So the customer and I have agreed everything we can think of, and they're sitting drinking Pina Colada while I head off to the studio.....
Creating the tree
Having agreed the rough size of the finished piece, and knowing which generation has the most names in it, I make an informed guess on how big the lettering will be for the final piece. Using a calligraphy pen of that size, I write out every name (including middle names and surnames) for the whole tree, using the style of lettering we think is the one we want.
I rule a border onto a piece of paper that is the proposed size of the finished piece. I then cut out every name, and arrange them on the sheet. And rearrange, and fiddle, and rearrange. And leave it and come back to it. And maybe rewrite some or all of the names in a different size. And so on, until it's heading in the right direction.
Eventually I solve all the challenges I can think of, and the names lie in the right place on the paper. I then glue them down (to protect them from breezes and passing cats!) and this becomes my blueprint for the next stage.
Then using the colours/styles/sizes I think are right, I write out the whole tree.
It's possible that the tree looks great - more likely there are some sections that need changing in order to make the whole piece look beautiful. I'm also looking at colours - are they working? Is the decoration looking right? Is the title big enough? These elements are often done again and held or glued in place to see how they look.
On average I'd say I create one more rough at this stage - sometimes several more if I have a radical rethink about how to lay the piece out.
Eventually I am satisfied that everything is working.
Now to start the final piece!
Creating "the one"
I often work on papers I'm familiar with - Saunders Waterford or Fabriano. If for some reason I'm using a different paper, I need to trial all the materials I want to use, to make sure they work on the paper we're using.
Now I rule up the final piece. One of the techniques for decreasing the anxiety about the final piece is to identically rule up 2 sheets of paper - although everything has to be done twice, you can trick your brain into always believing that the "other" piece is the real one! (If I'm asked for more than one hand written copy of the same tree then I always rule up a spare.)
I try not to put lines where there won't be writing - partly because rubbing out lines is tedious, but more importantly there's a risk that the indents in the paper will show in the final piece.
I also have to make sure that the paper doesn't get marked or dented, so all other projects get cleared away while I'm at this stage, and the piece is kept on my drawing board, under a cover sheet if I'm not working on it.
I work from top to bottom, but it might surprise you to learn that I sometimes do the names from right to left. (I'm left handed, and it decreases the chances of getting my hand into wet ink.)
I will have several rough versions of the tree pinned around me at this stage, but I always copy the details from the spreadsheet we agreed - otherwise I might accidentally copy a mistake I made previously.
The more lettering that's on there, the greater the jeopardy if something goes wrong - so I've all sorts of tricks up my sleeve for correcting - that's a whole other story!
The final stage is usually the ruling of the connecting lines - I use a ruling pen which is a wonderful tool and can hold paint of any colour - although lines are generally black or gold. (I did a tree where the principal family line was in red - that looked good.)
And then the title - the nail biting writing of those prominent letters that will ruin the piece if they're wrong - no pressure then!
Finally all the work is done, and the task of rubbing out the lines can begin. I wait for at least 24 hours before doing this - just in case. It takes a LONG time to remove all the pencil, and even when you think it's all gone, there's always more. I now do my final check using a magnifying head visor, working from name to name to name.
Despite having checked, checked and checked again, even as it's going in the tissue paper and into the postal tube there's a nagging voice in my head telling me there's something wrong.....! But it's off to the Post Office with the tube, and then a few nail biting days until I hear that it's arrived, and hopefully also that it's much loved.
After that, customers often drop me a note to show me the piece in its frame, or to let me know that the recipient of the gift was delighted - which I really value. Best of all is if I hear that it's generated conversations with people who didn't know their family history - I think that's the piece doing the job that it should.
Value for money
I do get requests for family trees where people are astonished at the price I charge. I hope that having read the process you'll be aware that there's a lot goes on be hid the scenes to create that piece of paper, and while it's not affordable to everyone, I hope I've at least helped you understand a little more of what the costs cover.
(I am always very happy to work with a customer to find an affordable way - sometimes the right answer is to use my design skills and knowledge of family trees tI have even delivered trees without using any calligraphy at all, but that's another story for another day!)