Spotlight on Louise Rousseau

By Claire Bourassa

Translation by Carole Scheffer

“It’s up to me to nurture my imagination!”

Louise Rousseau

Spring 2020. Newly retired and in confinement, Louise misses the Saturday calligraphy activities where with a dozen other members she could work on a collective theme. She proposes to Mathieu, our president, to organize a virtual calligraphy activity every three weeks: “Since it is no longer possible to do so in person, we can exchange in this other way. There are people I have known for a long time and when I look at what they have produced, I think they have allowed themselves a lot of liberty! There is something personal that is taking hold in many of them.” This activity started in the spring of 2020 and has continued ever since. It has about twenty participants, an absolute success!

Discovering calligraphy and Yannick Durand

In 1995, Louise was looking for an artistic activity to reenergize herself. She tries the stained-glass making, then turns to calligraphy, remembering the beautiful Copperplate style letters her father wrote using a fine pen. She meets Yannick Durand, who was then teaching at the Saidye-Bronfman Centre. She encourages her to work with her left hand: “You are left-handed, take your left hand and find the position which is comfortable for you!” Louise does more research on her own and studies left-handed calligraphers like Lieve Cornil: “In grade school, when I was writing with fine pens, I realized that I had to turn my sheets of paper, but for calligraphy, I turn them in the other direction.”

Her left hand gives her a certain distinction that she finds somewhat pleasing: “You structure the page differently, turning the page, what’s horizontal becomes vertical, it brings to me something different.” This desire to distinguish herself can also be traced from her family: “I come from a family of four and we are very close in age. Keeping my individuality is something that has always been important. »

Developing a personal calligraphy

With Yannick Durand, Louise becomes interested in the message conveyed by her calligraphy: “Beyond words, so much else can be conveyed in our communications. The words Love and Rain are simply not written in the same way! With Yannick, a lot of thinking went into that idea. There is so much in the non-verbal that can be expressed, and it is surely due in part because of my training in psychiatry that is helpful to me in perceiving it. Emotions are transmitted. They are the reflection of the words that are expressed. » 

She then explores more gestural writing that approaches a “calligraphic image” at the frontier of abstraction and legibility. After Yannick’s sudden death, Louise became a member of the Montreal Calligraphy Society and continued her training with Denise Lach in Percé: “You worked with a particular letter and explored how far you could transform it. I had chosen a G, for five days! It teaches you what it is that makes for legibility!” Two years later in Percé, Louise took part in a workshop with Laurent Rébéna: “We worked on a letter’s form and its negative space. You build from the letter and develop a harmonious script, keeping a certain legibility, while exaggerating certain traits. »

The desire to exhibit

The tradition of exhibiting her work goes back to the days of the courses with Yannick Durand, but also to her participation with a group of calligraphers, Les Calmars: “We had known each other for more than ten years after taking courses with Yannick. We had all become friends and calligraphy became family. Together, we always organized exhibitions, it was important. We would start a piece and finish it sufficiently to frame it and put it up on the wall. Otherwise, you were just not finished!”

The adventure of the Calmars continues for ten years with annual exhibitions. In 2018, as the group disbanded, Louise and Paulette Dufresne, a calligrapher friend, co-organize an exhibition in Paris with the poems of a Franco-Quebecoise friend, Marie Gagnon: “I offered a personal interpretation of her poems. I was going to look for the passages that interested me. I did not want to be a scribe! This collaboration was quite interesting because the author is a contemporary, and she was surprised to see what I did with her text. That is when all the fun started! When she saw the exhibition, she understood my approach, how calligraphy conveys an idea! »

The introduction of the monotype in her calligraphy

While preparing her exhibition in Paris, Louise feels the need to enhance her calligraphy with monotype, which brings a visual richness and depth to her work: “I wanted to add something while I was part of Calmars. There was a Calmars way of thinking. I went on a free visit to the Atelier circulaire (a print arts centre) and I liked the presentation of a engraver artist, Jacinthe Tétrault. She has a mentoring soul. She makes you think, and makes you explore. She is most rigorous in her technique. » 

After the Paris exhibition, two more took place in Montreal at Galerie Espace, Boulevard Saint-Laurent, with Paulette. At the very last one in December 2020, their friend Romane’s haikus inspired them: “When we went to make our monotypes, we already had our poems. It is good for the soul because you deep-dive into your bubble. I made a notebook with my preferences. I added the ideas or images that came to me. »

The tools

Louise enjoys working on textured paper with her monotypes. She loves the tools that allow her to create various effects: “When I took classes with Yannick, she had her Automatic Pens with her. She let me to use them, and I really liked them! I now have several of those! Then I have Folded Pens (Cola Pen), Automatic Pens, and ruling pens of different sizes. I also tinker with the pointed pen. With these tools, I can take the mediums I prefer, like sumi, pigments, acrylic, with the consistencies of my choice. » 

Her projects

Louise enrolled in a workshop on poetic imagination in July in the region of Percé (Coin-du-Banc). She will be reunited with the multidisciplinary artist Lino, with whom she had completed a creative workshop in 2019. Then in April 2022, she and Paulette will again be exhibiting at the Galerie Espace, with Romane’s haikus: “You must give yourself projects, some challenges. We are taking risks. If you only make plans when you are sure about things, there just won’t be any projects! »

In closing this portrait, I wanted to mention that this meeting with Louise Rousseau was not only about calligraphy; there was a much broader human dimension that emerged because her words are real bearers of hope: “When you have worked 40 years in psychiatry, it’s not some governmental measure that confines your imagination. Only you can do that, and it happens quite easily so you must deal with it. This was my leitmotif during my first months of retirement. It’s up to me to nurture my imagination! »

Thank you, Louise! Message well taken!

For more about Louise
Louise’s Instagram:  @rousloui
Her publications

To participate in virtual calligraphy projet

Her inspirations
Denise Lach, calligraphe

Lino, multidisciplinairy artist et professor at Percé

Brody Neuenschwander, art et calligraphy historian