Tag Archives: Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache

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.



A very special Book of Remembrance

Book of RemembranceI am often asked, when I’m talking to arts, general interest and history groups, what project or commission I have done which has meant the most to me. Without a doubt it’s the Books of Remembrance for Great Ormond Street Hospital for Sick Children. This year I have been associated with this for over 25 years, and there are more than 3,200 names written in what are now four volumes.



I was fortunate enough to have been involved from the very beginning such that when I was asked where to buy books of remembrance, I was able to say that the best place to start was with the paper, and then get it bound, and fortunately this is what happened. It makes setting up the book such as drawing the lines so much more straightforward and it is much quicker to work initially on flat pieces of paper.

Important decisions were taken early on in the planning. Rather than a list of names, the book was to be a ‘day’ book, whereby each day would be on display consecutively, showing those children who had died on that date. This meant that there were to be 366 pages at least for the days, plus prelims and pages at the end, including the colophon.

Most books of remembrance are written in black, red with sometimes a touch of gold. This seemed too cold and harsh for children, and we decided early on that green would be the best colour to use; it suggests youth and, indeed, life. Oxide of chromium calligraphy gouache is one of the best colours to write with and it is a fresh and light colour, yet with good coverage, and this is the colour I chose to use. It is from the Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache set of paints that I developed, and so is particularly finely ground to pass easily through the pen.

Another decision that was made before any pencil had been put to paper, was how the record of the children’s lives should be written. We had much discussion about the dates – 1st January 2014 – 3rd March 2014, or 1 January 2014 to 3 March 2014, or 1.1.2014, or 1.1.14 etc etc. The night before the final meeting and sign off I realised that these forms of dates were appropriate for monarchs and politicians, but were just not right for children. For children we think of their age, not their dates. So the ages are written in specifically – until 2 weeks the age is recorded as the number of days, from 2 weeks to 2 months in weeks, from 2 months to 2 years in months and after that in years.

a pageI made quite a few trials on how the pages should be set out, avoiding anything over fussy and elaborate. Again for the children we didn’t want a tightly spaced list. For a number of children, their short lives are full of drips, bandages, injections, and general intrusion; at least in death, we felt, there should be some space for their names. The book is large, and when open is about the size of a small coffee table. There are only 14 names of children, with their ages, on each two-page opening spread, 7 on each page.



January flowers

As the book was to be open each day for that date, I realised that, initially, there would be many pages with nothing on them apart from the date at the top. I suggested that I paint a little flower picture on the left-hand page for a bit of visual interest. I chose what were generally British flowers appropriate for each month of the year, but I did also add a personal touch here, in that they were flowers that I enjoyed drawing. Calligraphy and illustration on the same page can be a problem – which should be more important? In this book it certainly was the children’s names, so a full colour, detailed painting would have detracted from these. After much experimentation I decided on something simple and compatible with the design of the book. I outlined the design with a fine dark green line, and used two colours of dilute watercolour to paint only some of the flowers and leaves, leaving others uncoloured; similar to the children’s lives – they are finished but not complete.

I had the choice of paper, and so chose a favourite Arches which is quite robust, not too thick but also not too expensive. I experimented with pen nib size on the paper I was to use. Some names are very short – Sam Dun, for example, other children may have five or even six long names. How to give prominence to Sam, yet not have to squeeze the multiple names so much so that they would be almost illegible. I also decided to make the age and the year smaller, so that the names were prominent.

Then it was the time to start. I set out a template so that I could rule lines across the opening spread of both pages – wider guidelines for the names and narrower ones for the ages; I also needed guidelines for the beginning and endings of the columns. Just ruling the lines took well over a week of long days. Simply folding the paper to make the pages of the book took over a day.

I added some red and a bit of blue to darken the oxide of chromium green for the dates to head each paper. Again this was not straightforward. What size nib, and thus size of writing, would be best to use to allow for large lettering that will cope with both December twentysecond to be written along one line (not two) and yet May first would not be lost?

I lost count of how long each little flower drawing took – all 366 of them – but this was a labour of love, not one where I was totting up the hours.

bound bookWhat I did realise fairly soon, having all these pages stacked up in a huge pile, was that one book would be far too unwieldy, and asked the hospital if they could stretch to having two books bound by designer bookbinder Jen Lindsay. In fact, although not planned, this resulted in a great positive in that one book could be on display while the other volume was then available for the names to be written in. Jen did a great job of binding the books in a matching green leather, and made two book boxes which keep the volumes protected and safe when being stored.

ready to startThe names are written in at least twice a year, and we are now into volumes 3 and 4 because some of the pages in the original books are full. For those of you who are calligraphers, the names are written in a pen nib size of 3·5, and the ages in the line underneath in the smaller nib size of 4. I am now on my second sets of nibs after 3,200 names. Before I begin writing in the names I set everything out on a stool as on the right. A well-used kitchen towel protects the stool top, and on this a Chinese jade (coincidentally also green!) pen rest has dips for the two pen nib sizes and a paint brush for mixing the paint. I use a small scientific crucible for the paint, and this has a little lid to pop on top to protect the gouache when I need a break. A small jam jar of water is available for washing the pen nibs frequently, as well as a jar of fresh water and an ink dropper to add water to the paint when it gets a bit sticky. Then, just in case, another jar of clean water, a fine brush, and an electric eraser for the times when I make a mistake. I also always sharpen the nibs before writing; this ensures that the letter-strokes are clean and crisp.

day lily © patricia lovett 2014But all these are the nuts and bolts of what is certainly not a nuts and bolts job. First, it has been absolutely crucial to have a marvellous team at the hospital, especially Kathy Ramsay and Senior Chaplain Jim Linthicum who collate the names and ages, check, check and check again (and some of the names do need a huge amount of checking with combinations of consonants that are very difficult to pronounce), and contact the parents at what must always be a very difficult time to ensure that everything is correct. However, even more than this, it is about the children. Many of us have never been through the incomprehensible and devastating experience of losing a child. When I am writing out the children’s names I think about each and every one – their names and then their ages – those that are only a day or so old; the bigger babies who may be sitting up or even starting to walk; the toddlers talking away and such a cause of enjoyment; children who may have just started school and then growing up, and the teenagers, and even the few in their twenties; all are someone’s child, and the loss must be impossible to bear.
Ben Jonson's poemRecording their names in these wonderful books means that, no matter how short their lives, each child is remembered and is not forgotten. What has always impressed me about Great Ormond Street as well is that the sense that I get from them is the joy and delight of children while they are with us and how valuable that is. The verse of Ben Jonson’s poem, written at the beginning of the first volume (right), does seem to sum it up, and the illustration of a day lily (above) is on the front of the card that was sent to parents.