UNIVERSAL PEACE DOVE 108 - The Evolution of a Holiday Card
© 2018 by Marsha Silvestri
This dove image was created entirely from the word “PEACE” translated into 108 different languages and symbols. The idea and concept came to me during a meditation while participating in the Dances for Universal Peace (a multi-cultural spiritual practice from Sufi traditions done within a group, using circle dances, prayers, sacred phrases and songs from various world religions. Its intention is to raise consciousness and promote peace between diverse religions).
My own vision and intent was to create a design that could inspire peace, unity and healing, communicating the message of world peace to people from many cultures, lands, traditions and religions. Quite a lot of time and research went into its creation, more than one might imagine, but the story behind it goes back much farther and deeper that.
I've been actively involved with the peace movement since my flower child days of the hippie era. In my study, practice and teaching of yoga, inspiring inner peace became a personal mission in the quest for this broader vision for world peace. I've participated in numerous peace events, parades, picnics, festivals, conferences, meditations, vigils and ceremonies with many different groups and organizations, contributing dance performances, prayers, art, decorations and creative collaborations. Peace has been a recurring theme in much of my personal visual art throughout my art career.
I was always very creative as far back as I can remember. In my early teens I was a dancer on a local TV show, making many new friends. With phone calls being pretty costly back then, I stayed in touch with friends outside our local calling zone by writing letters. I enjoyed writing and loved decorating the letters with flowers, colors, fancy borders and doodles. By the time I was 14 I had about 50 pen pals I wrote to regularly. Some would send me Christmas cards and I wanted to reciprocate. That was when I started an annual tradition of making my own holiday cards for friends and family. It was out of necessity, because I didn't have the money to purchase store-bought cards. I could barely afford the postage for 50 letters! I decided hand-painted art could serve as both a greeting and a personal gift. Later they became more like calling cards to keep friends and clients up to date on my latest works or activities.
Interestingly, greeting cards were the inspiration for my first works of art. One of my earliest memories from age 2, was collecting my mother's discarded greeting cards to use as scrap paper to draw on the blank backs. I remember being fascinated by the pretty pictures, trying to copy the illustrations on the cards. One day I discovered that holding a card up against a window, from the sunlight shining through, I could trace the printed art onto the back of the paper and pretend I had drawn it on my own. Using only graphite pencil and Crayola crayons, the drawings were pretty advanced for a 2 or 3 year-old.
Showing “my art” to family (even though tracing was sort-of cheating), I got tons of praise and encouragement for my talents, which continued through my school years from teachers and fellow students. Though I felt a touch of guilt about my pre-school tracing advantage, I'd later learn that many designers learned to draw by tracing. Visionary artist and poet William Blake developed much of his artistic skills from his experience as an engraver, tracing illustrations onto etching plates. Many artists never learn to draw, preferring abstract or conceptual modes of expression. However I did develop real drawing skills sketching directly from life and my imagination, which supported me through my long career as an illustrator.
My first card designs were all unique. I'd draw or paint something special for each person. One friend might get a peacock, another a partridge in a pear tree, or garlands, stockings hung over a fireplace mantle, poinsettia blooms, holly, reindeer, mostly traditional Christmas motifs… I soon realized that this was too labor and time intensive, so I began developing mass-production shortcuts, sending everyone the same design, or creating simpler designs that didn't require much detailed work. Back then they were still all originals, drawn, painted or collaged by hand.
In art school I was introduced to printmaking methods and experimented with etchings, lithography, silkscreen and linoleum block prints. I even printed cards one year from carved potato stamps. I collected antique Christmas cards for inspiration and tried to replicate some of the illuminated effects phased out by major card companies being too costly to produce. Every year I tried to come up with a different design, theme or technique. I designed 3-D fold-out cards, cutout windows, silhouettes, stencil masks with sponge paint, stipple brushes and sprays, punched perforations woven with ribbons, hand-colored black & white Xeroxes, paper-making pressed from pulp, folded tissue snowflakes, photo montages, mixed media with lace doilies, stickers, cords, feathers, plus other embellishments and combinations.
As color-copying technology became more affordable and improved quality, I made cards from color prints of my illustrations, hand-tipping them onto special hand-made rice or marbleized papers as borders and frames, embellishing the art with glitters, crystals and metallic inks to give each card a unique hand-made ornamental touch. In the mid '90s I started working with the computer. This allowed me even more creative versatility to print my digital designs, scan original art to reproduce finer details, or create infinite color versions, inversions and filter effects of the images. As the scrap-booking trend grew, more elaborate stationery and crafting materials became available to embellish my cards.
I loved the contrast of mounting rich velvet-matte prints onto fancy star-bright iridescent card-stock with matching envelopes or hand-crafted textured papers. I usually printed on fine archival rag papers using the highest resolution giclee-quality settings (which consumed heavy ink coverage, especially on darker images). I'd often run through $100 worth of ink just to print the cards. I'd decorate cards with Sworovski crystals, beads, gold leaf and sparkle markers. Adding up the cost for special papers, envelopes, printer inks, crystals, glitters, art pens, markers, adhesives and postage, what began years ago as a solution to save money, eventually wound up costing me several dollars apiece to produce.
My “mass-production” assembly line was no longer practical to save time either. Whatever time I saved on digitally reproducing my illustrations, was spent on hand cutting, scoring, folding, mounting and embellishing the cards. I also scripted my own greetings or poems inside, and on some designs I included stories about an image, additional motifs or info on the back or inside, requiring 2-sided printing and careful alignment. Some complex designs could take me a week or longer to produce, and cost hundreds of dollars in materials. (For many years my card list included over 100 friends, family, clients and associates.)
People often encouraged me to sell these cards, but to make even a small profit for the time and expense that went into them, I'd need to sell each card for $15 or more, and whatever leftovers I couldn't sell would remain costly inventory at a loss.. My cards became a labor of love, a small gift to each recipient. Friends would save these cards every year as they were really original works of art.
Through the years, designs I used included a wide variety of subjects and symbols: stars, snowflakes, crystals, children, toys, foods, gifts, ornaments, animals, wreaths, pine cones, candles, fashion, goddesses, dancers, skaters, drummers, musical instruments, celestial and spiritual themes, sacred symbols, mandalas + various multicultural holiday scenes or motifs... Peace, doves, Earth globes and angels were favorite themes I repeated multiple times.
In 2010 I had the idea of creating a Christmas tree design with evergreen branches composed from the word “Peace” in a variety of different languages. At first I envisioned arranging the top 50 commonly spoken translations in a “simple” graphic, using the words and letters to create an abstract simulation of delicate pine needles. But as I researched, I found so many words that my list kept growing, and I couldn't decide which words to keep or discard. Many languages use the same words with slightly different accents or spellings. I needed to find custom fonts to write some of the multitudes of foreign scripts from non-Roman alphabets, transliterations, dialects, symbols and glyphs. I discovered there are over 3800 languages written or spoken worldwide, including ancient, sacred liturgical texts no longer commonly spoken.
When I reached 500 translations I decided I had more than enough. It was time to stop collecting, and start arranging the words into a design. Arranging 500 elements could present infinite placement options. It challenged my decision-making capabilities with hundreds of changes, rearrangements, spacing, rotations, scaling, coloring and configurations. My initial layout left all the words white to easily see the shapes and placements. It looked good, but felt cold and monochromatic. I decided to add several glyphs symbolic of peace, plus symbols for the major world religions in contrasting colors to look like ornaments on the tree. Instead of the soft jade green ground, I changed the background to deep blue to make the words pop, and decided to color the words blended green to give dimension and illumination to the branches. With all the research, word arrangements, color variations and thousands of tweaks, the design took me over a week to create… and that didn't even include the printing, mounting or hand embellishments. The Universal Peace Tree turned out to be the most complex, labor-intensive card project I ever attempted.
Although everyone loved the tree card, and even I felt it was a bit of a masterpiece, I wanted to create more universal designs, as not everyone celebrates Christmas or can relate to the tree tradition. Because I spent so much time and research on compiling so many translations, fonts and symbols, I hoped to recycle these elements for future designs to create a “Peace Words Collection” of multi-lingual and universal images. My first adaptation as an evergreen wreath in the shape of a peace symbol, I wasn't satisfied with. It felt too busy, cluttered, hard to read, and too similar to the tree idea, so I shelved it to return to later.
In 2016 I had the idea for a sunburst symbol that became the Radiate Peace 500 design. In the center is a view of the Earth from space with 500 Peace translations encircling and radiating out in all directions. A delicate peace symbol is aligned over the globe, and the word PEACE shines boldly in the center. (A version of this image is now available as a poster in 3 sizes.) More products using this concept are in the works.
In adapting the art for other products, because the words are quite small to be readable and could risk blurring on fabrics, I eliminated more than half the words leaving 220 translations for the Radiate Peace 220 version to be more suitable for fabric printing on t-shirts and pillow covers. (This design is now available on solid color t-shirts + pillow covers in colorful painted backgrounds and solid colors.)
In 2017 I decided to continue the Peace Words Series with a new design. Doves have been a favorite symbol on several of my previous cards. This felt like the ideal universal symbol for peace. On this piece I wanted the words to simulate the feathers in the wings and tail as a dove in flight. Because 108 is considered a sacred auspicious number, I selected 108 words which felt and looked like the perfect number of translations for this image. I called this new design Universal Peace Dove 108.
In yoga, Hinduism, Sikhism, Buddhism, Jainism, and and many esoteric sciences, the number 108 holds a special significance. There are 108 prayer beads on a mala. 108 energy “nadis” converge at the heart chakra. The distance between the Earth and Sun is 108 times the diameter of the Earth. The distance between the Earth and Moon is 108 x the diameter of the Moon. We find dozens of additional references to the number in math, science and other fields of study. This esoteric numerical aspect seems to tie my Peace Dove symbol to yoga, plus various spiritual and multicultural traditions beyond languages or art, to represent the higher aesthetic ideals and the universal spirit of peace I was aiming to project.
My vision for the “Peace Words” Collection, and in particular the Universal Peace Dove and Radiate Peace 500, has always been for larger posters, banners and prints in addition to the smaller holiday cards.
I'm proud to now be able to offer the Universal Peace Dove as one of my featured designs for posters, t-shirts and pillow covers. The t-shirt designs with silhouetted words without the blue sky background come in light or darker versions to be printed on dark or light colored shirts. Alternate designs with the blue ground include a shield-like motif and another irregular shape. Posters come in 3 sizes. Pillow covers come in deep blue as is, plus a gold version. They ship unstuffed and measure 16" square with a hidden zipper and white backs. (I'm planning to offer stuffed versions and larger sizes in the future.)
The past couple of years, for various reasons, I had to put my hand-made holiday card tradition on hold, sending digital greetings to friends instead. I often struggle with self-imposed pressure of feeling the need to always top my last works, or create something entirely new, better or different. I'm tempted to step back to doing a simple primitive card rather than a major production. I may resume this custom at some point, but right now my entire focus is on promoting many of my art images and products through this website and blog. Last year I married a wonderful artist and fellow peace activist Benny Zable. Maybe my next card will be a collaborative art piece for peace from the both of us. Or who knows, maybe I'll release a new line of greeting cards from my past collection of holiday cards.
As we enter this Holiday Season, I wish everyone a Wonderful and Blessed Holiday, Holy Days, Hanukkah, Christmas, Winter Solstice, Kwanza, Boxing Day, Festa of Our Lady of Guadalupe, Saint Nicholas Day, Yule, Omisoka, Saturnalia, New Year, or whatever traditions you choose to celebrate!
Many Blessings & Love,
All art images, content and text © by Marsha Silvestri
Just a little postscript synchronicity. Immediately after I posted this article, I discovered that today, November 28 is the birthday of William Blake.
Also, I wrote this in response to interest in my creative process (which is a bit long-winded here). Hopefully this post conveys some of the thoughts, inspirations and complexities that go into my work. Most of my general / personal art is about expressing peace, healing, inspiration or honoring the beauty and mystery of nature. My yoga art has the additional intent of teaching or illustrating esoteric and spiritual concepts. I love using symbolism and symbolic use of color, energy and light as vital elements to create subliminal or visual impact. Coming from a fashion background, there's also the element of idealistic, aesthetic beauty. Graphic design and commissioned works are usually a collaborative effort and result of my own creative interpretations of various concepts designed to project a particular image or serve the needs or objectives of the clients or projects.