A while back I wrote about the careful preparation for writing in a memorial book. http://www.oakleafcalligraphy.co.uk/blog/writing-in-a-memorial-book
The book I was working on is a brand new one - bought by the church (St Chad's, Saddleworth) to be introduced as part of the 800th anniversary of the founding of the church.
Entries to go in the book were sought from anyone connected to the church, and were all sent to me for writing in the book.
I ruled up the pages, and marked each page with the name of the person to be remembered. The format we'd chosen was the traditional one of surname, forename, details with the capital of the surname in gold.
My first job was to put the gold capitals in - I worked on every name in pages scattered throughout the book. I finished the last of many (many!) capitals only to realise I'd done the capital letters of the forename, not the surname.
Oh No. Oh no oh no oh no oh no. (Maybe everyone's forename and surname has the same letter? Of course not!) Oh no oh no oh no. (Maybe if I look away and look back it'll be sorted?) Oh no oh no oh no.
After a quick cup of tea (of course!) I rang the delightful lady who had commissioned the work and made the only sensible offer I could think of - to include a second gold initial and write forename, surname, details instead.
Not only was she completely lovely about my error, she even said "Do you know, I think that'll be nicer".
(I agree, but that's not really the point!)
I can report that everything went successfully from then, and the book was delivered back in time for their 800th anniversary celebrations earlier this year.
Who knows - I might even be trusted to add some entries in the future!
Last weekend I taught "Italic for all seasons" to a delightful group of people at the Trecastell Hotel on Anglesey.
The group had a very successful mix of those brand new to calligraphy and those with more skills.
I tried something new this time - instead of growing confidence by using pencils followed by felt tip or cartridge calligraphy pens, I gave everyone a good metal nib in a holder, and that was the tool everyone used from the start.
It was a great success! I think it was helped by the fact that I had tested every pen so I knew they were OK, but the main success was that no-one had time to build up anxieties about what might or might not work - they went for it and made quality marks with the pens right from the start.
And because we were straight into using the best tools, we had lots of time to play with variations - of materials, letter shapes, tools - all sorts!
When people left, of course they took with them the pen that they knew had created their beautiful lettering, along with a mini portfolio of their notes and their best work.
All this in a room overlooking the sea (almost IN the sea in fact) in a hotel where we were well fed and spoilt. Even the weather - in contrast to almost everywhere else - was lovely (although I'll admit I can take no credit for that!)
I had delightful comments back from people:
"just wanted to thank you again for the wonderful calligraphy course last weekend"
"good to come home with a portfolio of work and pen & ink - no excuse!"
"I have wasted no time in getting the pens out again. It was just what I needed to get me going"
"thank you again for a very good weekend"
If you're thinking "maybe I'd like to give this a try" I am running courses in September and October. The September one is Calligraphy in books - we will have fun learning a calligraphic hand AND making some little books to write in - all guided step by step, I think you'll be amazed at what you can create.
The October course is Calligraphy for Christmas - think reds and greens and hopefully some real gold too.
There are more details for the courses HERE - do please contact me if there's anything you'd like to know.
I would be delighted to create a gift certificate (by hand of course) if you wanted to treat someone to a weekend of fun.
Sometimes lovely opportunities just come along!
As a result of opening my studio for Anglesey Arts weeks I was contacted by Gill Jones, a super-talented photographer based here on Anglesey. She was planning a wedding shoot at Tros Yr Afon, a holiday cottage complex near Beaumaris, which can also be transformed into an exclusive wedding venue.
Gill was keen to use local people to bring the wedding magic together, and I was thrilled to be asked to provide a number of pieces. It's such a treat to see them being staged and photographed so beautifully - so of course I thought I'd share....
Thank you to Gill and all the other talented people who created a magical setting and a stunning set of photos.
It's a great privilege to be asked to write in a memorial book. These books are owned by churches, or sometimes by companies or organisations, to record the deaths of parishioners of people linked to the organisation.
As such, it's a piece with many commissioners (as each entry is a mini-commission) and many viewers as the books are often on display all the time, with the pages being turned weekly or even daily.
The books I have come across have either a page per day of the year or a group of pages for each month of the year. The entry for the person being remembered is added to the page relevant for the date of death.
With other pieces of work, should something bad happen, there's the option to recreate the piece. This is not so with a memorial book - indeed you're writing on a page that may have previous entries on it, possibly on both sides! So while I'm always careful, I try and use every trick I an think of to get a memorial book right.
In the picture you can see my bespoke ruler for marking up the lines - easier to just transfer marks than to measure for every page. You can see that I've tagged every page I'm going to be writing on, with the person's name. I've "isolated" the entry I'm writing so that my eye doesn't accidentally drop down one line and mix up information. I've got pens and brushes on a stand so they don't roll. I've a sheet (top L) for covering the page while I'm writing, so I don't get the grease from my hand on the page. And I've some kitchen roll (which could be cleaner, I confess!) Water and paint are accessible but not close to the book. There are some blocks that I can place between pages so that I can write a page, turn it with a block in place so it doesn't touch the previous page, and then I can carry on writing.
I have no music, radio or anything else to disturb me, and the phone is switched off. I can't do all the pages in one go, but try and do several at one sitting to keep a rhythm going. I also do similar work to all the page - all the ruling up, all the gold initials, etc.
Before writing with ink/paint, I make a tiny mark in an inconspicuous place (close to the margin on a page near the back) to be 100% sure it doesn't bleed.
I work on the flat as propping the book on my slanted drawing board is too tricky - especially as I'm a left hander and need the book at an angle.
The only other thing I can think of is that I'd asked the person requesting the set of entries to formally declare that the information was correct, and then I only worked from a print of what had been agreed - never from something I had written out already.
Then it's deep breaths and away we go!
In a future post I'll tell you what went disastrously wrong in spite of this endless list of precautions!
I was delighted to be asked to write a piece of calligraphy for Pen Heaven to include in their blog. The theme was Valentines, and myself and various other lettering artists were asked to write a haiku.
Well - there are many gushing haiku out there, but I chose one which I think is rather beautiful and maybe a little poignant.
If you like stationery (and I DO!) you might understand how exciting it was to be asked to choose a tool from the Pen Heaven site to use for the piece. (Some might say I spent longer drooling over pages of writing tools than I did writing the haiku... I couldn't possibly comment.) In the end I chose a Lamy 2000 pencil - thinking it would be a good idea to help people realise that calligraphy doesn't have to be all about the fancy pens.
The pencil is chunky and sturdy, with a slightly rough surface to the barrel (a bit like slate). I'm not going to claim it does anything that an ordinary pencil won't do - but I am going to say that it's lovely in the hand and a pleasure to use - and of course it allowed me to get the variation of shades that give the letters a slightly 3D look.
(I worked my way back over the letters and the shading 5 or 6 times.)
Even the colour is in pencil - 2 shades of ordinary coloured pencil together.
(If you've never tried using 2 different coloured pencils on top of each other I recommend it - it always gives a much more interesting colour than either of the single pencils. As my classes will attest, I have been known to cheekily say "1coloured pencil is colouring in, 2 is ART.")
Here's a picture of the pencil as well as the haiku:
The Pen Heaven site is beautiful - full of desirable objects - and the blog is going to have more haiku in the next few days so well worth a visit. http://www.penheaven.co.uk
Wishing you all a happy Valentine's Day!
When creating a biggish piece of work there are all sorts of approaches to dealing with that scary blank piece of paper!
Although I'm comfortable using products like Word and Powerpoint I cannot find a better way for me that to write the words out, cut them out and play with arrangements.
Notice I've not cut it into individual words - I just divide lines up where it feels like it's make a better layout.
This is prose: if it were a poem I would use the same line breaks as the poet used as they're part of what he/she created.
I find it helpful to write the piece at this early stage - it makes me think more about the words and - for example - what I might like to emphasise.
Tips at this stage would be:
- have a piece of paper much bigger than you think you'll need as the base - it stops you being constrained
- choose paper that is the same as the paper you've lettered on if you can - then there's no visual distractions with slightly different colours of paper
- cut in close to the lettering (I use a knife) : again we're looking for as little visual distraction as possible
- have a few strips of dark paper to mark in where the margin may fall
- if you're going to have decorative elements, title, credit etc. they should really be included at this stage (I haven't!)
- try and suppress any preconceived ideas - try all sorts!
- if you've not tried at least one layout that looks ridiculous you've not been inventive enough
- don't forget to try different line spacing - it's easy to play and makes a big difference to the look
- keep the original text to hand - it's bad news to find out you've lost or switched lines
- every layout that might be promising - take a photo (oh, this is SO much easier than in the old days where you had to have multiple photocopies of the words and glue down any layouts that looked hopeful)
- you might choose to go and write part of the text in different size / weight / colour to see how that looks
- try at least 20 different ideas - it's so quick at this stage
- use your camera to help you choose the most promising layout and put the pieces back into that layout
- you might want to stick the pieces down in this layout if you're going to have to move the pieces of paper away, because it's now your blueprint for the next version
I'll talk about what comes next in the next blog.
OK.... so no blog posts for a while, but hopefully some of you will find this one interesting, and if it doesn't apply to you, maybe you know someone you could send it to?
Here’s a few thoughts.
1. There are plenty of top calligraphers who are lefties (Tony Curtis, Angela Dalleywater, Gaynor Goffe spring to mind.)
2. Calligraphy is no different to any other activity for a leftie - we each need to find our best way, which includes suggestions from others, but in the end what works for me will be my choice.
3. Comfort is critical - whether you’re a leftie or not. If you’re not sitting comfortably with both arms and hands in comfortable positions the lettering will never be good.
For me, for broad edged pen work this means having a sloped board and having the writing lines running from 10 o’clock to 4 o’clock, and moving the paper often so that the bit of paper I’m writing on is moving to where my hand is.
I find that my “sweet spot” for writing is in front of my left shoulder, rather than in the middle of my body.
The heel of my hand rests on my guard sheet which is just below the line I’m lettering.
4. Equipment can often help. Left handed nibs are cut so that the rh edge is slightly longer than the lh edge. This just helps with getting equal “touch” on the two corners of the pen. When using a double pencil a leftie will do better if the right hand pencil pokes out a little more than the left handed one. It’s critical for all beginners to work out how to get the two pencils making marks of the same heaviness - any difference in weight on the two pencils will cause issues with a pen.
Zig pens and pilot pens are usable for a leftie, but they might find it better to move straight to a dip pen with a lh nib.
I don't do this, but I think a right handed nib in an oblique holder (see image) might work too.
5. What sort of leftie? I hold my pen so that my hand is below the writing line with my pen pointing away from me, but there are also lefties (including Tony Curtis) who have a “hook” style - their hand is above the lettering with the pen pointing towards them. I’ve never taught anyone who writes “hook” so don’t have so many tips for them.
6. There’s various articles (such as on the CLAS website http://www.clas.co.uk/left-handers.html) and even a whole book written by Vance Studley - but they’re only suggestions for things to think about.
7. It’s not going to be easy straight away - but then it’s not easy for right handers either.
8. Sometimes lefties have it easier too - for pointed pen (copperplate etc.) then the lefties generally have it easier. (Not sure about “hook” writers.)
If anyone has any tips to share back with me I'd appreciate them.
Everyone likes to see their name on something! A splendid gift (usually but not always for a child) is a name done in calligraphy in a way that is fitting for the person. Here's a couple I've really enjoyed doing this year:
Both special for different reasons. Sophie is my first great niece (how very a-g-i-n-g!) and lives down in Devon and will definitely have a seaside filled childhood.
Zinedine (what a fab name!) was a commissioned piece from his grand parents here on Anglesey - a charming couple both of whom are very arty, and told me about the Fine Art courses available at Bangor university - a week later I was enrolled, and I'm just coming to the end of my first term - it's been great!
I liked the challenge of making this piece as dragonish as I liked - he's done in watercolour and watercolour pencils, plus a touch of gold paint.
This is written to help anyone who is thinking about having a family tree written, but is unsure what that might entail.
First thing I'd like you to know is that I love creating family trees, and success for me is that you end up with a tree you're delighted with.
I'd also like you to know that I have created dozens of family trees, and consider it to be my job to make the process easy and enjoyable for you.
Often the people enquiring about having a family tree created are not used to commissioning work - and perhaps that sounds scary! The only information you need to provide is what you want on the tree. (That's it!)
At the start I ask for 3 pieces of information:
1. How many people are going to be on the tree (doesn't have to be spot-on at this early stage)
2. Roughly what information will you be wanting (some trees just have names on, some also have dates, locations, occupations, stories)
3. Anything else! (E.g. Is it for a special event? When is the tree needed for? Is there any illustration such as a family crest required)
From this I can give you an idea of price. If you feel the price is fair and you're still keen, we're up and running!
If the price is a concern, I'm always happy to explore ways to get the tree you want at a price you can afford - I can always make suggestions for how we can create something beautiful within a budget.
The next stage is to getting the content of the tree right. You can send it to me in almost any format - and I'll send something back to you to check-check-check I've got the right info.
And we'll have a discussion about the look of the tree (colours, styles, size, what the title says etc.) I'm always happy to make suggestions, and some people leave all the decisions to me - others will have some clear ideas about how it should look, and both approaches are fine. Sometimes I'll send samples of work, sometimes I just feel I can get on and create.
It's my job to create a structure which is both attractive to look stand easy to understand.
It's my job (of course) to write your family members out beautifully, getting the information 100% correct as you provided it to me.
It's also my job to choose the right materials - high quality papers and colours which will look as good in 50 years' time as they do today.
The only other thing I need from you is an address to send the finished piece to.
So that's the 3 jobs for you - tell me what you want, check it's right, and let me know where to send it - not scary at all!
I'm Janet Smith, a calligrapher who loves to experiment with lettering and calligraphy.