Tag Archives: calligraphy

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!

 

 

Red Squirrels and an Uplifting Quotation

CIMG3120This quotation by J B Priestly is new to me and as soon as I read it I wanted to write it out. At these challenging times (April 2020) the words hold just the sort of promise that we need – tomorrow is a new day, a fresh start, and those wonderful words ‘with perhaps a bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning’! What could be better than that. I seem to be writing out a few long narrow pieces lately, and when I wrote out these words to see how they would ‘fall’ on the paper, they followed that pattern. I wanted to emphasise some phrases more than others – ‘a new day’, ‘a fresh start’ etc, and wouldn’t normally have written them in alternate lines like this, but that is just how it happened; and, of course, that ‘bit of magic’ needed to be different for significance! To add emphasis to the initial and the top lines I added a few flourishes.

 

Version 2The piece was written out on vellum for The Prince of Wales, President of the Heritage Crafts Association, to thank him for his kindness in suggesting his own President’s Award – an annual award for endangered crafts as identified in the Heritage Crafts Association’s Red List of Endangered Crafts. It was a beautiful piece of vellum which, once prepared, took the writing and paint very well.

 

 

 

 

Version 4As it was for The Prince of Wales I wanted to make it personal to him and so checked to ensure that he was as keen on red squirrels as ever, I was told that indeed he was. If newspaper and magazine articles are correct, His Royal Highness encourages them to come into the house at Birkhall. So at the top I painted a tiny red squirrel no more than 10 mm high eating a hazelnut. (Sadly the magnification doesn’t really show the detail of each hair being painted separately.)

Version 5Then at the bottom of the writing, to round it all off, I painted a squirrel looking alert, as though it was watching The Prince of Wales, and it is holding tiny Prince of Wales ostrich plumes in its paws to make it personal to him.

 

CIMG3120We don’t really get feedback on whether royal gifts are appreciated (or even seen) but I do hope that, if he sees this, The Prince of Wales’ spirits will be a little lifted by the words by J B Priestly and by his beloved red squirrels themselves perhaps bringing that ‘bit of magic waiting somewhere behind the morning’.

Rectors of Chevening

CIMG3146Being asked to create a panel listing the rectors of St Botolph’s Church in Chevening, Kent, was a fascinating project with a number of interesting design challenges. The list goes back to Reginald in 1262 and there were 56 names in all. It’s always a problem working out the size and style of the lettering so that there is a wide enough space for names as long as William de Wintreshull but also accommodating short names such as John Wode and John Crull without having a large white space on the right.

 

 

 

IMG_3575Because it is a formal piece and the script should reflect that, I began by writing out the names in round hand (English Caroline Minuscule), or Edward Johnston’s Foundational Hand as here. However, I soon realised that those long names were causing me problems and the columns would be too wide. I had decided at the start that there should be three columns as two would have made the piece too long and four would have resulted in a wide panel and the lettering for the names would be too small.

 

 

IMG_3001So I changed the lettering to Compressed English Minuscule and this worked much better. I wasn’t sure whether the dates should be in black or red – the problem with a vibrant red is that it can be overwhelming sometimes. I tried both and realised that actually the red dates looked better than the black. I also asked the client if there were flowers or plants associated with the church.They didn’t have any ideas so I looked for suitable biblical texts and thought that John 15: verse 5 seemed very appropriate – ‘I am the vine; you are the branches’, the rectors being the branches in spreading the word. This also gave me the opportunity to use vines and grapes as decoration.

 

IMG_3404It took a little while to get the information correct. After I had written out the rough it was suggested that where there were two rectors in one year the date was omitted which really didn’t look right, and then that there should be an ampersand rather than the year as here, but this didn’t look right either. In the end it was decided to revert to my original layout.

 

 

 

 

IMG_3731The piece was so large that I couldn’t stretch the vellum before I started as I wouldn’t have been able to reach to letter the top, so I prepared the skin, which was quite bumpy, drew all the lines and set to. Because the heading is often the most daunting I always start with this to get it over with, and then worked my way down the board. I left the red lettering so that I could do it all in one go.

 

 

 

CIMG3147Then it was on to painting the vines and grapes.I decided that the vine should start in the middle of the piece and then the branches should extend out to the right and left. This also gave a nod to mediæval images of the tree of Jesse which also seemed rather appropriate. To get the best balance with the lettering and the position of the paintings within the piece, I designed it so that the leaves and grapes were the largest at the bottom, a little smaller either side of the name ‘St Botolph’s’ and then smallest of all on the row just above the columns. I don’t know how many leaves I painted, and certainly not how many grapes, but there were thousands it seemed!

CIMG3146The skin was very bumpy as can be seen when unstretched, and so it needed to be dampened and then pulled round a strong piece of wood and carefully attached at the back. This will also help to keep the vellum flat in the cold and sometimes damp atmosphere in many churches.

Props for film and TV

CIMG2859As a professional scribe and illuminator, I am often asked to make props for film and TV. These have ranged from 19th century petitions of ‘thousands’ of names, Elizabethan maps, writing in ‘invisible ink’ and making it reappear onscreen, any number of documents, poems and letters, and, a few years back, to coincide with a big exhibition in Venice by one of the UK’s most well-known artists, a double spread of a 12th century manuscript written in Greek.

CIMG2811The story was that a freed Roman slave had amassed great wealth such that he was able to buy up great treasures. He wanted a suitable palace to display these and planned to take them on the ‘biggest ship ever made’ – the ‘Unbelievable’ – and then build his palace. Sadly, it was said, on his journey a sea monster caused the ship to wreck and the treasures were lost only to be found again hundreds of years later and brought to the surface in the twenty-first century. I was given a very wide brief and set to creating this double spread, checking the designs as I went along. I researched palaces in mediæval manuscripts, and it was lovely to create my own … in the style of! Of course the palace would have a fountain and fish pond and, as with many pieces I’ve done I enjoyed adding a bit of personal amusement. Each fish, for example, had an extra fin from one to four.

CIMG2809I knew that the spread was going to be aged but selected a piece that had a lot of character to it anyway. There was a fair smattering of brown spots which indicated the hair follicles. In my rough sketch I had planned to have carts with treasures being loaded on to the ship but realised that this would take far too long so in the end settled for wrapped bales on the quay, and a few treasures being shown on the deck of the ship. The freed slave, Amatan, is shown here, again in his fur hat and rich red robes lined with cloth of gold, supervising the loading. At this point I didn’t know what form the treasures would be so I painted in a few objects. To ensure that, mediævally speaking, the ship was in character, as it was meant to be so big, the prow extended well beyond the border.

CIMG2814They did give me a sketch of a mediæval monster from a manuscript as a suggestion but I thought it looked far too benign (a bit like a Tellytubby!) so I asked if I could make mine much more scary, to which they agreed. So here it is with horns – because it was evil – rows of sharp teeth and sharp claws. And because the monster was wrecking the ship by creating a storm, I drew a waterline which wasn’t horizontal to reflect that. (I did try it with a very angled sealine but it just looked weird!)

CIMG2804There are quite a few miniatures of ships in mediæval manuscripts, especially connected with the Jonah and the whale story, and I found a lovely image of a sailor falling overboard, which I copied, painting treasures tossed into the sea by the storm too. Amatan and another sailor are here pointing in horror at the monster, and even the ships’ prow is looking a bit scared! The mast is broken and the sail in tatters.

 

 

CIMG2815I also decided to have the monster coming up the side of the page and towering over the boat to make it seem even more menacing and had his gold tail pointing menacingly towards the crashing ship.

 

 

 

 

 

CIMG2863I then wrote the supplied Greek text and worked hard to ensure that it fitted the space exactly, rearranging the line spacing and the length of the lines to ensure that it did. I was also able to pretty much justify the lines so that the right- and left-margins looked neat.

 

 

 

 

CIMG2862I knew that they wanted the page aged, and so, once it was all done, took some sandpaper to the painting and roughed it all up a bit. However, when I saw it being used in the accompanying film about the story of the ‘find’, I saw that they had really roughed it up, with the gold leaf blistered and some of the images almost gone completely. The film of the story and the ‘find’ is available on Netflix if you subscribe. And the artist is still causing controversy about the whole project as here.

 

Quills and Calligraphy

IMG_1961Sixteen eager students were ready to start a day of learning and practising calligraphy as part of the events associated with the fantastic Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms 2018-2019 exhibition at the British Library. We were focusing on the Angled-Pen Uncials as in the St Cuthbert Gospel of St John, a very pleasing writing style, and which has only majuscules, or capital letters.

 

IMG_1947Everything was set out before the students arrived with a sloping board, pen and nib, ink, etc and sets of A3 information and exemplar sheets so that no ruling lines was necessary while learning.

 

 

 

IMG_1952The morning was spent learning and practising the letters and then the afternoon focused on quill cutting and preparing and writing on vellum. Cutting quills was a lot tougher than it looked – the barrels of swans’ feather are really strong!

 

 

 

IMG_1954It does take some preparation, but once the steps are clearly explained and reinforced to everyone as they cut the feathers, really good quills resulted.

 

 

 

IMG_1958Then it was on to preparing the vellum, practising writing names using the quill and then, with a deep breath, writing on the vellum itself. I suggested using Schmincke Calligraphy Gouache in vermilion as a contrast for the initial letter and this worked really well. The results needed to be admired even halfway through the writing!

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1956And the concentration here was intense!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_1961But the results were very much worthwhile! Congratulations to all students for such a successful day – and for being such a lovely group to worth with.

A stunning Renaissance manuscript

BL, Add ms 19553

BL, Add ms 19553

The British Library has a stunning array of manuscripts and one that has been recently digitised caught my eye because of its lively and idiosyncratic lettering; the shelf reference is BL, Add ms 19553. The page shown has typical Renaissance decoration – the manuscript is dated to c.1505 – with a rather restrained red, blue and green decoration on shell gold (powdered gold in gum Arabic base).

 

 

 

 

'que'It is the lively lettering, though, not the decoration, that caught my eye, particularly the exuberently free curved stroke on the letter q in the middle of the second line. This is an abbreviation and indicates that this word should be tibisque. There is wonderful control of the pen as the pen moves from the right to the left, and, with again great control, moves to the left with a slight hesitation at the finish of the stroke adding a hint of a thickening at the very end. Note also the letter g with the exaggerated lower bowl, and no little ‘ear’ to the right of the upper bowl. This scribe is really enjoying making these strokes!

xAnother beautiful stroke is the one from top right to bottom left in this letter x; it is rather more successful that the slightly more wobbly stroke from top left to bottom right. Notice also the very flat pen nib angle to the strokes. Usually the nib angle for this writing style, Humanistic Minuscule, is about 30°. The flatter nib angle gives a more chunky feel to the lettering.

a:eWhen the letters a and e are combined as a ligature it can be a rather clumsy form. Here, though, the scribe has sloped the usual upright of the letter a and the e nestles in neatly, sharing the same stroke. Extending the ‘crossbar’ of the e and just pushing it up slightly at the end, which thickens the stroke, gives a very elegant letter-form overall. Note, too, the second thoughts the scribe has had with the long s and t in posteritate . The long s started just above the line for x-height, and the letter t was written normally. Then the decision was made to extend both strokes and join them together. It’s great when watery ink like this is used as these sorts of things can be detected.

& and extended fThe ampersand (et = and) is very graceful here, with the smaller bowl written as a complete letter o, and the lower stroke travelling to the right has a real swoosh to it. Note, too, the additional extension to the letter f written after the letter had been completed.

 

 

 

yAnd lastly another wonderful stroke on this letter y, where the slight thickening at the end of the stroke bottom left not only collides with the letters o and n on the lines below, but the pen has also caught a little on the surface so it looks a bit messy.

And if you want to see more of this intriguing manuscript and spot fabulous letters yourself, then click here.

 

Another Graily Hewitt manuscript book

IMG_2632This delightful little book was written by calligrapher and illuminator Graily Hewitt (1864–1952). It’s the text of the Holy Communion written out for Clairice Gabbatt who lived in Petersfield. The book is in Graily Hewitt’s typical lettering style and it’s likely to be on his usual preferred writing surface of parchment, as the leaves are quite thin.

 

 

 

 

IMG_2631The book is bound in a dark leather with a gilded cross, and vine leaves and bunches of grapes in each corner (from ‘I am the vine, you are the branches’, John 15:5) and this image also gives an indication of size.

 

 

 

 

 

 

IMG_2633Graily Hewitt’s lettering is always very strong, it was said that he was the best calligrapher in the UK after Edward Johnston. Interestingly he almost always chose to write on parchment which is not the most pleasant surface to write on and results in letters that are not as crisp as they can be on well-prepared vellum.The enlarged and gilded letter ‘O’ is delightful and that, and the enlarged ‘A’, are surrounded by fine line decoration similar to that in the De Brailes Hours.

 

 

 

IMG_2634Calligraphers working at the turn of the last century were less concerned about word breaks. Nowadays most scribes wouldn’t break the word ‘Father’ in the first line to ‘Fa’ and ‘ther’ on the second, and again the word ‘Because’ split not just between two lines, but ‘Be’ on one page’ and then ’cause’ on the next.

If you want to see more of Graily Hewitt’s work, then a previous web post is here.

 

 

 

downloadGraily Hewiit was the tutor to a number of students, including Dr R A Holmes (shown on the right) and featured in another post on Graily Hewitt here. This is the background to the book from Jenny who owns it:

My great aunt Clairice Gabbatt and her husband lived in an Arts and Crafts house in Petersfield. They had no children and Clairice was worth a considerable fortune as she was a member of the Hartley’s Jam family. They were religious (and a bit stuffy) and became lavish benefactors of their church, St. Mary’s Liss. Clairice and her friend Lady Maufe (a director of Heals) wife of Sir Edward Maufe the architect who designed Guildford Cathedral  furnished the church with fabrics from Liberty and Heals and bought all the vestments etc. Percy Gabbatt seemed to domineer all the goings on at the church and any renovations etc (which he paid for) so tongue in cheek, the locals referred to the church as St. Gabbatt’s. They donated a wonderful porch statue called Incarnation made by friend Eric Gill and he and Gwen Reveratt and Graily Hewitt, I am led to believe, were all friends.  Graily Hewitt was commissioned to do the Baptismal roll in the church. In a church magazine I have, he was mentioned as living in Petersfield.  However this little Holy Communion book refers to Treyford. Treyford is not far from Petersfield. 

Written on the last page of the Holy Communion book by Graily Hewit  in pencil “Clairice Gabbatt memento Graily Hewitt 1946.”

Many thanks to Jenny for supplying the photographs and the background.

Quills and Quill Knives

Image-1An unusual quill knife in a manuscript image on Twitter made me look again at quill knives. This one had the necessary curved blade (don’t get me started on straight edges for cutting quills!) but a strange curved hook shape which seems to end in a point. I’ve really thought about why this shape of knife was developed and can’t see any real advantages for it over what I would call a ‘normal’ quill knife as below. It would be really difficult to sharpen that inner curved edge, so what would a dull inner curved blade be used for. Has anyone got any suggestions?

 

 

IMG_0101This is a trusty quill knife which I use when being filmed cutting quills. The shape of the handle sits really well in the hand, but for me the blade is rather too long and the lower part of the blade (the bolster or shank) should have been inserted more into the handle for better control. The blade is of steel, but not stainless steel, so there is some rust. Some years ago I was told that it wasn’t possible to get a good sharp edge on stainless steel, but according to Robin Wood MBE, who knows a thing or two about blades, modern stainless steels are much improved and these are what he uses for his tools and axes so they must be good.

IMG_0642So what’s important about a quill knife? First that it has a good handle that sits well and is comfortable in the hand; it is also important that it is substantial. I teach quill cutting as part of some of my Calligraphy courses, and in the three-day Painting a Mediæval Miniature course I run at the end of May each year. For these I use X-Acto knives (see image) which have good solid handles. They are sold with a pointed blade, but I buy curved blades and replace the pointed blade with these. In my opinion it is easier to replace a curved blade when it dulls for quill cutting than sharpening 16 knives! (And the blades aren’t wasted as they are then used for scraping mistakes from vellum, and then for cutting vellum and paper. And at the very end of their life, they’re used to sharpen pencils!). I would never cut quills with scalpels because the barrel of a quill is tough and a scalpel can so easily turn in the hand; having control of a razor sharp blade is paramount in my opinion!

Quill knife, courtesy of Alan Cole, © Museum of Writing, University of London

Quill knife, courtesy of Alan Cole, © Museum of Writing, University of London

Then the blade itself. First it needs to be reasonably short. There is strength in a more stubby blade that isn’t there in a longer, perhaps more flexible blade. And because cutting a quill requires only a short section of the blade, a knife with a longer blade where the whole edge slices isn’t necessary.

CIMG2507So how to cut a quill? If you want to see how it’s done then it’s all explained in my Illumination book and associated DVD (see here for details). The feathers used are the first five flight feathers of large birds. The differences between the first five flight feathers are explained in the book and DVD.

 

 

 

 

CIMG0977Once the feather is hardened, it is prepared and the nib then shaped.The first step here is making the long scoop cut.

 

 

 

CIMG0985Then the sides of the nib are shaped.

 

 

 

 

CIMG0991The long tip is trimmed to a manageable length.

 

 

 

 

 

CIMG1205And finally the end of the nib is shaped to make a quill that writes.

 

 

Quill knife, courtesy of Alan Cole, © Museum of Writing, University of London

Quill knife, courtesy of Alan Cole, © Museum of Writing, University of London

All modern pen knives – and the clue is in the name – have a curved blade. I’m not getting into ‘quill knife wars’, but every part of logic leads to the blade being curved so that it can ‘rock’ over the similarly curved end of the barrel of the feather when trimming the nib tip without splitting it. I do appreciate that there are those who swear by a straight blade, and these are sold on many websites, but it’s a curve for me and my students!

 

 

Quill knife, courtesy of Alan Cole, © Museum of Writing, University of London

Quill knife, courtesy of Alan Cole, © Museum of Writing, University of London

The images of historical quill knives have kindly been provided by Alan Cole of the University of London’s Museum of Writing to whom I am very grateful.

 

 

 

 

 

A Chronology of the Penknife (Finlay, 1990)There is an excellent pictorial history of the shapes of pen knives from the early 8th century to 1698 produced by Michael Finlay in ‘Western Writing Implements in the Age of the Quill Pen’ (Carlisle, UK, Plains Books, 1990) and reproduced here. (Thank you to Alexander Devine of the Parker Library for kindly sending this to me.)

 

 

 

 

So what would an ideal quill knife look like? For me it would have a short, slim, razor-sharp curved blade (the curve being on the outer edge of the blade), the blade should be inserted well into the handle, and that handle have a heft that sits well in the hand. An additional refinement for me would be the insertion somewhere on the handle of a crochet hook, perhaps pulling out in a way similar to a modern pen knife attachment. The crochet hook catches on to the membrane inside the barrel of the feather and is used to pull the membrane out. If the membrane isn’t removed it gets in the way of writing the letter-forms.

IMG_0644Classes of children were often large in the past, and until machine-made pen nibs were adopted in schools in the 19th century, one of the tedious jobs of a school teacher was to cut and trim the quills of the pupils in their classes. With often more than 40 students per class, a great deal of time would be attending to pens. What a boon it must have been when the quill cutter was invented, however, these were used almost invariably to cut a feather tip only into a point for Copperplate-type writing, To write letter-forms shaped by a broad-edged nib, it was back to the quill knife. This is a quill cutter with a curved blade to trim the quill, and then the part that cuts the quill and makes the slit is at the top.

 

Writing with a quill is magical – it is, literally, feather-light – and it becomes almost an extension of the arm. The downside, of course, is that the quill needs to be trimmed about every paragraph, and then recut eventually.

 

Charter for Trees, Woods and People

© Patricia Lovett MBE/Woodland Trust 2017

© Patricia Lovett MBE/Woodland Trust 2017

The Charter for Trees, Woods and People has been created to record the importance of woods and trees to us all and also to commemorate the 800th anniversary of the 1217 Charter of the Forest which is now in Lincoln Castle. This early Charter, sealed by Henry III, re-established rights of access to royal forests. The Woodland Trust led on the new project for the nation, collecting comments and ideas from many people, and putting together ten tenets of contemporary views of the value of trees and woods to people. I was delighted when I heard that I had been the unanimous choice to carry out this important and prestigious commission.

 

First lettering trialsI needed the text before I could start doing anything really, and once I had it I appreciated that it was quite lengthy! As this piece was going to be framed, the size of writing needed to be larger than for something held in the hand such as a book, as people stand further away to read and look at things on the wall so I couldn’t really use anything smaller than a size 5 nib, and the writing style had to be a compact one such as Italic. The title set the width of the piece, and although I wanted to write it in strong wide Roman Capitals (as can be seen here in the first tryout of the title), I realised that I needed to reduce the width as it would have made the piece really wide and rather unwieldy! I kept to the usual proportions for Roman Capitals, but just reduced the width of the round letters which seemed to work. This shows my first writing out of the text.

I didn’t really have time to consider the design for long as everything had to be completed, from first sight of the text to final piece, in about six weeks, so sizes of the various blocks of text, inter-linear spacing, layout etc, had to be done pretty much instinctively and based on previous experience. I used as a guide for the text blocks the longest sub-title, but realised once I had written out all the text that this would have left far too much space between the two columns and the illustrations would have dominated the text, but it was good practice anyway for writing out the lengthy text blocks.

Text blocksSo, with a lot of measuring – never my strong point – I wrote out all the text again with columns the width I thought they should be to allow for a narrower central column of decoration. As I was writing out the text blocks in rough, I realised that they were working out sort of justified, with a straight margin on the left and also on the right. Now in calligraphy we really never seek to justify text because it can make the spacing look very uneven, just as it does sometimes in printed text. And it also adds another level of stress which really isn’t needed for something like this, but …!

Text set outThe Woodland Trust had sent a list of eleven trees that they wanted included on the Charter, so these needed to be placed appropriately. Before I received the text I had been thinking and experimenting about how to represent these trees. They could be shown as complete trees, but the leaves would have been so small and they could be identified only by the overall tree shape – and who knows those that well? Or they could be shown as botanical paintings with one or two of the leaves carefully painted as exact replicas. However, this is where the decision about what is more important comes in. Is the text or the painting to be emphasised more? Here it is clearly the text of the Charter, so the decoration had to be subsidiary to the lettering and not in competition with it. With quite a lot of experimentation of various styles, sizes, what to include and exclude etc, I decided to show parts of trees where their identification would be obvious, and for most trees it’s their leaves and berries or seeds – conkers, acorns, hazel nuts, rowan berries etc. Having read the text I appreciated that the essence of it was how important trees are to us – around us, close to us in our gardens and on our streets, and almost within us – lifting our spirits and delighting the eye – so to have them separated in the piece by being a wide border along the bottom or along the sides wouldn’t really reflect that. A painted central vertical column of trees seemed to be the best way forward – and it had an added bonus too – read on to the end …

Ink experimentsThe Woodland Trust, understandably, wanted me to use oak gall ink. This wasn’t a problem as I do use it often, and have just done a major project using this. However, I didn’t have time to make it myself and they had someone who was doing this anyway for the Charter. Unfortunately, the ink supplied created further challenges as shown here. Another problem to test and overcome!

Not making mistakesSo with the text written, the headings done and the central column indicated, it was time to draw the lines. However, it wasn’t quite as straightforward as that! The first column was a line longer than the second column, and the sub-headings were in a different writing style than the text. It took quite a bit of measuring and re-measuring to work out exactly the inter-linear spacing to ensure that both columns ended up at the right place. Setting out the whole piece was immensely time-consuming and yet again I misjudged how long this seemingly simple process would take. I tackled the text blocks first. Having written them out in rough, when I was more relaxed, I knew that the spacing would be about right – not tight and tense. So I photocopied all the text, cut the photocopies up into strips of individual lines, and attached these just above where I was to write each line to avoid making mistakes. The lines were very carefully numbered!

Why I hate paper!The Woodland Trust wanted the Charter on paper not vellum (to avoid upsetting those who are sensitive to such things), despite me pointing out that the paper I would use wouldn’t be tree-based but from cotton or linen rag. Now I really don’t like using paper, because when using a sharp nib, it often picks up paper fibres which can’t be seen until they mess up the letters as here – note the ‘d’ at the end of the last line in the upper text block.

 

 

 

 

Writing finshedThen it was time to write the sub-headings, the text about the Charter along the bottom, and the main heading itself. This is where I found out that the paper I was using, Lavis Fidelis, was softer than I wanted it to be. I’ve had a large roll of this paper, about 350 gsm in weight, for a very long time and I thought it would be perfect for this piece, which turned out to be very large. But over the years, the hot pressed surface had slightly softened, and the paint in the large letters did not sit evenly on the surface. Every stroke on the title and the poem at the top had to be over-painted. However, I was pleased with the fact that having the lines justified gave neat edges to the right and left margins, which was particularly important with the central painted decoration. However, what with writing on paper where it’s not easy to erase mistakes without it being seen, this was an added level of stress that I could have done without! Note that both text columns line up top and bottom despite the extra line in the left-hand column.

erasing linesAnd once I had finished the writing and allowed the ink and paint to ‘settle’ for at least 24 hours, I had to be really careful in erasing the lines because the ink was so fragile. This eraser was a new one, and it had a point when I started. Because of the delicate paper surface, it took me about three hours just to remove the lines!

 

 

 

 

 

Tube on boardNow the Charter is large, 78.5 by 82.5 cms, and this meant that the paper stretched way below my sloping board especially when I was writing close to the top of the Charter. It is so easy just to lean on the paper without thinking and crease it, so I used a cardboard tube placed over the bottom edge of my board and taped it underneath the guard sheet. I had cut a vertical section along the length of the tube so that the tube would fit over the board and this created a smooth round surface for the paper to slide over. Even if I leant heavily on the paper, the fact that it was backed by this curved shape rather than a straight edge meant that the paper remained undamaged.

Wrong interlinear spacingI am often asked if I ever make mistakes – the answer is far too often – but as I use vellum these can be erased without trace. However, despite every check, I made a major error which meant that I had to start all over again. The lines of text in the blocks varied in number from five to eight lines, and the headings needed lines ruled at different heights – all requiring great care – so it wasn’t just a case of drawing lines the same distance apart all the way down the page, but drawing lines appropriate for each separate block of text and its heading. I never start at the beginning because no matter how much you try to relax you are always tense before you start writing and this comes out in the hand and writing. Starting elsewhere and then going back to the beginning one you’re relaxed and into writing the piece is a better approach. So I started at text block seven, which went OK and so I wrote out text block eight. Then, for no apparent reason, I picked up the paper strips of text for block ten rather than nine. Block nine had fewer lines then ten, but I only realised this when I ran out of guidelines! I thought – and hoped – that the Woodland Trust would not mind too much the reversal of these two text blocks, so I went back to the left-hand side of the paper to identify the guideline measurements and drew the appropriate lines. HOWEVER I took the wrong inter-linear measurement – how could this have happened? So although mixing up the text blocks might have been acceptable, lines too close together as evident in the last two lines here certainly weren’t! So it was the huge job of marking out and re-drawing all those lines for the whole piece on a new piece of paper!

Hazel startingThen it was on to the decoration. I started to paint each type of tree carefully on another piece of paper to get the design and balance right. This was an education in itself as so often things are in calligraphy and painting. How did the leaves hang on the branches – up/down/flat/singly/in clusters/evenly along the branch/randomly? And were the veins symmetrical or random, and having got the shape of the leaves were the edges smooth, jagged, rounded, pointed etc etc. I learned so much doing this. Annoyingly, despite all my preparations beforehand, the softness of the surface of the paper meant that I couldn’t transfer any of the designs over because in erasing any pencil or similar lines, the paint also came off the paper! So, having got the idea of the leaves etc, I just had to take a deep breath and wing it. I set out the faintest guideline in pencil for branches and then used very dilute Schmincke gouache and a very fine Kolinsky sable da Vinci brush (size 00) to paint in the leaves and fruit/seeds, having done all that previous research.

Hazel finishedNext, I used the fine brush and outlined the branches and leaves, put in the veins, added further colour to the leaves and fruit/seeds and finished the painting off. It all sounds so easy but actually each tree took the best part of a day with the research, initial painting and then the final painting on the Charter. Above and here are the hazel leaves and nuts.

 

painting douglas firI enjoyed all the painting and for the Douglas fir and yew I counted how many separate tiny strokes of paint I made for one short section along the branches. There were over 350 strokes not more than a couple of millimetres long in three colours for a section less than 10 millimetres long! As I say so often in my courses, the consistency of the paint and the control of it is crucial and it was here.

 

 

 

 

Everything masked for paintingBefore I started painting I covered the text completely, as it had taken me so long to write, the last thing I wanted was a green blob of paint across the lettering!

 

 

 

 

 

 

First 3 treesSo I worked my way up from the bottom painting the trees, here it’s oak, rowan and Douglas fir.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Trees 2Once it got too far for me to reach from the bottom, I turned the Charter round and worked on it upside down. So from the top here it’s sycamore, hawthorn, horse chestnut, hazel, yew, ash and apple. The order in which the trees were featured was up to me so I spread those with red berries throughout the column as red, being a complementary colour to green, would make a sharp contrast and visually ‘ping’, and also carefully placed the ones with darker leaves, or more spikey ones etc so they were evenly balanced and didn’t dominate too much.

 

 

Painting upside downThis is the completed central column of trees.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top decorationI then added tiny little blocks of leaves and fruit either side of the poem at the top. These were about 1.5 cms square in all. This brought some colour and interest to the top of the Charter.

 

 

Delivering charterAnd the added bonus of having the central column of decoration? This can be seen here in the finished Charter, where Matt Larsen-Daw, who is Project Leader for the Charter, is receiving it. The shape of the central column of decoration with the title and heading text and paintings makes the letter ‘T’, and, of course, ‘T’ stands for Trees – the whole point of the Charter! (Note the wide margins on the Charter, giving the calligraphy room to breathe, and see then the picture frame below)

 

 

 

IMG_3551There was a lot of publicity for the Charter and it was featured on BBC1’s Countryfile programme on November 5th 2017, and also on BBC Breakfast on November 6th, as shown here. I did shiver when I saw the Charter in all that sunlight on Lincoln Castle ramparts, but it was taken inside straight after the programme!

 

 

IMG_3557There were big celebrations at Lincoln both in the Cathedral and in the Castle to launch the Charter and mark the 800th Anniversary of the 1217 Charter of the Forest on November 6th. It was a bitterly cold evening with a fierce wind, and Lincoln stands high in the surrounding countryside. Here I am once the Charter was taken inside to be close to the 1217 Charter. (And, like many of you no doubt, although the frame was lovely, I just longed for more space around the piece, particularly at the bottom. I had indicated the dimensions for framing, but this must have got lost in translation!)

The whole experience of designing, writing and painting this Charter was one that I enjoyed very much indeed, and the benefit was that I learned so much about trees. I am most grateful to the Woodland Trust for giving me this opportunity.