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Word art: Local artist researches meaning of language in her craft

Local artist Charla Hayen stands
Local artist Charla Hayen stands in front of some of the words she has drawn with images of the words' meanings. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

Hayen illustrated the word "art"
Hayen illustrated the word "art" with items that relate to its meaning. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

Hayen got her start illustrating names
Hayen got her start illustrating names, researching their derivatives throughout history. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

love art
Hayen began her art by drawing stories and making pictures from words. Dennis Grundman/Daily (Buy photo)

By Alex Bridges -- abridges@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Local artist Charla Hayen can show that a word's worth a thousand pictures -- or at least a dozen.

Hayen draws names and ordinary words, then illustrates them with pictures and designs related to their meaning or historical context. From "Love" to "Welcome" to "Terrier," every word Hayen chooses can feature a flourish of symbols or images or even other words she uses to further describe it.

"I really have always loved lettering and design, and so I kind of incorporated illustration into words," Hayen said while sitting near an exhibit of her work at Gallery One in Winchester, where she sells reproductions.

Hayen calls her business Name Portraits by Charla because she started illustrating names. Her work, now focused on words, led to a feature piece in Southern Woman magazine.

Most of Hayen's work is at Gallery One, though a few pieces are on display at the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley. She also shows her art outside of Winchester.

"I feel really happy to be here [Gallery One]," Hayen said. "I've been here for years in a small venue and now they have most of my work [on display] for the first time."

Hayen starts her works in pencil on illustration board. She uses pen and ink and colored pencil at later stages. Hayen also clips with small scissors some of the images she uses from magazines or other resources. Hayen explained that she collects pictures and pieces of images from the 1800s and 1900s, which she combines with the drawings on the words to give the image a three-dimensional appearance.

Each illustration is different.

"I've been pleased because I kind of have different styles with them," Hayen said.

"I just really enjoy trying to put it all together, kind of like a treasure map or puzzle, so that as you're looking at it, too, you're seeing new things," Hayen said.

It can take several weeks to create a word illustration, she said.

Hayen comes up with the idea for a word and then does the research, which may include looking for an appropriate quotation or meaning, and keeps this information on file.

"Sometimes I use poems, sometimes other words that are intertwined into the picture, just like quotations," Hayen explained. "I guess with the general words I look for quotations that I like."

"Then I'll design the lettering with those things in mind, kind of do a paste up of it on graph paper then transfer it onto illustration board," Hayen said.

The artist doesn't use a specific font such as those often appearing in documents produced on computers.

"I design the letter on my own," Hayen said. "In most pieces I don't copy, but certainly, I'm influenced by traditional lettering."

"I don't use a computer," Hayen said. "I guess I should learn how to do that ... so it's all hand done."

For 15 years Hayen has been honing her craft, which she took on full time after having worked as a kindergarten teacher with Frederick County Public Schools.

She started illustrations at an early age.

"I guess just the interest in lettering," Hayen said of what inspired her to start. "When I was younger I always stayed in my room and drew stories, I just illustrated stories all the time so it kind of transferred that. It's like creating the word and making it kind of a story within the word."

Hayen said she "never gets tired" of the craft, finding quotations and fitting these into a word illustration that "makes sense."

She can personalize a family name, and showed an example of where she put the name on one of her pieces with the word "Welcome."

For the Jewish holiday Hanukkah, Hayen explained, she researched the romanized version of the word (Chanukah) and its history to aid in her illustration. The word features several menorahs on top of the letters, with each menorah showing fewer lit candles. Other images decorate the word.

Research takes her to various resources.

She did use the Internet to do research for "Pharmacist" and found old photographs of medicine bottles which Hayen then drew to illustrate the word.

While not subscribing to it, Hayen also uses the concepts of numerology to illustrate the letters, she explained. For instance, she said, the first letter of a name has significance in numerology. She combines the information she finds on particular letters to make the illustrations.

"So each thing that's in here [the letter] symbolizes something about what the person supposedly is interested in," Hayen said.

Though not a "legitimate" calligrapher, Hayen said she studied calligraphy but prefers to call herself a graphic artist.

"Certainly the ideas of them are based on old lettering," Hayen said. "I just kind of try to put my own twist to them."

She has illustrated a few words in other languages -- the Hebrew words "Shabbat" and "Shalom." Her work has generated interest overseas for words in other languages, but Hayen admitted she needs to do more words in English first.

"It's hard enough just doing the English words," Hayen said.

And she has her work cut out for her with one word: Shenandoah. Hayen said she has been working on illustrating the name associated with the region for years. She's working on the piece for the Museum of the Shenandoah Valley, and Hayen said it can be completed in time for its fifth anniversary celebration. The museum turns five this year.

"I wanted to incorporate all the history into that, which is such a huge project because of all the history," Hayen said.

Gallery One at 385 Millwood Ave. in Winchester will feature the work of Charla Hayen at a chocolate and wine reception from 3 to 7 p.m. on Feb. 13.


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