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.

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.

One Hundred Days

Do something for one hundred days!

Recently, I’ve been making an effort to focus on consistency in putting my work out there. If you come to this blog frequently, you may notice that I post one piece a week without fail, and have been doing so for over a year now. I decided to take this attitude a bit further, and post one piece a day, every day, on my Instagram account. So far it is going well, as you may have read in my last week’s blog post. Just under a week ago marked the one hundredth day of posting a picture a day, and I’m nearly through posting the backlog of pieces that I built up in making this blog. Complex pieces are the kinds of things that take days to execute, and often spend weeks in the concept and design stages, so it’s not possible to post one brand new large piece every day, so there may have to be a little more emphasis on glamour shots and progress pics from here on out, but I’m planning to keep up the consistency.

One Hundred Days

My initial goal was to keep at it for 100 days, partly as a challenge to myself, but also because habit forming is a powerful tool for everyone to use, perhaps most especially for creative types. People may often ask how they can keep up with the creation of a large amount of creative work, often feeling burnt out or failing on the motivation side of things. It is often said that motivation is a welcome visitor, a friend who stops by, but discipline should be your faithful companion who never leaves your side. The reason for that is because if you have discipline, you don’t need willpower to keep going. That is to say that if you have formed good habits, it’s easy to stick to them, and what better way to form a habit than to do something for a hundred days? (Interestingly, willpower is considered as a finite resource in the brain; using it up is something called Ego Depletion.)

For me, self promotion is not something that comes naturally, so my decision was to make it something to focus on. Posting my work on Instagram seemed scary, and I felt like I would rather stick to my nice, familiar blog format, but now that I’ve done it for 3 months, I have no intentions of stopping.

A little on the piece: it’s a mix of calligraphy and lettering all in one. The calligraphy was done in walnut ink, which gives the rich colour and variation in tone. Then I used my lettering tools to outline the calligraphic forms and add some ornamentation. Stylistically, Italic and Romans complement each other very well, so much so that in practically all typefaces, you will find italics used in conjunction WITH THEIR ROMAN COUNTERPARTS. Each is considered an essential element of typography and letter forms. The only difference here being that these are the root forms, the source from which the typography was inspired, though most might not know it, and even hearing the word “italic” would first think of the typographical meaning of slanting letters rather than realising that it was first the name of a script.

So, a little challenge for you: consider a habit that would benefit you, or that you would like to be able to have. Once you have decided, do it for one hundred days. You may find that it’s easier than you think, but one last thing: don’t tell anyone until you’ve finished!


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:


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.

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.