Tag Archives: calligraphy

Rustics – not that rustic!

6316096470_0cb8df28e2_bRustics are very elegant letter-forms that have a distinctive diagonal feel to them, with the thickest strokes going from top left to bottom right. The fifth-century Vergilius Romanus, a manuscript now in the Vatican Library, shows one of the best examples of Rustics in book form. This is one of the manuscripts featured in my British Library book The Art and History of Calligraphy (published April 2017) where a whole double spread is devoted to over 75 different manuscripts from the third century CE to the present day – each showing a full page image of the manuscript and the opposite text focuses in detail on the history, art and the script. These are in addition to chapters which give an overview on the art and history, explain how mediæval manuscripts were made and show how the letters were written.

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 18.42.11The word ‘Rustics’ does somehow suggest a more rural and less well executed style of writing, yet they are hardly that. Perhaps they are less formal than Roman Square Capitals, but the many pen changes to create the letter-forms show nothing easy and casual. They are called ‘Canonised Capitals’ by some palæographers. Rustics occur also in the prefatory pages of the Vespasian Psalter, which can be viewed on the British Library website in its entirety here.

 

 

 

pompeya_2_reducidoIt is thought that the writing style originated from Roman Square Capitals. Rustics can be seen written with a brush on walls by the ancient Romans, and there is evidence of this in Pompeii in Italy as on the right. Here the shop looks as if it’s selling olive oil, and the lettering is magnificent for an advertising slogan!

 

Roman-graffiti-on-building-2This one is about election slogans.

 

 

 

 

Screen Shot 2017-01-13 at 19.52.28But the best manuscript example of Rustics is the Vergilius Romanus and this is available for viewing online here. You might be able to enlarge it as much as I have on the right. If so, you will be able to see the effects of the ink on the vellum. Note to the right in the middle line where the ink, which contains acid, has eaten through the skin to create holes. This is a problem with this manuscript as in some places the letters, or the spaces between letters have fallen out of the manuscript. This is not an isolated instance with oak gall ink.

The Brentwood Charters

cimg2583One of the more unusual commissions I had recently was to copy out two thirteenth-century charters on to vellum panels, and write the translations underneath.

 

 

cimg2585The charters granted the rights to a weekly market and an annual two-day fair to the district of Brentwood (Bois Arsus, Brendewode, and Burntwood); one was dated 1227 and the other 1252.

 

 

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This may seem straightforward – until you see the actual charters, as one of them on the right. The earlier one of 1227 had a great many contractions, and I was most grateful to Tessa Webber at Cambridge University for very kindly transcribing it for me, so at least I was able to try to decipher whether a Latin word started with ‘min…’ or ‘uni…’ or ‘niu…’ etc! The later charter of 1252 was slightly clearer, but it still meant that I had to resort to my scant knowledge of mediæval Latin on occasion.

cimg2556The width of the panels was determined by the charters themselves, and I felt that there should be a consistency between the two panels in terms of size, shape and layout, even though this may mean larger gaps between the copied Latin and the English translation (as in the first panel above). I was able to get some wonderfully marked skin from Cowleys and cut pieces to size before stretching them. The excess was ideal to use for determining how much preparation was required for each skin.

cimg2560Then it was time to rule the lines with a 4H pencil and the sliding rule of my sloping board. Distances between the lines were marked with dividers.

 

 

 

cimg2563I started with the translations. The two charters were in totally different hands, albeit being only twenty-five years apart, but I thought it important that the translations should be in the same writing style, trying to marry together the hands on the two charters rather than choosing any particular calligraphic style. Also, the writing needed to be legible for those who wished to know what the Latin in the charter meant.

cimg2562This is a close-up of my first efforts. I thought the final effect too heavy and dominant and so chose a smaller nib which seemed to balance the writing in the charters better.

 

 

 

 

cimg2480The writing in that period of time was Gothic, but Gothic Black Letter majuscules are so difficult to read, so again I devised a style, this time based on Gothic Black Letter and Gothic Cursive. I used a five-diamond cross to separate the title from the date, as this looked more in keeping than the simple dash. The titles were written in vermilion.

cimg2589The third panel, on paper the same size as the stretched vellum, explained about the charters, what they were written on and the pen and ink used originally. The cost of the charters was met entirely by sponsors who commissioned the panels (The Brentwood Borough Renaissance Group, Brentwood Chamber of Commerce and the Essex Farmers’ Markets Ltd) and Clive Othen, Chair of the Brentwood Chamber of Commerce and the Brentwood Borough Renaissance Group, was the driving force behind this project. Dr Jennifer Ward translated them. Clive and Elaine Richardson from the Borough were some of the best clients I have worked with and I hope the panels prove interesting to those who live in Brentwood and others who visit.

 

Gold on Parchment, exhibition at Cornelissen in London

Cornelissen_smIt was a great privilege to work with L Cornelissen & Son at 105 Great Russell Street in London (just along from the British Museum) to mount the very first exhibition they have had at the shop. They are on a very busy thoroughfare and most people visiting the British Museum go past their front door. The exhibition was in the window and so it could be seen even when the shop was closed. The shop itself is wonderful as can be seen on the right – and it really is almost impossible not to go inside! Kathy Pearlson from Cornelissen, who set up the exhibition, did a terrific job of making sure that every piece could be seen and that the exhibition looked wonderful.

image12The exhibition was arranged on behalf of the Heritage Crafts Association for London Craft Week 2016, echoing the theme of ‘paper’ for their first anniversary. Some of the best calligraphers and illuminators in the country were asked to submit one or two pieces of their work on vellum for the exhibition, and the response was terrific! For those who didn’t mange to see it, here are some of the pieces exhibited. The photographs were kindly taken by Yanko Tihov. On the right: Sam Somerville.

 

 

 

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Tim Noad, on the right

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

image2Mary Noble (this piece is tiny!)

 

 

 

 

 

image21Ronnie Cruwys – also see her website ‘Drawing the Street‘, and again a small piece

 

 

image16

Ann Hechle

 

 

 

 

 

 

image17Patricia Lovett, another small piece

 

 

 

 

 

 

image24Peter Thornton, small again

 

 

 

 

 

 

image23Peter Halliday (I am featuring this piece in my British Library book, The Art and History of Calligraphy, to be published in 2017).

 

 

 

 

 

 

image9Ewan Clayton

 

 
image5John Woodcock (another tiny piece)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

image11Gemma Black

 

 

 

 

 

 

image10Jan Pickett

 

 

 

 

 

 

image13Jan Mehigan

 

 

 

 

 

 

image8Cathy Stables

 

 

 

 

 

 

image28Lin Kerr

 

Wang Dongling at the V&A, London Craft Week 2016

Wang DonglingThe second London Craft Week proved to be even better than the first, if that’s possible. At the launch at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the world-renowned great Chinese calligrapher, Wang Dongling, demonstrated his great art in front of hundreds of people. It must have been nerve-wracking! His ‘writing surface’ was a huge sheet of clear glass placed vertically, and he used some rather sticky paint and a large brush. Because it was clear glass the distraction of the movement of people through the glass and the flashes of the cameras as he wrote must have been difficult to overcome.

 

 

Wang Dongling writingI managed to film the whole calligraphic artwork – The Way that can be Spoken – from beginning to end on my iPad. Here it is. It is a bit wobbly, and other people got in the way, but it’s pretty much the sequence from beginning to end. As someone who has also demonstrated calligraphy to the public, and been ‘the hand’ for film and television, I have some knowledge of how nerve-wracking this can be – making sure that the letter-forms are correct, lively and true, with no going back to make adjustments. However, I have to hasten to add that my efforts are nothing like the scale of this, nor at this standard (and, of course, not Chinese writing!).

 

 

Ewan and WangStraight after the inaugural London Craft Week last year we were talking about the plans for London Craft Week 2016, and the contribution of the Heritage Crafts Association, taking into account the fact that the first anniversary is often thought of as ‘paper’. I suggested one of the great ‘performance art’ Chinese calligraphers, who I have seen writing with brushes as big as mops on huge pieces of paper on the floor. This would be such a dramatic event for the launch of London Craft Week 2016, especially as this year it had an international theme*. However, who to choose? Who was considered to be the best? I asked the person who I knew would know – Ewan Clayton MBE. I was delighted when I found out that it was possible for him to be invited to the event and I ensured that he was introduced to the great man – two renowned calligraphers, one from the east and one from the west. This is the photo I took of them both.

lcw-prince_charles_02*It was a throwaway comment from The Prince of Wales at the launch of the very first London Craft Week back in February 2015 at the Art Workers’ Guild that gave rise to the international theme of this year’s event. Here he is with letter cutter Lida Cardozo Kindersley at that occasion. As he was leaving the event, The Prince of Wales turned to Philippa Hobson, London Craft Week Programme Director, and me (I was there for the Heritage Crafts Association, one of the four Strategic Partners) and he said ‘What about international craft?’, and Philippa replied in a flash – ‘That’s next year’, and indeed it was!

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.

Sheila Waters prints

Layout 1PLEASE NOTE: I am no longer selling these prints but have left up this post for interest.

When Sheila Waters, the ‘Queen of Calligraphy’, according to the great Hermann Zapf, visited last summer, she left me with some glorious prints of her works. Colour sings out from all but those in black and white, and the quality is so fine that you can really see Sheila’s supreme skill and artistry in each one. Here are some of them, but I am no longer selling them. Right – Grandeur of God

 

 

 


Layout 1Right – Love and Peace

 

 

 
Layout 1Right – I wandered lonely

 

 

 

 
Layout 1Right – The Lord bless you 

 

 

 

 

 
Layout 1Right – People are in bondage 

 

 

 

 
Layout 1Right – Ponder 

 

 
Layout 1Right – Timelime Triptych

Graily Hewitt – some little seen works

CIMG2526Graily Hewitt was one of the first students to be taught calligraphy by Edward Johnston at the beginning of the last century and did a great deal to advance the knowledge and practice of gilding using gesso and leaf gold. In fact he wrote the ‘Illumination’ section in Johnston’s book – Writing, Illuminating and Lettering, as well as writing his own book Lettering for Students and Craftsmen, published in 1930. Graily Hewitt taught at both Camberwell School of Art as well as the Central School, continuing at the latter until the 1920s and 1930s.

 

 

CIMG2528Graily Hewitt did a great deal, indeed it could be said was crucial, in the revival of gilding on gesso. He wrote out the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam using a different gesso recipe for each page. This was bound into a small volume, and with it he gave details of the recipes and the results in another volume. Both are now in the British Library.

 

CIMG2529The examples of his work here are the ‘Christmas cards’ he sent to one of his pupils, ‘the Doctor’. Each is written on parchment, sheepskin, and are in black and red only. However most, as with this one on the right, are striking! It is surprising how often something simple is the best solution and black and red work so well together.

 

 

 

 

CIMG2530These pieces were written by Graily Hewitt in his twilight years – he died aged 88 on 22nd December 1952 – and was writing up until his death. Although the lettering is strong, not all of it, in my view, is totally successful – the ‘h’ and ‘e’ overlap on the right being a case in point. I would suggest that it brings a density to the design which is not balanced elsewhere, although it does avoid a too long line, which may have been the intention.

 

 

 

CIMG2531However, other designs and letter combination are just delightful. The balance of this lightweight cross on the right and the text, resulting in a shield-shape is particularly pleasing.

 

 

 

 
CIMG2532And the placing of the red dots making a tastefully decorated cross with the tail of the ‘g’, in this piece that I used in my free online newsletter, neatly balances the red letter ‘w’ on the first line. You can also see Graily Hewitt’s neat and legible handwriting at the bottom.

 

I intend to write more on Graily Hewitt in a future blog and newsletter.

 

 

 

 

Gappy – a celebration of a great Indian poet

CIMG2267It must be really difficult to write about someone you have never met but who is remembered with great affection in the family. This was the challenge for the daughter of a close friend of mine. Her grandfather was Edward Mendonça, a celebrated Indian poet, and his centenary was last year. A book of a collection of his poems was planned to mark this. Would Neisha, a gifted poet in her own right, contribute a poem?

Many families have pet names for grandparents, and ‘Gappy’ was that for Edward Mendonça. So Neisha wrote:

Gappy

And so it was

That you should live and I should live

At separate times, in separate worlds.

So that I’ll never know your touch; the small expressions of your face;

The paper-soft feel of your grandfather skin, or the comfort of your laugh from afar.

I have no memory of you that’s only for me.

But I have endless tales: of love, of joy, of kindness …

And I know that you are wonderful,

And still here – in words, in memories and in enduring love.

IMG_0840As with so many of Neisha’s poems, I loved this as soon as I heard it. It had elements of reaching back through half-remembered, or half-told memories to try to form the feeling of a person long since gone. I played around with the words until I was happy with them, wanting a free and unstructured piece. Then to the paper – what to write it on? I found a single sheet of hand-made Indian tissue-like paper, slightly crumpled. This was exactly the feeling that I wanted. I tested the paper for writing, and although it was a bit of a challenge, it seemed to work with a bit of care.

IMG_0837The effect I was aiming for was that of reaching back into the past for memories, some clearer than others, some about to disappear. I had the idea of tearing the paper into strips and writing each line at the base of a single strip, one overlapping the other. BUT I had just that single sheet of paper and there was little room for wastage, so it was very tense! I placed the written lines of my rough on the torn strips of tissue paper to see how it would work and made a few adjustments.

IMG_0842Then I started, using a very narrow nib and Indian red, which I thought appropriate in the circumstances, I placed each line of ‘rough’ above where I was to write. I worked my way along each line, taking into account the position of the words on the line above, and also the shape of the torn paper. As I worked down the piece, I laid each line on top of the other as I did so to check that it was working as a whole.

CIMG2268When I had finished writing I pasted the upper part of the torn paper strips on to the back of the one above, and left the bottom part loose – not attached. Sticking everything down securely and perfectly wasn’t the effect I was aiming for! The piece needed to be free and slightly ethereal, and yes, a bit torn round the edges! Of course, there are always things that I would have changed, and had I a second piece of paper, I could have planned it much better, but the overall effect was the one that I had in mind at the start – going back in time through layers of memory, some better remembered than others.

Sheila Waters’ wonderful interpretation of ‘Under Milk Wood’

Under milk wood

Please note: I am not now selling this book but have left this post up for interest.

Once in a generation you come across a real tour-de-force, a masterpiece, and this is the case with Sheila Waters’ illustrated and calligraphic interpretation of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood. It is simply stunning! In the accompanying notes to the book Sheila writes: I realised that the manuscript I was making would be a legacy that I would leave behind, that should long outlast me ….

 

Screen Shot 2015-10-18 at 14.08.11To have a sneaky peek inside the book, here is a short clip.

 

 

 

 

 

SW1

 *****PLEASE NOTE: I am not now selling this book so please contact Sheila directly.

(Special Offer! Sheila’s book is available full size in a strictly limited edition, together with her notes and explanation of the thought processes behind creating the book and how she did it. This article has details of Sheila’s ideas for the design, and page-by-page notes on the illustrations. Each copy of the book will not only be signed by Sheila, but she will also write your name inside. This is a terrific, once-in-a-lifetime offer. So the book (signed by Sheila and with your name in it), and the accompanying 27-page article (in a special folder) of the background to the manuscript, which has been set in typefaces designed by Julian Waters, Sheila’s son, costs £100. This includes postage to UK addresses. This is a wonderful opportunity not only to enjoy and own the book itself, but to use it for your own studies of a contemporary Caroline minuscule written by the supreme master who developed this hand from mediæval manuscripts. Again please note: I am not now selling this book so please contact Sheila directly.)

 

Sheila Waters 1The cover of the book is stunning, with an impressive blind embossed panel on ivory paper (above). This panel is repeated inside the book, with Sheila’s typical majestical Roman Capitals in black with intricate drawings and vibrant colours as shown on the right. This panel alone took Sheila a month to design and execute.

 

 

 

 

SW2She took a long while to decide on the most appropriate writing style, and the accompanying notes about the book have examples of some of the lettering that Sheila considered and then rejected. Her final choice was a neat, very slightly sloping formal hand based on that in the 9th-century great bibles mainly from Tours in France – Caroline Minuscule. Being Sheila, though, it has been given a modern twist and her own distinctive style. This contrasts, on some pages, with a delicate light Italic for selected parts of the text.

 

 

SW1aSheila chose black and a specific limited colour scheme for the opening spreads, which was echoed in the layout of the pages. The one on the right is one of the green pages where the text columns are towards the centre of the book. This page also shows one of the extraordinarily detailed illustrations – Captain Cat and his dreams.

 

 

 

 

In the text Lord Cut-Glass owned 66 clocks ‘all set at different hours’, imagine trying to illustrate all of them! Sheila chose 22 clocks, all different and all authentic – and created an amazing design. Note Lord Cut-Glass’s face peering out of the grandfather clock at the top, his hand just above half-way holding a pocket watch, and his boots supporting the base of another clock. Ingenious!

 

 

 

SW 4This book is so much more than a sum of its parts. Dylan Thomas’ words are simply wonderful, but to have them written here in such a way, and illustrated so inventively and skilfully too, means that the result is a real joy and such a treat for the eyes. This is not a cheap offer, but it is a chance to treat yourself in a big way, and own what just has to be one of the true manuscript masterpieces of the twentieth century.