Calligraphy and Ashes

CIMG2373Occasionally, it is so pleasing to abandon guidelines, formal letter construction, working out differences in size and script for design, incorporating illustration with lettering, and simply take a pen ‘for a walk’. I do this now and again after I’ve had a period of formal writing, as in the last few months. I had a golden opportunity as I was given a copy of a poem about the Test Matches between England and the Australians. It wasn’t the best poetry I’ve ever seen, but it did encapsulate the spirit of winning and the rivalry between these two teams. I haven’t been able to find the name of the poet, so if anyone does know, please contact me and I can acknowledge them and ensure they are happy with me posting this.


CIMG2362I knew that I didn’t want the piece to be huge, and the poem had a number of lines, so I chose a size 5 nib. I prefer to write on good quality paper even for roughs, and I have a stack of old certificates I had printed for a defunct award so I am using up the backs of those, a lovely Saunders Waterford 350 gsm HP paper. With the typed poem in front of me, I then simply wrote in free Italic Capitals. Here and there words that had some meaning were written in San Vito/Renaissance Capitals for emphasis, such as the first word, ‘Honours’ in the third line, a ‘dot ball’ (apparently a ball that results in no runs, as it is recorded in the score book), and so on. It always takes some time for your hand to become comfortable with any script and to ease yourself in at the start of a writing session, and this happened on the top line here. You can see that I made a horizontal pen fine dash at the end of that line to remind me to allow a bit more space when writing it out properly. The sixth line seemed to be getting rather long, so I decided I was going to split it (scribe’s licence!), hence the crossing out of ‘atmosphere’. I wrote the last four lines in the same pen nib, but realised as I looked at it that it was too large and blocky, so then used a size 6 nib which gives a better contrast.

CIMG2363The next stage in the way I work is to cut up the lines into strips, as on the right, and I just placed them on another piece of paper. At this point, I can adjust the spacing, cut out any mistakes, stick in any re-written words or phrases etc. In pencil I wrote the number of each line in sequence so as not to get them confused, and also the size of nib I used. (5 on the top line, and 6 on the bottom section). It was beginning to come together. I also needed to turn the section in small writing at the bottom the right way up!




CIMG2366I didn’t want a centred piece as with that, often the eye is taken more with the shape of the outline of the lines of text than the words themselves. So I adjusted the lines here and there, and made sure as much as I could (and it’s not always easy with short lines!) that there weren’t any diagonals of three or more beginnings or ends of lines. If there are, the eye is often ‘led’ off the paper and not on to the next line. As well as this, of course, the lines had to have a spine, all the lines had to overlap in the centre – the piece falls apart with lines flying off the edges of the main text. To ensure that the piece was balanced, I used a plastic ruler placed vertically, stood back, closed one eye and slightly blurred the other to see if there was about the same amount of text on the left-hand side of the ruler as there was on the right. Lines were then adjusted accordingly.

CIMG2370I marked the position of the ruler and then drew a vertical line down through all the lines – this would be the centre as I had worked out. I also used two L-shaped pieces of card to create a central rectangle, and slid them one way and another to determine the margins of the piece, The lines were then gathered up in order and placed on the sliding rule on my drawing board, line 1 on the top.





CIMG2371I chose a piece of hand-made Khadi paper which I’d had for many years. It has a good, smooth HP surface with strands of green water algae which I thought would tie in well with the green of a cricket pitch. I mixed up some oxide of chromium Schmincke Calligraphy gouache – it is a wonderfully smooth paint to use with a pen, and one of my favourites. I drew a faint pencil central line on the Khadi paper and was almost ready to write. To avoid mistakes, which are so very easy in calligraphy, I attach each line just above where I’m to write. This helps with spacing, spelling, letter formation and so on. So, taking some of the stickiness off a couple of small pieces of magic tape to avoid lifting the soft paper surface, I lined up the vertical pencil line on the Khadi paper with that on the strip of paper and pressed the sticky tape down gently. I used the horizontal edge of the guard sheet on my board as a guideline as there were no ruled horizontal pencil lines, and started to write. The paper absorbed the ink well and I didn’t have to wait long for each line to dry, but I have, with some papers, had a hair dryer in my lap to dry the paint as I go. As each line is written, I checked it, and then dried the ink with the hairdryer!

CIMG2373Finally the piece was written, the lines reasonably straight within the ‘free’ feeling of the piece and the words of the poem, and I then needed to remove all traces of the vertical pencil line. I left the piece for half a day to ensure the paint was completely dry, and then, rather than just scrub at the vertical pencil line with an eraser, I very gently ‘rolled’ it on the pencil line, being very careful near the paint.

The piece of paper wasn’t hand-made exactly to the exact size and shape of the final piece, as on the right. The only ‘real’ deckle edge was on the left. So with clean water and a brush, I ran a line of water along the final dimensions of the piece, each edge at a time, allowed the water to soak in for a minute or two, and then gently pulled the two sides of the paper apart, which left a ragged edge of paper fibres. While it was damp, I pushed my thumb against the paper edge to make it ‘clump’ a bit, similar to the left-hand deckle edge. And then the piece was finished, ready to wrap in tissue paper and be given to the recipient.