A festive piece

Layout 1Occasionally, just very occasionally, a project somehow seems to work without a great deal of effort, and this is what happened with this piece. I was asked by Landlove, a UK lifestyle magazine, to have ‘a festive piece’ ready to be photographed for their Christmas 2016 issue, when they were running a six-page piece about me. This was at the end of September, and thoughts were not turning to Jingle Bells!

 

 

 

cimg2831On a walk in the woods I saw some ivy trailing over a tree, and pulled a strand off, and a few steps away was a holly tree. This reminded me of the Christmas carol ‘The holly and the ivy’, and I thought that I could perhaps do something with this. I cut a few twigs of holly and took them and the ivy back to my workroom so that I could paint them.

 

 

img_1913I had the idea of a circular design, with the words going round in a circle and the greenery in the middle. I wrote out the words using a small nib (Mitchell size 5) and checked on the guidelines in one of my books – The British Library Companion to Calligraphy, Illumination and Heraldry (available from my website here) – on how to measure a circle to fit the text. I knew what to do but couldn’t find any compasses! So I found a stencil for ovals, and decided to change my design (such trivial reasons can change designs in this way!).

img_1914Not knowing how the words would fit I chose a size of oval that somehow looked about right, and started to write. The easiest way of dealing with the words would be to start at the top centre point of the oval, but I wanted the words in the first line to be obvious and sort of ‘straddle’ the top curve. Without really knowing where to place my pen, I started where I thought it was about right, and wrote around the line of the oval. Amazingly, the words fitted! I really couldn’t believe it, but there were some adjustments needed, with gaps where there shouldn’t be and a bit of bunching elsewhere. Also, the first line of the Christmas carol wasn’t placed evenly along the top curve and required a bit of tweaking. Using the holly and ivy that I’d brought home, I used a pencil to draw holly and ivy inside the oval, trying to create a balanced design.

img_1915I wrote it out again, starting a little further to the right for a better balance of the first line, but this time I ran out of space. I should have written it again, but didn’t have the time, so I knew that it was a deep breath and hope situation!

 

 

 

 

 

img_1918Usually the calligraphy should be completed first, as it’s easier to correct painting than it is lettering, but I had been doing a lot of calligraphy, and I wanted to do some painting for a change. I prepared the vellum skin and transferred the design using Armenian bole paper as carbon paper (see my Illumination book and DVD). I then reinforced the design with very dilute red gouache, and finally started painting. Once the design was in full colour, I realised that there was a bit of a gap on the bottom left, so I added in some more holly leaves to remedy this.

 
Layout 1Then it came to the writing. Really I should have written this out again to ensure that the words would fit, but I was really pushed for time. I placed the vellum over the first effort, adjusting the starting point so that the first line would be balanced, and lightly traced through, tightening up the spacing where I thought it was a little loose. It seemed to fit, and I decided to just trust to luck and a following wind! I cut a quill to approximately the same nib size, mixed up Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache to make a dark green, and, with a deep breath, just went for it. I really couldn’t believe it when the words seemed to fit and looked even all the way round. I tidied up the lettering and the painting and then the piece was ready to be photographed by the magazine. I also had some cards printed to use for our Christmas greetings card this year – spoiler alert!

The Ramsey Psalter

imagesThe Ramsey Psalter (BL, Harley 2904) is a masterpiece of the tenth century; it was the manuscript identified by Master Calligrapher Edward Johnston at the beginning of the last century as a good example of strong letter-forms to start to learn calligraphy. Psalm 1 in the psalter begins with a huge gilded B and this is then followed by enlarged capital letters for (B)eatus Vir qui non abiit in consilio imporum (Blessed is the Man who walketh not in the path of the ungodly …), see right.

 

 

psalter_of_oswald_-_harley_2904_f3v_crucifixionOpposite this majestic page is a wonderfully delicate line drawing of the crucifixion with Mary and John the Evangelist. The economy of line is truly admirable. The artist also contributed to Harley 2506 which you can see here.

 

 

 

 

6412942719_3e20dd5645_bThe Ramsey Psalter was written in Winchester in the last quarter of the tenth century, and is reputed to have been produced for St Oswald who became Bishop of Worcester in 961.For more about St Oswald and the manuscript, the Clerk of Oxford website has a great article here. The script is English Caroline Minuscule; the forward slant, small x-height and elongated ascenders and descenders of Caroline Minuscule have been changed. Once across the Channel, the x-height has increased, ascenders and descenders decreased, and the letters are upright resulting in a grander script perhaps.

 

 

fullsizerenderEdward Johnston developed an analysis of scripts by looking at 7 aspects of letters such that they could be copied. Here is my analysis of the Ramsey Psalter using Johnston’s 7 points (taken from the Historical Source Book for Scribes, I have a limited number of copies so do contact me through my website if you would like to buy one).

f151vThere are superbly executed smaller gilded and decorated initials, as here.

 

 

 

 

 

 

images-2Psalms start with an enlarged gilded initial, and then verses begin with a smaller gilded letter, followed by the grand text script.

 

 

 

 

 

harley-2904-f-144Explicits and incipits were written in Rustics. The gilded Square Roman Capitals starting each psalm are particularly fine.

 
screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-20-19-05What is intriguing to me is the slight darkening around the small gilded initials. I have a theory – it could be excess gold leaf being scraped off, or it could be the stickiness in the gesso leaching out. My preference is for the latter.

To see the whole book click here.

 

 

 

 

 

Type is Beautiful

IMG_1589This new book by Simon Loxley ‘Type is Beautiful’ brings together fifty different fonts from Gutenberg (used from around 1454) to Zulia (designed in 2013) and many in between. It starts with a chapter explaining about type design, why we need more than one style, how letter designs are translated into type, the development of different designs for headings and titles, and how type is designed and used today. Simon Loxley’s selected fifty types are not ‘the best of’ but ones that have a significance, and, more often than not, a story.

 

 

the-first-page-of-eusebius-preparation-for-the-gospelThe type used by Gutenberg for the first printing presses in Europe, in Mainz in Germany, was based on Gothic Black Letter manuscripts. It was a Frenchman, Nicolas Jenson, working in Italy, who produced a Roman type (based on the work of others) that, from the 1470s, lead the way for many years. It was not only the type design that was important, but also the type-setting. Unlike modern newspapers, magazines and books the impression on the page on the right is one of clarity and evenness; even though there are right and left justified margins, no lines are denser as the letters have been packed in, nor any lighter as the letters have been stretched out.

 

 

imagesJohn Baskerville was an English type designer, who created the letter-forms in ‘Baskerville’ which first appeared in 1754. It is a design of great elegance and style, with a roundness of form. Baskerville was concerned not only with type but also the ink and paper used in the printing process. His eponymous typeface was described as ‘letting in the light’, and the page on the right shows ‘the art of concealing care and the sense of balance which has taken infinite pains to obtain the right interlinear spacing and letterspacing, the right gradations of size.’

 

 

images-1William Morris was a polymath who, it is said by his biographer, typically spent five years on something achieving a very high standard, and then moved on to something new. When setting up the Kelmscott Press Morris knew that he wanted ‘letters pure in form; severe, without needing excrescences; solid, without the thickening and thinning of the line’. An example of the ‘Golden Type’, designed by Morris and Emery Walker, and first seen in 1891, is in the first book printed at the Kelmscott Press – ‘The Glittering Plain’.

images‘Neuland’, first seen in 1923, is a completely different typeface from those that have gone before. Rudolf Koch from Germany was a great calligrapher as well as type designer, and it was said that ‘All his founts are derived from written hands. They spring into life quite freely’. For Neuland, Koch cut the letters directly on to the punches which is remarkable. It is chunky and has great charm.

transport_specimenWe may pass them every day but road and motorway signs use typefaces and they have to be designed. ‘Transport’ is the one used in the UK. It first appeared in 1958 and was designed by Jock Kinneir from Britain and Margaret Calvert from South Africa. The design for such signs needed to be clear and easy-to-read particularly from a distance. When travelling at speed confusion between letter-forms can be dangerous!

uix80p0vdc314c6cd6sxc7d965c6deNatWest Normal RegularOWe are used to brand recognition by company logos, but NatWest bank went one further by commissioning British type-designers Freda Sack and David Quay to create a typeface especially for them. Initially asked to design a one-weight headline for the bank, it was then used for more than that. ‘Natwest’ was said to be one of the first identities that was type-led, and although literature from most banks may not be easily recognisable, because of this typeface, that of NatWest is.

This is a fascinating book giving the background to fifty different type designs from the classic to the fun, and it even includes Comic Sans – the Marmite of typefaces!

*NB The illustrations used here are not necessarily the ones in the book, as these weren’t available at the time of writing this blog.