“There are two things in life which are dependable: the delights of the flesh and the delights of literature.”
— Vivian Wu as Nagiko in The Pillow Book
Alamo Heights resident Krystal Lynn has found a way to combine the intimacy of touch and the inspiration of the written word in her own style. Add to that the elegance of art and you have “pillow calligraphy.”
Lynn, who goes by the name Koru — a Maori word meaning new life, growth, strength, and peace — coined the phrase in 2006 after watching Peter Greenaway’s decade-old foreign-language romance The Pillow Book. In the film, which stars Vivian Wu (The Joy Luck Club) and Ewan McGregor (Moulin Rouge!), a young girl grows up with an obsession for body calligraphy.
A long-time artist at heart (her eclectically decorated home is evidence of that), Lynn, 34, recently retired as a schoolteacher last October and found she had more time to devote to her passions for building furniture and painting. When the idea for pillow calligraphy presented itself to her, she was immediately intrigued by the possibilities of her newfound and imaginative venture.
“I was a teacher for nine years, but had always done artwork to support my family,” Lynn said. “There’s always been a creative side to me.”
Although Lynn’s background is in psychology and interdisciplinary studies, she was trained in calligraphy when she was younger and continued to practice as an artist. Her first brush with the aesthetically pleasing and technical art form came when she was in the seventh grade.
“I hated it when I was first taught,” Lynn said. “I was living in Victoria, Texas, and my art teacher taught us about various forms of calligraphy and that, like handwriting, you can make it your own style.”
Breaking away from writing in classic typography, Lynn says she would try non-traditional ways to arrange font design and was soon coming up with her own distinctive characters.
“In art class everything was rule-based when it came to calligraphy, like Old English,” Lynn said. “Every pen has its own way of moving in your hand. I just tossed it aside and learned to bend the letters in ways I thought were beautiful.”
For her pillow calligraphy, Lynn wanted to focus on the intrinsic love between the father and daughter characters in The Pillow Book. In the film, it is the father who spurs his daughter’s fixation with calligraphy by writing loving messages on her face.
“For me, it’s about basic love and human-to-human contact,” Lynn said. “It’s also about being self-appreciating.”
“Its very relaxing and a very unique art form,” said Caroline Richardson, a new client who booked a session and brought her own poem she wanted copied in a snake-like shape on her back. “I thought this was an interesting and creative idea and liked how she uses an actual person to work on instead of a canvas. There really is beauty in what she does.”
From writing a letter to an unborn daughter across the expectant mother’s belly to composing a wedding vow across a bride’s clavicle, Lynn has worked on all types of canvases.
“This art was really started for women who wanted to give something pretty to their boyfriends, spouses, or life partners,” Lynn said, adding that she is always open to expanding her list of male clients. “But it turned into something else.”
She says she realized the pure essence of pillow calligraphy when a friend who was battling an eating disorder asked her to write a special passage across her body for her husband. As with all her clients, Lynn held an initial consultation with her friend and asked her questions about the message she wanted written and where the best place on her body would be to showcase it. Most people, Lynn says, arrive receptive to options for words and locations. Others bring personal poems, notes, or diary entries already prepared for sensual expression via felt-tipped pen and
“I sat with her for 20 minutes and asked her questions about her husband,” Lynn said. “Then, based on her answers, I wrote a love letter to him through her. When she read it, she was in tears.”
To complete the gift, Lynn artistically frames the part of the body that has been lettered with soft fabrics and photographs the finished product. The photo is then framed alongside a typed or handwritten copy of the text.
Lynn says when her friend saw the photo of her body covered in text, it was the first time she had seen herself in her “true form,” which triggered new found self-esteem.
“Later she told me she stopped being bulimic after we took that photo,” Lynn said. “I told her, ‘This is the way that the rest of the world sees you.’ The greatest thing I’ve been able to do is help a lot of women realize just how beautiful they really are.” •
I’ve never been the type of guy who was comfortable getting a massage from another man (yes, I know it’s just a massage, but still), so when I found out Koru was the name of a female pillow calligraphist, I thought it would be great to give a first-person account of pillow calligraphy by shedding my clothes and getting drawn on like a human PicturePages.
First, I chose a sweet but sad passage from one of Koru’s personal journals for her to write across my back. With Norah Jones singing me to relaxation with “Don’t Know Why” and the agreeable scents of gardenia and vanilla candles burning, I released myself to Kora and her bamboo brushes and dark inks.
As the tip of her pen grazed past my shoulder blades, I widened my eyes remembering that I once fell asleep getting a haircut at Fantastic Sams (I wasn’t a kid). What is it about a warm touch, even from a total stranger, that’s so soothing? Damn you nervous system with your sensory receptors!
I close my eyes again and think, “What the hell. If I drift off, I’ll blame it on Norah.”
To schedule your own pillow-calligraphy session contact Koru at email@example.com.
— Kiko Martinez
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