Many of the tools I use in my work can honestly be classified as “vintage.” I’m still using the same Sheaffer fountain pens with calligraphy nibs that I discovered decades ago. (I just framed an article about me that was published in The Salem [Ohio] News on July 29, 1983. Yowza!)
Of course, I’ve replaced the nibs several times and ink, especially colored ink, is becoming more difficult to find. I’m left-handed, and need special nibs – if I try to use a right-handed nib, the ink doesn’t flow properly and the nib catches on the paper fibers . . . not good. I adore the Zig felt-tipped markers and brushes I found recently, but the fountain pens are my go-to, always-reliable workhorses.
Two of my most cherished possessions are a small camel hair brush and a pair of needle-nose pliers with spiffy red handles.
The brush belonged to my father, Robert Vincent Oktavec, a talented, creative man who was an airplane/helicopter mechanic by trade, and an artist by the grace of God. He was a gifted photographer (obviously, I did not inherit that talent!) and an equally gifted artist who could sketch a life-like bunny or deer whenever his spoiled rotten little girl asked her daddy to please draw something. In retirement, he took up model railroading and jewelry making. When I found his brush as I was sorting things to use in the studio, I thought it would be perfect for dusting the glass, mat, and paper before framing my calligraphy. There is nothing more annoying than assembling a framing project and then discovering a speck of dust or piece of lint behind the glass! Sadly, the brush is so old that the bristles are loose, and create more litter than they remove! But it 's at my work table, a daily reminder of my daddy’s presence, and his unconditional love. I know he would be so proud to see what I’m up to these days.
The pliers were hastily stashed in my toolbox for the trip from our condo over to the studio and then promptly forgotten until I needed them one day. The first time I used them, they pinched my hand quite hard and when I turned them over, I began to weep – not from the pain, but from what I saw: “Missy” . . .
Michelle Lynn Thompson Hahn was our precious daughter-in-love who married our son, Robert. A brain tumor took her from us when she was only 29. She was the daughter I never gave birth to - bright, funny, beautiful, mischievous, and loving – and the most spiritual person I’ve ever known. She will be an inspiration and role model to me for as long as I live. I miss her dreadfully, but I thank God for the gift of her in our lives, even for so brief a time. She taught first grade, and the pliers were ones she used in her classroom. When I saw her name, I smiled through my tears and said, “Good morning, Missy!” I have other needle-nose pliers at home, and they’ve never hurt me. But every time I use these, I get a gentle pinch . . . so I smile and tell my pretty girl hello, and that I love her and miss her.
As I sit at my light table using the age-old artform of calligraphy to create items people will enjoy in their homes or give as gifts, I am warmed by being surrounded by tools used by special people who have been so very important in my life, making my work even more rewarding.
Life is, indeed, good.