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.

May You Live in Interesting Times

This week’s piece is something I did for a daily doodle a little while ago. I liked the design, so I decided to only show off a part of it when I posted it at the time and save the rest for an inked piece. Here’s the full version!

May You Live in Interesting Times Angled

When I first started making lettering pieces, I focused a lot on learning about letter forms, in the same way that someone learning the guitar might focus on getting the notes to sound nice. While nice notes and good letter forms are important, lately I’ve been more interested in exploring what makes the composition of a piece work well. Every note in a piece may sound perfect, but if they’re in the wrong places, or they don’t complement each other well, then the piece isn’t going to be a success. In the same way, if the hierarchy and combination of styles in a lettering piece aren’t properly thought out, then the piece will fall short of where it could.

At the same time as all that, I’ve been experimenting with more ornamentation if my pieces, which also helps the composition as a whole. Of course, I have always liked using lots of ornamentation in lettering, but I’ve been including it lately with more of a mind towards using it to tie pieces together. Here are a few examples from my daily doodles this week.

Be a Better You

Be a Better You

Live in the Moment

Live in the Moment

Custom Hand Lettering

Custom Hand Lettering

L’appel du Vide

L'appel du Vide

But of course, I still take the time to practice some good old letter forms. Here’s a Gothic piece, Take Care:

Take Care

I’m going to take a week off from doing daily doodles because of travelling, staying with people and Christmas stuff, but inked pieces will still be coming out at a rate of one a week.

The Future is Soon

Lately, I have been working on composing pieces with more ornamentation and flourishes. My goal has been to get a better understanding of how to create lettering pieces that aren’t based solely on the letter forms and the shapes of the words. Doing a daily doodle has given me some nice time to focus on exploring different options, and so for this week’s piece, I’ve used one of my daily designs.

The Future is Soon

“The Future is Soon.” I’m pretty excited about the future, and thankfully, it’s coming pretty soon. At times, the future has been much further away, but at the moment, the future is the closest it has ever been. That is to say that in the past, things didn’t change much for a really long time. Nowadays, however, things are changing much more. Change is, if nothing else, interesting, and though “may you live in interesting times” is often said to be a curse, I can’t help but feel excited.

The phrase “may you live in interesting times” is said to come from Chinese, though no source has been found. The nearest related expression translates to “better to live as a dog in an era of peace than a man in times of war.” And speaking of the future, it’s likely to have the least amount of war since pretty much forever. People often say that the world is going downhill, but in fact, we live in a time of peace and prosperity greater than any other. It seems like the future will be a pretty good time to live; that said, no day is better than today.

Here are some of the daily doodles I’ve done this week:

The Future is Soon

“The Future is Soon.” The sketch I made into an inked piece today.

Winter

“Winter.” A piece I made yesterday, the last day of November, in an effort to be a little seasonal.

Do Your Best

“Do Your Best.” A little piece to motivate myself to do well, but also to know that doing your best is always something you can do if you put in the time.

Golden

“Golden.” A single word piece to practice some flourishes and some tall letters in a circular design.

In other news, I got through the first of the nice A5 Rhodia pads of paper I bought a while ago. I started on just for daily doodles and the drop caps I did in Inktober. The “Golden” sketch was the last piece in this one, with “Do Your Best” being the first of a new pad. Here’s a picture of all the pieces I made with this pad:

Notebook 1

There are 57 designs here, and the pads come with 80 pages, which means I used 23 pages for sketching, tracing, ideas and as guard sheets.

Create Create Create

What if you had to make a new thing every day? It might be easy to start with, but after a little while, you would run out of ideas. Maybe you’d struggle to think of new things to make. You’d wish you hadn’t wasted good ideas when your execution wasn’t good enough to do them justice. You’d get burnt out and get fed up with doing it and eventually give up. Now imagine if you had to go running every day. At the start, it would be hard to do, and you would feel like you were no good at it. After a while, you would start to feel some improvement; maybe you would be able to run a little further each day, or a little faster. Eventually, you would be much better at running than you were before.

The thing is that creativity isn’t how I described it in the first paragraph: it’s just the same as how I described running. The more you practice something, the better you get. The more you do something, the more your brain understands how it works and how to do it. When it comes to creative things, there isn’t some magic element, some mysterious gift, some much-coveted spark. It’s all down to practice. Do you want to get better at something? Then do that thing a whole lot, and soon enough, you will find that you are seeing improvement.

Create Create Create

Recently, I’ve been focusing on improving creativity though practice. I don’t wait for an idea to strike, or motivation to come along and help me out. Instead, I look to discipline and structure to guide my way. The nice thing about that is that motivation is fickle, and sitting around waiting for it means that more often than not you don’t get anything done, whereas discipline is something that you can build as a habit over time, and strengthen every time you do exercise it. As part of my learning, I’ve been studying calligraphy in order to better understand the roots of lettering. This piece combines 3 of my favourite styles: Copperplate, Gothic, and Italic.

Having a piece with just 3 words, each in a different style, could lead to an inconsistency in the structure. To counteract this, the piece finds consistency through ornamentation, form, and subject matter. Each word has the same left facing shine to the letters, the ornamentation is self reflective, and the words all say the same thing. The repetitive nature of the words also implies the importance of not just creating one thing and being done with it, but creating as a process that continues independently of the pieces being produced.

Create Create Create Detail

Aside from exploring calligraphy, I’ve been dedicating some time every day to making a pencil sketch every day of a few words or phrases. If they turn out well, I may recycle the ideas in inked pieces, and if they don’t turn out well, then I have learnt something valuable in making some mistakes. Here are a few from the last week:

Nihil est Fortuitum

A request someone posted to reddit: Nihil est Fortuitum – Nothing happens by chance. I took the challenge because I liked the phrase; after all, it is true: cause and effect are in everything!

Silence

Silence: Using the composition and the negative space to add some expression to the word.

Balance

Balance: Experimenting with a 3D effect, some drop shadows, and a Gothic style I’ve been experimenting with, which was also seen in Break the Rules.

Don't Look Down

Don’t Look Down: Some simple Italic, and some fun with linking the letters together. Though Italic is quick to perform with a broad nibbed pen, I find it takes a long time to sketch just right with a pencil, unlike Gothic styles and Copperplate, which seem easy to reproduce in graphite.

 

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!

Inktober Drop Caps (Part 2)

Inktober rages on! Or at least, slowly advances from my end. Mostly, it consists of lots of sitting in a chair quietly sketching. The raging part, that’s about what you see if you search for #Inktober on Twitter. Inktober is a challenge to artists to make one piece of artwork in ink each day of October. Amidst all the pictures of monsters and anime characters, every now and then, you might catch a glimpse of some typography and calligraphy. So that’s where I come in! Two weeks ago, I posted the first half of my drop cap alphabet (which goes up to M). Though Inktober isn’t finished yet, I’m done with the alphabet and have even started on a few numbers! Here’s the second half:

Dropcap N

N: I had quite a bit of time to doodle this one, resulting in it being pretty ornate! It uses a kind of shading that is similar to hatching to give it a shiny feel, which worked out quite well.

Dropcap O

O: I spent a lot of time on this one just making sure I had the proportions of the Gothic-style O just how I wanted them. The ornamentation is quite simple, but it gives a bold effect, which is what I was aiming for.

Dropcap P

P: This one shares similar ornamentation to the N, but its form is inspired mostly by pointed pen calligraphy rather than Roman caps.

Dropcap Q

Q: The picture is taken from an angle on this one to complement the 3D effect. Lots of fun doing the shading all around the sides, but a headache to get the angles all correct on the 3D parts.

Dropcap R

R: Straight up in terms of form. On this one, I was aiming for a simple shape so that I could fit in lots of details, like little drop shadows and hatching.

Dropcap S

S: A little more abstract than others in the set. It’s inspired by calligraffiti and lettering styles I’ve seen in various places. It looks a little like a swan, but also a little like a flame.

Dropcap T

T: Keeping it simple in terms of ornamentation in order to focus on the shape and create a piece reflective of pointed pen calligraphy.

Dropcap U

U: Similar to the R, and also the A, this combines elements of each, resulting in a bold and stylized piece. It felt incomplete until I added the outline and the drop shadow, which rounded it off well.

Dropcap V

V: Using a kind of shading I did on a piece long ago which I haven’t come back to in a while. The effect is reminiscent of brush calligraphy and pointed pen work.

Dropcap W

W: A bit of a speed run, so it’s done all with one large nib width, which made for a playful, friendly piece.

Dropcap X

 

X: Aiming for something a bit nuanced compared to the W. A crisp, sharp form with some delicate ornamentation.

Dropcap Y

Y: A Gothic style with plentiful ornamentation in a style I haven’t used much in the past. Would be nice to go over some bits with gold ink if I ever got any.

Dropcap Z

 

Z: Inspired by some old Cadels. It’s the last one in the alphabet, so I thought I would get fancy and try a new style.

Dropcap 1

Bonus: 1. A Metropolis/Art Deco style no. 1 to continue Inktober. Drop caps out of the way, numbers will follow as a few bonus pieces.

Dropcap 2

Bonus: 2. Similar to the W, it’s a bold and playful piece inspired by high contrast script pieces.

Dropcap 3

Bonus: 3. Lastly, today’s piece! A swirly detailed 3. Click the picture to take a closer look at all the details.