Strong Enough To Be Yourself (A study of flourishes)

Flourishing is something that didn’t make it into my repertoire for quite a while. When we start something, we are often ignorant of the depth of it. The way we appreciate something deepens through understanding, and so it’s not surprising that when we don’t have a good understanding it can be hard to appreciate something on more than a superficial level. In terms of lettering, most start out with the desire to understand and create letter forms. Of course, that must be what lettering is all about, mustn’t it? I mean, it’s in the word. Soon, however, you come to realise that the letter forms only work if they are structured well, and so you start to learn about hierarchy and composition. Similarly, flourishing is something that I have been concentrating on lately as an area of study which can improve the pieces I make.

Strong Enough To Be Yourself

If you look back at older pieces, such as The Greatest Victory, which was a piece that I made when I first started to consider the composition of a lettering more, you might notice that the flourishes seem uncomfortable and don’t really know what to do with themselves, almost like teenagers who have grown too fast and haven’t relearned how to use their limbs. They’re there because they are necessary, to an extent, but don’t quite serve the purpose they were created for. Since then, I’ve learned a lot through my study and have applied some of it in this piece.

The piece started just as a sketch of the word “strong”, as I had wanted to try out an certain 3D effect on some letters. I thought of the full phrase and planned out a little more of the structure. From there, I decided to do a little exploration of the space between the words, so, loosening up my arm, I started designing the flourishes using larger gestures controlled by the shoulder muscles rather than the fingers. This advice of using shoulder muscles, often given to those learning calligraphy, can seem daunting to beginners, but when designing flourishes, it really needn’t be. Any detail work or corrections can easily be made later, as graphite is far more forgiving than ink.

Strong Enough Flourish Sketch Progress

One of the most key elements in flourishing is to pay close attention to the negative space. It’s important that no one area becomes too dense, nor too sparse. A roughly equal distribution is attractive, though some variation is pleasing too. Once I was happy with the design, I took from the sketchbook to the paper for the final piece. When it comes to a symmetrical piece like this, it’s convenient to flip the reference material (in this case, the original sketch shown above) so that there aren’t too many irregularities when comparing the two sides.

Strong Enough Pencil Detail

From then on, it’s the same story of inking that you have heard before: a soothing, quiet time spent with paper and ink. Becoming too tense or hurried never helps, as a calm hand creates fewer mistakes. Here’s a little shot of it transitioning between graphite and ink, temporary and permanent:

Strong Enough Inking Progress

L’Appel du Vide

With a similar theme but a different style to a piece I did a while ago (Vertigo) today’s piece is “l’Appel du Vide,” a French phrase that translates as something like “the Call of the Void.” What exactly le vide is, whether it be the void, the abyss, emptiness, is not exactly clear. Nevertheless, it refers to the feeling people sometimes get at great heights or in risky situations where some strange call tempts them to jump.

L'Appel du Vide Angle

Stylistically, this piece is similar to another piece I created a long time ago (Thursday). I felt that the style fit well with the meaning of the phrase. The negative space of the word Vide indicates whatever it is conjured by its meaning as abyss or void, the busy surrounds emphasising the effect. The flourishes also show a kind of swirling movement pattern, which is in keeping with the idea of dizziness or vertigo.

The first two words are in a Copperplate style, notably with French style P’s. Seeing as the phrase is in French, I felt it was appropriate to use the French variation, even though to an English speaking audience they can often look like N’s with a strange elongated left foot. The word Vide is done with strong Roman caps, meant to make the word more impactful and make it stand out against the fluidity of the flourishes behind it. As such, the word is in contrast with its background in both tone and form in order to preserve legibility, similar to the choice of letter style in the linked Thursday piece.

Here’s a front shot to give an idea of the composition of the piece on the page, too.

L'Appel du Vide

The Medium is still the Message

The title of the post isn’t quite what it says in the piece, but that’s because what it says in the piece is the same as it was in a different piece two weeks ago. The Medium is the Message. For me, the medium is very much the message. As such, what we usually consider to be the message (the words) could be said not to be the message at all. As a fun way of exploring the idea, I remade the piece from two weeks ago with a completely different composition.

The Medium is the Message 2

This one is still vertical, and it still has flourishes, and it’s still in black and white, but other than that, it’s visually quite different. In this piece, I’ve given the word “Medium” a strong emphasis. In the original piece I did (which you can see blurrily off to the left, the words “Medium” and “Message” had equal importance. In fact, they were almost mirror images of each other, from the style to the layout to the flourishes around them. This was to show that they are the same thing, as the phrase suggests.

The phrase is a little confusing, however. The confusion comes from the double meaning of the word “Message”. In this case, you can approach the phrase from two angles. The first being that it implies that medium and message are one and the same, that the format is the words, the words are the meaning and the meaning is the layout, which is the format. The second being that what we often call the “Message”, i.e. the words, is unimportant, and that the true message is the medium itself. Phew! Confusing stuff. Either way, what that means is that while the first piece I did showed similarity and reflection, this one’s hierarchy is such that it shows the importance of the medium over that of the words, and implies that the words are not where the message lies.

You know, maybe I’m over-thinking the message in the words and missing the point entirely… The medium is the message, after all.

Stop Hesitating

If you’ve been following my blog since I started, or if you’ve lurked through everything I’ve uploaded (I know you’re there, lurkers!) then this piece might ring a bell. When I did my first Thing A Day, the second thing on the second day was a piece called Stop Hesitating. This time, I decided to redesign the piece completely and approach the phrase with a few new styles and techniques I’ve picked up since that time.

Stop Hesitating

It was interesting to revisit an idea, even if it was to completely redesign it. I considered simply re-executing the same design, and trying to tweak it in a few places, but I thought it would be more exciting to see what new ideas I could come up with. I went through a few different iterations before settling on this, and though the layout is similar to the original, the style and overall presentation are very different.

One of the reasons I decided to revisit this piece was because I liked the message. It stands as a little reminder that sometimes it’s all too easy to hesitate and be apprehensive before doing something, and more often than not, once you actually start doing whatever it is that you’re thinking about, it’s not nearly as bad as you had originally thought. That being said, I had a good time redesigning an old piece, so I may consider giving some of my other early pieces a bit of a rehash to see what good can come of them.

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.

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!