind of a rebel throughout my calligraphic career and never liked the lines and the rules.  So when I learned Bone, many years ago, I found nirvana.  I could bounce up and down on the line and cast aside most of the rules.  I love the look of the beautiful curves that happen when you manipulate your pen, but it’s the feel of floating on the wet ink (you remember that and had a dramatic response to it) and dancing with your pen that I am hooked on.  It must be what sky divers feel or ski jumpers.  Well, I’m never going to jump out of a plane or off a ski ramp, but I can fly with my pen.  It is magic!

Victoria:  In reference to the title of your piece with the same name, would you tell us the significance of the Japanese word, Gaman, and how it relates to your work and life?


Carrie:  The Japanese term “Gaman” means to endure the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity.  My piece of the same name is a tribute to those Japanese people who suffered and lost everything during the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami in northern Japan.  With perseverance and strength, they went to work to rebuild.  I so admired that spirit that I was moved to do that piece.  I used Japanese Unryu paper, Sumi ink, brushes and metal pens to get the sense of the power of the water and the strength of the Japanese people.

To read more about Carrie Imai, visit her website here.

To read more about her fabulous upcoming workshop Foundation meets Bone, follow this link or keep reading. We dare you not to sign up. 🙂

3 Sessions | All Levels | Price: $210
ARTZ1382 | Friday – Sunday, July 5 – 7, Fri. & Sat. 10am – 5pm, Sun. 11 – 6pm  


Foundation Meets Bone Description 

The Foundation alphabet was aptly named by Edward Johnston as it is based on Carolingian, an early Humanist Roman hand and became the “foundation” for a calligraphy revival in the early 1900’s.

This class will begin with a study of the beautiful, strong, round Foundation alphabet and then morph into the Bone alphabet which was the brain child of Jacqueline Svaren as an exercise to loosen up the rigid pen holds and stiff hands of her students.  It is based on the very formal Carolingian, but is manipulated to the MAX to create a wild, amorphous, sexy alphabet.

Be prepared to learn to walk all over again.  Doing this alphabet is like nothing you’ve ever done before.  The beautiful thing that happens once you master these manipulated letters, is that this skill integrates into your other alphabets and gives them that life and bounce that you drool over in books and at exhibits, but were not quite sure how to get into your own.

There will be lots of personal attention to assure your success.  We will have lots of time to play with the many wonderful variations of these two alphabets and to create several easy and fun projects using the skills we learn.

Each participant will receive a bound book of exemplars, samples and handouts.

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