ASL calligraphy: Spring Dawn

By Jolanta Lapiak

Personally, Japanese calligraphy and its writing materials inspire me like crazy. I had the deep desire to dip a brush in the black-jet ink, to beautifully write ASL words and to stamp my name in red seal on a rice paper.

Japanese isn't my language. Nor Chinese. But, I was crazy about Asian calligraphy. Yet, my first language is ASL. My desire to write ASL beautifully was so intense. During my graduate studies, I wasn't satisfied with other older signed writing systems (not until I discovered ASLwrite and si5s writing systems later).

At that time, video was the closest written form of ASL. I did a video, painting it white and black with a red seal. But, it has its temporal motion. I wanted two-dimensional space.

Realizing that I had to invent a writing system, I experimented a concept of ASL writing and produced my first written "I love you." Realizing that it required focus and time, I had many projects on hand. I had to put it aside. I wasn't alone. There has been many people trying to invent writing systems over the last decades or even centuries. Only a few made a commitment.

Next in 2005-2006, I attempted a writing concept by using photographing and photoediting (art below). That time I was simply exploring Derrida's arche-writing. Not concerning with writing, I focused on the philosophy of writing and scribing traces.

Photograph art by Jolanta Lapiak at

Either way was excruciating. Developing a writing system would require research and time. Also, doing this work of art required a long process. It's artistic form of writing.

After my MFA graduation, I decided to put my works aside for a while and glad I did. I traveled to Japan to teach ASL and to learn Japanese calligraphy.

Years later in 2013, I learned about the emerging si5s writing system and I took a look at how this writing system worked. I decided to revisit my original work, "Spring Dawn" and tried to write it in ASL.

"Spring Dawn (2012-2013)" ASL written by Jolanta Lapiak

That is it! Visions began to flow in but giving birth to my daughter, child-raising, teaching ASL and such put my visions at pause. During these years, I documented my daughter's language acquisition in ASL. As she reached age 4, I began to focus on my artistic literary expression and ASL writing as a new phase of interest.

Japanese-inspired ASL calligraphy