Tag Archives: design

‘…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!



Designing a vellum panel – the Kellogg College Grace

1Creating a suitable design for writing out the Grace of Kellogg College in Oxford on stretched calfskin vellum created an interesting set of challenges. Unlike all other Oxford colleges, the Grace is in Welsh rather than Latin (or even English?) and I was asked to include a translation as well. The college has a close association with the Kellogg Company incorporating an ear of wheat in its coat of arms so I thought it would be appropriate to use this in some way in the panel. And being an Oxford College not only did it have its own coat of arms, but it seemed sensible to include that of Oxford University as well.



IMG_2138So I knew from the start that the two shields would be there in the design and that the text in one language would be in a different style from that in the other language. I experimented with different sizes of nib and writing styles, and also sizes and placement of shields, and made a rough paste-up. This is a very first draft, it became more refined as I went on, but this is where I started.




Version 2Starting from the top. The size of the shields needed to be large enough to be significant and be seen, but not so large that they dominated the piece – it was to show the text of the Grace after all, and wasn’t an heraldic panel! Then to join the shields at the top or the bottom, or to have them side by side or even one above the other? As the college is part of Oxford University it seemed best to have them joined in some way and I thought that facing outwards (independent but linked) and joined by the corners touching rather than the shields facing inwards and joining at the curved sides worked best. I decided early on that I wanted to have just a little bit of bling in the panel so used gold for everywhere it would seen sensible to use gold – and even where perhaps it wasn’t! So the Oxford University shield had gold crowns and gold clasps on the open book, and Kellogg College had a gold ear of wheat. I had to check to see whether the number of grains was in the blazon (it isn’t), but did find that the indented vertical line (per pale) had a specific number of complete white ‘peaks’ which represented the eleven founders.

Version 3And then on to the heading. I had experimented with capitals for ‘Kellogg College’ and Italic for ‘Grace’ but this meant that there was very much then an hourglass effect in the design. I also wanted to make a little bit more of ‘Kellogg College’ so I re-wrote it in different sizes of nib until I had the one that looked right and also experimented with flourishes. I thought that there was need for some degree of restraint here as it is a Grace after all, so flourishing just the second letter ‘l’ in each word seemed to work best. I also added three gold diamonds made with the pen on the initials ‘K’ and the ‘C’ and used a pencil burnisher to make sure that they shined. Then on to the tricky ‘Grace’ word – there are only five letters and it brought the whole piece to a very narrow place visually. Writing them in capital letters allowed me to space them out without losing the cohesion of the word, and I then used the pen to make a red diamond between each letter, and added a small circle of gold in the centre of each which I burnished using a pencil burnisher so that they shone. This brought the gold and red colours from the shields down into the piece as well. And I wanted to use those wheat ears which I really enjoyed painting, so popped two in before the letter ‘K’ and two into the bowl of the ‘C’.

Version 4When there are translations like these it is a choice whether to use two colours (I did experiment with alternate red and green texts to represent Wales, but realised that it was a bit garish and actually this college was in England!) or two styles of writing, and tried also the Welsh in capitals and the English in Italic. As the Grace is said in Welsh, it seemed best to make this more dominant than the English translation, and, conveniently, the top line had quite a few letters ‘d’ which lent themselves to flourishing. Notice that only the first and last of the letters ‘d’ have been flourished in ‘dedwydd’ – more flourishes on the other letters ‘d’ would have upset the rhythm of those flourishes and drawn the eye particularly to that word. I also picked up the wheat ear theme again and painted a couple of very small little gold wheat ears at the top and bottom of the Grace itself.

Version 5One of the things that I always suggest to clients who are kind enough to commission such pieces is to say who gave it and whether this was for a particular reason. This is especially relevant when a piece is commissioned for a special birthday or an anniversary, otherwise it could look as if it was just bought off the shelf and not made explicitly for the occasion. It doesn’t need to be big or intrusive – here just a line of small capitals explains who gave this and when and it also neatly finishes the panel as well, bringing it to a conclusion.

Version 6And to bring the whole piece together, a single ear of corn wasn’t substantial enough at the bottom, so here there is a sheaf of golden wheat held together by twine. On the same lines of who commissioned the piece and for whom, I am always interested in who has done the work. We expect paintings and drawings to be signed, and the names of authors of books are on the cover and inside, but for some reason calligraphy is rarely ‘signed’. I now always try to ensure that my work is signed inobtrusively s possible either by using just my initials in a cipher (PL) or my whole name. In this instance, the width of the sheaf of wheat determined that I would be able to write only my initial and surname.


1Designing the whole piece created a series of challenges which shows the value of trying things out before committing to the final piece, which of course we all know!

The stages in creating a simple commission

HymnCalligraphy is a broad church, and just as there is a place for complicated, ‘designed’ pieces, with layered and textured backgrounds, and blocks of text of differing sizes and styles to create an exciting piece of work, so there is a place for pieces where the lettering is foremost and the design allows the meaning of the words to be paramount. One such piece was a commission I had earlier in the year – to write out a favourite hymn to mark a couple’s ruby wedding anniversary.

text 1It started with the whole hymn, and the client had the idea of laying the hymn out with the above verse in the centre and the remaining verses arranged around this. I experimented with writing styles and sizes of nibs, and then wrote out all the verses. I was in a bit of a flourish-y mood while I was doing this, but not all of these would make it into the final piece!


text 2So it was then time to cut up the verses and arrange them so that they looked as good as they could. The larger verse went in the middle, and the other verses were arranged around the edges in what I thought were the best places. However, there was a change of colour between the background paper and that which I was using. This, and the cut edges, often distract the eye, so if I had been going ahead with this design, I would have written it out again on a sheet of paper just to ensure that it all worked, before writing it out as a final piece.

Hymn 3That verse at the bottom bothered me. It made the shape strange, and, in my view, detracted from the central verse which was to be the focus. I removed the verse and it looked so much better.




red and blue textAt this stage, the client decided that, actually, it was only the main verse that was wanted. We had thought of writing the text in ruby red to mark the particular anniversary, but this could have looked a little plain. I suggested mixing two colours in the pen, which gives a variegated effect, as in a poem I wrote out on vellum, right. (The poem was ‘Kite’ which is why there is a black curvy line throughout the text – this was the tail of the kite.)This can be quite challenging to do, and it doesn’t help rhythm and flow, but it does emphasise two individuals coming together with a shared life (well, it does in my view!). I also rather enjoy the challenge of maintaining a consistency of colour and tone.

HymnRather than have the whole verse written out like this, the client selected certain words which meant a lot to him. So it was a little complicated to use the same nib, wash it in the middle of writing a line to use the two colours for one word every line, wash it again to go back to the red, but that’s what a calligrapher is for! I also suggested a very simple leaf decoration on the left-hand side, to add a touch of interest, but not to detract from the words.