Charter for Trees, Woods and People

© Patricia Lovett MBE/Woodland Trust 2017

© Patricia Lovett MBE/Woodland Trust 2017

The Charter for Trees, Woods and People has been created to record the importance of woods and trees to us all and also to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter of the Forest which is now in Lincoln Castle. This early Charter, sealed by Henry III, re-established rights of access to royal forests. The Woodland Trust led on the new project for the nation, collecting comments and ideas from many people, and putting together ten tenets of contemporary views of the value of trees and woods to people. I was delighted when I heard that I had been the unanimous choice to carry out this important and prestigious commission.

 

First lettering trialsI needed the text before I could start doing anything really, and once I had it I appreciated that it was quite lengthy! As this piece was going to be framed, the size of writing needed to be larger than for something held in the hand such as a book, as people stand further away to read and look at things on the wall so I couldn’t really use anything smaller than a size 5 nib, and the writing style had to be a compact one such as Italic. The title set the width of the piece, and although I wanted to write it in strong wide Roman Capitals (as can be seen here in the first tryout of the title), I realised that I needed to reduce the width as it would have made the piece really wide and rather unwieldy! I kept to the usual proportions for Roman Capitals, but just reduced the width of the round letters which seemed to work. This shows my first writing out of the text.

I didn’t really have time to consider the design for long as everything had to be completed, from first sight of the text to final piece, in about six weeks, so sizes of the various blocks of text, inter-linear spacing, layout etc, had to be done pretty much instinctively and based on previous experience. I used as a guide for the text blocks the longest sub-title, but realised once I had written out all the text that this would have left far too much space between the two columns and the illustrations would have dominated the text, but it was good practice anyway for writing out the lengthy text blocks.

Text blocksSo, with a lot of measuring – never my strong point – I wrote out all the text again with columns the width I thought they should be to allow for a narrower central column of decoration. As I was writing out the text blocks in rough, I realised that they were working out sort of justified, with a straight margin on the left and also on the right. Now in calligraphy we really never seek to justify text because it can make the spacing look very uneven, just as it does sometimes in printed text. And it also adds another level of stress which really isn’t needed for something like this, but …!

Text set outThe Woodland Trust had sent a list of eleven trees that they wanted included on the Charter, so these needed to be placed appropriately. Before I received the text I had been thinking and experimenting about how to represent these trees. They could be shown as complete trees, but the leaves would have been so small and they could be identified only by the overall tree shape – and who knows those that well? Or they could be shown as botanical paintings with one or two of the leaves carefully painted as exact replicas. However, this is where the decision about what is more important comes in. Is the text or the painting to be emphasised more? Here it is clearly the text of the Charter, so the decoration had to be subsidiary to the lettering and not in competition with it. With quite a lot of experimentation of various styles, sizes, what to include and exclude etc, I decided to show parts of trees where their identification would be obvious, and for most trees it’s their leaves and berries or seeds – conkers, acorns, hazel nuts, rowan berries etc. Having read the text I appreciated that the essence of it was how important trees are to us – around us, close to us in our gardens and on our streets, and almost within us – lifting our spirits and delighting the eye – so to have them separated in the piece by being a wide border along the bottom or along the sides wouldn’t really reflect that. A painted central vertical column of trees seemed to be the best way forward – and it had an added bonus too – read on to the end …

Ink experimentsThe Woodland Trust, understandably, wanted me to use oak gall ink. This wasn’t a problem as I do use it often, and have just done a major project using this. However, I didn’t have time to make it myself and they had someone who was doing this anyway for the Charter. Unfortunately, the ink supplied created further challenges as shown here. Another problem to test and overcome!

Not making mistakesSo with the text written, the headings done and the central column indicated, it was time to draw the lines. However, it wasn’t quite as straightforward as that! The first column was a line longer than the second column, and the sub-headings were in a different writing style than the text. It took quite a bit of measuring and re-measuring to work out exactly the inter-linear spacing to ensure that both columns ended up at the right place. Setting out the whole piece was immensely time-consuming and yet again I misjudged how long this seemingly simple process would take. I tackled the text blocks first. Having written them out in rough, when I was more relaxed, I knew that the spacing would be about right – not tight and tense. So I photocopied all the text, cut the photocopies up into strips of individual lines, and attached these just above where I was to write each line to avoid making mistakes. The lines were very carefully numbered!

Why I hate paper!The Woodland Trust wanted the Charter on paper not vellum (to avoid upsetting those who are sensitive to such things), despite me pointing out that the paper I would use wouldn’t be tree-based but from cotton or linen rag. Now I really don’t like using paper, because when using a sharp nib, it often picks up paper fibres which can’t be seen until they mess up the letters as here – note the ‘d’ at the end of the last line in the upper text block.

 

 

 

 

Writing finshedThen it was time to write the sub-headings, the text about the Charter along the bottom, and the main heading itself. This is where I found out that the paper I was using, Lavis Fidelis, was softer than I wanted it to be. I’ve had a large roll of this paper, about 350 gsm in weight, for a very long time and I thought it would be perfect for this piece, which turned out to be very large. But over the years, the hot pressed surface had slightly softened, and the paint in the large letters did not sit evenly on the surface. Every stroke on the title and the poem at the top had to be over-painted. However, I was pleased with the fact that having the lines justified gave neat edges to the right and left margins, which was particularly important with the central painted decoration. However, what with writing on paper where it’s not easy to erase mistakes without it being seen, this was an added level of stress that I could have done without! Note that both text columns line up top and bottom despite the extra line in the left-hand column.

erasing linesAnd once I had finished the writing and allowed the ink and paint to ‘settle’ for at least 24 hours, I had to be really careful in erasing the lines because the ink was so fragile. This eraser was a new one, and it had a point when I started. Because of the delicate paper surface, it took me about three hours just to remove the lines!

 

 

 

 

 

Tube on boardNow the Charter is large, 78.5 by 82.5 cms, and this meant that the paper stretched way below my sloping board especially when I was writing close to the top of the Charter. It is so easy just to lean on the paper without thinking and crease it, so I used a cardboard tube placed over the bottom edge of my board and taped it underneath the guard sheet. I had cut a vertical section along the length of the tube so that the tube would fit over the board and this created a smooth round surface for the paper to slide over. Even if I leant heavily on the paper, the fact that it was backed by this curved shape rather than a straight edge meant that the paper remained undamaged.

Wrong interlinear spacingI am often asked if I ever make mistakes – the answer is far too often – but as I use vellum these can be erased without trace. However, despite every check, I made a major error which meant that I had to start all over again. The lines of text in the blocks varied in number from five to eight lines, and the headings needed lines ruled at different heights – all requiring great care – so it wasn’t just a case of drawing lines the same distance apart all the way down the page, but drawing lines appropriate for each separate block of text and its heading. I never start at the beginning because no matter how much you try to relax you are always tense before you start writing and this comes out in the hand and writing. Starting elsewhere and then going back to the beginning one you’re relaxed and into writing the piece is a better approach. So I started at text block seven, which went OK and so I wrote out text block eight. Then, for no apparent reason, I picked up the paper strips of text for block ten rather than nine. Block nine had fewer lines then ten, but I only realised this when I ran out of guidelines! I thought – and hoped – that the Woodland Trust would not mind too much the reversal of these two text blocks, so I went back to the left-hand side of the paper to identify the guideline measurements and drew the appropriate lines. HOWEVER I took the wrong inter-linear measurement – how could this have happened? So although mixing up the text blocks might have been acceptable, lines too close together as evident in the last two lines here certainly weren’t! So it was the huge job of marking out and re-drawing all those lines for the whole piece on a new piece of paper!

Hazel startingThen it was on to the decoration. I started to paint each type of tree carefully on another piece of paper to get the design and balance right. This was an education in itself as so often things are in calligraphy and painting. How did the leaves hang on the branches – up/down/flat/singly/in clusters/evenly along the branch/randomly? And were the veins symmetrical or random, and having got the shape of the leaves were the edges smooth, jagged, rounded, pointed etc etc. I learned so much doing this. Annoyingly, despite all my preparations beforehand, the softness of the surface of the paper meant that I couldn’t transfer any of the designs over because in erasing any pencil or similar lines, the paint also came off the paper! So, having got the idea of the leaves etc, I just had to take a deep breath and wing it. I set out the faintest guideline in pencil for branches and then used very dilute Schmincke gouache and a very fine Kolinsky sable da Vinci brush (size 00) to paint in the leaves and fruit/seeds, having done all that previous research.

Hazel finishedNext, I used the fine brush and outlined the branches and leaves, put in the veins, added further colour to the leaves and fruit/seeds and finished the painting off. It all sounds so easy but actually each tree took the best part of a day with the research, initial painting and then the final painting on the Charter. Above and here are the hazel leaves and nuts.

 

painting douglas firI enjoyed all the painting and for the Douglas fir and yew I counted how many separate tiny strokes of paint I made for one short section along the branches. There were over 350 strokes not more than a couple of millimetres long in three colours for a section less than 10 millimetres long! As I say so often in my courses, the consistency of the paint and the control of it is crucial and it was here.

 

 

 

 

Everything masked for paintingBefore I started painting I covered the text completely, as it had taken me so long to write, the last thing I wanted was a green blob of paint across the lettering!

 

 

 

 

 

 

First 3 treesSo I worked my way up from the bottom painting the trees, here it’s oak, rowan and Douglas fir.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trees 2Once it got too far for me to reach from the bottom, I turned the Charter round and worked on it upside down. So from the top here it’s sycamore, hawthorn, horse chestnut, hazel, yew, ash and apple. The order in which the trees were featured was up to me so I spread those with red berries throughout the column as red, being a complementary colour to green, would make a sharp contrast and visually ‘ping’, and also carefully placed the ones with darker leaves, or more spikey ones etc so they were evenly balanced and didn’t dominate too much.

 

 

Painting upside downThis is the completed central column of trees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top decorationI then added tiny little blocks of leaves and fruit either side of the poem at the top. These were about 1.5 cms square in all. This brought some colour and interest to the top of the Charter.

 

 

Delivering charterAnd the added bonus of having the central column of decoration? This can be seen here in the finished Charter, where Matt Larsen-Daw, who is Project Leader for the Charter, is receiving it. The shape of the central column of decoration with the title and heading text and paintings makes the letter ‘T’, and, of course, ‘T’ stands for Trees – the whole point of the Charter! (Note the wide margins on the Charter, giving the calligraphy room to breathe, and see then the picture frame below)

 

 

 

IMG_3551There was a lot of publicity for the Charter and it was featured on BBC1’s Countryfile programme on November 5th 2017, and also on BBC Breakfast on November 6th, as shown here. I did shiver when I saw the Charter in all that sunlight on Lincoln Castle ramparts, but it was taken inside straight after the programme!

 

 

IMG_3557There were big celebrations at Lincoln both in the Cathedral and in the Castle to launch the Charter and mark the 800th Anniversary of the 1217 Charter of the Forest on November 6th. It was a bitterly cold evening with a fierce wind, and Lincoln stands high in the surrounding countryside. Here I am once the Charter was taken inside to be close to the 1217 Charter. (And, like many of you no doubt, although the frame was lovely, I just longed for more space around the piece, particularly at the bottom. I had indicated the dimensions for framing, but this must have got lost in translation!)

The whole experience of designing, writing and painting this Charter was one that I enjoyed very much indeed, and the benefit was that I learned so much about trees. I am most grateful to the Woodland Trust for giving me this opportunity.

Art and History of Calligraphy

IMG_2440The Art and History of Calligraphy, published May 2017 by the British Library, does pretty much what it says on the tin! It covers writing from what is thought to be the earliest known writing by a woman in Britain in the first century, to the present day (as much as a book published in 2017 can do that!). Here is a sneaky peak inside the book.

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 8What I love about the design is that images of manuscripts are large and so it’s possible to get up close and personal to the letters. Here a page from the Luttrell Psalter has been spread over two pages at the beginning of the book. I chose this page for its wonderful trumpeter – his instrument long enough almost to extend right across the whole column of text!

 

FullSizeRender 7The first chapter is called, surprisingly enough, the Art and History of Calligraphy, and, after defining the way in which calligraphy is going to be regarded in the book, traces writing through the ages. A number of manuscripts will be familiar, but there are some new ones here, including this lettering by Bembo and a delight of chrysography on dyed black vellum.

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 6Then a chapter is devoted to how the manuscripts were actually made, including quills, vellum brushes, pigments and gold.

 

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 5This is followed by a section on Writing the Letters, based on Edward Johnston’s 7-point analysis.

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 4And then there are full page double spreads of over 70 manuscripts from the second century AD to right up to the present day. In many cases, as here, there is an enlargement of a couple of lines to show the lettering really closely. The Bosworth Psalter is on the right.

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 3Here is the Lacock Cartulary with wonderfully flourished letters.

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRender 2And this is one of the first times that Edward Johnston’s Scribe, given to Dorothy Mahoney, has been shown this size in full colour.

 

 

 

 

FullSizeRenderAnd the book is brought as far up to the present day as a publishing schedule will allow. A stunning piece by Stephen Raw of a poem by Carol Ann Duffy is shown on the right.

 

 

 

I really enjoyed writing the book, sharing information that I have learned from others and researching the manuscripts, and I do hope that others will enjoy reading it. It’s available from the British Library Bookshop, and I am also selling it through my website. If you order a copy from me here then I shall happily write a name in the book calligraphically to make it really special.

 

 

 

 

A single shivering fleck of sunset-light

Layout 1How fortunate we are as calligraphers not only to be moved by the words of authors and poets, but also to be able to interpret that text visually. I had the task of creating a number of pieces of the same artwork for a special occasion – what to choose, and how to interpret the text? As it’s what I do, I homed in on vellum and quills, and had some lovely classic-finish skin which hadn’t been bleached too much so still had many of the characteristics of the animal such as darker areas, veining and specks of hair follicles.

 

 

 

IMG_2163I wanted something that would be a bit of challenge as I had to write it out over a dozen times and I do tend to get bored rather easily (!), but I hadn’t quite appreciated the extent of that challenge when I started! As it was a special occasion I chose my favourite verse of my favourite poem, Gift, by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore. In this poem he writes about what he could give to show that he cares. Tagore considers a flower – it will fade, a jewel – it could get lost, a candle in the darkness – it will get blown out. So he chooses a moment – that point when, wandering in a garden, a hidden flower’s scent ‘startles you into sudden wondering’. Or when, at dusk, a ‘single shivering fleck of sunset-light turns your daydreams to gold’ (I get a shiver up the spine whenever I read that). I tried the verse in various formats, portrait, landscape, in Italic, in Foundational hand, and in the end decided to go for Compressed Italic Majuscles (Capitals) with the words and phrases that meant to most to me in wider Roman Capitals. Rather than using the same colour, I chose three – bright yellow, a bright green and an olive green as I felt these reflected the colours in the verse, and fed these into the pen as I wrote. This is technically quite challenging to do as you can see here and here. So the first thing to do was to see how the lines would fall, as on the right above.

IMG_2162Having determined the line endings and seen how big the piece was, I realised that I needed to go down a nib size, as on the right, but even this was too big, so I then went for the smallest nib size – a size 6 – this was turning into quite a challenge! I did have the basic layout of the poem though.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2155I don’t usually use lines for these pieces, relying on eye and the balance of the text, but to do this number, I appreciated that I did need some sort of guide. The great thing about vellum is that usually you can just about see through it. So I worked out the line spacing, length of lines, beginnings and endings and the balance of the artwork and ruled up a piece of paper to use as my guide on which I placed the prepared cut pieces of vellum ready to write.

 

 

 

IMG_2152Pieces that are completely evenly centred often cause a problem as the eye is taken by the shape the edges of the lines make, so in my view it’s better to have the lines based on a central line. For this, to ensure that there is a balance, use a plastic ruler and place the narrow edge down the vertical central line of the piece. Half close your eyes and there should be the same amount of text on the right-hand side of the line as there is on the left. It can take some adjusting of individual lines  to achieve this. What is important is that some part of all the lines must go through this central line; if they are flying off to the right or left without this the piece has no cohesion, no spine.

 

IMG_2153So I was ready to go, and hope that the recipients are pleased with their original artworks, each one different.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Colour in the pen

CIMG2478Some people think that calligraphy is essentially black writing with perhaps a touch of red. How limiting! Calligraphy can be any and every colour. One way of using colour that I really like is where the pen actually mixes the colour, as on the right. It’s not one line one colour and one line another, but two colours which are mixed, somewhat randomly, as you write.

 

 

 

CIMG2469It is a good idea to choose two colours which have greater contrast than the two in the piece above, but the extract was about water and fishing, so to echo that I chose a bluey-green and a greeny-blue. The text was Welsh with an English translation. So, to start I wrote  out the text in differing styles and heights of letters; after experimenting I decided on Italic for the Welsh and tiny dancing capitals for the English. I had a smallish piece of vellum so I didn’t want to use a large nib. I chose a Mitchell/Manuscript size 5 for both styles of writing, and a size 6 for the title and dedication line to be positioned at the bottom, and then wrote out the words

CIMG2471The lines were of very varied lengths, so a right or left alignment would leave a rather ragged edge. I decided on a centred arrangement after a bit of experimentation. I cut up the lines, measured each one and marked the centre point then placed them on another piece of paper to see how it would look, and where the title and dedication line should be positioned.

 

CIMG2473Once all the decisions had been made, I prepared the vellum (see my Illumination DVD and Illumination: Gold and Colour book here), ruled the lines and mixed up the paint. Writing with two colours in the pen is not quite as hit-and-miss as it may seem at first. With this process individual letters usually consist of more than one colour, and if this doesn’t come out of the pen then it needs to be ‘engineered’. The Calligraphy Clip (see below) shows how to do this. The pen isn’t filled as is usual, but one colour just ‘tipped’ on to the underneath of the pen with a brush, As each stroke is written, the colours in the previous letters and also the ones above need to be taken into account to ensure an overall even effect – not too much of one colour, not too much of the other, and not too much of the mix. Sometimes it’s necessary to go over some strokes with a different colour to ensure this. It certainly doesn’t encourage rhythm and flow, but can be most effective. I find it very appropriate for when I’m asked to write out pieces for weddings or anniversaries; each colour represents one person and the mix of colours suggests their lives together.

CIMG2625This piece has more contrast in the colours, as they are vermilion and ultramarine.

 

 

 

 

IMG_0039This Calligraphy Clip explains how to use two colours in the pen and demonstrates the process, and some of the pitfalls.

Illumination – Gold and Colour

FullSizeRenderIt is always a great relief when a book is published and rough drafts that have been worked on for so many months or even years all come to fruition. This is exactly how I feel about my latest book – Illumination: Gold and Colour. This is just about everything I know about using metallic pigments, powders and leaves, colour, the traditional materials of vellum and parchment, as well as quills, gesso and egg tempera painting along the way.

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 15.44.51The book, with a preface by Professor Michelle Brown, has 162 pages, is lavishly illustrated, and costs £15 + p+p. Here is a sneaky peak inside.

It is available from my website here; I shall be delighted to write a name calligraphically in each copy. To buy the book please contact me and I’ll send you details of how to pay, and how much the postage will be. I don’t use Paypal nor take credit/debit cards, so if you would prefer to pay in this way, then L Cornelissen and Son are also selling the book (in this case I won’t be able to write in a name). Contact them here. The book complements my Illumination DVD.

Illmn 4Chapters include a brief history of manuscript production, tools, materials, techniques and projects. I felt it very important to include projects which are very simple and cheap to do (gold leaf is expensive!). So there are lots of ideas for making simple items with cheap gold and colour which even children could do.

Illmn 5There are also step-by-step ‘instruction boxes’ which make it easy to find out how to do various processes, but also ‘ingredients’ lists and numbered steps to follow them through. These are coloured and boxed so they are clear to see and find in the book.

Illmn 1Of course, it wouldn’t be a book about Illumination if vellum, parchment and quills weren’t throroughly explained and considered. So the differences between parchment and vellum are explained, how to prepare skin for writing and painting is here, how to stretch vellum over board in easy step-by-step stages is also covered, so are curing and cutting feathers into quills, and how to prepare pigments and mix them for egg tempera painting.

Illmn 2The projects include simple and easy, those more complicated such as writing on vellum with colour and shell gold, right up to mediæval miniature gilding and painting, and also how to plan and make a presentation scroll on vellum using traditional skills which is based on an actual commission.

Illmn 6The book finishes with a chapter on pigments which were used in mediæval manuscripts.