Tuesday, December 28, 2010

A calligraphy project and ponderings

I was recently asked to create a small calligraphic piece as a gift for Christmas. It was a simple quote, I was given some broad brush ideas about - elegant, simple, silver, touch of red, nothing fussy, not too big and off I went.

It was not a difficult commission and I enjoyed exploring a few design ideas and just getting some lettering done. Nonetheless, I have found that many folk are quite surprised or shocked when they see how much preparation goes into a final piece.  I think a lot of folk think that we simply pick up a pen and do some nice writing!

There are a lot of steps and a lot of decisions to be made, followed by a few practice layouts and paper/ink tests, then the final piece might have a chance of emerging. Unless you make a spelling mistake or blob some ink on it. All of which is possible!

I start by choosing a style of writing (a 'hand') that I think will suit the piece, and then work out what size nib is needed and how tall or big the letters should be - a few practices needed with different heights. I then write out the quote quickly and simply and cut up the words to see how the layout might look.

The layout is all about reading and breathing and how it looks. Does the layout let you read it with the right emphasis? Does it allow breaks for breaths that make sense? Does it look balanced ?

Then it's time to do some practices - and hope that the blobs appear now and not later! Here I am checking if the lines are far enough apart to let the words 'breathe' yet close enough together to make the words feel connected and flowing.

All the tools of the trade are used - from traditional 'cut and paste' scissors and glue to pencils and rulers and tissues to absorb excess ink from the nib.

When it's done, I then try to work out how much space to leave around the words when its framed. I knew we didn't want this to be a big and imposing piece, so it was important to leave enough white space, but not too much.

The final lay out piece ready to take to the framer. I used a very broad brush to give a hint of silver as a background. The little red diamonds were placed to counterbalance some of the blank spaces. And a little bit of the southern cross appeared in a way...

This angle shows the silver brush work better.

In typical fashion I didn't photograph it when it came back from the framer - but got it into the post quick smart! So maybe another time I'll actually take you through all the steps in a more logical and sequential manner...but this is a bit of a view into how a piece emerges from a brief conversation.

In the end, I think I didn't quite get the balance of the layout right - I would have preferred to have a right justified piece, but I went over a bit. The red diamonds help balance it out though.


  1. So interesting, Fiona, to follow the workings of a piece of art. It looks perfect to me, but I do understand that feeling that you could have done something differently. Now, Happy New Year!

  2. It's all of those things: elegant, simple, silver, touch of red . . . and just beautiful!!! Thank you for sharing your thought process too. And of course - Happy New Year!

  3. soo sweet fiona!...

    and your commentary reminded me of all the reasons why I found calligraphic commissions completely impossible (so much so that I rarely ventured into the territory!)
    I have nothing but admiration for anyone who can manage it!

  4. What a coincidence, I just had a book from the library were this quote came from I wrote it down because I loved it, and sort of like to think I'm nearly there!
    You made into a lovely piece.

  5. I can imagine the time that goes into doing something like this! Even centering ordinary printing is a trial for me.

  6. it is important for me to see your process. and very helpful. i know you know this, but the red diamonds remind me of medieval manuscripts, connecting you to them. and this quote is most certainly true for me. thank you, fiona.

  7. Thanks all.

    Carol - it is always interesting to see another process isn't it?
    Thanks Jane - I think it met the brief pretty well, and I'm not sure I could do complex or complicated anyway!
    Ronnie - luckily it was asweet little piece to do - but you're right about commissions; they are a different animal to your own creations!
    Mieke - what wonderful serendipity! It's a thought-provoking quote isn' it? I hope your teacher appears!
    Robyn - yes it's funny how no matter how many times you practice it; when you do it there is a little more or less space between your letters, your words or you make the R rounder than before etc - but that's the joy of a handmade piece I figure.
    Velma - It's a great quote and the little red diamonds are connections thru the ages aren't they? I love seeing how other people go about their making - and am always in awe of their patience. Horses for courses I guess. Go well.


I appreciate your thoughts and comments; thanks for taking the time.