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.

Thank You

There’s a lot to be thankful for, and sometimes it’s easy to forget and get too caught up in worrying about things. Whether you’re thankful for something big or something little, sometimes it’s nice to put it out there and say the words. This week, I’ve been thankful for all the support I’ve received lately on Instagram. I’ve discovered so many amazing artists creating lettering work in so many styles that I never knew existed. It’s easy to think that you already know your own discipline well, and that there aren’t any more forks in the road or changes to come. You know what your favourites are and they’re not going to change. (This feeling is also known as the end of history illusion.) Well, I certainly thought that I had discovered what I thought was my “style”, found the kind of work that suited me, that I wanted to continue to refine and improve upon. Since seeing so many fantastic works by other artists, however, I see that there is still so much to learn, so much to explore and to discover. I’m also thankful for all the people who appreciate my pieces and who have decided to follow my account. I made this piece to thank my followers, who recently got up to 1000 in number. It may seem like few to some social butterflies out there, but for an introverted type like me, it’s really something to be thankful for.

Thank You 1000

This piece is a combination of several things I’ve been working on lately. First of all, for those who keep up with the more technical side of my work, you will recall that lately lots of my study has been dedicated to Romans. This piece is a little departure from the formal calligraphic forms, but every letter is shaped by the knowledge I have gained through study, much more so than my older Romans, which were done before my forays into the past. Little things to note, for example: the spacing between the stems of the T and H – they are almost equidistant; the curves and counter of the O – I definitely favour a fully circular O and a ~30° angle on the counter since studying the formal forms; subtle entasis and understated serifs – inspired by stone carvings of Romans rather than the larger serifs of brush Romans.

The flourishes on this piece aren’t really anything to do with Romans, but they’re inspired by some of the wonderful works I’ve seen lately by other talented artists. If you compare them to the flourishes in other works of mine such as Prepare Today for Success Tomorrow, you can see how they are a departure from the style that I had come to think of as the one I wanted to make my own and develop further, and with this new style comes a new set of principles to learn to make the balance correct and the forms flowing.

Hopefully you have something you’re thankful for, and you can say thank you to someone. Even if it’s something that wouldn’t otherwise have come to mind without you thinking about it, maybe it would be nice to thank someone, even if you don’t know them well, or even if it’s something seemingly inconsequential. For me, today, it’s you, who has taken the time to read my blog; whether you read all my entries, or this is the first, or somewhere in between, I appreciate it. So thank you!

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!

Say Yes.

Here’s a little piece I’ve been working on lately. The phrase is “Say Yes”, which is something quite nice and simple. The words also lend themselves to a neat symmetry, being almost the same as each other when reversed. This leads to a mirroring of the S’s at the end and an uncommon formation of double Y’s in the centre.

Say Yes

The Roman Y is an interesting letter. If it were to have no stroke weight, it would be a symmetrical letter. However, due to the calligraphic roots of all letters, there is a difference between the thickness of the branches. The result is that the branches come off the stem at slightly different places, though here it’s slightly obscured by some of the ornamentation. Because of the asymmetry, the negative space between them is also a little asymmetrical.

The execution of a piece like this can be tricky. Most of the ink is simple to put down, especially blocking in the centres of the letters. The finesse comes when creating the 3D effect. The seeming shininess of the sides of the letters is created by many tiny pen strokes. I use Rotring Rapidographs to do my lettering pieces, and one advantage of these pens is that they always produce a line of constant width. This is a great asset when you want consistency across your piece: no matter how hard or lightly you press, or what angle you hold the pen at, you always have the same result. The trouble comes, then, when you want to make a line of inconstant width – a tapering line. To create the effect in this piece, the lines were created with a quick sweeping motion in lifting the pen from the paper so that the ink flowing from it thins as the tip of the pen pulls away from the surface. The problem with this is that to create a tapering form, the lines must be drawn with quite some speed, and the faster the movement of the pen, the harder it is to make each line conform with the curves of the letters, some sharp, some smooth.

Say Yes Detail

Above is a close-and-personal shot of the first letters.

The style of the letter forms in this piece was partly inspired by Tuscan typography, which people might associate with circuses, saloon bars and rodeos. Some of the easiest features to notice are the serifs almost reminiscent of a cowboy boot and the spur and eye ornaments midway up each letter. Along with the Tuscan influence, the piece is informed by my studies of traditional Roman Calligraphy, pointed pen flourishes and a little of my own personal lettering flair.

L’Albatros

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:

LETTER 3D

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.