Push Your Boundaries

This has been a very busy week for me, so there’s no new design this time round, but that means that it’s time to revisit an old piece!

Push Your Boundaries Vector

This is another piece that I would like to see made into a poster or something similar in the future when the situation calls for it. Along with this one, at some point, I hope to produce 2 or 3 pieces in a similarly sarcastic style, which will poke fun at the slightly over-used phrases that seem to crop up time and again in the lettering community (looking at you, “Hustle Hard.”)

This piece was also done to keep my vectorization muscle toned and sharp. When it comes to vectorization, the size of the text makes no difference, really. When making the original hand executed version of this piece, the larger letters took more time than the smaller letters, simply because there was more ink to put on the page. In a digital setting, however, it’s the other way round. The section that took the longest on this piece was the “I can’t tell you what” line of Copperplate, which on the original only took a matter of seconds, in fact, seeing as it was executed in actual calligraphy. That being said, there are a few tricks you can employ, especially when dealing with a script like Copperplate. The way it is constructed is so geometrically precise that many of the shapes can be recycled from one letter to the next, or even from one design to the next. In this case, once the basic oval, lead-in curve and lead-out curve were vectored, it was only a matter of applying them to the right situations and then adding in the rest of the bits and bobs that make the letters different from each other. To give you an indication of what that all means, take this example: the oval that makes up the O is the same as the first stroke of the A. The second stroke of the A is the same as the lower half of the T, and the first stroke of the Y is the same as the second stroke of the H. In this way, you can save some time and also assure consistency across the piece.

Once that’s finished, it’s simply a matter of splashing on some colour and some vector textures to give it more natural look, and it’s finished!

For the Love of Letterforms (Part 1)

It’s competition time again! You may recall that a long time ago in a blog post far, far away I wrote about entering a competition to perhaps get into an elite team of superheroes. Well, okay, it was about 23 weeks ago, and instead of superheroes they are letterers, typographers and calligraphers. The Ligature Collective held a contest for Instagram users to submit their best work of art based around the phrase “Ten Thousand Followers” to celebrate, well, you guessed it, getting up to the 10K mark on Instagram. Long story short, I entered, wasn’t one of the 3 winners, but got an honourable mention, along with 8 other lucky artists.

The End.

Or so we thought until now…

For the Love of Letterforms Simple

Suddenly, the Ligature Collective Strikes Back with their next competition, this time in celebration of getting 50 thousand followers! I know, that’s 40,000 followers in 24 weeks, which in case you’re wondering, is just about ten an hour, or about one every six minutes. Whew.

This time, the brief was a piece of lettering of the words “For the Love of Letterforms”. The rules allowed unlimited submissions per person, so I thought I may as well go ahead and do as many as I liked. My goal in doing so was to showcase the variety of styles that I’ve become capable of using over the years and come out with several pieces that differ from each other in feel and appearance as much as possible.

With the first, which you can see above, my intention was to design something that was visually very simple. There is almost no flourishing at all on this piece, and the shape of the composition is made simply through the arrangement of the words themselves.

Here’s the second piece I did:

For the Love of Letterforms Gold

This piece uses a combination of styles, and is reminiscent of the techniques used on old certificates and official documents which employ a combination of heavy blackletter text surrounded by much lighter flourishes and Copperplate accompaniment. The other quite obvious contrast between the pieces is that this one is in gold and white paint on a black background, whereas the other is classic black on white.

Both these pieces, I feel, were a success, and I achieved with them what I had set out to do. The next two, which I will talk about next week, are at great contrast with each other in terms of complexity, but both of which were very popular on Instagram and gathered much attention. Tune in next week to find out what happens! Not only will the next pieces be revealed, but I also will have found out if I got into one of the coveted two available spots on the Ligature Collective team. Fingers crossed!

We’re all gonna live for ever

We’re all gonna live forever!

We're all gonna live forever

Well, not really. That would be terrible, wouldn’t it? Aside from the personal boredom and increasing cynicism that would start to affect everyone, one of the most important ways in which society changes is with the refreshing of generations. People, as it turns out, don’t really change that much. Old ideas get pushed aside when the people who hold them disappear, not because those people stop holding certain views. What, then, might happen if we suddenly all start to live forever? Well, for one, this lettering piece will become true. For another, a drastic change in the birth:death ratio would mean that world population would quickly increase to the point that we would need to colonise other planets. And lastly, those with power and riches would find ways to keep them indefinitely. But hey, I think I’d trade that for my lettering piece becoming relevant, wouldn’t you?

This piece is a first for me, because it includes lowercase (or minuscule) Romans. But surely I’ve done that before, haven’t I? Well, yes, I have, and usually you would just call them typographic lowercase serif, but in this case, it’s not lettering modelled after a typeface, it’s the original, real-deal calligraphic forms, which the typefaces themselves were modelled after. The words “LIVE” and “forever” were both done with lettering, meaning that they were constructed through a numerous series of strokes (that is to say that they were drawn, not written), whereas the first three words are calligraphy. Calligraphy is an all-or-nothing kind of affair where you only get one shot at getting it right. It’s quick to produce, but when the letterforms are executed in a matter of seconds, any tiny mistake in hand motion affects everything.

The theme of this week is my attempts to combine lettering and calligraphy. Calligraphy is a skill that requires a lot of muscle memory in order to properly reproduce the correct letterforms every time, and so, unlike lettering, consistency is something that comes only after much, much practice. Here’s another piece where I have combine calligraphy and lettering:

Push Your Boundaries Gold

Here, the first three words, “Push Your Boundaries”, are lettering. They were outlined in pencil, inked (or in this case painted), and filled. Everything else, however, is calligraphy. The sans serif Romans were done with the same flexible pointed pen that was used for the Copperplate, which while was planned out in pencil initially, was executed in two or three minutes, using pressure and nib control to achieve the correct line weighting.

Less obviously in this piece is a mixture of different media. The piece is done in gold paint, but some of it includes some ink too. The subtle drop shadow on the words “Push Your”, and the radial lines below them, were made with a mixture of gold paint and black calligraphy ink. The ink was used sparingly, as black is very powerful, and the piece being gold-on-black in the first place meant that if it were too dark, it wouldn’t show up at all. The ink, however, gives it just enough darkening to fit well as background ornamentation that doesn’t steal focus from the letters themselves.

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.

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.