Tag Archives: writing

Brush With Serenity

I have always been fascinated by Chinese brush calligraphy. I don’t understand anything of what the characters mean, but I find the brush strokes in ink on paper profoundly beautiful in their starkness and simplicity. And my appreciation grew when I learned how passionate and disciplined calligraphers are about their craft, practicing it incessantly so that it permeates all aspects of their life.

The clip above from the movie “Hero” — one of my favorite films ever –starring Jet Li, Tony Leung, Maggie Cheung, and Zang Ziyi. While it employs a whole lot of creative license, it reflects the dedication and intensity that these word artists have towards their work.

Antique calligraphy brushes from Greentea Design's showroom

I decided to dip my toes into this gorgeous world and try my hand at Chinese brush calligraphy. Since I don’t know anybody who’s into this, I looked around YouTube for some virtual teachers who can help me out with some demos. And I found this one by a young woman which taught me the very basics.

I used to have the impression that making those marks would be amazingly quick, like Bruce Lee’s moves. I have some friends who know Chinese, and they write pretty quickly — with their ball-point pens. I realize that it’s different with a brush. The girl in the video is so serene and so graceful when she does her thing — it’s so beautiful to watch! Every stroke is slow and deliberate; it’s almost like she’s meditating. She takes her time, caressing the paper with her brush as she marks it with her meaningful strokes, all the while maintaining great posture. I got so inspired!

The tools: Chinese brushes, ink stone, ink block

I took out some brushes, and the traditional ink block and ink stone that I received as a gift some 10 or so years ago, which I ironically have used for myriad purposes except Chinese brush calligraphy. But before I could begin, I had to find a character to write, one that would be meaningful to me.

When I was learning my ABC’s the first word I learned to spell and write was my name. Why not find a Chinese name for myself? I found this awesome feature in www.mandarintools.com that helped me with this. And it gave me a Chinese name that had sounds similar to those in my own name — Mai Ning Tian.

Chinese characters

Image by Arch Chinese

Chinese names usually have three words: the family name comes first, and is followed by the two words that make up the given name. In my name, Mai means force, strength, and capability; Ning stands for calm, peaceful, and serene; and Tian is for day, sky, or heaven. I love it!

There are also disciplines to be followed when writing the different strokes that make up a Chinese character. Generally it goes from top before bottom, left before right, for everything in between, there’s a certain order. It all seemed rather complicated, but I really wanted to do it right, I found a site that I could refer to that has animations that show how strokes in my name go. Here’s how to write Ning.

Holding a Chinese brush

So off I went with my ink and brush. I put a little water in the ink stone and rubbed with the ink block until the charcoal black pigments infused the water. Then I carefully loaded my brush and slid its bristles onto paper. It was indeed as relaxing as I thought it would be! It was all about being in the moment, and not sweating the flubs. How apt that I was learning to write a word that meant peace! Want to see my attempts?

Practicing writing Chinese characters

I practiced on scrap paper for some time, and after a while I decided to write on nice paper. I got one of the small sheets that resulted from my foray into papermaking, and put my brush to it. The ink bled and feathered into the fibers in my paper (a learning experience about paper types). The overall effect is light-years away from perfect, but it’s my name, and I made it, so I’m blue tacking it on my wall. Haha!

The Chinese character "Ning" -- peace

All images in this post by Nathalie Mariano, unless otherwise indicated.

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Snail Mail My Email

Today’s post is short and sweet.  Sure it’s a summer holiday Monday where I am and perhaps where you are too and we’d both like to be in the sun with the people who make us flutter.  But also this idea is so lovely it deserves an entire post unto itself.

Maybe you already know but right now and ending soon – August 15 to be exact – there’s an international interactive community art project happening that you can join.  It’s called Snail Mail My Email, which does exactly as its title implies.

Type up your email, up to 100 words, for a special person you’d like to make contact with and send this note to snailmailmyemail@gmail.com.  From there volunteers handwrite your note and send it free of charge to your chosen recipient.  Anywhere in the world, no less.  You can even request further customization of your special note, choosing a lipstick kiss, flower petal, doodle or suggesting your own somethin’ somethin’ to make the note more meaningful. (Do visit their site for full details.)

Of course judiciously choose what and whom to send your note as this is a community art project and your note may end up on Snail Mail My Email’s website (they do remove last names and addresses to respect privacy).

So far letters have included notes from parents to their babies, love letters, adults writing to long lost childhood friends, secret bromances and, of course, the obligatory Hogwarts acceptance letters.  The letters themselves are all artistic in their own way, with everything between curlicue penmanship and kiddie scratch.  It certainly adds an element of interest and meaning to the whole endeavour.  You can see a selection of the letters here.

The project is poignant and nostalgic, a little bit voyeuristic, but ultimately urges us to keep letter writing alive!  It’s a gentle reminder to step away from our gadgets long enough to really reflect on our thoughts and relationships to write in longhand, gasp, to all those who enter our consciousness over the course of a day. For me I’m struggling to choose the right recipient (only one note per person please), so many folks come to mind.  Happily this project has inspired me, and I have some time  this holiday Monday, to write a few notes of gratitude and appreciation, catch-ups and thinking of yous to send by post myself.

Happy letter writing everyone!

Yours sincerely,


All images credit Snail Mail My Email

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Fridge Attractions

image via instructables

A refrigerator is more than just a box in which to store food — it is a blank canvas, waiting to be filled with the colors and moods of life. Refrigerator magnets help us do this. Thanks to their magnetic holding powers, those vast blank surfaces end up holding relics of humdrum routines and reminders, sweetness nothings and silliness, shining moments and stellar awesomeness.

Little wonder that there are quite a number of passionate designers and inventors who aim to bring as much personality, expressiveness, and life into these objects that hold up the little bits of our existence. What they come up with provide refrigerators with attractions that are just as zingy as last night’s chili.

Here are 7 of the best things that happened to refrigerator magnets.


Magnetic Poetry changed the way people used refrigerator magnets, and they became not just pretty and utilitarian things, but wonderfully interactive as well. The simplicity of its concept was brilliance that unlocked brilliance from people. Those magnetized words were really building blocks of wit that drew out originality from people who would only otherwise be drawn to leftover noodles.

This Shakespeare Kit contains tasty mouthfuls of fragrant words that were the Bard’s currency. I had so much fun checking out the other offerings at the Magnetic Poetry site too. They’ve got a boxes and boxes of vocabulary there, for different ages and leanings, from the wholesome to the R-rated, from Latin phrases to sign language, to Maslow’s hierarchy of needs.

Magnetic Shelves

The fun of these Magneto Shelves is in their strange incongruity with the fridge. There’s awesome surprise factor there, as well as practicality. You never know when you’ll need that extra shelf space (ha!). A great idea by designer Henry Julier


Ninja Stars

Taiwanese designer Lee Weilang adds menace to fridge messages with these shuriken shaped magnets. The sleek black things can give your kitchen a dangerous, ominous, action-suspense vibe!


I think there is huge hilarious potential in these magnets disguised as bolts. The very illusion of macho strength and permanence adds a layer of ridiculous to the most mundane, inane messages and photos.


Cold metals get a dose of organic warmth with these gorgeous leafy magnets designed by Richard Hutten for Gispen.

Water Droplets

Korean designer Sang Woo Nam of Appree came up with these perfect little droplets. Their shape, sheen, transparency, and variable sizes make them look so natural, so fresh and wet, that you can almost smell the rain.

Woody Cubes

Where’s that pen when you need it? These adorable little magic pen cubes eliminate the need for that frantic pen rummage. And even when they are not holding pens, the grain and warmth of the smooth neatly cut wood  looks fabulous on any fridge door. From Less and More on Etsy.

Wanna DIY?

In theory, you can stick a magnet on anything, and so barring limitations of size and weight, anything can become a fridge magnet! I’ve seen buttons, twigs, coins, bottle caps, and a whole bunch of other objects that have been made into fridge fun. So if you feel like making your own magnets, with a healthy bit of finesse, here’s a tutorial from Megan of Not Martha on how to make lovely glassy marble-y magnets.

Fountain Pens: Beautiful Writing, Old School

Image from Wikimedia Commons

My Dad’s handwriting is gorgeous. It’s even and firm, with perfectly formed letters. His loops and tails are smooth and flowing, and his capitals have flourish but can never be called frilly.

When I was little, I would watch my Dad write. I was fascinated by the pretty curvy lines that he would make on paper, and the instrument that he made them with. He used a fountain pen, and this, I found so beautiful, intriguing, and… grown up.

My Dad's handwriting. He likes to write down song lyrics that pop in his head. Photo by Nathalie Mariano.

Dad says he was taught to write long-hand using a fountain pen. Very old school–sitting up straight, pen at a 45-degree angle from the writing surface and pointing toward the shoulder. He swears that the fountain pen was key to finding the correct angle, and thus crucial to the development of good penmanship.

A fountain pen is one that has an ink reservoir that supplies its nib. Although the nib, reservoir, and ink have only been perfected several decades ago, the technology behind the fountain pen hasn’t changed since the 10th century. One would think it ought to have been considered obsolete long ago, and yet somehow this pen is still here, and new ones are continuously produced–fabulous ones that bring glory and pleasure to the often mundane act of putting letters on paper.

The fountain pen is a link to the past, one that is elegant and ever useful.

Here are some of the most interesting ones you can find online.

Montblanc's La Diva, from the Ingrid Bergman Collection. Gorgeous color, exquisite embossed pattern. I love this pen's tapered shape when it's capped. Made of solid 18k red gold and embellished with an amethyst and numerous tiny diamonds.

The sleek and sexy Lamborghini pen by Omas.

Who says pretty pens need to be expensive? This cloisonne pen is only around $10.

A quirky homage to the fountain pen’s ancestor, the quill, designed by Vivienne Muller.

The Aurora Diamante, the most expensive pen in the world, which has a platinum barrel blinged out with over 30 carats of DeBeers diamonds. Costs a whopping $1,470,600. I personally would be too terrified to write with it. From Italian pen maker brand, Aurora.

Posted in Culture, Design | Tagged , , , ,

Tribute to Type

Classic alphatic cubes

Image from Blueberry Forest Toys

I’m pretty sure there was a time when those alphabet blocks were to me the most fascinating, most intriguing things ever! The letter E must have been mysterious, and distinguishing it from F challenging. And learning to spell C-A-T, well, that must have been a proud moment. But I can’t remember. I’m now so immersed in the day-to-day sea of words that I often take the letters for granted and hardly pay attention to them.

And so it’s just awesome to (re)discover that childhood wonder and be reminded of the beauty of every single letter in the alphabet–thanks to the artists and designers who come up with typefaces and the different products and art forms inspired by type.

Words convey meaning, but there’s tons of meaning too–non-verbal, emotional, and sometimes purely aesthetic–contained in the individual characters themselves, expressed eloquently through serifs, lines, curves, and flourishes–or lack of them. There’s subtext in the use of block type or script, bold or italic, grungy or kiddy.

I get a little tingly when I see type in places I don’t expect to find it, or where they’re used in strange new ways. And when they’re as fabulously executed as the typography in these images, I get a lot thrilled.

Alphabet chest of drawers

Alphabet drawers from Kent and London

Letter A for adecoration

From stephaninja.wordpress.com

Typography in a child's room

Image from snullemor.blogspot.com

Sans serif fonts

Sans Serif Typography Wood Wall Art by peppersprouts on Etsy

Lovely Aarabic typography necklace

This gorgeous necklace says “Eat Life / Shine Bright / Create Contradiction” in Arabic. From Stereo.type collection, a typographic jewelry collaboration of jewelry designer Mona Ibrahim & graphic designer Ebon Heath

This one says “Once upon a time in a land far far away.” also from Stereo.type

Typography in bar furniture

From Set 26

Typography poster depicting a hand

"White Hand Type" by DryBones90 at deviantart.com

Soap with letters

Typography Soap Bar from The Soap Lab

Eames chairs with quotes from the designers. From ilovedust.com

Typography lamp casting lettered shadows

Memento lamp designed by Hiroshi Yoneya and Yumi Masuko for tonerico-inc.com

Suede scarf from Little Factory

And now for a little comic relief… Watch some fonts duke it out in these videos.

Font Conference
Font Fight