A Gift for The Queen’s Platinum Jubilee

Good shipsIt is unlikely that anyone will experience a Platinum Jubilee again, so the celebrations in the UK of The Queen’s anniversary in 2022 were particularly special. It is traditional for organisations and institutions to mark this by presenting the sovereign with a small gift, but how to make yours stand out amongst so many? This was the challenge for Gallyon Guns. They were aware of work I had done before and particularly liked the words of the ‘Friendship’ poem. The relationship between The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh seemed to be not only a warm and loving one but one also based on friendship, and with HRH’s naval background, it seemed particularly relevant.

 

 

Good shipsMy challenge was to make this not only relevant to the occasion but I wanted to also make it personal. The Queen is the queen of the whole of the UK and so a design was created of the four flowers of the nations and principality at the top of the poem. A rosebud was included with the open rose to represent The Prince of Wales as heir to the throne.

Good shipsThis theme of national flowers was continued at the base of the text. The two open red roses represented The Queen and The Duke of Edinburgh, with four rose buds representing The Prince of Wales, The Princess Royal and Prince Andrew and Prince Edward. Three thistles on the right-hand side represent George, Charlotte and Louis, and on the left, Archie and Lilibet.

IMG_3474It is always useful, and very much advised, to keep the roughs of work completed as, if it is repeated, one process is removed as the lines already written can be used as a template. So having already written this previously, I was able to use the lines as a guide. If photocopies of the finished work are made, these can also be used. Take two so one can be a record, and the second one can be cut up for the lines, but don’t throw them away at the end – there may be yet another repeat!

The way in which I work is, once the writing style and pen nib size have been determined, to write out all the text first, without worrying about mistakes. This takes all the tension out of the task – always a challenge for the scribe as tension usually results in cramped letters and tight spacing at the start which tends to be improve later; this then shows in the finished piece. Without these concerns, if a mistake is made, the word is simply written out again and inserted into the correct place in the text. If any parts of the text are written in a different size, style or pen nib, then these are also written out at this stage without worries or obvious tension. The lettering is then cut into strips and placed on a suitable size of paper. Margins are also determined at this stage. The strips are cut according to sense and design and laid out on the paper. Lines can be shortened or lengthened, moved around to be aligned left or right, centred or whatever seems to be the most appropriate arrangement. At this point, colour in the background or illustration can be added so that the balance of the whole piece can be determined. This is a wonderfully creative process, but it can also be rather time consuming!

CIMG3159Once the guidelines have been drawn on the chosen surface, then these strips of text act as a guide for writing out the finished piece. Placing them just above the line being written means that spelling mistakes or words missed out are avoided, and starting and finishing lines where they should are indicated exactly above the places where they should start and finish! (The image is from a different piece but it gives the idea.) To attach the lines I use Magic tape but remove some of the stickiness by tapping my fingers on the tape – I don’t want any of the writing surface to be removed as well!

Of course, anything to do with the royal is confidential, but I did hear through the grapevine that, unlike many of the presentations made ,The Queen did see this one and she was not displeased! That certainly made my week!

Stanford University Library Calligraphy Collection

E Johnston Stanford mssCalligraphy is often a much neglected artform when it comes to being included in collections in libraries, galleries and museums, contemporary calligraphy even more so, yet is can be one of the most expressive combining text with colour, gold and illustrations. How wonderful, then, that Stanford University Library have decided to rectify that and create a collection of worldwide, contemporary calligraphy (initially focused on the western alphabet) as a three-year project, possibly extended. The launch of this was on the 150th anniversary (+ 6 months) of Edward Johnston’s birth in Uruguay on 11th August 1872 (already international!). His work, shown here, is already at Stanford.

Dr Ben Albritton and Patricia Lovett MBE are the Co-Directors, and are also on the Judging Panel, Patricia being Chief Judge. The keynote for the collection is excellence, but membership or fellowship of prestigious calligraphy organisations is not a prerequisite. Anyone can send in photographs of their best piece for consideration, but it is stressed that excellence in letterforms, design, use of tools and materials and creativity are paramount. Assessment will be made by submission of photographs, so their clarity is crucial – these should include one of the whole piece and additional close ups. Accompanying these in the same email must be the application form. There is a limited budget for buying artworks but it is also possible for calligraphers to donate their work if they wish (which will mean the Collection will be larger than envisaged!). All details are here. It is hoped that there will be an exhibition at the end of the three-year project as well as a conference/ symposium.

albrittonDr Ben Albritton, Co-Director of the Collection, is the Rare Books Curator and Bibliographer for Classics. He writes ‘I focus on enhancing, enlarging, and celebrating the Rare Books and Early Manuscripts collections of the Stanford University Libraries. Working with curatorial colleagues across many different departments in the library, I aim to provide support to Stanford faculty and academic programs using Special Collections materials, and to raise awareness of our collections amongst research communities around the world. I am passionate about the use of our materials in teaching, and work closely with faculty and students in class sessions and research projects. In order to connect more researchers with our materials, I also am eager to work with colleagues in the library to provide digital access to more and more of our primary source materials. To support these broader goals, I also work with rare book dealers and library donors to make sure that Stanford’s rare books collections are growing in ways that fulfil current research needs while also anticipating future areas of interest.’

IMG_3308Patricia Lovett MBE, Co-Director of the Collection and Chief Judge, is a professional scribe and illuminator who specialises in the skills and techniques of mediaeval manuscripts but in a contemporary way. She has written over a dozen books, her latest being the ‘Art and History of Calligraphy’ published by the British Library, and is working on another for the British Library to be published in 2023. Patricia co-curated the collection of contemporary calligraphy and the ‘Calligraphy Today’ exhibition for the Fitzwilliam Museum, and has worked with the British Library on their ‘Genius of Illumination’, ‘Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms’ and ‘Gold’ exhibitions, being filmed to show techniques for the last two. She was awarded a National Honour for services to calligraphy and heritage crafts.

 

Gemma_BlackThe four remaining judges of international highest repute include Gemma Black from Australia. Gemma writes: ‘I grew up making things. I made music, books & letters. The formal discipline of learning the piano fed directly into my calligraphy and lettering training firstly through the Roehampton Institute in London then on to other allied art training in watercolour, bookbinding & printmaking at a variety of other institutions including the Australian National University School of Art. I feel fortunate to belong to a strong and rich tradition, the evolution of letterforms and to work with likeminded people in the field. Not only do I belong to this rich tapestry of human communication, lettering, I breathe it.’

29C922BA-7A9D-4952-AB5D-33216BDFA5D6

Peter Halliday from the UK is practitioner, teacher, author, calligrapher and lettering artist spans over sixty years. As he was taught by Maisie Sherley, herself taught by students of Edward Johnston, Peter gives an almost unique link with the early calligraphy revival. He was Chair of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators and Founder Chair of the Calligraphy and Lettering Arts Society as well as author of the National Diploma in Calligraphy. Peter was a Founder member of Letter Exchange. Peter’s creative approach to the lettering arts is both imaginative and innovative. Using a wide range of materials, respect for the traditions of illumination, especially gilding, gives his work a special place based on creativity, tradition and integrity.

KPatworkKultstadtfest22Katharina Pieper from Germany is a freelance calligrapher who, from 1988, has taught lettering and calligraphy at many prestigious institutions, and since 1991she has been invited to teach workshops all over the world. Her calligraphic work has been published worldwide in exhibitions, books and journals and she has also written articles for journals in Germany, England, Belgium, Austria, Switzerland and the US. With her books, calligraphy, and paintings she is represented in many public and private collections. In 2016 she founded the Stiftung Schriftkultur e. V, and in 2017 opened a gallery with a museum, library, workshop rooms and the Jean Larcher archives in Gut Königsbruch in Homburg.

JW.2012Julian Waters is the son of revered calligrapher Sheila Waters and pre-eminent bookbinder/conservator Peter Waters. His other great mentor was the legendary Hermann Zapf. Since 1997 Julian has taught workshops for lettering professionals worldwide, and typography, lettering and font design courses at The Corcoran School of Art, Cooper Union, NY, Letterform Archive, and Wells College. Julian’s book design and lettering clients have included U.S. Postal Service, National Geographic, agencies, publishers and memorials. His typefaces include Adobe Waters Titling Pro and “ThJefferson” for Monticello. His work has received many awards and has been widely published and exhibited.

On a personal note, I am thrilled that this Collection is taking place, and honoured to be working with Ben as Co-Director – and how inspired of him to do this! For many years I tried to persuade the British Library to buy contemporary calligraphy and they do have a few pieces, but certainly not enough! However, a chance remark I made to Dr Stella Panayotova meant that she and I worked on the Collection of Contemporary Calligraphy at the Fitzwilliam Museum and the accompanying ‘Calligraphy Today’ exhibition, which was extended twice because it was so popular! How wonderful, then, that with a budget (albeit limited!), this new Collection is now taking place, but rather than by  invitation as at the Fitzwilliam, this is for all those practitioners at the highest level who can submit their work to be assessed by this amazing panel of judges. Every practitioner judge is at the top of their game producing outstanding calligraphic artworks, and is also skilled in assessing lettering. This is such an exciting project and what a privilege to be part of it!

 

 

 

St Albans Psalter – New Ideas

Screenshot 2022-02-14 at 16.14.26The St Albans Psalter is an intriguing and somewhat puzzling manuscript. It is believed to have been produced in the twelfth century at St Albans Abbey and presented to Christina of Markyate by the Abbott, Geoffrey de Gorham. It shows magnificent English Romanesque miniatures. The nativity seen here exemplifies that – the unusual perspective, the ‘key’ pattern in the border, vibrant colours, and what is described as ‘wet linen’ fabric (or as Professor Michelle Brown says – ‘wet T-shirt’ look!). Notice the intense interest of the animals and Joseph’s rather perplexed look at the birth.

 

 

Screenshot 2022-01-04 at 22.32.29On the St Albans Psalter website, it states that it is not clear where this manuscript was produced nor exactly when, but Rosemary Stevens, who has studied it in Germany in person at length, has further ideas. Most of this blogpost is based on these.

The whole book really is a collection of disparate articles, having particular resonance for Christina of Markyate – including a pasted capital ‘C’, Psalm 105 on folio 285 (see below) which is thought to be an illustration of her with the monks. Together with the Psalms, Liturgy and Prayers are three more sections: the Calendar; 40 full-page miniatures; and the Alexis Quire. Most important psalters start with an elaborate letter ‘B’ at the beginning of Psalm I ‘BEATUS VIR’ (‘Blessed is the man …’), often with gold leaf. In this instance the first page of the Psalms is not just disappointing but downright weird! Instead of the whole page being given over to the letter B and the rest of the text smaller, the folio has a couple of jousting knights at the top and the remains of text that starts on the previous page and refers to these two knights. The ‘B’ seems to have been squeezed in as an afterthought, but then the text on the left curls around it. The ‘EATUS VIR’ seems to have been written before the letter ‘B’ as some of the letters are covered by the gilding (the ‘T’ of ‘TUS’ and part of the ‘R’) as well. The page is also at the end of a gathering rather than at the beginning as would be expected, so it almost was included as an afterthought – but for the beginning of Psalms? This was either a most unpropitious start or a rather confused attempt at making good a useful set of Psalms. The academic Otto Paecht observes rather politely: ‘An astonishing lack of co-ordination’!

Screenshot 2022-01-04 at 22.29.34Then the next page contains a repeat of the ‘EATUS VIR’ opening of the Psalms, as though the previous page depicted only the letter ‘B’ for ‘BEATUS; it then continues with Psalm I. Although the sizes of the letters for ‘EATUS VIR’ on the previous page are irregular, here they are written between defined lines and there are even horizontal lines of colour which keep the letters to size as well, though they remain unfinished. At the bottom the last word is ‘CATH’, which should continue as ‘EDRA’, for ‘CATHEDRA’, but see the next page.

 

 

Screenshot 2022-01-04 at 22.30.02The scribe here has missed out the letter ‘e’, so instead of ‘cathedra’ it reads ‘cathdra’. Neither of the previous two pages are in the top rank of proficiency. However, this scribe has managed well to write around a magnificent illuminated letter Q which possibly was completed before the text.

 

 

 

 

Screenshot 2022-01-04 at 22.30.16However, it is the next page – 75 – that is really interesting! This is written by the person described as Scribe 2 who was the main scribe of the Psalms and the Liturgy. His hand is unknown in St Albans – in fact his punctuation shows him to come from the Continent according to Professor Malcom Parkes. The ink is very uneven in density – it is faint and dark in patches and the letter height is certainly not consistent on the page. It looks as if the scribe has had to replenish the nib much more frequently with the ink not flowing freely, and there are instances of a white line down the middle of the strokes again indicating poor ink flow. This could be an ink problem or a vellum problem – one or the other wasn’t prepared properly to work – or perhaps his health or temper was out of sorts!

Screenshot 2022-03-01 at 17.04.40Looking at the manuscript in the original Rosemary Stevens has detected that the white line down the middle of many of the letters has been filled in by another hand or hands. She suggests that this could be that of the Corrector (who might have been Scribe 6), or of the Rubricator who has written the beautifully executed coloured initials. In some cases, he didn’t bother to rinse out and change the ink in his pen but used the same colour, which can just about be detected in some letters. Note here the very much darker letters ‘i’ and ‘r’ after the red letter ‘d’. (Apologies for the quality of the image, this was the best I could do!) Some of the letters are others quite carefully and sensitively corrected, and others quite crudely. Some are left uncorrected, so that we can see these mistakes quite clearly today. Every single line has received correction, while the line started ‘Reges’ has whole substituted words and also the ampersand and the correction of the original punctuation mark, all in the style of Peter Kidd’s Scribe 6. (Peter has studied the manuscript in detail.)

Screenshot 2022-02-14 at 16.25.45Correction in colour can be seen after the blue P in ‘Postula’. The Rubricator has written the letter ‘P’ in blue and then continued correcting in this colour – which can be seen at the end of the tail of the ampersand after ‘tua’ in the second line. Also, in the second to last line, the mauve capital ‘A’ (‘Apprehendite’) precedes many corrections which appear to have been made in the same colour ink.

 

Screenshot 2022-01-10 at 15.01.26In addition, the scribe has two particularly idiosyncratic features which may best be seen by looking at the manuscript itself online. First, what has happened to the tails of those letters ‘g’? It isn’t possible to get a really good enlargement to use here but it seems as if the scribe has lost all sense of how to construct them. The very worst is the ‘g’ in ‘confringes’ (bottom line here), when he completely loses the ductus. The tail goes far out to the right and then wiggles round in an ugly curve. In one instance the scribe has lost it completely and the curve stops and another stroke overlaps it to finish the curve.

 

Screenshot 2022-01-10 at 15.01.26Then the bowl of the letter ‘a’ is far too large for its own good, and in some cases being almost as large as the top stroke, and it is also rather saggy and floppy, almost as if it has lost the will to live!

 

Screenshot 2022-03-01 at 17.04.59Again the Corrector has come along and improved these letters but here he couldn’t help himself and made the bowl of the ‘a’ tighter and smaller, thus creating a more pleasing letter shape as in ‘dabo’ here in the middle of the second line, clearly in the slightly later style of Scribe 6.

 

 

Screenshot 2022-01-10 at 15.00.58Then there is a particular style of punctuation. This version of the colon is called ‘punctus elevatus’ by Professor Malcolm Parkes, who has said that it emanates from the Low Countries. It consists of a lower diamond and an upper up-flick as here at the end of ‘intelligite’ (line 3 in this enlargement). The downward tick, usual in England and Northern France can just be seen as a superimposed correction two lines up, before the ampersand (see the online version for this).

 

Screenshot 2022-02-14 at 16.29.33So what does all this suggest? Fascinating conversations with Rosemary can be summed up as follows. She posits that this could have been an unbound roll of gatherings which was easier to transport, and anyway perhaps it was among a collection of such – brought with Geoffrey of Gorham when he came from France to the UK. Perhaps it was his personal, favourite book of Psalms? Would a man in his position travel to a new life in a foreign land as a teacher without such a seminal book?  He had been invited to come to England to be Master of the School at St Albans by the Abbott. However, by the time he finally arrived in England that post had been filled and Geoffrey went to Dunstable to teach there instead. While there he put on a miracle play and borrowed expensive copes from St Albans to use in the production. However, these were destroyed in a fire – this must have been such a disaster for him! The enormity of this, for which he took full responsibility, had a profound effect upon him. He resolved to make personal recompense by offering to become a monk at St Albans.

Screenshot 2022-03-01 at 17.34.51When Geoffrey himself became Abbot he formed a relationship with the anchoress Christina of Markyate, for whom this book was put together. Here she is – in the most prominent position next to Christ and almost touching him. Intriguingly, this image was illuminated and painted on a very thin piece of skin and stuck on to the page. There is nothing underneath and it is the only miniature to be like this. Rather than a volume created specifically for Christina, Rosemary’s theory is that this was Geoffrey’s own copy of the Psalms and that it was finished with historiated capitals, with many additions cut to shape, with illuminations and rubrications and finally bound for presentation, such that it became a suitably luxurious volume to be presented to the holy woman.

It is an intriguing book which is still giving up its secrets, including that Rosemary can vouch for the fact that there is no other painting underneath the pasted in letter ‘C’ of Christina.

‘Findings’ in the calligraphic work and teachings of Irene Wellington

IMG_1559Irene Wellington was an amazingly gifted and  accomplished calligrapher whose lightness of touch and stunning and complex designs belie the hours of thought and care that went in to her work. This little book considers and explains more about Irene Wellington’s detailed approach to her work, the planning and thought for her work, and how she passed this on to her students.

 

IMG_1563After a short biography, Ewan Clayton MBE selects pieces of Irene’s work and draws out the thinking behind them, how Irene, as with her tutor and mentor Edward Johnston was concerned about the making rather than the practising, in that it is only by doing real pieces that the full range of challenges are met and can be resolved.

This piece was made by Irene as a gift for her second husband, Hubert Wellington, for his birthday; they were married the following year and their initials ‘I’ and ‘H’ are highlighted in red in the word ‘gladder’ near the bottom. Interestingly it is completely in pencils – no pen at all.

 

IMG_1565One of her main pieces was the impressive panel of the Bailiffs of Lydd. Ewan describes this piece as architectural, as if there are steps creating a platform with pillars and a pediment. There are 400 names with dates on this panel and it really is a tour-de-force. The second horizontal panel of lettering on a background of shell gold is just stunning.

 

IMG_1561The Coronation address is another complex piece with a number of quirks. The body of the address is in Uncials, which may be considered an unusual choice, but it works, and although the text is not justified, the right-hand margin is relatively even. The arms of London County Council are balanced by the detail of the Coronation Crown and below both are the oaths of dedication by The Queen herself.

IMG_1560Many people keep a record of a holiday or a diary, but few create an astounding artwork of the complexity and quality such as this (see also first image above used for the cover of the book). This is an account of a journey taken by Irene and her first husband Jack Sutton and written out by her in three weeks while her husband was away as a surprise. What a surprise it must have been and a wonderful gift to receive!

Calligraphy is so much more than ‘just’ writing out words and the thought and consideration that goes behind even seemingly simple and straightforward pieces is well illustrated in this book. Ewan always provides great food for thought in his talks, teaching and in his writing, and as a student of Irene Wellington Ann Hechle gives firsthand knowledge of Irene’s teaching and ways of thinking about letters and lettering. The appendix includes the tribute written by Ann Camp, another great calligraphy, after Irene’s death.

This book is highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

‘The Inscriptions of Ralph Beyer’ by John Neilson

IMG_1380Ralph Beyer really was a remarkable letterer and to a large extent one of a kind. The influence of his German parents just before the Second World War was considerable, and the rather peripatetic childhood that he had resulted in experiences that affected his later work.

This new book by John Neilson focuses on Ralph Beyer’s inscriptions, but it is so much more than just this. It would be impossible to write about this remarkable man without touching on his time with Eric Gill, the influence of Henry Moore, how David Kindersley helped and very much more.

 

IMG_1379Because war was imminent, Beyer was sent to the UK from Germany when he was 16 years of age leaving the rest of his family behind, and one of his uncles arranged for him to go to Pigotts to work in Eric Gill’s workshop. Beyer seemed to find the rather traditional atmosphere restricting, and the contradictions of no electricity but a phone, and doing everything by hand but using a car rather strange. He was asked to draw a Roman Capital alphabet with a pencil. Eric Gill then used a red fountain pen to improve the letters as shown here.

IMG_1390It was the inscriptions at Coventry Cathedral where Ralph Beyer showed his great prowess. The mediæval cathedral had been bombed and almost destroyed in the Second World War, and the architect Basil Spence was chosen to design a new, modern one. His aim was to have a up-to-date building but incorporate many craft skills in a more contemporary way, and certainly Beyer’s inscriptions fulfil that role. He took on other lettering in the Cathedral and also carved the shell shape into the boulder of rock from Bethlehem to make the font.

 

IMG_1385It would be expected that work would come flooding in after the publicity of his work in Coventry Cathedral, although not everyone was in favour of the differing shapes and sizes of the letter-forms, but this didn’t happen and for some time his income, and the support for his family, was rather precarious. Beyer did, though, cut the letters for the National Library of Scotland.

 

IMG_1386And for this he was helped by his assistant Peter Foster (shown on the right here). Sadly neither the lively coat of arms, nor the name are there now after a refurbishment programme.

 

 

 

IMG_1381Ralph Beyer cut letters in a rather unusual way. Rather than position the chisel with the corner in the central part of the letter, he placed it on the outer edge and cut from there.

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1384His lettering, though, continues to inspire, and to help the reader focus on the text in a new way.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1382And one of my favourites, the lively lettering for the Thames Chamber Orchestra, shown particularly well against a red background.

 

 

 

This book by John Neilson captures the spirit of this great letterer, it explains Ralph Beyer’s background and influences and the way in which he made his work all his own. It is a terrific tour-de-force and gives inspiration to calligraphers, type designers, logo designers (use hand-drawn lettering!) and letter cutters. It is highly recommended.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘It is not yet spring …’

Layout 1Most calligraphers are always on the lookout for words and texts that appeal and can be written out and interpreted. I noted these wonderful words by Edward Thomas (who for a time lived near us) early in 2020 before the resulting pandemic became so restrictive. I wrote them out in the winter of 2020 when it really did seem that any spring really was being dreamed as being ‘more wonderful and more blessed than ever was spring’.

 

 

 

CIMG3264As always, the words were addressed first. I needed to work out the length of the line of text so that I could select a size of oval that fitted. A piece of vellum of suitable size was prepared and the oval shape drawn in as a guide for the lettering. I thought that this colour green for the text would work well with the theme.

Yet again, dear Edward Thomas did not consider us as calligraphers when he wrote. How wonderful it would have been if he had thought to include some words that had ascenders that could be flourished in the top left half and at the base.

 

CIMG3267 2And now to the flowers. I researched photographs of spring flowers; I would have preferred to have used actual examples but I was working on this at the wrong time of year. I made sketches of where various flowers could go – it seemed sensible to have taller flowers near the top and smaller flowers nearer the base, so bluebells were in the upper part and violets, crocuses and primroses towards the lower part.

I sketched out a possible layout in coloured pencils and checked it for size of the flowers and colour balance with the lettering.

 

CIMG3269This stage was partway through the painting. The leaves on bluebells are yet to be inserted and I didn’t like the straightish line on the top of the violets on the right hand side. The primroses also needed more definition, but it’s on its way.

 

 

 

 

Layout 1And this is the finished piece. The bluebells don’t look quite so isolated now they have some leaves to accompany them. The single hellebore and primroses have more definition, there are now more hellebores lower right and left, with crocuses in a bed of grass in the base.

There is always a delicate balance between text and illustration and in this instance it can rightly be said that there isn’t that much of a balance here, let alone a delicate one! The density and colour of the flowers really do outweigh the lettering which dances around trying to hold its own but not succeeding very well! However, this was an effect of the pandemic and the thought that when spring comes it really will be ‘more wonderful and more blessed than ever was spring’.

 

 

‘The Book in the Cathedral: the Last Relic of Thomas Becket’

IMG_0803This year, 2020, marks the 850th anniversary of the martyrdom of Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury, on 29th December, 1170 and the 800th anniversary of his shrine built in the cathedral itself. A large exhibition bringing together manuscripts and artefacts related to the saint was planned at the British Museum, and this little book from the great Christopher de Hamel was due to be part of that. Due to Covid-19 restrictions the exhibition did not take place, but the publication of the book did, and despite its small size, it is a really wonderful book.

 

 

Screenshot 2020-09-14 at 18.24.35Any book by Christopher de Hamel is worth reading and this one is no exception. Initially Christopher considers the meaning of relics in mediæval life. This beautiful 12th-century casket, for example, with Limoges enamel decoration was made for the relics of Becket. This side shows the murder of the holy man (note the sword being drawn), his burial (above) and to the right above his soul being taken to heaven. This particular casket is in the V&A Museum in London and is the most elaborate and largest of the Becket Caskets in existence now, and is the earliest being dated to 1180–90, within just a decade or two of the martyrdom.

Screenshot 2020-09-14 at 18.21.07And whilst pieces of his body, hair, blood and clothing were considered to be worthwhile relics, why weren’t any of his books? Christopher focuses not just on the books owned, or thought to have been owned by Thomas Becket, as they would have given an insight to his thinking, but also concentrates on the psalter, Ms 411, now at the Parker Library, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge . Christopher was for many years the welcoming Fellow Librarian of this most amazing library, most of the books donated by Archbishop Matthew Parker who was the Archbishop of Canterbury during Elizabeth I’s reign. Ms 411 has an intriguing frontispiece – an elaborate interlace border, complicated in pattern and in colour, surrounds a rather wraith-like figure holding a book drawn in a brown-black ink and of a later date than the border. Who is he?

 

Screenshot 2020-09-14 at 18.21.42The psalter starts, obviously, with the letters of Psalm I, ‘Beatus Vir’ (Blessed is the man …) enlarged and in gold and colours. The text of the Psalms is then written in an engaging and regular Caroline Minuscule with letters very well formed making the text clear and easy to read.

 

 

 

 

 

Screenshot 2020-09-14 at 18.22.33On the following pages the verses start with a pale turquoise or dark brownish-red uncial initial letter followed by the same regular text script. It is possible that the pale green is malachite. This is pigment made from grinding down the semi-precious stone used in jewellery and for boxes and vases. Unground it is the most glorious emerald, but when ground it gradually loses its vibrant colour. If ground too much it forms a very pale insipid green, and so is used in a fairly granular state. Initially the adhesive is sufficient to keep the irregular grains of pigment on to the surface of the skin, but over time the granular nature of the colour gradually rubs off leaving only the paler powder remaining on the page. The red, too, is possibly vermilion, which over time has deteriorated and the surface has gone black or silver. Imagine this page with brilliant emerald green and startling red initial letters – it would have sung!

Christopher covers in this book the importance of martyrdom and the fact that killing the archbishop resulted in Canterbury being the most important place for pilgrimage for centuries with 100,000 pilgrims attending at important festivals. He also considers what books an archbishop would have in his collection at this time, or, perhaps more significantly, what books would Thomas Becket have needed bearing in mind he wasn’t even a priest when he was made archbishop. Becket’s exiles in France are investigated and the books that he acquired while he was there. It is interesting that, after his death, Becket’s books were just left on the open shelves of the slype, which exists even today and is used as a store.

So this particular manuscript – what is its connection with Thomas Becket? Did it have significance for him? Who owned it before him? And how does pigment from Egypt come into it? This blog is not a spoiler – you will need to read the book yourself and it really is well worth finding out the answers to those questions. The psalter could, just, have been such an amazingly significant little book.

‘The Ins and Outs of Public Lettering’

IMG_0802This delightful little book ‘The Ins and Outs of Public Lettering: Kindersley Inscriptions in the Open’ by Marcus Waithe, Lida Lopes Cardozo Kindersley and Thomas Sherwood does exactly what it says. Following their books on the workshop itself, letter cutting, sundials, apprentices, cut letters in gardens and much else, this book focuses on examples of lettering from the workshop which all can see.

Amazingly, the workshop is now in its ninth decade, with David Kindersley having started his training with Eric Gill in 1934, and, after setting up on his own in 1936 he settled in the Cambridge workshop in 1946. This is now run by his gifted letter-cutter widow Lida and there are still apprentices and journeymen learning the skills of letter-form and letter cutting in the workshop.

IMG_0811The workshop has many important and significant commissions under its belt, such as the lettering on the gates of the British Library as shown on the cover of the book, but it does not omit the more seemingly straightforward perhaps and more discrete examples of public lettering such as this memorial in a graveyard. It seems to simple yet note how the word ‘Remember’ is carefully placed on the rather narrow, rugged stone, and that to fit in the larger letters, the first ‘M’ and ‘E’ share a stroke, and the second ‘M’ and ‘B’ do too. And note the three different forms of the letter ‘E’. All add variety, catch the eye, show what good design is all about, but need inspiration, careful thought and great cutting to execute.

 

IMG_0806Perhaps more easily seen and certainly more complicated is the memorial to Francis Crick at Gonville and Caius College in Cambridge. His work on the double helix structure of DNA won him a Nobel Prize. Cut in green slate and Caithness stone, the DNA structure forms the pattern for the memorial and can be seen from outside the college from the Senate House entrance opposite St Mary’s Church.

 

 

 

 

IMG_0804Another complicated piece for the workshop was the design for the Garden Building at King’s College also in Cambridge. Twenty seven slates from the roof of the college were used – not that easy as they had little depth for cutting and the edges were friable – to mark the benefactor, and tie in the name of the building and the life of the benefactor’s late brother with flowers from English gardens of particular resonance to the family.

IMG_0805Everyone in the workshop was involved in painting the flowers on the slate tiles.

 

 

 

IMG_0808Benefactors to Cambridge colleges and Nobel Prize winning scientists are one thing, those who gave their lives saving others at sea are another, but those unsung heroes are nevertheless recorded and remembered on this slate which is now on the Old Coastguard Rescue Station at Shingle Street.

 

 

 

 

IMG_0810Almost missed perhaps on the building itself, but appreciated by anyone who walks by and notices the many ways in which extraordinary people can be remembered in stone.

This little book has so many examples and is certainly worth buying to look through and appreciate the many ways in which letter cutting can bring buildings to life and record the lives of those of note.

The Wait

Cricket poem.PL 2020All those who love sport have been frustrated at either not being able to play it, or not being able to watch it, or both, during the spring and summer of this Covid-19 pandemic. Jimmy Lee from the England and Wales Cricket Board wrote a really poignant poem about this waiting, and the fact that in cricket this is what often happens. But, as he says, waiting isn’t time wasted, and we are a nation that queues. His words are really well chosen and they were read out by Stephen Fry in a wonderful film about the ways in which those who love this sport are just waiting for the game to begin, but that they are also contributing and helping those who are NHS and other Heroes on the front line during these challenging times. Watch the film here and have tissues ready!

 

CIMG3185So as some of you who are now familiar with how to tackle any text, poetry or prose will know, the first thing to do was to write it out. This artwork was to go on the wall so it couldn’t be written too small. And with quite a few lines too, there needed to be adequate space between them so that it was easy to read. I used my favourite green paint at the moment (Schmincke oxide of chromium – it really is wonderfully smooth for writing – mix with water to the consistency of thin, runny cream as always!) and a size 4 Mitchell/Manuscript nib and wrote the lines straight out just as they were.

CIMG3192I then photocopied this and cut the lines into strips to experiment with the best distance between lines. I also wanted to break up some of the lines and emphasise others by writing some of the text in small capitals. So I laid the lines out on to paper and played around with them a little and attached them with magic tape. I had the idea of writing out the title with a lot of space between the letters so that the letters themselves looked as if they were waiting, and when I’d done that I thought that red circles between the letters (a bit larger than just dots) could look as if they represented cricket balls.

 

 

Version 2I also wanted to add an illustration of a cricket bat resting on the stumps waiting – my first sketch in pencil is on the rough of the lines above. I searched for a long time to get an image of a bat at the right angle looking as if it could balance on stumps, and stumps too at the best angle, and made a number of drawings with the bat in different positions and the ball in various places. In the end I had what I thought looked best. The crease of the cricket pitch is usually cut very short, but all cricket lovers were waiting, and so I painted the grass longer than it would be in most matches. I also found an image of a bat with a red and black handle and this added a little bit of red to that part of the painting, thus slightly linking it to the red cricket balls in the title and the one by the stumps.

Cricket poem.PL 2020And so the piece was complete. It is so satisfying to write out words that have real meaning and to have a challenge in painting cricket stumps, bat and ball with an aim to get the proportions right and for them to fit in the best way.

 

‘…With Wakened Hands …’

Layout 1I really like this quotation from D H Lawrence, although I do wish that he hadn’t excluded women – many of whom have wakened hands just like men! However, these were the times and the words resonated so much with me that I wanted to write them out.

 

 

 

 

 

CIMG3183As usual, I wrote out the words just as they were and, for the last few months, I’ve been writing quite small, so I cut a swan’s quill to the equivalent of a size 5 Mitchell nib. I knew that I wanted to pop in a couple of flourishes on the top line so introduced these as I was writing the words. Having written the words out in the same script, I then read it through again to consider which phrases had particular meaning for me and wrote them out in small dancing capitals. One of the great things about being a calligrapher is that we all react to words differently, so what I choose to emphasise may not be the same as the next person. For some reason, although I love ‘with wakened hands’ I missed out the ‘with’ in the first write through and then the whole phrase in the second version! What was it about wakened hands that weren’t going through my brain?

CIMG3149I then photocopied the page and cut the text into strips for each line, breaking the text where it fitted my proposed design and allowing for the sense and flow of the words. The advantage of doing this is that when writing things out in rough usually I am much more relaxed and it doesn’t matter if I make a mistake as I can just write in the word or phrase again as can be seen; this means that the text isn’t tight and cramped as it may be when first writing on the prepared surface and on lines carefully measured and drawn. I marked the mid point of each line and placed them in order on a white piece of paper at about the best distance between the lines. I also numbered the lines (very important to ensure that the lines don’t get mixed up!).

I then used two L-shaped pieces of card and slid them up and down and in and out to set the margins of the piece which meant that I could cut a piece of vellum to this size and then prepared it for writing. I used a set of compasses to measure out the distance between the lines with pin pricks, and then ruled horizontal guidelines and also a vertical line indicating the centre.

CIMG3159I loved the green colour of oxide of chromium so I mixed up this Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache to the consistency of thin, runny cream and used a piece of magic tape that I’d taken some of the ‘tack’ off by pressing it again and again on my finger to attach the photocopied strip of the first line above where I was to write, lining up the centre point. Having the text just above where I was to write meant that it was much simpler to ensure that the words were spelled correctly and written in the right place so that the lines were centred.

CIMG3161So the text was written and now for the painting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

CIMG3166I really enjoyed painting squirrels on a recent piece so I decided to paint some more. Previously I had painted squirrels on grass. This time I thought I’d paint them in autumn on a bed of leaves, so I looked up images of red squirrels online and chose three in different poses for the top. I used a 000 Kolinsky sable brush (I prefer da Vinci brushes from Cornelissen and Son in London as they are such good quality) with watercolour and a strong magnifying glass – they were only about 10 mm tall! For the bed of leaves I used dilute light red and ochre to paint a wash, and then a darker brown to paint the leaves themselves – half of it is done in this enlargement.

Layout 1At the bottom, I decided to use different images of squirrels on a dead tree trunk including a baby. I am on a campaign to get calligraphers to ensure that their work can be identified in the future by putting their names or their known cipher on their work. Here I wrote my name as small as I could in the same red colour underneath the leaves. And now the piece was finished!