Social Calligraphy Boosts Conections for Change

What if no one shows up? Maybe I’ve made a huge mistake. Those familiar ugly voices of fear begin to whisper.

After sending out promotional emails, I wait for people to register for the fifth Social Calligraphy workshop. Started by a serendipitous Instagram conversation, these workshops aim to carve out a collective space for creative community to gather, learn and grow our calligraphy skills, and dream up ways to use art to encourage and inspire change. It is also a way to raise awareness and funds to support the good work of organizations fighting for social change, including ending human trafficking. it-just-flows-social-calligraphy-sept-girlsAfter starting off with a full, sold-out house of 12 at the inaugural launch, several workshops later we eventually drop down to two when we charge a small registration fee to secure a spot. Now, we take the leap to charge a specific amount, get a little more serious by producing practice worksheets and providing supplies (with 100% proceeds still going to charity.)

Nervously, I wait. Nothing comes. I know that by charging a minimum suggested donation, we will likely only attract those who are serious about calligraphy or serious about social change. I suspect numbers might drop, but now I’m bracing myself for a complete flop, with zero registrations, and no event.

it-just-flows-social-calligraphy-girls2Finally, one registration comes in from Anna Mae. Turns out she is the producer of a new event in Vancouver. Next Day Better seeks to empower migrant groups and multicultural communities through powerful storytelling through events and new media to make a meaningful impact and create a better future. She’s the kind of person we want more of to come.

it-just-flows-next-day-better-chalkboardI was honoured and had a blast working with Anna Mae creating this chalkboard art for the Next Day Better Vancouver event.

Anna Mae’s registration provides a tiny boost of courage, I post it in the Facebook group for SheLoves, a community of women who share the Social Calligraphy Collective’s values of creativity, justice, and generosity. I wince, hoping it won’t be seen as self-promotional spam.

Idelette signs up. She’s the founder of SheLoves. She is one of my biggest encouragers to pursue the creative dream, and is a cheerleader empowering so many women around the world to find their voice and roar. She brings along two others, her 10 year old daughter, and a young gal finding strength in Mercy House, a ministry helping young women facing challenging issues.

it-just-flows-kids-social-calligraphyAnna Mae and I could relate to T., as we both began calligraphy around the age of 10. I was super excited when she chose purple and yellow brush markers to take home with her – they are my favourite It Just Flows colours! She must be a soul sister. 🙂

Together the small, but mighty five of us blaze trails. After some warm up drills, we let loose in writing words of beauty and strength to send to the vulnerable people being helped by Beginning of Life, a small Moldovan organization with a very big heart, working to change the statistic that Moldova being the country with the highest rate of human trafficking in the world. We begin dreaming of a sisterhood trip to Moldova, where one day there may be opportunity to go first hand to give words of encouragement in person.

I call us mighty because even though we started late, we ended early – and we created more messages in this one workshop than all previous ones combined. The youngest ones created the most (not that it’s a competition 😉 )

it-just-flows-love-messages-human-traffickingAnd it turns out *I* need to hear these messages too – I am not alone. I do not need to be afraid. I am Loved.  So to those voices of fear I say, “Shhh! You’re not welcome here!”

Add a heart of passion, a purpose bigger than ourselves, and community to create together, and good things happen to make change, think big, and chase dreams.

it-just-flows-make-change-think-big-chase-dreamsI love what happens when change makers, big thinkers, and dream chasers gather together. This was inspired by Kei of Bold Love, who was one of the speakers at Anna Mae’s Next Day Better event.

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Social Calligraphy Creates Community with Housing Friends

“Have I told you the story of how I did my calligraphy during the war in Iraq?” N. begins telling me his story of creativity and courage as we sit in a group, each drawing our own letters; some are conversing, while others are mesmerized and lost in their lines.

N. is one of my new friends I’ve had the pleasure of getting to know at the Social Calligraphy meet ups I have been gathering, in partnership with More Than a Roof (MTR). MTR does great work in providing housing and integration for low income residents in Vancouver, who are looking to get on their feet again.

it-just-flows-social-calligraphy-KandNK. (left) dug out some calligraphy she had done on as a teenager. N. (right), shares with me his story of calligraphy during the war in Iraq.

“I was detained in custody. The guard left me alone… for 20 days no one came back. I didn’t know if they had forgotten me, or if anyone would come back,” he says. “Even though I didn’t have food or water, I didn’t try to escape.”

As I listened, watching N. draw his beautiful (and extremely complex) Persian calligraphy, I wondered how he obtained the supplies needed to write. “Finally a guard came back. I asked politely if I could go and get some food, visit my family and come back.” Amazingly because the guard recognized his integrity in “staying put” as he was told, the guard granted his request.

“I went across the street to a nearby restaurant. While I waited for my order, I saw some bamboo growing outside.” So what does a calligrapher do when he sees bamboo? Snatch some to fashion his own writing tool, of course! With just enough spare money, he bought some ink from a small shop. You know a true artist when you see him spend his last few funds on art supplies during a war!

it-just-flows-social-calligraphy-mtr-BB. (right) came out on the very first meet up, out of kindness. He wasn’t sure if anyone else would show up, so he came so I wouldn’t be discouraged.

N. is one of several who come to these social calligraphy meet ups, and bless me with the gift of their presence, creativity and stories of courage in adversity. Even R., who came unsure of himself, and left after the introductions, inspires me with his courage to take the scary step of showing up. Then there is C. who shares with me his beautiful sketchbook is full of raw and powerful art reflecting his healing journey, inviting me to go deeper in my own creativity and recovery. He shows great creativity and innovation in building structures from redeeming junk mail flyers.

it-just-flows-social-calligraphy-c2C. shares his happy word of the day. One day he decided to remake junk flyers into something beautiful, even though he wasn’t sure how it would turn out. His sketchbook reflects his healing journey.

I can’t believe this open door almost didn’t happen.

About a year and a half ago, I was first finding my legs on Instagram and exercising strength to establish “daily calligraphy muscles.” The goal of building my calligraphy into my daily rhythms grew out of advice from many artists and writers to build the discipline of your craft. This is a challenge for many creative folks, who would rather create on inspiration. For me, it was often feast or famine, where I would save up all my pent up energy for a special art day once or twice a year.

So I began to post sketches on Instagram, mostly of key ideas or thoughts I was currently percolating in hopes of integrating them into my heart and life habits. Unexpectedly, people I knew began to ask if they could buy some prints. Lee Anne, an old friend asked for this quote on gratitude.

it-just-flows-gratitude-mtrWhen it came time to deliver it, we were both so busy. I was tempted to let the busyness sweep over me and choose the more convenient option to just snail mail it, but something in my heart tugged at me. My values of relationship and community niggled and whispered to me. So I met her for lunch, near her office where she works with MTR.

As we caught up, I told her about how Social Calligraphy workshops began, gathering to create calligraphy to empower people and give back to the community by raising money to support social change, like fighting human trafficking. I shared how ultimately I’d love to do workshops directly with women and children who are establishing a new life of freedom, and other marginalized communities because I believe in the healing power of creating art, especially in community.

Lee Anne immediately responded, “Why don’t you come and do a workshop with our folks?” Hello, wide open door!

Now, we are meeting more regularly, each time bringing old and new faces. For years I’ve wanted to find a way to love my marginalized neighbours in some way, but unsure how. I’m grateful for this opportunity that perfectly synergizes my passions into service and friendship. Something powerful, yet seemingly ordinary, happens when you sit side by side, sharing stories, and practicing strokes.

When you have courage to creatively show up every day, and pursue face to face connection instead of convenient-but-impersonal options, serendipitous things can happen.

Break through to Create Change through Social Calligraphy

“So, what’s holding you back?” Ouch. The razor-edged question pierces my heart from across the table. This friend has never been one to mince words. Many times, her words and insight are sharp, often unearthing roots I have deliberately avoided, or am genuinely unaware of. Even though I don’t see her super often, I can always count on her to speak the truth in love.

it-just-flows-obstacles-holding-you-backOn this occasion, I haven’t actually seen her in a few years. So we catch up and I share where I am in my dreams of starting a calligraphy business and how that relates to my vocation as an artist and communicator. She looks at me point blank and comments, “You’re in the same place you were ten years ago.” I blink, staring at her in a bit of shock. What? I’ve totally made progress. What is she talking about?! She zooms in on how 10 years later, I’m still calling it a “side hobby.” She questions what is holding me back from fully embracing it as a “main thing,” not just a side hobby.

As the seed sticks in my heart, growing in its meaning and implications, I see how this question cuts right to the roots, in any area we fail to progress. What’s holding us back from truly seeking help to break destructive habits? What’s keeping us from boldly taking steps forward in living out our calling in this world?

journey-home-social-calligraphy-workshopAs if that wasn’t enough for her to be a true friend to speak the truth I was blind to, she stepped up and championed me. Within a week of our reconnecting, she rounded up two friends and two teenage daughters of said friends for a private Social Calligraphy workshop. Social Calligraphy was ignited to gather creative community to spark change, by coming together to do art while raising funds and awareness to support the good work of organizations that fight human trafficking. (You can read the story of how it got started here.)

We had a great time doing some of my favourite activities in community – munching, chatting, creating and collaborating. I love when I see people helping each other with feedback and new ideas.

The plan is to continue on regularly with the goal of growing in creativity. Equally important we will raise funds for Servants Annonymous‘ new rescue missions in Europe, bringing victims of human trafficking into freedom, healing, and a new life.

Our name for this new branch of Social Calligraphy Workshops? Journey Home. So pumped for multiplying creativity and generosity! My heart is full. My cup overflows. I’m so glad for what came out of that uncomfortable, but oh-so-necessary conversation.

Find out more at www.socialcalligraphy.com. Join us in Vancouver for our next meet up. Or contact me to chat about starting one up in your city.

PaperGirl Leads a Cycle of the Art of Giving Art

it-just-flows-papergirl-vancouver-2015Art. Community. Generosity. My heart sings whenever I get to participate in an event that shares my core values.

A global movement of encouraging “the art of giving art,” artists of all levels and all ages are invited to donate their artwork to their local Papergirl or mail it to a Papergirl in another city in this beautiful world. Each city then holds the unjuried art show. After the show, a brigade of volunteer cyclists ride into the city and give the rolled up artwork as a gift to unsuspecting people.

What’s not to love? Random acts of kindness, generosity, creativity, community all bring life to your heart, city and world.

Bonus: clear old art prints or progress-practice pieces, and discover new artists to follow! Plus, I got my daily lettering fix doodling up one of the blank canvases at the art station. Great addition this year.

Thanks to all the volunteers and staff at Yaletown Roundhouse Community who keep making Papergirl Vancouver a success year after year.

Visit Papergirl World to find the world of cities waiting for your art to be given with heart!

Be inspired by this beautiful video:

Dangerous Women Are Freedom Fighters

dangerous-women-leadersDARE TO BE DANGEROUS WOMEN: When Idelette McVicker, the Founding Editor of SheLoves Magazine asked me to do the chalkboard art and donate a silent auction item for the first face to face gathering of SheLovelies, I couldn’t resist the invitation to join this amazing community of sisterhood I had glimpsed online, now gathering in the flesh.

The evening was stunning — gorgeous in looks with beautiful event design by Holly Bovet and her bestie Shaley. But more important, her heart was beautiful. Idelette shared her Triple Dog Dare — the figurative Mount Kilimanjaro she would climb in the next 90 days. She dared us to join her to complete our own dangerous dare with the goal of raising #dangerousdollars and awareness for freedom for women.

dangerous-women-inspire-group

Half of proceeds went to Beginning of Life: a small Moldovan organization with the very big heart, working to change the statistic that Moldova being the country with the highest rate of human trafficking in the world. They live humbly, passionately, and dream big for more women to know freedom. The other half went to support SheLoves, to create new and fresh ways to mobilize and empower more women, locally, and around the world.

Idelette’s “I Am Dangerous” poem inspired a new calligraphy piece, which I am donating proceeds to the continued efforts of these beautiful organizations. The Dare was also a perfect complement to the work I am already doing with using the Social Calligraphy Workshops to support organizations who fight human trafficking.

Buy a print, or come to our next workshop to support this great cause!

dangerous-women-chalk-and-art-print

I believe the human heart leaps when we are given an opportunity to be involved with a purpose or vision greater than ourselves. The distractions, busyness or boredom of life are a continual threat to our hearts’ longing for purpose and belonging.

After a bout of health challenges that hijacked my energy, I’m grateful that my creativity is back in full force, just in time to participate in several serendipitous opportunities to participate in compassionate and generous initiatives.

This series of blog posts shares the good work many are doing.

Birth of Vancouver’s First Social Calligraphy Collective

It only takes a spark…that spark was my friend’s recent Instagram photo of Uppercase Magazine’s cover feature issue on calligraphy. Because sharing my passion for calligraphy is like eating candy to me, I offered to teach her. Another friend chimed into the thread, wanting in on it. By the time we moved it over to email, our fire was stoked. (Side story, we almost all ended up at Granville Island’s Paper Ya and Opus Art on Sunday…instead we ran into each other online! When it’s meant to be, nothing gets in the way!)

A divine convergence emerged as we fired emails back and forth late into the night:

  • We all have childhood stories of our hearts ignited for calligraphy.
  • We all believe in the power of beautiful words to build rather than destroy.
  • We all are experiencing a reawakening to engage our creative muscles, not only for our own expression, but also for the greater good.
  • We all have a heart for social justice and communicating with purpose.

Jazzed from the creative synergy of a “craft jam” I hosted the night before, and inspired by my recent branding conversations with another friend to build a business that fights for social justice, the idea for a “social calligraphy collective” was born.

social-calligraphy-original-vancouver-invite-tree-triangle-eventbrite

The vision is to carve a collective space for creative community to gather, learn and grow our skills, and dream up ways to use art to encourage and inspire change. The busyness of life can squeeze out the important-but-not-urgent things, like creativity, relationships, and generosity. Hopefully this collective will help make room.

Come to the next workshop to:

  • Dream of how we can use words to spark transformation
  • Learn a basic design process to draw your concept from start to finish
  • Experiment with a few calligraphy tools to ink your design
  • Socialize and ignite your creative energy while giving to a great cause

Sign up. Spread the word. Let’s create a bonfire.

Find out more and register at www.socialcalligraphy.com.

The Whole Story of It Just Flows

It’s not uncommon that I get asked, “How did you get started in calligraphy?” Some calligraphers I know have a short pithy effective story, such as, “I learned calligraphy for my own wedding, and now I love doing it for other brides.”

My calligraphy journey has been a longer winding road, with many starts and stops. And the journey of It Just Flows has been even more of an unfolding of many “aha” moments, where core values were defined within my heart to shape the direction of IJF. (Listen to a podcast of that full journey here.)

justine-hwang-it-just-flows-calligraphy-workshop-teach

Here are some key snapshots of my story:

My love affair with pens and ink ignites when my Grade 3 teacher buys each student a fountain pen for our cursive practice. I promptly take it home and dance with the pen, writing large letters in the air, dripping ink all over my mother’s beige carpet. She somehow still buys me my first calligraphy pen that year. I teach myself Roman Italic lettering.

I flex my entrepreneur skills by selling hand-drawn greeting cards to my Grade 4 classmates, hand-lettered cake flags to my mom’s colleague (cheap labour at 25 cents a piece!), and hand-lettered homemade lick-and-stick address labels to my snail mail pen pals.

I experience the power of words. Verbal tirades, comparisons to other kids from well-meaning, but misguided intentions to motivate, and a lack of positive words leave my heart hungry for affirmation. I learn the deep value and life giving power of encouraging words.

I feel the pain of living outside the social bubble, looking in from the margins as a child of immigrants, labeled as teacher’s pet, never invited to the cool kids’ parties. Later, as I move around too many times; I am too familiar with the awkwardness and loneliness of being the new person. I grow in welcoming the person who is new or marginalized. 

I commit to building community, because it resurrects me. As I crash and burn out, losing my way, community leads me on the road to healing. I waddle like a toddler, learning how to live wholeheartedly – leaning into *all* the emotions after a lifetime of numbing them – by watching emotionally mature adults. I also discover how essential community and collaborations are in shaping my art, as people inspire and respond to my vulnerable creations.

My heart for seeking social change forms indelibly as a university student on a volunteer street mission in the poorest area in Canada. I listen to the stories of my homeless neighbours in Vancouver while breaking bread and sipping soup together in abandoned parking lots. We find each other in one another’s stories. We are not so different after all. We all just want to be heard, seen, and treated with the dignity in which we were created. My heart grows as I get to know Jesus’ heart for the weak, the sick, the suffering (which includes me).

My heart to help people to communicate well, to inspire change to transform hearts, relationships, and our world continues in the work I’ve been given to do with non profits for almost 20 years – teaching, creating resources to raise awareness and funds, sparking imagination and writing stories of a better world.

It Just Flows is a way I love serving the world in providing thoughtful art and workshops that increase creativity, encouragement, awareness, community, compassion, change, and generosity in the world.

Exercise Your Heart by Giving Generously

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HOSPITAL CHARITY AUCTION: Instagram’s community of calligraphers is full of people generous with tips, tutorials, giveaways, and charity auctions. Imagine my delight to respond to a call for donations to an auction benefiting a hospital right in my own city.

All through July, Amanda (@amandaarneill) is running an online charity auction #fromlaurensheart to raise funds for BC Children’s hospital who saved her daugthter’s life from a rare heart defect. (Read her full story here.) In the annual effort to give back, her goal this year is to raise enough money for a new life support machine. 100% of money raised goes to the hospital.

The auction features beautiful items donated by many talented and wonderful Instagram and Etsy artists. Be sure to check them out!

  • Auction packages run on Wednesdays and Sundays throughout July. Each package goes live at 9am PST, with bidding open for 24 hours, closing at 9am PST the following day (Monday and Thursday).
  • My donation of this Theodore Roosevelt quote will be part of the auction package on Sunday, July 5.
  • She is also offering flash sales on items throughout the month on her Etsy shop.

Follow her on Instagram and check back throughout July for more great items. Tell your friends too!

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I believe the human heart leaps when we are given an opportunity to be involved with a purpose or vision greater than ourselves. The distractions, busyness or boredom of life are a continual threat to our hearts’ longing for purpose and belonging.

After a bout of health challenges that hijacked my energy, I’m grateful that my creativity is back in full force, just in time to participate in several serendipitous opportunities to participate in compassionate and generous initiatives. 

This series of blog posts shares the good work many are doing.