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.

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I Declare I’m A…

There’s something of a pattern of reluctance towards putting any “labels” on myself…. I don’t call myself a runner (even though I’ve run ridiculous distances). And I certainly don’t call myself a writer (even though I have this on-again-off-again blog). Somehow I am more comfortable with calling myself a “person who runs” or a “person who writes.” 

This slight technical difference in words makes me feel less defined by the action, or less committed to the image of the label. Somehow I’ve managed to concoct some specific view of what I think a good writer should be. I don’t write like ___, whose authentic and transparent voice I admire. I’m not sarcastic and smart in my writing like ____. I won’t get you rolling on the floor laughing like ____. I’m not even a grammar geek or grammar nazi. My vocabulary feels too simple. I’m not a strong reader, so how could I be a good writer? I mean, who goes and gets a Bachelors in Communication, deliberately avoiding taking a single English class? 

To declare I am a writer feels like too much accountability to let anyone outside my own head hear it. In the world of my head, I am safe and content to simply dream up ideas, but never really act on them. I remember talking with some close friends about some ideas I was excited to explore. Several months later, I ran into one of them shopping at a craft show. As we caught up, she asked, “So, how’s it going with getting _____ going?” Oops, did I share that idea out loud? Can I take it back?

Recently I was doing an online quiz where you had to choose the best word out of each set of four words that best describes you. There was a defining parameter – to choose your answer based on what you were like as a child. It actually tripped me up a little because in a lot of ways I have changed. But I think what they were getting at was the idea that we are often our most natural selves in childhood, with the least inhibitions and piles of fears or hurt that inevitably accumulate as we grow into adults navigating our way through life in the world. 

It got me thinking about the intense, unfiltered, fearless little girl I used to be. This writing challenge reminded me that I used to create illustrated story books  when I was about 8. I wrote a simple story line, and I even drew some pictures (though I still claim I can’t draw to save my life now). 

What happened to her? I think it’s time to respond to the divine whisper I heard in my heart not long ago to write more. I think it’s time to call her out again.
Hey, World! I declare I am a writer.  
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This post is my effort in taking up Jeff Goin’s Day 1 of Great Habits of Writers Challenge

Let There Be Light (and Life) Again

It’s been quite the ride finding my way again — some things are so long gone and behind me, and other things are coming back to me that I wasn’t sure would ever come back.
There is one thing that came back that I am so grateful for — the return of my creativity. Seriously, in many of my moments of deadness and lack of creative energy in the last couple of years of wasteland, I wondered if I would ever see it again; I wondered if it wasn’t to be a part of my new landscape.
As often how Jesus speaks and whispers to me, it came to me in the normal course of life. (Often I think he’ll only speak to me in lightning bolt revelations when I pull away for a weekend retreat, which he still can do, but so often I see how God appears to people in the course of daily life with major words and directions.)
All in one week, three design projects came to me. My friend asked me to design a Christmas flyer for her. I designed a wedding programme for a dear friend. And the kicker — a sweet little old lady from Orilla, Ontario contacted me through my website and asked to order some of my ooooold Christmas card designs from 2005 (I mean, only one person has contacted me from that site ever, and I’m not marketing it at all. It’s got to be page 100 or something if you googled it!). I felt the creative part of my soul coming alive again. If these had happened as isolated opportunities, I probably wouldn’t have noticed. Because I really am that dense.
Slowly, but surely since then, I’ve been getting my creative mojo back. It helps to that my sister comes into my room for impromptu brainstorming sessions on what we can do with our respective creative skills and interests.
In January I went a little overboard actually. In the course of one weekend, I finished several major projects. Some were new projects for the year, but most of them were projects that had been waylayed 3.5 years ago when the burnout truck hit me. I seriously didn’t know if I would ever finish some of them.
With the new light, there is new life, and new fruitfulness. Bear for my friend’s baby in Japan: I started this one 3.5 years ago and didn’t think it would ever be complete. But thanks to my friend’s Facebook “home made pay it forward challenge” I had new motivation. This bear was quite the work in process — it’s the same one that my friends winced at because the incomplete look of his face appeared scary to them. He turned out alright in the end I think!

Home Hankerchiefs: In an effort to reduce my carbon footprint, save money (you would be amazed how much it cost to pay someone else for a simple square piece of cloth), and re-learn/revive my sewing skills, I embarked on the quest to sew my own hankerchiefs. The empty envelope box from my Christmas mailing was the perfect object-of-otherwise-waste to be reclaimed and reused as my “kleenex box”. I may decide to make it prettier one day, but for now it’s good enough for my at-home-only-use.

Cushion covers: to update and tie my new couches and cotton throws together. Man were these a breeze and treat to sew after the grueling hankerchief project!

Whew! I admit it was a little excessive. I am acutely aware of my old tendencies of productivity-addiction peeking through here. I want to be careful to not get hooked again on getting things done just for the sake of getting them done, even if they are fun and creative.

But for now, it’s just good to feel the creative juices running again.