Calligraphy and Illumination Courses 2024

IMG_1953 2I am teaching two one-day courses at Sevenoaks in Kent (35 minutes by train from Charing Cross in London, and about 10 minutes from Junction 5 of the M25) in autumn 2024. The course on Saturday 21st September is ‘Quills and Calligraphy‘ and will be for both beginners – those just starting calligraphy – as well as improvers – those with some experience. The day will focus on Gothic Black Letter/Gothic Textura script. The course includes cutting a quill from a feather, and preparing a piece of vellum for writing and then writing a name on it with the quill.

DSCF0827Sets of 9–10 printed A3 sheets are provided for everyone on the ‘Quills and Calligraphy‘ course; these include the background and history of the script as well as principles of calligraphy, with exemplar letters and also ready ruled sheets showing the letters with individual strokes and direction arrows for construction, and then space to practise them (see image here). The handouts can be taken home as an aide memoir and also to continue practice.

IMG_1954The afternoon starts with cutting quills from feathers. This is carefully explained and demonstrated with everyone then cutting their own quill to use on the course and take home. A small piece of vellum will then be prepared for writing and a name written on it.

IMG_3425The ‘Illumination Masterclass‘ is on Saturday 5th October, and again is for complete beginners as well as those with some experience. Participants can choose from a limited selection of animals from bestiaries; this choice is restricted because the aim is to finish the painting in one day and that won’t be possible with complicated miniatures, however, there is some flexibility. Vellum is prepared for painting, and a tracing of the miniature transferred using traditional materials. A modern adhesive is used as there is not time on one day to use gesso; this is used on the three-day courses each May (see here). Real 23·5 carat gold leaf is applied to the adhesive to make it glisten.

IMG_4986Techniques of mediæval manuscript painting are explained carefully, and gouache paint with fine sable brushes are used to complete the image.

For both courses, demonstrations are live streamed to a large TV screen so everyone can see and there is no crowding round the demonstrations. Classes are limited to six participants allowing plenty of time for individual tuition.

 

 

 

IMG_4968Courses take place in a large bright room with plenty of light and individual adjustable table lamps for each person.

All refreshments throughout the day are provided including tea, coffee, home-made biscuits, and a light lunch.

The courses are held just outside Sevenoaks in Kent (UK). There is plenty of onsite parking, and for those travelling by train there are taxis at Sevenoaks station; we can pick up and take back four people.

To apply and details of cost etc please contact me through my website.

Trajan’s Column II

IMG_0281Trajan’s Column in Rome, completed in 113 AD, commemorates the victory of the Emperor Trajan over the Dacians. It is stunning when viewed in real life as it towers over the ruins of Trajan’s Forum and Market, being 98 feet (30 metres) high. The main part of the column consists of a frieze in bas relief which shows in great detail the preparations, movement of troops and battles that took place before the final victory, with Trajan, not surprisingly, being the tallest of all the figures in the column. There are 20 drums in all around which the figures wind, each drum weighing about 32 tons. It truly is a magnificent example of Roman engineering.

 

 

IMG_0262It is the base of the column, though, which is most interesting to calligraphers and letterers because it shows exquisitely carved Roman Capitals, regarded by many as the purest examples. It has been only recently (post written May 2024) that it has been possible to get anywhere near this part of the column to view the lettering.

 

 

IMG_4762An exhibition in spring 2024 at the Coliseum detailed how the column was constructed. Huge blocks of Carrara marble were moved from the quarries in Lunigiana sliding on wooden poles and being pulled by a team of oxen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_4764The stone drums were shaped into circles and the inner staircase cut as well. What is amazing is the accuracy of each block which had to fit on the next. The masons also had to allow for the fact that to make the columns look straight, there needed to be a swelling just below half way. This is explained in a blogpost on this website here. The huge round blocks were then loaded on to ships using a system of pulleys and a lot of labour as shown here.

 

 

 

 

IMG_4767 2Once at the forum, they needed to be put into position. The stone blocks were far too heavy to use a simple system of pulleys, and so a tower was built as here.

Either side of the column were two libraries, one for Greek texts and one for Roman, with bookshelves to store the scrolls. It was possible from balconies on these buildings to view the carvings spiralling round the column close up.

 

 

 

 

IMG_4771At the base of the column during construction was a huge wooden treadwheel. A similar one is shown carved into the family tomb of the Haterii. During the reign of Domitian (81–96 AD) Haterius was working on the construction of buildings and would have used a treadmill as the one carved on his tomb. The treadwheel had 5 men inside and ropes held by more men outside acted as brakes. There were two parallel wide poles creating the crane’s mast between which was the wheel’s axle; this all made up a strong block and tackle system.

 

IMG_4768 2This is shown more clearly here. The sheer mass of the wood being used for construction is amazing, and also the strength of the men using this machinery.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_4737The spiral stone staircase carved inside the blocks led to the top of the column where there was a viewing platform. It must have been quite a sight, climbing the stairs and reaching the top for a view over Trajan’s Forum and the main Forum itself!

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_4812But, of course, it is the carvings on the outside of the column that are the true stars! Twisting round the column, with no allowance given from one stone drum to the next, a narrow carved line stands proud and separates the scenes one from another.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_4823Here preparations are being made for the battles, with Neptune looking on benignly, no doubt giving his blessing to the campaign. The detail on the clothing, the wooden ships, the horses, a wooden bridge and building walls is really wonderful.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_4821And even the base has the same care and attention to detail, with enviable precision of carving. Note the carefully carved garland of individuals leaves, and the metal ‘scales’ on the cuirass in the middle.

It truly is one of the wonders of the ancient world, and still astounds today.

 

 

 

 

The Benedictional of St Æthelwold

6a00d8341c464853ef01a3fcaecb6f970b-500wiA benedictional is a book of blessings given by a bishop; some manuscripts, such as the Benedictional of St Æthelwold (904/9–984), are richly decorated with gold and colour. Unusually we actually know who wrote this particular benedictional – the scribe Godeman as he included his name in a poem, probably in shell gold, placed at the beginning of the book. The poem includes the fact that the book should be richly decorated in gold and colour, as below, as instructions were given:

 

 

 

6a00d8341c464853ef01a3fcaecb8b970b-500wi-1‘A bishop, the great Æthelwold, whom the Lord had made patron of Winchester, ordered a certain monk subject to him to write the present book … He commanded also to be made in this book many frames well adorned and filled with various figures decorated with many beautiful colours and with gold … Let all who look upon this book pray always that after the term of the flesh I may abide in heaven – Godeman the scribe, as a suppliant, earnestly asks this.’

 

 

 

CIMG3078The manuscript, written in Winchester, which was where St Æthelwold was bishop, is decorated in the  ‘Winchester style’. This includes borders of acanthus leaves intertwining around circles and vertical and horizontal lines. There is much modelling and the appearance sometimes is almost 3-D. There is lavish use of gold and pages are most striking, although it could be said that the illumination on occasion almost overpowers the text. This style is seen clearly here, a copy of the beginning of the Eadui Psalter written a little later than as the Benedictional but decorated in a similar manner. This page was prepared for the Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms exhibition at the British Library, 2018–2019. There’s more about the creation of this page on my website here. And a blogpost with short films on how manuscripts were made here, including a film of gilding and painting this page.

6a00d8341c464853ef01a73d69da35970d-500wiThe potentially rather overwhelming aspect of the Winchester style is shown well on this folio. This full page miniature shows St Benedict and is placed in the book just before the benediction for his feast day. It is rather difficult to identify the central figure surrounded as it is by the gold and colour, with heavy and elaborate decoration at each corner, looking a little like shield bosses, and ones almost as elaborate halfway down the side. There are, though, as instructed by St Æthelwold, many arches in the book!

 

 

 

Screenshot 2024-05-14 at 17.43.51The lettering in the manuscript is very similar to, but not exactly the same as the Ramsey Psalter (shelfmark: BL, Harley 2904). The latter was written around the same time, and both in Winchester; the Psalter was the key manuscript used by Edward Johnston for his Foundational Hand. It is rather intriguing to think that both scribes may have been sitting next to one another in the scriptorium, and writing the letters slightly differently, perhaps even comparing notes!

There’s more information on a British Library blogpost here and it will certainly be worth looking at each page when the British Library website is up and running (this blogpost written May 2024).

 

 

Vespasiano da Bisticci – ‘cartolaio’ of Florence

Vespasiano_da_Bisticci_portraitIt must have been a very exciting time in Florence in the fifteenth century. The Humanists favoured Greek and Roman texts, rather than religious ones, and wanted them written out in luxury books. But who could procure the fine vellum needed, or the scribes to write the books in the new/old style of Humanistic Minuscule, artists to decorate them with white vine-scroll ornament, and skilled craftspeople to bind them in velvet or supple leather? Enter one Vespasiano da Bisticci (1421–1498) as shown here. He started working at a libreria along a street of similar shops when he was only 11 years of age but he learnt quickly and, when still a young man, became a member of the stationers’ guild and thus a fully fledged ‘cartolaio’.

Bartolomeo_Sanvito_-_Portrait_of_Petrarch_in_the_Incipit_Letter_“N”_-_Google_Art_ProjectThe Humanists wanted their ancient texts written in an ancient script. They thought Gothic scripts were too modern (though they look very old-fashioned to us!), and called them lettera/littera antica/antiqua. Looking back in history at various writing styles they were keen to get as close to the scripts of Rome and Greece, but they didn’t go back quite far enough. They settled instead on the clear and precise style developed during the reign of Charlemagne, another lover of all things classical. Charlemagne wanted a clear, easily readable script, that could be used throughout his empire, and this was it.

 

Screenshot 2023-12-13 at 17.00.31

The Humanists adapted it – they made the script more upright, they added feet to the  minims (sometimes emphasised too much!) and used classical Roman Capitals to complete the impressive look. The appearance on the page is almost of printed text when it is written as clearly and precisely as this. It is extremely difficult to justify text when it is hand-written – it is certainly not as simple and easy as highlighting a paragraph and clicking on a button to align left and right margins! Yet in this manuscript now in the British Library, written by Rodolpho Brancalupo, it is precisely what he has achieved.

Screenshot 2023-12-13 at 17.00.14Many of the pages of books at this time also reflected Classical influences. Those associated with the great Paduan scribe Bartolomeo San Vito and others often had decorations of swags and foliage, cherubs and acanthus leaves, vases and jewels, sea creatures and pearls – as can be seen in the manuscript page in the second paragraph. Others were decorated with bianchi girari (white twists), which worked well with the lighter and more delicate script. This is shown in this manuscript from the Fitzwilliam Museum which was supervised by Vespasiano da Bisticci and produced in about two months – an amazing feat!

IMG_3778Vespasiano’s shop can still be seen in Florence. It was on the corner of the Via del Proconsolo and Via de’ Pandolfini. Close by is another shop as here. This is a magnificent building with a most impressive doorway.

 

IMG_3780Above the rounded and decorated arch, between two horizontal swags of leaves and foliage, is a small carved open book. Those a little carried away by the romance of the bookshop of the famous bookseller thought that a book carved above the entrance indicated that this is the very shop.

 

IMG_3783This ‘book’ shop, though, is on the wrong corner, and in some ways sadly, although amazing that it’s still there, Vespasiano’s old shop is much more mundane now – at the time of writing it was a pizzeria. This is on here the correct corner and it was from where the bookseller traded.

There is much more about the Humanists, their manuscripts, and Vespasiano and his clients in ‘The Art of the Scribe’, published by the British Library, summer 2024.

‘A Word for Autumn’

Layout 1The changing of the seasons can be one of delight or one of apprehension. Winter to spring promises fewer cold days, the singing of birds and the appearance and flowering of bulbs. Spring to summer indicates the lengthening of days, increased warmth and new growth. Summer to autumn can be a change that heralds colder, wind, rain, and shorter, darker days. The ‘season of mists and mellow fruitfulness’ then quickly becomes a season of shivering, endless rain and drizzle, even snow and ice, and closing curtains in the late afternoon against the gloom as well as battening down the hatches. However, A. A. Milne had it correct in ‘A Word for Autumn’ – it can be a time to fear, or a time for looking forward with some pleasure.

 

IMG_4169I wanted to create an artwork that I could use for an A5 greetings card for winter and Christmas. I loved the words (taken from a longer extract), and at the time of producing it the leaves on the trees were changing to a riot of autumn colours. First I experimented writing the text with a warm brown that I thought would echo that of many of the leaves. It seemed a bit dull and ‘samey’, but this first effort confirmed the chosen nib size (a Mitchell 5), and the line spacing and layout. I was on my way!

 

 

IMG_4167One of my favourite interpretations of words is to use a limited range of colours fed into the nib whilst writing (see blogpost here for how to do this). To some extent it is random, but it is also very controlled, assessing each individual stroke as it is written and also looking at the line above as to whether a different colour needs to be fed in. It’s not exactly conducive to a good rhythm and flow, but the end result, in my view, can be very pleasing. The key is not to use one colour or one colour combination for more than two strokes and to wash the nib out frequently. At this stage it doesn’t matter if mistakes are made. The letters or words should simply be re-written as here. I had the idea of a landscape-shaped card and experimented with a rough indication with coloured pencils of what it would look like if a representation of autumn leaves was falling and gathering at the bottom of the text in a layer of leaves. This didn’t give the impression enough of the leaves falling, so I decided on a portrait-shape.

 

IMG_4170Next I experimented with painting the leaves on vellum (calfskin). In my opinion this really is the best surface for painting and writing. The darker colours in this photo are not at all representative of the actual painting! I used yellow, brown and green gouache, and painted leaves from different types of trees that I noted on walks in the countryside. I wanted to give the impression of the leaves falling from the trees and being tossed and turned in a slight breeze so they didn’t all fall in the same direction. These then collected in a bed of leaves on the ground.

 

 

 

IMG_4168I always photocopy the text and use this as a guide for writing the finished piece. This means that the rough is then available for reference and for future use. As there was no centring or design to consider – the lines were aligned left with some indented – there was no cutting lines in to strips and working out the best arrangement. To ensure that there were no mistakes on letters, words or spacing, I folded the photocopy horizontally into the separate lines and placed these on the vellum just above where I was going to write, attaching the paper with masking tape as I did so.

Layout 1The text was written in the same colour combination as the leaves creating a coherent whole, with the dropping leaves emphasising the left aligned text, and the bed of leaves at the base creating a firm ending for the piece.

The Sforza Hours

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.35.07Imagine how Sir John Robinson from the Victoria and Albert Museum must have felt in 1871. He was in Madrid looking for manuscripts, and had heard of a ‘wonderful Illuminated manuscript.’ A priest was selling it and a price agreed. He put the peseta equivalent of £800 (£66,000 now) into the inside pocket of his brown cloak. Somehow or other though the money was stolen, which was clearly a disaster! However, he found another £800 and managed to secure the manuscript.

This is a page from the book painted by Giovan Pietro Birago showing the penitence of King David. It depicts the king transported to a Renaissance Italian town, and detail that is so typical of this artist. Note particularly the lively modelling of David’s robe highlighted in shell gold (real gold powder in gum Arabic base).

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.33.07However, this wasn’t the only dramatic incident in the manuscript’s history. The book was originally commissioned by Bona Sforza, Duchess of Milan, in the late fourteenth/early fifteenth century from the best artist in the city. As can be seen here, Birago had a wonderful style of painting, very mannered but very precise. Bearing in mind that this manuscript is the size of a pocket book, the detail is amazing.

This image is the text from the Hours of the Cross and the angel at the top holds the crown of thorns and the nails; at the base is a cherub kneeling in adoration of the cross. Note Birago’s style of high cheek bones and wonderfully curling locks. The borders either side are in typical Renaissance style of intertwining foliage, trumpets, and mythical creatures – in this case sirens.

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.33.51It was discovered some time later in a letter written by Birago to ‘Your Excellency’ (un-named) that a visit by Fra Johanne Jacopo to view the manuscript was not without incident. Apparently he stole part of the book! In that same letter Birago explained that ‘The part which your excellency has is worth more than 500 ducats. The other part is with the Duchess …’. So just a part of the book was worth five times more than Leonardo da Vinci’s ‘Madonna of the Rocks’, valued at the time at 100 ducats.

In this image the Holy Spirit is descending in the form of a dove on to the disciples. Note St Peter with his keys, the very lively robes, and the wonderful curls of the men.

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.34.27The story of the book continues. It was not finished, but on the Duchess’s death passed to her nephew, Philibert II of Savoy. The manuscript wasn’t long with him because he died a year later and it then went to his widow, Margaret of Austria, Regent of the Netherlands. She went there taking the book with her, and after ten years asked Etienne de Lale to finish the text in a style that is rather inferior to that in the rest of the book. This page is by the original scribe in a strong Gothic Rotunda, a style used in Italy and Spain, much less compressed than the Gothic Textura of northern Europe.

 

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.32.03Margaret also asked the court painter Gerard Horenbout to add more illuminations. His style and that of Birago are totally different but both are supreme artists in miniature. Look at the detail here, how finely the figures are painted, although the sunny, hilly exteriors, and the light interiors of Italy painted by Birago have been replaced by Horenbout to dark rooms and the rather dreary, in comparison, backgrounds of northern Europe. The challenge of depicting haloes is well shown here. There’s not such a problem when the figures are full face and not looking down too much, but when shown as here it’s difficult not to see them as golden plates on their heads.

 

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.34.48Admitting the huge skill of Horenbout, my preference very much is the style of Birago. Here are some more miniatures in the Sforza hours. Now there’s curly hair and there’s curly hair! Admittedly Mary Magdalene was known for her hair when anointing the feet of Christ … but! It was said that she was a hermit in the desert and didn’t eat or drink but was sustained by God. She is supported by angels rising to heaven to receive that sustenance.

 

 

 

Screenshot 2023-07-11 at 11.34.18Never has there been a group of more high cheek-boned, curly haired men than here in this image of the Last Supper. Even the servants ladling soup and pouring and serving wine are depicted in the same way. And for itinerant travellers, the disciples are certainly robed luxuriously.

There’s more to be seen on the British Library’s website here, and although there are only few pages of this manuscript remaining, each of the images is a real gem.

A Scribe and Illuminator’s Workroom

IMG_3268Having just finished twenty-one new pieces for my forthcoming British Library book (this post is written in July 2023), I decided to re-cover my sloping board – something I do once about every 3-4 years, depending on how dirty it is. As it was so lovely and clean I felt that it might be interesting to show the board and the rest of my workroom. This is the view from the door, and although it looks big, it’s about 2 metres by 3·5 metres. However, don’t think that I’m complaining that it’s small! I know how very lucky I am to have a dedicated workroom when most people have to share their working space within another room, as I did for very many years. My chair in front of the board is padded with two flat cushions and stools are to hand on the right to put completed work or a computer, or texts just written. Note also how close my chair is to the sink on the left.

IMG_3297So, the room tour. Directly to the left of the door are large cardboard tubes. Most of these are from vellum skins sent from William Cowley, but the large one at the back right is from work I did for the Damian Hirst ‘s exhibition held in Venice – ‘Treasures of the Wreck of the Unbelievable’. To the immediate left are red tubes of tracing paper for large projects. The tubes are useful not only for storing large sheets of paper but also for sending large artworks to those who have commissioned pieces. Now, however, I work mostly on vellum, and so large pieces are stretched over board requiring a different delivery system, and so these tubes are a bit redundant, somehow, though, I can’t bring myself to throw them away!

IMG_3296On the work surface to the right of the tubes are swans’ and Canadian goose feathers ready to be cut into quills. It may look like quite a lot for one scribe but most are waiting for workshops I teach on ‘Quills and Calligraphy’. I also don’t cure feathers with heat – sand or a Dutching tool and an iron. I find that feathers cure themselves by just being left to dry naturally as I’m sure happened in mediæval and Renaissance times. It was only with the rise of literacy and growth of empires and the need for records that more and more pens were needed and the curing process had to be speeded up that heat was needed.

 

IMG_3270Above that are cupboards of books and supplies. This is the first cupboard. At the bottom left is a small folder bursting with papers. These are quotations, poems and prose that I’ve collected over many years and which I write out to give to friends or for my own use. Occasionally someone will ask me if I’ve got something suitable for an occasion and it may be in here or in one of the books to the right which focus on important stages in life – birth, marriage and death mainly. Above that are various books by other calligraphers – it’s always useful to see what the competition is up to. And above that books on Latin, Chaucer, and various reference books to use in my work.

 

IMG_3298Under that cupboard is a new piece on vellum waiting to be sent to the person who commissioned it. I hope to be able to do a blogpost about this in the future as it was a really interesting artwork to do. Behind that is a strip of lead to be made into lead points to show to classes and for them to use. And at the back, to the right is oak gall ink getting nicely black. Oh and more books!

 

IMG_3300Below that, all along the work surface are even more books! Book shelves in the house are completely full, so are the cupboards here. I also have my own books here which I also use for reference – not everything stays in mind and so it’s helpful to look things up. In front of the books is a new box of Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache to use in photographs for the new book. They really are the best paints to use for writing and for painting. There’s more about them and mixing colours from the two reds, two blues, and two yellows here.

IMG_3292There’s a small sink just behind where I sit, completely reachable by simply swivelling round in my seat. I cleaned it up specially for this photo! It’s usually covered with ink and colour and not a pretty sight. To the right of the sink is a pot with old toothbrushes in it ready to brush the nibs clean. To the side and behind the sink are clean little jars up-ended and ready to fill with water for washing brushes when painting or to add to gouache to dilute it for writing and painting. It isn’t shown here but the tap is this side of the sink just to the left again for ease of use.

 

IMG_3272On to the window sill there’s clean paper towels for wiping nibs and reservoirs dry so they don’t rust, and tubes of Schmincke gouache ready to use. There are too many tubes to store neatly but I know where each tube is in that pile and usually just need to reach my hand out to grab the one I want.

 

 

IMG_3288Further along the window sill is a pot of quills already cut just waiting to be used. The nibs of all of these will have separated into two halves. This is not a disaster! The strength of a feather is when it is complete, cutting into it weakens it. However, popping the quill into a jar of water for an hour or so brings the two tines together ready for use and doesn’t soften the nib.

 

 

 

IMG_3275Below the window sill and just to the left of the seat is a trolley of already mixed (but now dried) small palettes and crucibles of paint, jars of black ink, and ink droppers to add water to paint (never use a brush dipped in clean water as the quantity can’t be controlled). Good quality gouache will last in this dry state with water added when it needs to be used. At the front right are pen holders, the green one in the shape of a dragon, and an Arkansas stone to sharpen nibs. As a right-hander, everything is to my left so that I can easily fill pens with ink and paint with my left hand, and then not take a fully charged pen over where I’ve just written. I did think to clean this up a little before this post, but it’s how I work and so I left it!

IMG_3276Then, proud moment here, my clean new board. This is flat whereas it would usually be at a slope of about 45°. It’s a large board with its own stand with a sloping rule, ideal for drawing the many lines calligraphers need to do. A pad of white paper completely covers the board, and then a fold of paper (fold at the top) goes right across bottom part of the board held at a slight tension, so that the writing paper can go to the right and left, and up and down, and doesn’t slip. The writing paper or vellum isn’t attached anywhere because it needs to be at a comfortable writing level which is usually when the hand is about the same level as the shoulder. The shadow is a large light fitted with daylight bulbs so it gives the truest light. The window, which is another source of light, is of course, for a right-hander on my left so that my hand doesn’t create a shadow where I’m writing and painting.

IMG_3299To the right of the board are all the tools I need for painting and writing. At the back on the left is a long metal straight edge for cutting paper and skin of large pieces, and to the left, in the front, are erasers in a little muller, behind that a tiny jar of pounce, and behind that little bags of sandarac in a shallow pot. Magic tape, used pretty much all the time to attach lines on roughs and best pieces is to the left of a hygrometer which indicates the humidity for illumination. And behind that are scissors, dividers, pens, brushes, paste and wash brushes etc. To the right of the storage pots are large knives for cutting vellum.

 

 

IMG_3284 2At the back of the table to the right is a plastic folder which holds set squares. One side of all of these has a metal edge for cutting (don’t cut using a set square without a metal edge as the knife is bound to cut into the plastic and ruin the straight edge). It is easy to stand up from my board and simply reach over for these. In front of them is a magnifying glass on its own stand for working on tiny paintings.

 

IMG_3285All sit on a variety of sizes of cutting mats. Of course, everything has to be moved off if I want to use the larger one, so I must admit that I usually use the medium sized one and just slide the paper/skin along. This isn’t the best or most efficient and it really would be more sensible simply to move stuff off!

 

 

IMG_3286 2A relatively new addition, recommended by my son-in-law who is an excellent photographer, is this flat table and two powerful lights (not the the Anglepoise to the right which has a different purpose) to take good quality photographs of my work, and the camera I use (far too old but I don’t know what new one to get – I’m far from an expert!) is at the back. On the table is a card with gesso at various mixes, and an experiment of shell gold on vellum written with a quill just to make sure that the treatment I was going to give for the actual skin produced the best result.

 

 

IMG_3287 2The last of the ‘tour’ are rolls of vellum (and one of paper to the left). It is better to take the relatively tightly rolled skins out of the tube they are sent in so that the roll is much looser; this then makes it easier to cut large and small pieces from the skin. In front of the rolls are smaller pieces of vellum in a clear plastic folder, some far too small to use but somehow I think they may be handy for something. I used to make vellum size from them for making gesso but now I use fish glue (Seccotine). This is a bit of a dark corner so the Anglepoise lamp is there to add light when selecting the skins.

 

 

IMG_3283And a last tantalising look at how the sloping board is at the moment (July 2023). These are the twenty-one new pieces of artwork with stage-by-stage of how they were done for the ‘Art of the Scribe’ book to be published Spring 2024 by the British Library. It is an information book about seven selected writing styles – the ones most commonly used by calligraphers –and also a practical section for each script of three graded pieces with detailed instructions on how to do them. You’ll have to wait until the book is published to see what’s in those folders!

Fear no More the Heat of the Sun

Fear no more‘Fear no more the heat of the sun’ is a poem from William Shakespeare’s ‘Cymbeline’. It is a poem of reassurance at death – nothing can touch the deceased now, not sun, cold, thunderstorms, whims of monarchs or tyrants, or even ghosts or witches.

I had been wanting to write this out for for time and thought it would be appropriate for my new book ‘The Art of the Scribe’, to be published by the British Library in 2024. It just wasn’t right though and so I went a different route in the end.

 

 

IMG_2745The first rough is here and the script I tried was Caroline Minuscule. This is one of the seven scripts featured in the new book. I had the idea of the sun colours changing from red to yellow through a couple of oranges for each verse, but it really didn’t work. The piece was far to large and it just didn’t hang together in these varied colours. The initial letters for each verse were emphasised here and I left space to write a gold initial for the first verse.

 

 

 

IMG_2634This lay on one side of my work bench for some time, mulling over the design and thinking of ways to improve it, I was spurred on by realising that it was the colours, size and script that were all wrong – not much right then! Quite a change was required. So I mixed one colour – a good orange (see here for colour mixing) using Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache, I cut a small nib on a swan’s quill, about the size of a Mitchell nib size 6, and wrote it out in rough.

I had the idea of a setting sun at the bottom of the piece. This is depicted in some mediæval manuscripts with alternate straight rays and wavy rays which I rather like – good to have that difference. Not being that good at sums, it took me a little while to work out the appropriate angles so that the rays were even, but once this was done and half-circles inscribed with compasses, it was not too difficult to draw and paint them in Schmincke Goldpearl.

Fear no moreI had done quite a bit of research for the new books into scripts of the Renaissance and decided on a style of Arrighi Italic. I used a lovely piece of prepared vellum (see here, and here). With a left aligned margin and a small quill I wrote out the text in orange gouache, painted the sun at the bottom, with the rays carefully measured out and was able to give the piece to friends. I was sorry in a way to see it go as I rather liked what I had done with it in the end, but pleased, too, that they would be able to enjoy it.

A wonderful Edward Johnston book

IMG_2373Sometimes the most chance encounters bring rich rewards! At a recent Christopher de Hamel lecture at the British Library, I overheard the words ‘Edward Johnston’, and my ears pricked up. It turned out that a church on the south coast had an illuminated book of the Communion Service written by the great calligrapher in 1902. The photos I was shown looked amazing and I arranged to go and see the book as soon as I could. It truly was wonderful and such a thrill to see page after page of Edward Johnston’s writing and illumination.

 

 

IMG_2377The note at the back (see below) explained the production of the book and that the hands and faces in this crucifixion scene were painted by ‘my friend E G Treglown of Birmingham’. Note the border decoration of a waving pattern of vine stems and leaves with bunches of grapes, reflecting John 15 ‘I am the vine: you are the branches’. The gold here is shell gold – gold powder in gum Arabic base – with raised gold leaf grapes.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2400A paragraph in Priscilla Johnston’s book about her father notes that ‘ G B Gabb, a surgeon … accordingly commissioned Johnston to write out the Communion Service. The terms of the agreement were that he was to ‘make the most gorgeous book within his power’ and ask for money whenever he wanted it’. What a commission! The lavish use of gold leaf here and above, (where shell gold as well has been used in the border,) are certainly testament to the gorgeous nature of the book! Johnston used ‘Reeve’s raising agent’ as gesso. I haven’t been able to find out anything about this raising agent and would be grateful if anyone reading this can shed any light on it. It is a much deeper red than the pink colour made by the addition of Armenian bole to gesso today.

 

IMG_2393 IMG_2420The decorated initials are particularly fine as can be seen here. A raised gold leaf initial A with first a background of ultramarine and shell gold applied in straight lines with a ruler, with circles along the lines on the left, and then a similarly raised gold A with an ultramarine background and a swirling foliage pattern in green and red with the addition of white dots.

IMG_2382As would be expected of Johnston the initial letters are particularly fine as here, although the red gold cross behind the raised gold letter A may not be a complete success, but all is forgiven by the surety of the strokes in the versals!

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2406This glorious page of raised gold letters absolutely shone in the light and would lift anyone’s heart and spirit. It really is a tour-de-force.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2386The book also contains music for the service as here with an impressive decorated border of raised gold leaves and blue cranesbill. The main wavy line going through the image is drawn with a firmness of the master. I think Johnston would particularly have enjoyed creating the squiggly fine black lines of decoration.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2407That same firmness of line is shown here in this red vermilion decorated chalice; many would envy that sureness of stroke. Interestingly, it looks in places that Johnston may have used a broad edge calligraphy nib for some of the strokes. Note how the furthest left curved line to the base gradually changes from a thicker line to thinner, and also the thin and thicks on the two circles in the oval shape halfway up.

 

 

 

IMG_2375The lettering, as Johnston explains in the note at the back, is based on tenth-century manuscripts. We know that he was introduced to these by Sir Sydney Cockerell, particularly the Ramsey Psalter (BL Harley 2904) which Johnston studied and then developed into his Foundational Hand. The tail of the letter g extending to the right is very much one found in the Psalter. The tenth-century Benedictional of St Æthelwold, written at about the same time and probably at the same location, has a similar style of writing, but here the tail of this letter is dealt with more successfully. Now, dare I say this, pace calligraphers, but Johnston does need to work more on his letters s where almost invariably the top bowl is larger than the bottom (it should be the other way round to prevent the letter looking top heavy).

 

FE3FD8FE-D6DE-4589-915E-A043F639A74E_1_105_c IMG_2432And traditional to the period of study, Johnston used a blind point to rule the lines, where the furrow on one side of the page created a raised line on the other. On the left-hand image there is a faint black baseline where some of the ink on the opposite page has rubbed off on the raised skin.

IMG_2433 copyThe gold tooled cover is just magnificent – produced by Douglas Cockerell, probably the most famous bookbinder of his time, and brother of Sydney.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2442 IMG_2440 IMG_2438 IMG_2439In each corner is a little raised carved ‘button’, not as large as a penny coin, with the symbols of the four evangelists. These are exquisite and the design fits so well in to the circular shape.

 

Matthew – the winged man,

 

 

 

 

Mark – the lion,

 

 

 

 

 

Luke – the bull,

 

 

 

 

 

And John – the eagle.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2413At the back Johnston explains about the book, where his sources for the text come from, and also about the materials used. The skin is ‘Roman vellum’, or lambskin, manufactured at Brentford, no doubt by Bands (since closed), and could explain the difficulty in achieving really fine strokes as this skin is renowned for its greasiness. The blue is ultramarine ash, which I know only as a much paler colour than ultramarine, but here it’s about as strong.

This truly is a remarkable book and it is a privilege to show photographs of it here.

 

‘Words Made Stone’

IMG_2272‘Words Made Stone’ records a ‘conversation’ between Lida Lopes Cardozo Kindersley MBE, one of the country’s leading letter cutters, and Marcus Waithe, lecturer in English at Magdalene College in Cambridge. The value of this style of gaining information was brought home to me when I interviewed a number of lettering luminaries for Heritage Crafts series of ‘In Conversation With …’. The one with Lida is here, and there are others worth watching on the Heritage Crafts website as well.

 

 

IMG_2274This book provides a fascinating insight into how a modern letter cutting workshop with masters, journeymen and apprentices actually works, and works very successfully indeed. This workshop format allows for exchanges of ideas, creativity, and for skills and techniques to be passed on collaboratively at the same time. Here four people at the workshop are each working on different projects.

 

 

 

IMG_2277Do view the ‘In Conversation With …’ Lida to see the actual workshop. First of all I couldn’t believe how clean and tidy it was when I was there – and was assured that it wasn’t like this especially for the filming! Tidyness and order matter when in a workshop, whether with one person or several. Time is wasted looking for items of equipment, and putting things away after use is part of good craft practice – a place for everything, and everything in its place.

 

 

 

IMG_2279More collaboration is needed when cutting letters in situ, and not all of them are ideally placed. Each letter cutter here adopts a different position from kneeling, sitting and crouching over, lying prone and lying sideways (Lida at the back – how did that work?).

 

 

 

 

IMG_2275But in addition to that, the book explores how each commission is approached, every one being different. From very first ideas, sketches sometimes being made at or soon after the initial approach, to working out those ideas with more precision, and finally, as here, Lida  completing a precise drawing to scale.

 

 

 

IMG_2276Sometimes ideas pop up at rather inopportune moments. You will need to buy and read the book to find out exactly when Lida and her assistant Fiona came up with the ideas for the fourteen stations of the cross and how coincidental and even dangerous it was! The brief was to incorporate square tiles in the designs. Note the successful nesting of letters to accommodate different lengths of text.

 

 

 

IMG_2278So is this ‘just’ a conversation about workshops and processes? Certainly, not! The book is so much more. There is so much philosophy to the way of working, thinking about each commission, and a sense of, as Lida says, learning by doing, but also perfecting by doing. As she writes ‘We get on with the job, do the best we can and in the process we learn and improve. This is not achieved by sitting in front of a drawing board or easel dreaming of the perfect capital. It is only earned by getting on with it, through craftsmanship’.

There is so much to love in this book – the fascinating and interesting text, of course, beautiful photography, the images of white pencils sharpened to point beyond belief is so intriguing, but the whole design and production is really carefully done. Such thought has been given to the selection of the images illustrating the points being made, and even to the quality and feel of the paper – perhaps regarded as trivial by some, but how wonderful to enjoy the actual touch of fingers on the pages as they are turned. This is a book for anyone and everyone – buy it, enjoy it, read, learn and dream of being able to commission your own cut lettering from this wonderful workshop.