No Pressure, No Diamonds

When do you think you produce your best work? Is it when you have all the time in the world to plan and tweak and refine? It has been said that work expands to fill the time allotted, and if you’re a perfectionist, I’m sure you would agree that there’s an element of truth in the saying. It’s also said that you never grow if you never stray from your comfort zone. If your ideal working scenario is comfortable and calm with endless time, it could be that you would benefit most from denying yourself that environment. After all, no diamond was ever created where there was no pressure.

No Pressure No Diamonds Angled

No Pressure, No Diamonds! What does it mean? It means something enough to one person to have it emblazoned on their skin, in fact. This was a client commission for a tattoo that I wanted to share with you for two reasons. The first is to show off my process for tattoo design, and the second is because the subject matter is oddly fitting in this case. The brief for the piece, that is the words themselves and the layout, didn’t seem to lend themselves well to any of the styles that I have been becoming more familiar with. My love for Romans, my penchant for combining styles, tendency to create tiny details in pieces, all were at odds with what this piece needed to be. The text needed to fit within a 11.5 x 6.5 cm space (4.5 x 2.5″), it needed to be well legible at that size, and it needed to (of course) be typographically sound.

Here are some specifications that I included since the piece was being passed from one artist to another (i.e. from me to the tattoo artist who would execute the design):

No Pressure No Diamonds Measurements

In the early design stages, I had difficulty coming up with anything that would satisfy my standards. One of the main things I had to tackle was the word length. Two very short words and two quite long words. Just by the nature of the phrase, many design possibilities were taken off the table that would normally be there for phrases with more equal letter distribution. Eventually, I managed to create a small selection of designs that I had some interest in taking further. The client had requested something in a fluid kind of script, but I find it best to explore all available options before continuing because there are often solutions hidden in places that don’t seem obvious at first, and closing doors early on is a great way to get stuck. And getting stuck wasn’t something that I needed any more of with this project.

No Pressure No Diamonds Concepts

So what happens at the end of the story? Well, the hero perseveres and comes up with the best design ever, not through luck or coincidence, but through effort and hard work!

Really though, that’s pretty much what happened, minus the hero part. As it turns out, even a project that you feel doesn’t mesh well with your style, or doesn’t seem to fit well with what you would usually like to do can be turned into something you make your own, something you can really put your heart into and work on with as much enthusiasm as any other, and come out at the other end with something you can be proud to write a blog post about.

So one of the reasons I wanted to write about this project in particular was because it was a case where the pressure was on to create a piece that was worthy, and in the end I created a result I was happy with, despite the difficulties, which is kind of the point of the piece I was making. No Pressure, No Diamonds. How meta.

In Good Company

Something that’s important for people to do is to make sure that they challenge their own opinions on a regular basis. Re-evaluating what you think about a topic not only sometimes leads you to change your opinion, but it also allows you to have more empathy for others, even if you don’t agree with them. It’s often said that if you only ever talk to people whose opinions are the same as your own that you are in an “echo chamber”. Anything that you put out just bounces back to you without any differences. With that said, there’s something else that is very important that you can do for your mental well being, and that is making sure that you are surrounded by positive people. People who don’t detract from your life, who are supportive of who you are, who don’t bring unnecessary negativity. In short, good company.

In Good Company

So what’s the difference between being “in good company,” i.e. surrounding yourself with people who are going to support you and encourage you, and being in an echo chamber? Being challenged. A true friend is one who isn’t afraid to help you grow and improve as a person, even if it’s difficult. Maybe you can think of someone in your life who doesn’t just agree with you all the time, yet with whom you have a positive relationship. Maybe others are lucky enough to call you that person. Either way, I’d say that means you’re in good company.

In Good Company Collage

In Good Company Collage

I made this piece to celebrate having found the Instagram community of calligraphers and letterers, a great network of creatives who display a remarkable level of skill, community and support. Lately, I got some new materials (which I used for the first time in last week’s post) and I was excited to show off their effects on Instagram. I had also recently reached 2000 followers, so it was the perfect time to make a thank you piece, and make it a little special.

In Good Company Progress

This bit for you letter-nerds:

I made a visit to the land of sans-serif (gasp!) for this piece, which is a change of pace from usual. Seriously, my middle name is Sebastian, but I’ve often considered changing it to Serif instead. Man, do I love serifs. But that’s not to say that sans-serif typography doesn’t have its place in my lettering pieces! Not at all so, and so here it is for the first time in a while: I paired it with a whimsical Copperplate style to add some contrast. The blocky power of the sans-serif seemed like it might have been able to overpower the Copperplate, even at its reduced size, and so I lightened it up by giving a fun sign-painting style of inner letter shading. This pop-art-esque style of 3D effect breaks up the appearance of the letters and gives them a more open yet clean texture, which helps it sit comfortably with the calligraphic style below.

Here’s a glamour shot:

In Good Company With Stuff In Pic

Pictured: tools used to make the piece (left), tree painting (upper left), part of a popup card from my brother (thanks Jamie!) from Vietnam (upper right), pot of gold paint (right).

You

Oh look, it’s you. There you are, reading my blog post. This post is about you. Or at least, it’s about a piece that’s about you. Here it is!

You Main

I made this piece for you because I’ve been thinking about you a lot lately, and I wanted you to know just how much I appreciate you. Now, don’t get me wrong, this piece isn’t about just any old “you”. It could be mistaken for being about whoever reads it, but I just wanted to make sure that you know that it’s about you specifically, not all those other possible “you”s out there.

Well, I hope you appreciate all the time I took to make you this special and one of a kind bespoke gift! This is the first piece I’ve done on black paper. “But no!” I hear you cry. “I’ve seen other piece that are white on black on your portfolio page!” It’s true that there are such pieces, but they were, in fact, black on white that was then inverted digitally. This one, however, is true black paper! Hooray! And that gold you see? Well, that’s real gold! And when I say real gold, I do of course mean gold coloured paint.

I got this new paint a little while ago, and I’ve been excited to use it in a piece. Making this super special and unique gift for you was obviously the perfect choice! The body of the letters is done in straight up plain gold paint, whereas the drop shadow that runs around the letters and flourishes is a mixture of gold paint and Higgins Eternal black calligraphy ink. The whole piece was done with pointed pen calligraphy tools, namely an oblique pen holder and a dip nib. Here are a couple of different versions that I came up with before settling on the final design that you see above:

You Doodle

Here’s a black on white pen and ink version done with my usual Rotring Rapidographs. I was going to block the letters in simply with black ink, but just before doing so, I thought I would doodle in some little swirls to give them a bit of character, and I preferred the effect.

You Hatching

This is a previous incarnation of the final piece. I experimented with filling the letters with a delicate hatching, utilising the finest line that any of my tools are capable of: the upstroke from the pointed pen, the same stroke that forms the hairlines in Copperplate script. This was also before I added the darker drop shadow across the piece.

I also made a little collage of the various in-progress versions and different executions of this piece:

You Progress

As you can see, it includes the versions already shown above, and also some progress shots. The image on the top right is the first incarnation – the original sketch before which there was only blank paper. Not much changed then, you may notice, between the first sketch and the final version in terms of composition and letter forms. Sometimes when approaching a piece, you only have an idea of what the words to say and the feeling you want the piece to have; other times you get a strong mental image of the specifics of a piece before you set pencil to paper, and this was one of those times where most of the planning of the piece was done mentally before anything ever got sketched. The only thing that I didn’t have planned out before starting work was the set of flourishes across the top. I had originally wanted to try to put something asymmetrical yet balanced along the top, but after a page full of sketches, it seemed that the best solution really was something symmetrical, or the contrast with the symmetry along the bottom of the piece was distracting.

That’s it, folks, signing off for another week. Come back next time! It’s only decent of you to do so, especially after I made you such a nice present. And you didn’t even get me anything! The nerve, eh?

Le Temps a Laissé Son Manteau – Charles d’Orléans

It’s a poetry week this week! And that means it’s also a calligraphy week. Let’s jump straight in!

Argent Detail

This is a piece in French that I’ve had the idea to write for a long time – a beautiful piece about the change of seasons from winter to spring. In it, there is a lot of beautiful imagery, which is centred around the idea of the seasons taking off their winter coats in the transition to spring. These words afford me, as a calligrapher, fun playgrounds to make the text come alive. Above, you can see the word “argent”, which you may guess means silver, and which is written in gold. If I had any silver paint, I would perhaps have considered using it, but I don’t and so couldn’t, and ended up using my new gold paint for this word, and though it’s slightly at odds with the meaning of the word, I think the effect is superior to what silver paint would give.

Soleil Detail

In this piece, I used a mixture of styles, both with regards to the expressiveness of the calligraphy and with the choice of hands. Three hands are used here, the main one being Foundational. Foundational is a very practical, legible hand, yet it is elegant in an understated kind of way. It’s easy to think of as unimportant, but it really is the backbone of the piece, and does most of the work that you see.

Aside from the Foundational, which is nearly all in walnut ink (except for the “argent” you have already seen), there is also a very expressive and flourished Copperplate. I used Copperplate for these words because it can give so much life to the page, especially when combined with the colours as seen here.

Finally, there are some words in Italic, also in colour, but far less expressive than the Copperplate. These words give some visual interest, and a little break to the texture of the piece, without making a big show of themselves like the Copperplate. Take a look at the full piece below:

Le temps a laissé son manteau

Here’s a translation of the piece:

The season has shed its coat
Of wind, cold and rain,
And embroidered itself
with gleaming sunshine, bright and beautiful.

There is neither beast nor bird
That doesn’t lend its voice to say:
The season has shed its coat.

River, fountain and brook
Wear as handsome garments,
Shining drops of silver;
Everyone dresses anew:
The season has shed its coat.

We are all broken. That’s how the light gets in.

“We are all broken. That’s how the light gets in.” You’ll find this quote in various places attributed to Ernest Hemingway, but it’s more likely that it’s just a slightly modified version of a Leonard Cohen lyric from the song Anthem.

We Are All Broken Progress

With the composition of this piece, I wanted to take a little trip into the past and go for something almost completely reliant on the letters themselves, with practically no flourishing. It’s a poplar style for things like posters and T-shirts, and the last time I visited it was really quite some time ago. Since then, having learnt many things regarding letter forms, I wanted to see what the results would yield.

With my recent foray into coloured work, I decided that this piece would be an ideal place to explore further. The fact of the simplicity of the letter forms means that the colours have plenty of space to breathe, and become somewhat the “point” of the piece.

We Are All Broken

It’s almost impossible to look at your own work without a critical eye, so I already know a few things that I will improve upon next time. One of which being that I will change my process slightly. I’m currently using calligraphy tools, namely pointed pens in this case, to get the paint onto the paper, but when using larger quantities that requite multiple strokes, the harsh point of the metal nib catches the fibres in the paper, sometimes leading them to create a rough surface on the piece once it has dried. The advantage of the calligraphy nibs is the supreme accuracy they offer coupled with their versatility in line width. However, the solution to this problems, I suspect, is simply to get a variety of brushes, including some that are very small indeed, which can mimic the tiny strokes possible of a nib. There’s also some benefit in looking into papers that are better suited to the medium. I currently use Bristol paper, which works wonderfully for ink, but when it comes to the far greater liquid quantity of paints, it could be better to invest in some hot pressed watercolour paper, which is designed to take the paint well and has a very smooth surface like the Bristol paper.