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.

Just Wing It

Sometimes you need to stop preparing and jump in at the deep end. This weekend I went for a swim in a lake, and it turned out that the summer hadn’t warmed it up enough to really be hot enough, but the plunge is by far the worst part of it. After you get going with something, it often ends up not being so bad. Some times, you need to just wing it.

Just Wing It

So here’s a little piece that puts into practice the things I’ve been studying about formal Romans, with a little dash of Copperplate thrown in for good measure. All of that is becoming familiar ground for me, however, so where is the proof of the jumping in at the deep end? Well, I decided to finally start a little more serious experimentation with coloured work that isn’t in the digital realm. I bought some gouache and turned this piece into something colourful:

Just Wing It Colour

I’m pretty sure that that just about wraps it up for learning blue, so if I just learn the other 6 colours, I should have it all sorted out. In all seriousness, though, this was novel for me in both execution and design. Working with subtly different tones was interesting, but the experience was added to with regards to the tools used. When making something that’s simply black and white I use Rapidograph technical pens, but this piece is one of the first lettering pieces (as opposed to calligraphy pieces) that I’ve created using my traditional calligraphy tools, in the form of a broad tipped dip nib.

Wing

Calligraphy is a great example of an art that is all about the hours of practice vs the minutes, or even seconds of execution that it takes to make a piece. A skilled calligrapher has dedicated thousands of hours to learning the correct letter forms so that they can produce them swiftly at a moment’s notice. This is paying off in my own work, as sketching out Romans like these is becoming something that only takes a few minutes, and is backed up by the time dedicated to acquiring the knowledge that supports the letter forms. The process of this piece, then, is relatively simple, as the first step is shown above. With a couple of guidelines pencilled in with a ruler, the letters are quick to outline. From there, the next stage is designing the Copperplate and flourishes to surround the Romans, and filling the outlines. Lastly, I laid another sheet over the pencil version so that I could trace the letters in paint, and not to have to worry about erasing the guidelines after the paint was applied, all of which means that I end up with two versions of the piece, one graphite and one gouache, as pictured above.

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!

Instagram & Gold

Recently, I got an Instagram account. Follow! In fact, it was over a year ago, but I’ve only recently started using it. There’s quite a nice little lettering community on Instagram, so I’ve been having a nice time looking at all the amazing work of other artists. There are also several popular accounts that curate the works of others who produce calligraphy and type-based work. One of them is a group called the Ligature Collective, who, to give you an idea of their popularity recently got 10,000 followers. To celebrate the fact, they decided to hold a competition to get a new member. The competition is to create an a piece of hand lettered work celebrating their 10K milestone and post it on Instagram.

The Ligature Collective Gold on Black

This is a little piece I sketched up when I had a some free time. I’ve been very busy lately, so I haven’t had much time to dedicate to the competition, but hopefully over the next week I will put in some quality design time and come up with something that would put me in the running.

This piece was quickly inked and then taken to the digital side of things. After last week’s foray into coloured work, I decided it would be nice to explore it a bit further. I love the look of gold print posters on a black background, so I decided to try to recreate the effect. I was given some gold leaf as a gift, which up until now has been set aside for a special piece at some point in the future. It served a purpose for this piece, however, even if it was only for digital manipulation: I took a photograph of one of the very delicate gold leaves to use for the colour on the inside of the letters.

Here’s the piece as it is on the page:

The Ligature Collective

And below, the gold leaf photograph that provides the colour:

Gold Leaf

In combination, they create a quite different feeling than either one alone. It’s also quite pleasing to know that the colour comes from something real. Last week’s piece was done purely through digital manipulation, whereas this time the source is a little more tangible, though only just! It would be easy to believe that this stuff doesn’t even exist. It’s like it’s only a single atom thick. I look forward to the day when I have a piece in mind that’s luxurious enough to warrant its use. Until then, however, I will have to satisfy myself with taking pictures of it.

Take Your Time…

Here’s a piece that started out being dumped into the Daily Doodles folder on my computer, or at least the parts of it did. A doodle of the words “Take Your Time” done in a flourished style with a slight slant to the composition. After a little while the phrase came back to me and brought a few friends, and together they formed some lyrics from long ago. Twenty-four years ago, in fact. In 1991 Nirvana released the song Come As You Are, containing the lyrics “Take your time / Hurry up / Choice is yours / Don’t be late.”

Take Your Time, Hurry Up, Choice Is Yours, Don't Be Late

All four pieces were done on separate pieces of paper, and aren’t inked – they’re just pencil sketches. I took a picture of each one and arranged them digitally. After a little experimentation with some colours, I settled on going for something with a warm feel. There’s definitely a clash between the visual style and the sound of the music that the words come from, but it’s differences like that that are often the most interesting.

Stylistically, the pieces are Copperplate calligraphy with a lot of flourishing. The flourishes help retain consistency through the four sections, but also serve to fill out the spaces that make the lines different. For instance, the first line, “Take Your Time” fills its own space very well, having three four-letter words. The other lines, however, all have one two-letter word, and the second line is only two words long. Though they do make the shapes less inconsistent, I didn’t want the flourishes to force the shape of each section to be identical, as it might look strange, and it would detract from the differences in shape due to the lines. These differences are what make lettering unique and beautiful, and they also add an interesting asymmetrical negative space between the blocks.

This is one of the few forays into coloured work that I’ve done to date, but enjoyed the process and the result, so hopefully there will be a few more splashes of colour coming in the future.