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?

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

One of the first lettering pieces I ever did was the phrase “correlation does not imply causation”, a piece which has since been lost in moving house, and is probably tucked away in the pages of a notebook hastily thrown into a box with the word “misc.” on the side. This week I decided to revisit the idea that inspired the first piece. The phrase deals with a logical fallacy that leads people to think that because two things happen together that one causes the other. Similarly, it’s easy to think that because one thing happens after another, the first causes the second. This fallacy is called “post hoc ergo propter hoc”, or after this therefore because of this.

Post Hoc Ergo Propter Hoc

Enough of that though, let’s get down to business. The interesting element of this piece, for me, is the Romans. The Copperplate may look flashy and the flourishes fancy, but when it comes to execution of a perfect letter, nothing provides the challenge, the depth and the satisfaction that Roman capitals do. Recently, though my study of Romans, I’ve been examining something called entasis.

Entasis is best know for its applications in architecture, some of it (surprise, surprise) by the Romans. The meaning of the word is a slight curve applied to something that looks mainly straight. When it comes to architecture, it was used to combat a strange optical illusion: perfectly straight columns have a tendency to trick the eye into seeing a curve where there is none. A slight bulge added to the columns is said to do away with the phenomenon and give the impression of straightness. In terms of calligraphy, however, the entasis is applied to the negative space between the letters. That is to say that the upright parts of the Roman capital have a thinning in the centre and widen towards each end. The execution of this with a broad nib or brush when doing calligraphy is a delicate manoeuvre and the effect is meant to be subtle. As this piece is also part of my study of entasis, I also kept the letters as close to traditional as I could, with understated serifs, a long crossbar on the E than you would see in a lot of modern work, and an open P.

Over the past few days I’ve been toying with the idea of starting to include more Gothic/Blackletter styles in my lettering after some study of their forms in calligraphy. As with all forms, I’m sure there is much to learn to inform future lettering pieces, so be on the look out in the future!

Say Yes.

Here’s a little piece I’ve been working on lately. The phrase is “Say Yes”, which is something quite nice and simple. The words also lend themselves to a neat symmetry, being almost the same as each other when reversed. This leads to a mirroring of the S’s at the end and an uncommon formation of double Y’s in the centre.

Say Yes

The Roman Y is an interesting letter. If it were to have no stroke weight, it would be a symmetrical letter. However, due to the calligraphic roots of all letters, there is a difference between the thickness of the branches. The result is that the branches come off the stem at slightly different places, though here it’s slightly obscured by some of the ornamentation. Because of the asymmetry, the negative space between them is also a little asymmetrical.

The execution of a piece like this can be tricky. Most of the ink is simple to put down, especially blocking in the centres of the letters. The finesse comes when creating the 3D effect. The seeming shininess of the sides of the letters is created by many tiny pen strokes. I use Rotring Rapidographs to do my lettering pieces, and one advantage of these pens is that they always produce a line of constant width. This is a great asset when you want consistency across your piece: no matter how hard or lightly you press, or what angle you hold the pen at, you always have the same result. The trouble comes, then, when you want to make a line of inconstant width – a tapering line. To create the effect in this piece, the lines were created with a quick sweeping motion in lifting the pen from the paper so that the ink flowing from it thins as the tip of the pen pulls away from the surface. The problem with this is that to create a tapering form, the lines must be drawn with quite some speed, and the faster the movement of the pen, the harder it is to make each line conform with the curves of the letters, some sharp, some smooth.

Say Yes Detail

Above is a close-and-personal shot of the first letters.

The style of the letter forms in this piece was partly inspired by Tuscan typography, which people might associate with circuses, saloon bars and rodeos. Some of the easiest features to notice are the serifs almost reminiscent of a cowboy boot and the spur and eye ornaments midway up each letter. Along with the Tuscan influence, the piece is informed by my studies of traditional Roman Calligraphy, pointed pen flourishes and a little of my own personal lettering flair.

L’Albatros

L’Albatros, which is by Baudelaire. The poem describes how the crew of a ship sometimes would catch albatrosses as they followed the ship. Bringing them on board they would laugh at how the once majestic creature would become comical and ugly in walking. Baudelaire then goes on to liken poets to these birds, a rider or storms, laughing at the arrows of archers, yet once grounded, his giant wings prevent him from walking. I wonder what he meant by that. Perhaps he was implying that a poet is one to wander in the skies, metaphorically, and what allows this flight — in the case of the bird, its wings, and in the case of the poet, the mind — is what hinders them from a normal life on the ground. Either way, as you know, the medium is the message, so let’s do away with all this talk of meaning and talk about the media. I did some calligraphy of a poem!

L'Albatros - Baudelaire - Italic - 30-04-2015

It’s often tempting to do all the fancy things before the boring things. It would be wonderful to use some coloured inks, or gold leaf to spruce up a piece of poetry like this, but the most essential thing in mastering something is to have a good understanding of the basics. That’s why I always make sure to make time for this kind of study. The ink is a neutral walnut, a rich brown that doesn’t catch the eye too much. The layout is simple and understated.

L'Albatros - Baudelaire - Italic - 30-04-2015 Detail

To master a hand is the work of hundreds of hours. There isn’t a short cut to creating the perfect letter form every time: it’s down to training the brain and the muscles to be able to execute it perfectly. One can have a great understanding of what the ideal forms should look like, but in calligraphy, there is both art and craft. The art is the forms, and the craft is being able to create them.

Speaking of understanding forms, lettering differs from calligraphy in the way that it is more forgiving on the execution side of things, but still requires a grasp of the underlying structure that makes letters what they are. Recently, I’ve been having some success promoting my work on Instagram, and so I made this piece to thank the (then) 500 people who follow my account. It’s a mixture of both lettering and calligraphy, using form of Italic calligraphy for the text at the top, under which the other words are lettered.

Many Thanks 500 Followers

Enjoying the effect created by a combination of ink and graphite, I decided to also explore a little way into the realms of 3D lettering. Here’s a little preview of what I’ve been experimenting with:

LETTER 3D

I’m planning on using this technique in some pieces in the future, so if you enjoy it, you may see some more coming up soon.

Strong Enough To Be Yourself (A study of flourishes)

Flourishing is something that didn’t make it into my repertoire for quite a while. When we start something, we are often ignorant of the depth of it. The way we appreciate something deepens through understanding, and so it’s not surprising that when we don’t have a good understanding it can be hard to appreciate something on more than a superficial level. In terms of lettering, most start out with the desire to understand and create letter forms. Of course, that must be what lettering is all about, mustn’t it? I mean, it’s in the word. Soon, however, you come to realise that the letter forms only work if they are structured well, and so you start to learn about hierarchy and composition. Similarly, flourishing is something that I have been concentrating on lately as an area of study which can improve the pieces I make.

Strong Enough To Be Yourself

If you look back at older pieces, such as The Greatest Victory, which was a piece that I made when I first started to consider the composition of a lettering more, you might notice that the flourishes seem uncomfortable and don’t really know what to do with themselves, almost like teenagers who have grown too fast and haven’t relearned how to use their limbs. They’re there because they are necessary, to an extent, but don’t quite serve the purpose they were created for. Since then, I’ve learned a lot through my study and have applied some of it in this piece.

The piece started just as a sketch of the word “strong”, as I had wanted to try out an certain 3D effect on some letters. I thought of the full phrase and planned out a little more of the structure. From there, I decided to do a little exploration of the space between the words, so, loosening up my arm, I started designing the flourishes using larger gestures controlled by the shoulder muscles rather than the fingers. This advice of using shoulder muscles, often given to those learning calligraphy, can seem daunting to beginners, but when designing flourishes, it really needn’t be. Any detail work or corrections can easily be made later, as graphite is far more forgiving than ink.

Strong Enough Flourish Sketch Progress

One of the most key elements in flourishing is to pay close attention to the negative space. It’s important that no one area becomes too dense, nor too sparse. A roughly equal distribution is attractive, though some variation is pleasing too. Once I was happy with the design, I took from the sketchbook to the paper for the final piece. When it comes to a symmetrical piece like this, it’s convenient to flip the reference material (in this case, the original sketch shown above) so that there aren’t too many irregularities when comparing the two sides.

Strong Enough Pencil Detail

From then on, it’s the same story of inking that you have heard before: a soothing, quiet time spent with paper and ink. Becoming too tense or hurried never helps, as a calm hand creates fewer mistakes. Here’s a little shot of it transitioning between graphite and ink, temporary and permanent:

Strong Enough Inking Progress