Calligraphy: A Scribe's Notes Art Blog
A spontaneous discussion among the members of Masscribes* at their 20th Anniversary Celebration, in 2007, brought forth a nearly unanimous thought. Hardly a new or revolutionary idea, in fact it was just the opposite. We all wanted to spend more time and effort refining our letterforms. We had all been the route of learning a dozen hands, flourishing, illustrating, painting, gilding, carving and owning every calligraphic tool and gizmo on the market. It was fun, exploratory, expanding, but it didn__™t do anything for our letters.
As a young graphic designer in the dark ages before computers, I produced everything by hand. Concepts were rendered in marker, all type had to be drawn, especially headlines. Years of tracing, rendering, and drawing letters gave me a familiarity that only comes from practice and necessity, refining skills over time. Years of exemplar driven calligraphy study followed. Look, copy, look, copy, over and over, produced some very satisfactory results. Practice brought me to a level of proficiency but stalled there. Something was missing, something other lettering artists knew but I didn__™t. Then the bulb lit. I had to go back to the drawing board __" literally.
Thus the concept for the yearlong study began. Borrowing from my early experience with type, I would apply that approach to calligraphy. The first lesson was to forget everything we thought we knew about letters. Now, they had to be considered design elements, shapes, much like a spiral, cross or rune. I decided to limit the work to strictly black and white, as color would require additional design decisions. I also specified a minimum of tools and surfaces further removing variables and the need to haul ___stuff___. We began with formal Romans; formerly know as the really hard stuff. We enlarged, traced, drew, painted, cut out and abstracted them. Simultaneously and unconsciously gathering information, weight, proportion, the subtlety of curve, similarities and differences became slowly ingrained. Pen-made and built up Romans followed. Each of my 15 students stunned me with their originality, craftsmanship and creativity. What was more exciting was that each of them was working at a different level, with different experience, and now the playing field was level. The second phase was to do the same with Italic. Trace, draw, pull apart, abstract, all the while absorbing information about these shapes. Finally we turned to texture, interlinear spacing, composition and combining Romans and Italic.
The images shown here are of an accordion book that my students presented to me at the end of our class. Each panel was by a different student and represented some of the assignments they were given. The book measured 4×4 closed and was beautifully hand bound. No one could have predicted that two months into the class I would be diagnosed with breast cancer and undergo two surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation in the remaining months. The compassion, and healing nature of this group gave me strength and motivation. I looked forward to every class, leaving tired but satisfied with the work that was coming from these extraordinary people. Everyone brought something to the class and I believe everyone took something away, an alternate approach, a shift in perception or a new skill, if nothing else, an immersion in, and reconnection to, pure letters.
*Greater Boston Massachusetts, USA