"A man who works with his hands is a laborer.
A man who works with his head is a craftsman.
A man who works with his hand, his head and his heart is an artist.”
-St. Francis of Assisi
When I was six years old, I came home from school one day to find my house on fire. A short in our family’s toaster-oven started an electrical fire in our kitchen filling our house with smoke and reducing our kitchen to ashes. The small amount of clothes and toys that were not destroyed in the fire had to be decontaminated from the smoke damage and I had little to call my own. A family friend generously gave some stuffed animals to my three siblings and me to comfort us during the transition. Mine was a small stuffed parrot with an elastic loop for feet. This small bird, my pencil and paper were my constant companions and I wanted for nothing more. I was drawing, always drawing and my stuffed friend was always nearby. One day in the first grade I decided to draw my cherished toy before class started. I drew him perched in a tree with a nest of baby birds in the background. My teacher, Mrs. K., looked over my shoulder and praised my work with sweet excitement. She had me write my name on the bottom and she took it from me saying that she wanted to hang it up in the classroom. Three days later I came to school and as I was hanging my backpack up on my hook in the hallway, I looked up to see my drawing on the wall, matted in black construction paper and adorned with a blue ribbon. I had won my very first art competition and I didn’t even know I was entered. It was from that moment on that I would identify myself as an artist.
“If you limit your choices only to what seems possible or reasonable, you disconnect yourself from what you truly want, and all that is left is a compromise.”
As years passed, my skill grew and I would face countless forms of resistance and still my commitment to art held fast. I went on to win several competitions in middle school and high school. My teachers said that they had nothing that they could teach me and so I was allowed to “do my own thing.” I didn’t need a teacher. My art pieces developed me as much as I developed them. This is where the real learning happened. Of course I welcomed anything that anyone would teach me, but I found that being a student does not depend on the presence of a teacher. I learned the power of being self-taught. Each medium became my professor; trial and error was my curriculum; and struggle was my tuition.
“The greatest minds are marked by nothing more distinctly than an inconceivable humility, and acceptance of work or instruction in any form and from any quarter. They will learn from everybody, and do anything that anybody asks of them so long as it involves only toil, or what other men might think degradation.” -John Ruskin, A Joy Forever
The term “artist” permeated my identity and I wanted it to play itself out in all the other areas of my life. I took up acting in high school to learn the artistry of spoken word and expression; I worked on my handwriting tediously so that every time I put pen to paper, beauty was the result; I pursued bodybuilding to sculpt my figure as if it were another one of my art pieces; I became deeply interested in psychology because it to me was the art of thought and relationships. I was becoming an artist through and through.
Psychology became my major of choice in college. I of course looked into art programs, but I found that they did not teach many of the technical skills I did want to learn and they taught many of the deranged philosophies that I didn’t. I also had to face the beliefs of the general public and even some of my loved ones that all artists are starving ones and “it is not a career to support a family on.” While it may have been a lack of courage that led me to my decision, I am so glad that I chose to pursue psychology at Biola University.
I learned how to think differently. I learned how to perceive insecurities and hurts through veils of defense mechanisms. I learned a new capacity for compassion. I learned the broad pallet of human emotion and their complex combinations that give people their color. I learned of people’s deep interconnectedness and influence we have on one another. And I learned about me. Creative people are often imbalanced and function from a place they themselves do not understand- psychology has given me balance and a deeper understanding of my creative capacity. Moreover, it has given me the ability to communicate clearly in the world of art, which is polluted by ambiguity shock tactics. Historically, art was the universal language, used to communicate even to the illiterate. Today, art has in many areas been turned to gibberish, understood by a few and an alienator to the rest. It is my desire to reclaim it to its former glory and psychology has given me the power to do so.
Attending a private Christian college also gave my faith a chance to blossom. I was raised in a Christian home with a deep love for God and I knew from an early age that He was the source of my giftedness as an artist. Being at Biola gave me a chance to get to know God better and to take personal ownership of my faith. I found that I fell in love with this unfathomable creative God and my art became my worship to Him. He was not only the source of my talent, He also became the reason that I do it today. Identifying myself with God as a creator and originator galvanized my relationship with Him in ways I had never thought possible. I know that the work He has done on me inwardly is directly reflected in my artwork.
"Noble art is nothing less than an expression of a great soul; and great souls are not common things.” -John Ruskin, A Joy Forever
Though I was studying psychology and theology, I still found outlets for doing my art. I created a line of t-shirt designs and hand-carved bone necklaces for a boutique in Hollywood. A professor at Biola commissioned me to carve his family crest in a set of Alaskan moose antlers, which still stands as my largest commissioned work.
Almost immediately, I was identified by my professors and peers as “the guy with the amazing handwriting.” I began to get requests for my writing on wedding envelopes and small art projects. With the growing notoriety of my writing I decided to search out old styles of script writing. I stumbled upon a video on the internet of a man, who would later become my mentor, writing script calligraphy with a dip pen that looked like ballet on paper. I was hooked. This would be my new endeavor; this medium would become my next professor. The tuition of struggle was costly for this art form. I was experimenting with all kinds of inks, papers and pens and none seemed to work for me. I taught myself to make pens on the lathe to better serve me in my writing.
I soon discovered the proper combination of writing surfaces and materials. I poured myself into this art form and studied the history of the great men and women who mastered the pen. I learned of the International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers and Teachers of Handwriting (IAMPETH) a group, which was formed 62 years ago to preserve the art form. I discovered that there were only nine Master Penmen left in the world and I made it my goal to become one. Over the past five years, since joining IAMPETH, I gained a lot of recognition for my work and fast progression in my skill. I have sold over 200 of my hand-made pens to penmen around the world. I have integrated calligraphy into my artwork in ways never done before. And on July 16th, 2011, I received my certificate as the 11th Master Penman in the world. Calligraphy has given me yet another edge as an artist. While a picture is worth a thousand words, I use calligraphy when I am tired of speaking vaguely. Because of the classic and timeless beauty of this art form, I have found that it has the ability to cross generational boundaries and remain timeless. The belief that something becomes obsolete over time is an old idea held by naive people. Calligraphy, though an ancient art form has gained its validity by being tried and tested in the past. I seek to honor that past-not by repeating it, but by giving it new life and relevance in a modern age.
“The work of living men is not superseding, but building itself upon the work of the past.” -John Ruskin, “A Joy Forever” The Two Paths
In all of the art forms that I pursue I strive for excellence. As proper diction is to a great speaker, so technical skill is to me as an artist. But, a great communicator does not repeat enunciation drills when he takes the stage rather, he conveys compelling messages and articulates profound thought. So it is with me and my art. I use the skill in my hand to express the thoughts of my mind and the yearnings of my heart. A good artist is one who has a voice of his own, but a great artist is one who is the voice of those around him.
Through my art I have the ability to identify those common passions, struggles and truths that we all share as humans. I can enlighten the soul through the eyes to the beauty it has grown jaded to. A work of art has that rare ability to be the perfect silent facilitator to conversation. In a world that is flying by, it stands still and constant for all time; preserving within it each thought it conveys. If my art is to be timeless then the truth expressed through it should be timeless as well.
“Talent is power, tact is skill; talent is weight, tact is momentum. Talent knows what to do, tact knows how to do it; talent makes a man respectable, tact will make him respected; talent is wealth, tact is ready money.” -London Atlas
Namaskar, I have always followed calligraphy since my childhood days as a hobby. Thanks to social networking sites like Instagram & YouTube, it is only now that I got the exposure to know great Penman as you JAKE who inspire and instill confidence in amateurs like me to take that LEAP OF FAITH to make it a profession. I am an ardent admirer & a fan of your breathtaking works of art & I went head over heels when I heard your speech at TEDx Talks… “The Hand Empowers the Pen and the Pen Empowers the MAN”. It is only through knowing Masters like you that one learns to handle the hurdles of life in a systematic & empowering manner. I am trying to live by the code which is truly justified by your magnetic personality “FAME is what you have TAKEN & CHARACTER is what you GIVE & when to this truth you waken, then you begin to LIVE”. Conveying to you STRENGTH & HONOR. Thank you & stay blessed.
I feel great reading how everything turned out in your life to design you what you are today. At the end of every bad day, whenever i do not want to hold back to my work , i explore your work and everytime i tend to see that, i am directed towards completing my unfinished tasks. Above all, you are a true inspiration and guide. I seek and ever hope to meet you in person .
God bless you and your family .
It is something exceptional.
Liked Legacy Craftsman episode.
Maybe you’ll like this grandfather’s story. He was born 1892 and told this about his school teacher. Penmanship was a graded course back then. The man who taught them had examed out in college with a grade of 99 in penmanship. l forget may grandfather’s grade My sister liked to write in those styles, too.
I remember watching you work on those moose antlers when my boys and I came over for family night with your parents.
You have inspired me way beyond what I thought I had lost in the course of growing up and being an adult. Thank you for your Penmanship and God-inspired work. May He continually stoke you with a burning passion for the strokes you lay on any medium and may your work glorify Him!
You’re making this world a better place one line at a time. Thanks
I too practiced art and writing was awarded 2nd in the state of Kansas twice in high school, all I did was draw and write stories, there fore my grades in other subjects failed I dropped out of school knowing that I was great as an artist and a writer. My father did not approve and would not pay for my school The Colorado Institute Of Art. I could not receive financial aid for my father made too much money and I was only 17. I went back to my hometown in Salina, Kansas and rented a place with three roommates, I then put my portfolio together went to Kansas City to see my mother and looked for work I was offered a starting low end Graphic Designer position I was elated this is all I’ve ever wanted to use my God given talent. I later in my transitions from Salina to K.C. came home to find all my stuff was gone the house empty, everything I had created for my portfolio since 3rd grade was gone my 3 award winning pieces gone. It crushed me I went down some bad paths, that was 28 years ago. I lost my wife last year to an illness, to fill the lonely void I started to draw again, although my art is not nearly as refined as yours you have inspired me very much I always thought about psychology 4 years ago then my wife became ill, and I never did it, I will start this fall and I’m writing a book, but I seem to never finish things I get bored and start other things, so my focus is all wrong. Jake your story is a great impact and I believe that the lord does everything for a reason, hence why I came to your page today. I know you’re a very busy man but if someday you can respond and we can correspond on a few things I would be forever grateful and in your debt Thank You Jake, Lance E. Viar
Well I used to call myself an artist ….. that was before I seen the depth & breadth of your work !
Thank you for sharing it.
You are a true artisan, master penman & amazing philosopher. But the greatest string to your amazing bow is that you inspire. You inspire now & you will inspire for years to come. That is the measure of a true artist.
Thank you for telling your story… We are blessed by it & it is inspiring! Bless you!
Handwriting is not only beautiful, it also ensures universal literacy, as documented with these URLs:
Your story is truly inspiring! Thank you for sharing it. May the Lord bless you and your family.
I am a novice calligrapher and plan to go to IAMPETH this year, but I would love any suggestions on great materials or books to learn more calligraphy. Right now I do pointed pen, but would love to learn other styles as well. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
Inspirational post. Thank you! Please continue to encourage young people to rise to a standard of excellence in penmanship. We need more master penmen to keep the bar high and to motivate a desire for outstanding achievement in every area of learning, creativity, artistic expression, and ingenuity. May God bless your efforts and reward you accordingly.
Thank you for sharing your wonderful gifts with the rest of us! You are truly a master! I am fascinated by your journey and your story. I would love to have more information about the process of becoming a Master Penman. I have always had a love of Art and the written word as well as calligraphy. Your Ted talk was educational as well as extremely interesting. I sincerely would like to congratulate you on your achievements. You are definitely a leader in the field of Art.
I love this whole story and I’m captured by the way it is told. I’m inspired by many parts of your journey. I love how identifying yourself as an artist really allowed you to throw yourself into your art and to see art in non traditional places, such as body building and psychology. Instead of compartmentalizing your creativity and your other interests, it sounds like your identify as an artist has opened up art around you and given you a different view of the world than most. I love that. I have struggled with allowing myself to be an artist, instead of just being artsy or creative. It’s a big mental switch. I am also always so impressed by your commitment to excellence in all your work. Nothing is half hearted or sloppy. Every stroke is exactly where you want it to be and its masterful. All in all, my favorite part of this post is when you talked about identifying with God as the Master Creator and how your gift both sources from him and is expressed in worship back to him. That to me is the most full and beautiful expression of creativity. I just love this post and could write thoughts about it for a long time yet, but I won’t. Thank you for posting!
Love the story of your journey. More interested in engaging with you to see how such dedication and gifted talent merge to form your future. Exciting to get to watch what you become. Husband yes Man yes Father perhaps revered artist most definitely. Encouraging your soul!
Awesome Jake- your eloquence and passion show even in this quick synopsis of your journey. After all of those impressive drawings back in high school, it’s been humbling to see you fully surrender your skill and identity to our Highest, and to see Him carve and mold you respectively!
I have so much respect for all of this: the talent, the dedication, the commitment, the artwork itself, the glory to God. The world is a richer place because of this.
Your post reminds me of a quote from Eric Liddell, “I believe God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast! And when I run I feel His pleasure.” There’s just no greater joy than knowing we’re doing what God designed us to do! Thank you for your thoughtful, encouraging writing. It’s breath of fresh air in a culture that increasingly values the quick and easy, the mass-produced and mediocre. God bless! Col 3:23
thank you so much for sharing this. there is much food for thought in these words. i am deeply moved by your work. God’s continued blessings on you and your family.
Thanks for sharing. :)
Have been and am impressed with your “Noble Art” I admire your faith, talent, dedication, and persistent determination to development of your skills. I Thank God for your Life and work.
Previously have seen wood work you have completed. Beautiful. Thank You.
Am interested in price of a nib/pen holder you make. I have recently completed the Spencerian Copy Book.
Thank you for sharing you story Jake. I am an admirer of your work, your vision of beauty is shared from the depths of who you are, inviting others to see God’s beauty in our world. Thank you.