The 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.
I 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!
One 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.
Next 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.
I 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.
The 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.