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.

The Medium is the Message

I learnt about an idea recently that the way in which a message is conveyed often tells us more than the actual content of the message. Certainly, there was a story a little while ago about a man who decided to hand write all his tweets and take photographs of them instead of typing them out. He didn’t change the things he was tweeting about, but he changed the way he was presenting the content. Needless to say, it attracted a lot of attention, and I heard about it through some of the lettering and writing channels I pay attention to.

The Medium is the Message

For me, much of what I do is about the medium rather than the message. I spend my hours and days crafting the letter forms and composition in ways that complement the message I have chosen, but the actual subject matter of the words comes under much less scrutiny throughout the process. The phrase “The Medium is the Message” could imply that the the two things are one and the same, and are inseparable from each other, but in this context I would say that it means that the medium is not just a delivery system for the content, but that is more significant than the content itself. Of course, if I only had the words to communicate, I could simply write them down and take a picture like the twitter user, so it would be true to say that it applies to what I do.

It’s Never Too Late to Start

It’s been an interesting week for me. Coming back home from visiting family in another country was going to be fine, but unfortunately the trip back was interrupted by some surprise friends in the form of kidney stones and a cold. In addition to that, my wife suddenly had a new job start, all of which meant that I didn’t get round to doing a piece for this Monday’s blog post. So I could have though it no big deal, and just put it off until next week, but I’ve had a piece that I wanted to do for a while now on the back burner that fit what was going on quite well.

It's Never Too Late to Start

It’s never too late to start. Well, for me, I started pretty late. Past the deadline, in fact. But that doesn’t mean that it didn’t get done. Sometimes it’s too easy to fall into an all-or-nothing mindset where we think that if we slip up or miss something once then there’s no point carrying on. This can often lead to us abandoning the things we had previously told ourselves we would do, whether it be working hard, exercising, or sticking to resolutions. How many people make resolutions each year only to end up not sticking with them? Probably most. And how many of those failed attempts begin to fail right before we give up entirely? I’d say probably most again.

So this piece is me saying that even if I’m late I’m going to keep doing it. I won’t give up just because I hit a bump in the road. Sometimes starting is all you need to do to be able to keep going and get something done. And it’s never too late to start.

Life is not a Problem to be Solved but an Experience to be Had

Sometimes it’s too easy to get caught up in avoiding the bad things that we miss all the good things. This piece that sums up the message quite well. It’s a quote that seems to be attributed to a few different people, and has a few variations; however, a message should be valued based on its content rather than who first said it.

Life is not a Problem

I have enjoyed pieces lately that make use of a single style of text and focus more on a solid composition and hierarchy. This piece makes use of a copperplate style of calligraphy, with a few extra elements thrown in. My focus was on reducing the complexity of the piece in terms of the styles used, so there are only two sizes of text, the smaller size having little decoration, and the larger with only minimal decoration (the inner white line and spur on the capitals being the only ornamentation on the letters themselves.) This meant that the piece was open to a lot of fun with flourishing and ornamentation between the text.

Here is an angled shot which has the whole piece in frame but fits it into a landscape layout:

Life is not a Problem detail

Most of the time spent on this pieces was not in the execution, though it may seem detailed, but in the planning. I wanted to make sure that the composition was solid, with good consistency throughout the piece. The word “Experience” in particular, being so long took some time to get centred well without it seeming to hang off the edge of the border. Of course, I could have made the text smaller, but my goal was to have only two sizes of text, so I wanted to stick to it. It’s often easy to over complicate something and take an additive approach to the search of perfection, but in fact, more frequently, perfection can be found through subtraction. That is to say that the more minimal a design, the better. So to in planning a piece, it is important to focus on the basics above all, as they underpin the whole piece. The execution of the piece, in the end, was relatively quick.

Here are a few pictures of the piece as it went along:

Life is not a Problem Progress

I would show you the sheet where I planned out several different ideas for the quote, but it seems to have gone missing. I’m sure it’s here somewhere, but really, you should see my desk. So many papers…

In other news, with Inktober all finished up here’s a fun snap of all the pieces up to the 31st together:

Dropcaps (Inktober)

The number was done on the 31st, which was the last day of Inktober. What about the other numbers though? Well, I started doing these drop caps just before October started, and I hadn’t heard of Inktober at the time, so it was more of a convenient surprise, really. The project continues on my twitter page! Today sees us up to zero in numbers, which means that tomorrow will probably be some fun punctuation like an & or @. After that, I’m debating whether to do a pencil sketched phrase a day or come back to the beginning of the alphabet and do some more drop caps. Follow me on twitter to find out if you’re curious!

The Urban Orb

Second in my series of “What was going on a month ago” is a post about the a bigger project that I did. The client wanted 3 things: first, a logo for a series of youtube videos consisting of the words “The Urban Orb”, second, the text “Next Episode” to be shown at the end of each episode during the preview of what will happen next time, and third, a large number of quotations and phrases to be edited into the videos, but to be done in calligraphy, not lettering.

The Urban Orb

The Urban Orb is a streamer who usually broadcasts himself through streaming websites like twitch.tv, but in this case, he wanted to have a series consisting of a challenge run through of the game Dark Souls uploaded to youtube. Though he was unsure exactly which colouring/texture was going to work out best once the videos were edited, we settled on the outline of the project, and I started work. In the end, the client received several different versions to test out on the final videos, allowing for legibility, unobtrusiveness, and thematic consistency. The logo was designed to be easily read, unique in its ligatures, and styled to match the feel of the game it is used to watermark. In the end, to blend unobtrusiveness and legibility against all backgrounds, the final version consisted of a solid black outline with a semi-transparent white fill, allowing the logo to be constantly visible, but never stand out harshly in the way that a solid colour would do.

Next Episode

The Next Episode text was done in a similar style to The Urban Orb logo, but was designed to fit a much larger space. The text was originally intended to be in a calligraphic style that would interact with the ornamentation around it, and though it was sad to leave some of the calligraphic designs by the wayside, I think that the increased legibility and thematic consistency is worth more than the ornamentation’s interaction with the text. As it stands, the text is nested within the ornamentation, which also continues up to surround the in-game interface, thereby integrating the text with the aspects of the game.

Nietzsche Quote Blog Upload

Executing the calligraphy was a very different task to the design and execution of the lettering. To start with, calligraphy is more of an all-or-nothing process, where one mistake in a quotation can mean that you must start again. Some quotations were much longer than these three, so a mistakes could mean that double or triple the time would be needed to get it correct. I used traditional dip nibs and ink to write these – black ink on white paper. Once they were completed, I scanned them into the computer and colourised them digitally, though they are not vectorised, of course, which would take more than one man’s patience worth, I think.

In all, this project was wonderful to work on, not least because I was exposed to so many inspiring quotations, some of which I had read before, but many of which were new to me. Most were on the topic of perseverance, success and failure, which certainly helped me continue past making a mistake towards the end of a long quotation!