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

Prepare Today for Success Tomorrow

A little while ago a client contacted me requesting a lettering piece. Surprisingly enough, I make more logos and digital pieces than physical lettering projects that get sent off in the mail. This client, however, wanted a custom lettering piece to give as a gift to someone special. The phrase was “Prepare Today for Success Tomorrow”. After many iterations, many design elements, hierarchy re-shuffles and composition tweaks, the piece was designed and inked as you can see below:

Prepare Today for Success Tomorrow

After that comes the part where you have to wrap it up tight and leave it in the hands of the postal service and international shipping companies, and hope that nothing terrible happens to your creation as it hurtles across the ocean. Thankfully enough (and predictably enough) the piece made it there just as it had left and everything was well.

Here’s a little close-up on the detail:

Prepare Today Detail

Though editing and digital manipulation were not part of the commission, I enjoyed working on the piece enough that once it was gone I couldn’t help but do a little more, so I took the piece into the realm of ones and zeros. Several weeks ago, I did some experimentation with using a photograph I had taken of some gold leaf to replace the colour and texture of the letters in a piece, and set it over a black background. The effect turned out well, so I used the same technique on this piece. I used the same gold colour, as it suited the piece’s luxurious style of flourishing.

Prepare Today For Gold Leaf on Black Background

I also experimented a little with adding a wooden texture. It gives a different feel to the piece than the gold does, and I can’t say that one suits it better than the other, just that they would serve different purposes.

Prepare Today For Wooden Texture

The Ligature Collective

A couple of weeks ago, I made a post about having recently joined Instagram, and a competition that was being held to draft a new member of something called the Ligature Collective. The competition was to make a piece to celebrate their success on Instagram, and the best submission would lead to the creator becoming a member of the team and have their work displayed to a large audience.

Well, I had sketched up a quick piece, which I posted a fortnight ago, but since then, I had much more time to dedicate to a better thought out piece.

Ligature Collective Ten Thousand Followers Blog Upload

My main goal with this piece was to create a visually interesting piece with lots of little details, but to have a very clear hierarchy, such that the piece was structurally simple. Seeing as the piece was going to be posted to Instagram, it had to work at a small size, and be easily identified. The words “Ligature” and “Followers” worked well as the emphasised words, seeing as they were not only easily legible on small Instagram thumbnails and conveyed the essence of the piece, but also tied the piece up at each end. The piece is symmetrical down through the middle (apart from the words themselves, of course,) and it also has a vague structural symmetry horizontally, too. The words “Ligature” and “Followers” are in the same style, and curve around the piece in the same way, while the smaller central words reflect each other’s style and layout too.

The piece ended up being quite small. I took several photographs of it just on the page on its own, but it always ended up seeming as though it was bigger than it really was. I decided to put some other items in the picture that I uploaded to give a sense of scale. The photograph seemed a little unbalanced with only the lettering piece and a single pen, however, so I scattered a few other objects around it to frame it. Some things, like the camera strap and the rotary lead pointer might not give a very good sense of the size of the piece, but the pens and lead holder should do. Incidentally, these were all things used to make the piece, aside from the keys, of course. But with the keys there, at least I get to show off my funky Rubik’s cube key ring.

After all is said and done (or just done, really; being a letterer is a pretty silent job) the results will be out tomorrow, on April the 7th. There were some truly excellent submissions among the hundreds submitted by other artists on Instagram, so I wouldn’t be at all surprised if they should win. Good luck to everyone else – I’m sure they’re waiting with bated breath for the announcement of the winner. If you’re curious to see the other submissions, click here, or search for “#Ligature10k” on Instagram!

Tyger! Tyger!

Ambigrams are funny things. If you don’t know, they’re words that read the same both ways up (or sometimes different things!) It’s never easy to know if a word will make a good ambigram or not. You might have an idea of how you could bend the letters to match each other, but when you try it out, it ends up ugly, or it just doesn’t work. Sometimes, however, you might try to use a word and get an unexpectedly good result.

There’s something magical-seeming about the words that do work. A few days ago, an idea came to my head in a mysterious way. It was almost like a dream, in that there seemed to be a point in time where I had already had the idea, but I couldn’t remember actually having it in the first place. Strange as it is, I ended up making an ambigram of the word “Symmetry” — a fitting word for an ambigram.

Tyger Tyger Square Clutter 1st Verse

Shortly thereafter, I remembered a piece of a poem by William Blake I had used once to practice some calligraphy, and I realised that the poem had the word symmetry at the end of the first stanza. It wasn’t long before I had decided to make a piece with the poem and the ambigram. I looked up the text again, and found that the last stanza also had the word symmetry its end. In fact the first and last stanzas were almost identical.

Symmetry Detail

And so the idea was born to create a whole piece that was an ambigram of sorts. The piece is a combination of the two stanzas, the first on top leading down to the ambigram, which finishes the line, and the last underneath, leading up to the central word. Strangely enough, the piece can’t be symmetrical if it is to have both stanzas, because final line differs between the two. The first reads “Could frame thy fearful symmetry,” and the last “Dare frame thy fearful symmetry.”

Tyger Tyger Square Clutter

How odd the calligraphy looks upside-down. And how odd it is to have a piece so concerned with symmetry, with its subject matter, its composition, and even the very central word all being so symmetrical, and yet not to have it actually be perfectly symmetrical. Let me explain why:

There is some discussion about the rhyming structure in the poem. Reading the lines you might have noticed that the final couplet seems as though it should rhyme, but doesn’t. Surely, you might think, that’s because Blake would have pronounced “symmetry” to rhyme with “hand or eye”, or vice versa. After all, the rhyming structure of the rest of the poem would fit with this explanation. The English language underwent something called the great vowel shift, during which the pronunciation of lots of vowels changed, which resulted in lots of the strange spellings that we have now. However, Blake’s work was written after a time at which “symmetry” and “hand or eye” would have shared a rhyming sound. So, then, either he was drawing from the past in order to cheat the rhyme, or this line is intentionally the only one that doesn’t rhyme. You may notice that it’s also the only line with 8 syllables versus the 7 of all the other lines, which goes further to imply the difference of this line.

That said, there are other convincing arguments to suggest that he did, in fact, intend for the line to rhyme. Either way, it’s a slightly more thought provoking piece to have a difference between the top and bottom, and as it includes both start and end of the poem, it pleased me more to write it that way.

There could be much more to discuss, but I will leave it at that for this week. I will look forward to sharing more calligraphy and calligraphy/lettering-combination pieces with you soon.

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.

The Medium is the Message is the Medium…

If one thing is equal to another, then the other thing must be equal to the first. Similarly, Euclid explained two things that equal the same thing must equal one another. So if the medium is the message, we can deduce that the message is the medium, and anything the medium is equal to is also equal to the message. What third thing would that be – the thing that both the message and medium are? Why, today’s piece, of course!

The Medium is the Message is..

This one plays a little game with the idea that if one thing is another, then the other is also the first. After all, if A=B, then B=A. Seems simple enough, right? But what is really the meaning behind this message? It seems to imply, as I said two weeks ago, that the message, as the creator saw it, should be disregarded and tossed aside in favour of the study of the medium itself. That implied that what the creator had to say was less important than the way they said it. In effect, it meant discarding one thing and replacing it with another. But if we take the phrase more literally as I did four weeks ago, it implies that the two things are the same.

In language, unlike in mathematics, you could easily say that there are cases where A=B but B≠A. For example, “The ink is the colour black,” but not “The colour black is the ink”. It’s a little contrived, but you could make the argument. I have much more fun, however, taking the word “is” to mean the same as an equals sign, which leads me to come up with pieces like this.

A fun compositional technique that calligraphers sometimes use is to write in a circle or spiral, especially if the subject matter fits thematically with the composition. Usually, however the piece has a break in it to indicate the start and end of the phrase. This piece is fun because due to the simplicity of the sentence structure it allows for the piece to join onto itself and have no defined endpoint. That being said, the eye of the reader naturally arrives on the upper left part of the piece, so the word “The” fills the position of the start of the sentence before the reader sees that it loops, having no end.

Here are the 3 pieces all next to each other:The Mediums are the Messages

With each of them, I’ve tried conveying a slightly different meaning, a slightly different take on the phrase, doing so by changing the layout to get the point across, and keeping the phrase the same (for the most part). So does that mean that the medium really is the message? I’m not convinced that that’s all there is to it, but it’s interesting to consider that layout, presentation, the medium and the way we communicate can sometimes lead to greater insight than what is actually being said. After all, how many articles or blogs (this one included) do you think there are where people skim lightly over the text, but what stays with them, or what they pay attention to is the images?

L’Appel du Vide

With a similar theme but a different style to a piece I did a while ago (Vertigo) today’s piece is “l’Appel du Vide,” a French phrase that translates as something like “the Call of the Void.” What exactly le vide is, whether it be the void, the abyss, emptiness, is not exactly clear. Nevertheless, it refers to the feeling people sometimes get at great heights or in risky situations where some strange call tempts them to jump.

L'Appel du Vide Angle

Stylistically, this piece is similar to another piece I created a long time ago (Thursday). I felt that the style fit well with the meaning of the phrase. The negative space of the word Vide indicates whatever it is conjured by its meaning as abyss or void, the busy surrounds emphasising the effect. The flourishes also show a kind of swirling movement pattern, which is in keeping with the idea of dizziness or vertigo.

The first two words are in a Copperplate style, notably with French style P’s. Seeing as the phrase is in French, I felt it was appropriate to use the French variation, even though to an English speaking audience they can often look like N’s with a strange elongated left foot. The word Vide is done with strong Roman caps, meant to make the word more impactful and make it stand out against the fluidity of the flourishes behind it. As such, the word is in contrast with its background in both tone and form in order to preserve legibility, similar to the choice of letter style in the linked Thursday piece.

Here’s a front shot to give an idea of the composition of the piece on the page, too.

L'Appel du Vide