Artist Karen Charatan

Karen Charatan art
art by Karen Charatan

400 Series Calligraphy

Karen Charatan art
art by Karen Charatan

400 Series Parchment

About Karen Charatan

photo of Karen Charatan

With pens, brushes and traditional tools, Karen Charatan designs and digitally customizes calligraphic and drawn lettering for commercial work. She also creates abstract calligraphic paintings which she exhibits internationally with a group of Asian and Western artists. Some of these works are included in the collection of the Mobile Museum of Art in Mobile, AL.

Karen has taught for the international lettering arts conferences and for guilds in the US and abroad. Her work has been featured in various lettering journals and books. A gallery of her work is found at

"My word-based abstract work is often about the complexities of human emotional struggles. Illegibility doesn't frighten me. In some compositions words may be decipherable, but visual content is the main focus. However, as a commercial artist who also experiments with type design, I do feel the shapes of letters are always important. Whether they are a major focal point or a textural rhythm, letters are dressed simply as themselves or costumed to perform center stage."

Interview with the Artist

How did you interpret using the Strathmore Thistle for the pad cover artwork?  Anything else you'd like to share about your piece? How did the Strathmore paper you used for the project affect your drawing (or painting) techniques?
A Multitude of Kindness  (400 Series Calligraphy Paper)
Growing out of the ground like a real bit of nature, the thistle is an expressive calligraphic form waving to an exuberant environment of letter forms. Kindness is the theme of the texts that inspired me to make this abstract piece of writing. While one would think that the letter K would symbolize kindness, I chose the S or ess for its softer sound and look, lingering at the end of the word. A packed composition of hugging, squeezing and tangling marks continues off the edges into an infinity of endless giving. Never too much kindness!

Normally I work on a large scale and with verve. I challenged myself to see how sensitively I could work on this calligraphy paper's delicate laid finish, even though it is strong enough for heavy-handed pressure with a broad metal nib or a pointed pen. The paper is ideal for ink or diluted gouache. Its toothy texture allowed me to cover large areas with dry brush strokes and pencil shading. For careful pen control or for quick, spontaneous work, this surface is much more inviting than a smoother paper.

Good Old Fashioned Kindness (400 Series Parchment Paper)
The mysteriously illegible thistle is nestled like a gift in the hand of the large S shape and is made only of pencil writing on the warm natural color of the paper. Opaque gouache and walnut ink cover the parchment in varying degrees. The thistle "speaks" with contemporary handwriting, contrasting the historical writing styles used elsewhere in the work.

Because I incorporated all four Strathmore parchment colors, the work had to be a collage. With this sturdy paper, torn edges are easy to achieve and I related to them with dry brush strokes and rough-edged contemporary script letter forms. Parchment paper has a subtle mottling intended to simulate real parchment or animal skin which was used throughout history for manuscript books and official documents. Writing styles have greatly evolved since real parchment was used, so I wanted to blend the look of lettering over the centuries. Old fashioned kindness, as might be felt with a more formal correspondence, is blended with today's warm personal style of casual writing.

Which artists inspire you?
Fortunately the vast visual influences of New York City signage and architecture are nearby. In my travels, museums and major art collections of the world have introduced me to my favorite traditional, impressionist, art nouveau, expressionist and conceptual artists. Renaissance men Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo are two of my heroes. Asian and Western abstract artists have led me to new avenues. Other art forms such as music and photography have also contributed to the evolution of my art.

The international calligraphy community gathers multidisciplinary artists who promote the understanding of historical letter forms and excellence in craftsmanship. It has been my pleasure to study with many masterful lettering artists and to be included among them in their supportive atmosphere of courses and workshops. Unexpected and unique applications of lettering art have emerged from this nurturing. Journals such as Letter Arts Review and myriad books such as Artist and Alphabet: 20th Century Calligraphy and Letter Art in America have been a source of inspiration to experiment and diversify.

What advice would you give to beginning artists?
Calligraphic art uses a vast range of materials and tools, so you may also appreciate many other Strathmore papers because calligraphy is essentially drawing. The practice of seeing and drawing larger letters will improve your written pen and brush calligraphy. Identify lines with character, whether part of a traditional oil painting, a photograph or a completely abstract work. Observing Asian calligraphy, perhaps illegible to a Westerner, offers a study of brush movement that conveys the artist's energy, mood and impulses. Mail order lettering books and journals help to provide efficient self-guided study. Use every opportunity to put media on any surface, invent greeting cards and wrapping paper, draw in the sand, experiment designing grocery lists. Even if you aren't drawing, never stop seeing.

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