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.

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.

Don’t be Afraid to Dream

This week is another New-Pen-Week! Last time, I got some Rotring Rapidographs, which I use pretty much the same as the old fine liners I started out with. Not much changed in the style of work I produced, but for me, the process was changed a little. This time, however, I got some Pilot Parallels, which are a kind of fountain pen for broad nibbed calligraphy. I’ve been wanting to start practising some broad nibbed calligraphy for a while now, so that I can further my understanding of Gothic/Blackletter styles, and this week allowed me the chance to give it a go!

Don't be Afraid to Dream

I found a wonderful image that displays a style of Blackletter that I haven’t seen reproduced quite the same anywhere else. The title of the image is “Williams Style of German Text”, which doesn’t seem to bring up much other than the original image, so I don’t have much more information than what you see there. I’m sure there is much to learn in exploring the style, and I’m going to spend the next few weeks trying to understand the intricacies of what makes the letters function in the way they do, but in the mean time, I took some inspiration from the style, as well as several other styles I’ve seen around the web, and came up with the piece above.

The pens came with two inks, which was unexpected, but it provided me with the opportunity to experiment with a bit of colour, which is something I’ve been purposefully avoiding in other works in an effort to focus on form. After all, restrictions are what give us guidance, and having too many directions to explore often leads to little progress. That being said, it’s sometimes refreshing to allow yourself a little deviation. These inks are black and red, though refills are available for all manner of colours, so I’m interested in getting some more in the future. In the mean time, I found neat feature on my camera that replaces individual colours in a photo for others, no photoshopping required. Here, I’ve replaced the red ink with a green, blue, and brighter red. Look how each colour creates a different feel for each piece. Colour matters!

Don't be Afraid to Dream Colours

The speckles that surround the letters were made by pulling on the tip of the nib, and letting it go, which flicks the ink on to the paper. Unfortunately, it also flicks it everywhere else, so I ended up with some red fingers, pens and surfaces. Before I did the speckles, I first drew out some guidelines for the word “Dream”, then wrote in the red parts. Once they were dry, I went over in black to complete the bottom part of each letter, then added in the Copperplate above with a brush pen. The speckles came in last because I didn’t want to get my hands so messy if I ended up making a mistake and discarding the paper!

Wednesday

Day 3! Well, in real time, it’s week 3, not day 3, but this is the third day of the Days of the Week series. This one, as you can see, is Wednesday, as I’m still going with the whole chronological approach.

Wednesday

Last week, we had an ambigram, which was great, but I didn’t want to continue with that theme, because while it’s fun, the point of this series is to try to deviate as much as possible from each of the other pieces. The main talking points of this piece are the stippling and the difference in style between the W and the rest of the word. First of all, the stippling, which is shading using lots of little dots. When I was first sketching the piece in pencil, I shaded it so that it was darker at the top, which, of course, is easy when you’re working with graphite. However, it’s not so easy when it comes to ink, when you have the choice of either black or not black. The challenge, then, comes in tricking the eye to think that between the solid black and white there exists something else. Having some experience with stippling, I was keen to put it into practice again to see if it would do the trick. The effect is certainly different from the pencil, and while it’s difficult to exactly imitate the way pencil strokes can be used to shade a piece, I think that the darkness that you can only achieve with ink makes more of an impact.

With the W, I wanted to create the feeling of a drop cap: something ornate and eye catching. However, last week’s piece was in a Gothic style, so while I was content to have the W in a similar style, I’m glad it turned out quite differently than Tuesday did. This style is much more fancy, which was something that wasn’t an option to me when making the ambigram last week, which has a functional side that restricts it in many ways. I also like to imagine the W in colour in the style of an illuminated letter from old Gothic texts, in this case in red and gold. However, I am more concerned about keeping this project purely black and white to focus on the form, but once I have finished the series, perhaps it’s something I will revisit.

Here’s a close-up of the stipples getting done:

Stipples

About the specifics of the pen: it’s a 0.05 mm fineliner, though I couldn’t tell you if each stipple is truly 0.05 mm in diameter.

Check back next week for the next in the series, which will be Thursday, uploaded on Monday!