Interview with Cari Ferraro

Cari Ferraro is an accomplished artist and calligrapher. She has showed and published an amazing body of work. I asked Cari to answer a few questions about her work and process. Among her answers you’ll find examples of her work. Enjoy! (Thanks, Cari!)

Your name and title/business name? Specialty?

I make unique and limited edition hand lettered and painted books under my name, and my commercial line of cards and prints is sold under my business name, Prose and Letters.

What’s your educational background, i.e., college, professional school, high school, apprenticeship, etc.? 

Literature/Creative Writing degree from University of California at Santa Cruz, 1976. Lots of workshop study with great calligraphy and book arts teachers since 1987.

Who or what inspired you to pursue lettering and book design? 

After college graduation my mother gave me an Osmiroid pen set and Jacqueline Svaren’s “Written Letters” book. That book was my constant companion for many years. I had collected many wonderful quotations in all my years of reading, so it seemed a natural extension to want to write beautiful words in a beautiful way.

However Far The Stream

Were you working in another profession before you pursued lettering and book design? 

I’ve worked at a lot of different jobs over the years, usually for small businesses. For twelve years after my marriage I worked in my husband’s family business, dispatching household moving trucks and crews from our home office.

How do you approach a book design? What are you exploring or discovering as you complete a book design? 

I begin with the words, nearly always, unless images are just nattering in my head to get out and then I might begin there, or with a color. But mostly words, picking out the visual words or feelings in the text is the ongoing delight in my work, how to make words sing on the page as they sing in my head or my ear when I “hear” them.

Spacious Firmament
Spacious Firmament

Preferred tool(s) and medium? 

Broad-edge pens, ruling pens, ink, brushes, sponges, cut up credit cards, whatever. I love to work with translucent paste and pigment to lay down layers of color and marks, to make an environment for the words. In this way the words often become the ground as well as the figure.

What artistic opportunities are presented to you typically? 

I do presentation pieces for a small number of commercial accounts, but I also fulfill private commissions, usually for broadsides. Bookmaking is something I reserve for myself. I feel I am still learning that art. But I have been a jobbing calligrapher for over thirty years and have done it all, the wedding work, special poems, the works. Being the artist for Walter Foster’s Discover Calligraphy and Illumination was perhaps not the best paid work I ever did but it really made me polish my skills and gave me a certain notoriety.

What keeps you going throughout the day, i.e. music, video, books on tape, silence, etc.? 

Getting outside and down by my backyard creek is wonderfully restorative. I have a daily qigong practice to keep my upper body from becoming too stiff from all the exacting work I do. This also recharges my creative battery as it is a form of moving meditation and sometimes great ideas flow though.

Who or what are your influences or muses? 

It can come from anywhere, and has. Very often music lyrics move me in such a way I want to create a visual expression of the feeling. Poetry also does this, as does exquisitely written prose. I have also had exceptional teachers, the most influential of which have probably been Suzanne Moore and Alice Koeth. Both of these teachers taught me the importance of slowing down and really looking at the work instead of just dashing it off.

Goddess Alphabet
Goddess Alphabet

My spiritual path has actively influenced my work for many years, both in content and in recharging my creative batteries. Connecting with Creator helps me connect with my own creativity and the charge can be highly energetic! My first calligraphy to be accepted to the Letter Arts Review annual was a piece I called Goddess Alphabet and was an invented alphabet based on marks made on prehistoric ritual objects found in Old Europe from thousands of years ago. I have used this lettering in many of my bookworks since then and love working with its runic character and feel. It makes a nice counterpoint with other lettering, as you can see from the two Spelling Words works shown. In the “Chant” page detail, I used the style to write out the words to an old Anglo-Saxon charm for protection during childbirth.

I also delight in working with traditional forms, such as the foundational hand shown in this piece I did for a 2012 calendar I have been contributing to for many years.

I have also been part of a calligraphy study group that has met monthly since 1994. We sometimes do collaborative projects which stretch our creative boundaries. This piece was done for such a project. I was given the painted page spread and chose the quotation to work with the color already on the page. The “candles” were an inspiration. I have several hands I like to work with, but the content may dictate something I don’t usually use and I will “brush off” a style I haven’t used in a while, like this Neuland.

Lettered quote
Cari lettered this quote by Margaret Fuller.

Cari reconnected with a lettering style, Neuland, for this quote by Margaret Fuller.

Spelling Words study
Black and white study of Spelling Words.
Detail of composition
Composition detail of Spelling Words Chant

Has the computer/technology – if at all – impacted your approach to lettering and book design? 

It has made the layout of large resolutions easier to prepare, with a font that most closely resembles my broad-pen letters. It has also made it easier to composite all kinds of work for reproduction. It has also made self-publishing possible, which I have been doing for years, first with cards and prints, and now with limited edition books. The print I just created, The Spacious Firmament, is entirely hand created on paper and then scanned into Photoshop, where I had a file with over 43 layers and 19 channels. This was a complex piece that would have been much more difficult to produce at its actual size, 9.5 by 7.5 inches. The writing had to be very small to fit and was done at about 200% the finished size, which is still very small. So I feel I am combining traditional manuscript techniques with computer layout but still maintaining the integrity of the hand lettering and painting.

Have you exhibited, if so, where? 

My first national exhibit was at the Washington National Cathedral. I’ve also had work on exhibit at the Minneapolis Institute of Art and Design, the San Francisco Public Library, the Triton Museum in Santa Clara, and at my local gallery, Kaleid.

(Optional) tell us something about you that might surprise or delight us. 

I lived in Iran as a teenager. It was quite an adventure. I was thrilled with the miniature work done there and it may have fed my love of medieval illuminated manuscripts, so I was unsurprised to discover that Perisan-style painting came to Europe with the returning Crusaders and influenced European work.

To see more work please visit Cari’s website and shop.