Ingenious Impressions: The Coming of the Book exhibition

001-a-Untitled-1In a previous post, I reflected on my response to being told, “calligraphy?… computers can do that!”

A current major exhibition in Glasgow has made me consider how medieval scribes would have reacted to being told, “calligraphy?… a printing press can do that.”

The scribes surely cursed Johannes Gutenberg for perfecting the revolutionary technique of printing by moveable type, and for bringing an end to an era of hand-lettered manuscripts.

The exhibition, Ingenious Impressions: The Coming of the Book, explores how the invention of mechanical printing impacted on late medieval society. It charts the development of the early printed book in Europe, showing how printing revolutionised book making, and was instrumental in the emergence of the Renaissance. 001-a-Untitled-1

There are a number of key themes, including the transition from scribal to print culture, the design, decoration and illustration of the earliest printed books, and the technology and challenges of printing. There are also demonstrations on a replica 15th century printing press.

I assume that, with the advent of mechanical printing, the majority of scribes would have found their services gradually dispensed with in the mid 15th century. But it’s heartening to know that during the early years of printing, the same artists who provided illuminated decoration in manuscripts were employed to illustrate printed books, a space having been left on the pages for them to add illustrations by hand.

Eventually, as featured in the exhibition, woodcuts were used to provide illustration on the printed page so, despite being granted a reprieve, these talented artists inevitably followed the same fate as their fellow scribes.

This fascinating exhibition is being held in The Hunterian Art Gallery, within the University of Glasgow, and runs from 27 February till 21 June 2015. It is open daily, except Mondays. Admission is free. More information is available here.

There are various related events taking place throughout the term of the exhibition, but I was drawn to the title of one event in particular. Considering it is part of an exhibition about 15th century printing, Johnny Depp and Old Books: Incunabula in the Movies definitely caught my attention. If you are as curious as I am about the subject matter, maybe I’ll see you in The Hunterian on 27 May.

If you live in central Scotland, or are willing to travel, then I would definitely recommend visiting Ingenious Impressions: The Coming of the Book.

The exhibition had initially slipped under my radar, so I’m grateful to Phil, one of my intermediate calligraphy students, for bringing it to my attention. Thank you Phil… just one instance of the teacher learning from the student!

Call your mom, call your dad…


Call-your-momThe Oscars ceremony does nothing for me, so I tend to avoid all Oscar-related media coverage.

I was intrigued, however, by a featured post on the popular blog, Mashable, entitled, “7 inspiring and emotional Oscars quotes from backstage and onstage.”

I’m a sucker for a topical quote, so I decided to check out the post.

Up to that point I had never heard of J K Simmons, winner of Best Supporting Actor for her part in Whiplash (call me out of touch, but I’ve never heard of Whiplash either).

Out of the seven quotes, the one attributed to Simmons was the only one that struck a chord with me. Here it is, as posted on Mashable…

“And if I may, call your mom, everybody. I’ve told this [to], like, a billion people, or so. Call your mom, call your dad. If you’re lucky enough to have a parent or two alive on this planet, call ‘em. Don’t text. Don’t email. Call them on the phone. Tell ‘em you love ‘em, and thank them, and listen to them for as long as they want to talk to you. Thank you. Thank you, Mom and Dad.”

Yep… I know… actor thanks mom and dad for her Oscar success. Hardly original. But the sentiments at the heart of Simmons’ quote struck a chord with me. Maybe, because I regret not having called my own mother more often while she was, in Simmons’ words, “alive on this planet.”

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, whenever I read words that affect me I’m compelled to fetch my pens and write… and so I lettered an abridged version of Simmons’ quote which I’ve featured at the top of this post (or see it here on Flickr). I’m not sure where this compulsion to write particular words comes from… maybe, by writing them, I feel that I’m endorsing the sentiments, sealing them with my own stamp of approval. Or maybe I’m just passionate about putting pen to paper.

But enough about me. Instead, pay heed to Simmons. As soon as you finish reading this post, get on the phone and “call your mom, call your dad,” while you still can.

I just realised that in my previous post I was advising everyone to write for the sake of their children. Now I’m advising everyone to call their parents.

Despite how it looks, I have no intention of pursuing a career in counselling. I’m a calligrapher. Through and through. And you can quote me on that!


Handwriting: so much more than a means of communication


My recent post, The demise of handwriting in schools, prompted a comment from Clare, a former calligraphy student of mine. In her comment, Clare wrote at length in support of handwriting. In particular, she shared a story about how moved she was when, many years after her father passed away, she rediscovered a hand-written letter that she had received from him years before. She explained that on re-reading her father’s letter, his handwriting made her feel very close to him.

In her own words, Clare wrote, “it moved me more than anything else could, because for that moment he was with me. Letters on the paper physically written by someone who is no longer here… a special link to him, I felt a little bit of him.”

Beautifully written, and very moving. And I know exactly how Clare felt, because a few years ago I had an almost identical experience.

A few months after my elderly mother passed away, I was leafing through some old photograph albums of hers. Hidden between two pages, like a long-forgotten bookmark, was a creased and faded white envelope, inside which was a folded piece of ruled notebook paper. On opening the paper I discovered a short handwritten poem, and instantly recognised the handwriting as my mother’s. I was overjoyed, because that poem is the only surviving example of her handwriting.

My mother's handwritten poem

My mother’s handwritten poem

As my eyes traced her neat lines of script, I experienced a strange sensation that is difficult to describe… a heightened sense of my mother, almost as if I could reach out and touch her. I wasn’t even making sense of the words, so my sensation had nothing to do with legibility or the sentiments of the poem. It was the comforting familiarity of my mother’s handwriting that was emotionally affecting me. The looping, curling letters were so recognisably hers, were such an integral part of her, that I momentarily felt an overwhelming closeness to her. There was nothing religious about the experience. But it was unforgettable.

I can only assume that, many years ago, my mother saw the poem in a book or magazine and liked it so much that she decided to make a copy of it. Without the aid of technology, she had no choice but to write it out by hand. Nowadays, no-one would take the time to do that. Even I, a calligrapher, will scan, photograph, or type a section of text that I want to duplicate for reference. All in the name of efficiency. Yet, if my mother had used a typewriter to make a copy of the poem, the resultant block of text would have been sterile, and would not have affected me in the way her handwriting did. So, I’m grateful that she wrote the poem by hand. And I’m pleased that, for whatever reason, she slipped it between the pages of her photograph album, unwittingly allowing me to discover that hidden treasure so many years later.

Both Clare and I shared something very special because of simple handwriting, in that it brought us closer to our late parents. It would be a shame, then, if the doom-mongers are right, that handwriting will eventually become a forgotten skill. To prevent that possibility, we all need to write. If only to allow our children to feel a little closer to us in our absence, to remind them of the person we once were.

Needless to say, it’s not the quality of our writing that’s important. We’re not attempting calligraphy. It’s simple handwriting. All we need to do is push the pen around awhile. Be ourselves. Just write. Ultimately, that’s all that matters.

Snow is such an amazement

SnowWell, the forecasters promised snow, and they didn’t disappoint. A four inch blanket of the white stuff settled on my garden overnight.

So this morning, before it was even light, I was all wrapped-up in my winter woollies and outside in the freezing cold, clearing my path and driveway with my brand new, just-out-of-the-wrapper, snow shovel. The neighbours surely thought I was mad, shovelling away in the pitch-blackness. But I had paid good money for the shovel, and I was determined to put it through its paces before the snow thawed of its own accord.

Completely hidden under a thick layer of snow, my wife’s car resembled an igloo on wheels. Since she would soon be leaving for work, I morphed into dutiful husband mode and unburied it for her. After ten minutes of effort, breathless and bent double with exertion, I watched her slide effortlessly into the driver’s seat, and turn the ignition.

The original photo.

The original photo.

“Thanks for scraping my car,” she said, matter of fact, as if I had removed a slight dusting of frost from her windscreen. The words ‘hero,’ and ‘unsung,’ sprang to mind. As she reversed out of the drive, she waved goodbye. Still breathless I tried, but failed, to summon the energy to wave back.

By the time the sun eventually rose, my home was a snow-free zone and I rewarded myself by walking to a nearby country park, where I hoped to snap some winter scenes on my iPhone. I arrived at the park early enough to discover that many of the snow-covered paths around the loch remained free of footsteps. I was delighted, as I think there is something really satisfying about being the first to tread a path through virgin snow.

As I walked, I noticed a little snow-covered bridge up ahead, under a canopy of trees, and realised immediately that it was the perfect image to which I could add a calligraphic quotation (I’m a sad person… I know). From experience, I know that taking photographs as backgrounds for my calligraphy is different from normal photography, in that it’s essential to incorporate a blank space in the composition to contain the calligraphy that will be added later. I knew instantly that a small area of untrodden snow in front of the bridge would work perfectly.

I used an amazing app called Waterlogue, that is installed on both my iPhone and iPad, to create a watercolour painting from my bridge photo. I have tried many similar apps to get a watercolour effect on my photos, but Waterlogue is by far the best. The results are spectacular, and I can highly recommend the app if, like me, you love watercolours but can’t paint to save yourself.

With the "Waterlogue" effect applied.

With the “Waterlogue” effect applied.

I then did a quick Google search for an appropriate quotation about snow. I loved the following quotation, by Carol Rifka Brunt:

“… there’s just something beautiful about walking on snow that nobody else has walked on. It makes you believe you’re special, even though you know you’re not,” 

The sentiments are perfect but, unfortunately, it was too long to comfortably fit into the allocated space.

Instead, I chose, “The very fact of snow is such an amazement,” by Roger Ebert. Short and sweet!

As a change from my usual Italic, I experimented by lettering the quote in a pointed pen style (even though I didn’t use a pointed calligraphy nib to produce the lettering). I’ve been teaching myself a variation of this style, commonly referred to as “modern calligraphy,” and I really enjoy the informality of the script.

After lettering the quotation, I scanned it into Adobe Photoshop, and inserted it onto a layer on top of my ‘watercolour’ image. I then experimented with the size of the lettering, and tinkered with its position until I was happy with the composition. Finally, I sampled a darkish blue from the background and used it to colour the calligraphy. The finished artwork is featured at the top of this post.

All in all, it has been a perfect morning. Walking in beautiful scenery, photography, calligraphy, Photoshopping, blogging, and road-testing my brand new snow shovel.

This might just be as good as it gets!

Calligraphy? Computers can do that!

My early inspiration by Tom Barnard

Calligraphy (that proved inspirational to me) by Tom Barnard

Back in 1986, calligraphy was no more than a hobby to me. But even though I wasn’t particularly proficient, I had a passion for the craft, and had already decided that I wanted to be a full-time calligrapher.

That year, I remember walking into an art store in Glasgow, and there, unexpectedly demonstrating calligraphy in the centre of the store, was Tom Barnard. I was familiar with Barnard, since I owned Making Calligraphy Work For You, an Osmiroid book that he co-wrote with Christopher Jarman. But I had never expected to meet him, or any other “real” calligrapher, in the flesh.

I took the opportunity to chat to him, and mentioned how much I wanted to pursue his choice of career. He put down his pen, looked at me sympathetically, and said (and I remember his words so vividly), “I can count on the fingers of one hand how many calligraphers make a full-time wage from calligraphy in the UK.”

I’m sure he wasn’t trying to demoralise me, or put me off following my dream. I think his intention was to simply advise me that such a career path wouldn’t be an easy one (on reflection, true). And that I would never find myself in a high income bracket (also, true).


SSI address beautifully written for me by Tom Barnard

Possibly to soften the blow of his candidness, Barnard wrote down the address of the Society of Scribes and Illuminators for me, so that I could enquire about lay membership. He also gave me a signed A4 page of calligraphy that he created right in front of my eyes (which I still possess, and have featured above). I remember he used an Osmiroid pen, loaded with green ink, and I was mesmerised by his effortless letter-making and flourishing. Rather than dampen my enthusiasm, he inspired me with his expertise. And despite his honest advice, I was more determined than ever to be a professional calligrapher, like him.

But turning my dream into a reality proved difficult, since very few people appeared to need/want the services of a novice calligrapher in the mid-eighties. And throughout those fruitless early weeks and months I became disheartened, and was constantly reminded of Barnard’s candid advice.

There appeared to be a stock response from almost everyone I approached in my quest for commissions. “Computers can do that,” I was told, again and again. Folk appeared to be bemused because I was actually choosing to write text by hand, rather than type it on a keyboard. They simply didn’t get it, and so I fought calligraphy’s corner. Again and again. Yet, despite my protestations, and my efforts at enlightening the disbelievers, I failed to change this widespread ignorance towards calligraphy. Only a discerning minority appreciated that hand-lettering, when well-done, is so much more impressive than sterile computer fonts.

Even when, decades later, I began to use my Apple iMac to create digital calligraphy, the computer was only a tool in the process. The computer didn’t create the actual calligraphy… I did, with my own fingers, using pen and ink! So in terms of creating calligraphy, in my opinion, computers still couldn’t “do that.” And I was convinced that would always be the case.

Then, a few days ago, my son sent me a video. As I watched it, I couldn’t help but smile knowingly. After almost three decades of telling anyone who would listen that computers cannot do calligraphy, suddenly it appeared that they can.

The video features a computerised machine that holds an ordinary pen like a human, and mimics various styles of handwriting and calligraphy. The machine even varies the size and shapes of characters for added realism, as you can see in the video below…


Pretty impressive, eh?

But despite the fact that I now have to grudgingly accept that computers CAN do calligraphy, there are quite a few missing ingredients, such as passion, personality, individuality and a little (controlled) imperfection. Calligraphy is so much more than simple letter-making.

Maybe if, someday, I hear that a computer has put down its pen to give honest advice to a keen young incipient scribe, I’ll step aside to make way for this brand new breed of calligraphers.

But, somehow, I think that day is a long way off.

Find out more about the computerised calligraphy-creating machines at Sploid.

The inky fingers of Pokras Lampas

Inky-FingersIt’s an occupational hazard for calligraphers, but although I’ve had a few inky fingers in my time, I’ve managed to avoid getting myself quite as messy as Pokras Lampas (above), an incredibly talented, and incredibly young, Russian artist-calligrapher.

But I shouldn’t be too smug about keeping my hands cleaner than Pokras, since I’ve never attempted a piece of calligraphy on the scale of his recent project, a live calligraphy performance lasting three hours.

Inky-Fingers-2On the website Fubiz you can see photographs from the event, described as…

“The Russian artist calligrapher Pokras Lampas in collaboration with Nike Russia during Moscow Vogue Fashion Week delivered a 3-hour long live calligraphy performance about the history of the Air Force 1, using different brushes and markers.”

If you take a look, prepare to be impressed.

You can see further examples of Pokras’ lettering, including a video, here. The video shows body-painting on scantily-clad models, so may not be for everyone!

My own work for today is much more modest than a three hour live performance. I’m inscribing a bride’s wedding stationery, so vigilance is essential. Misplaced ink is something I daren’t even think about.

Wishful inking, indeed!

The demise of handwriting in schools… my opinion (well, sort of).

Scottish-SunMid-November, I received a phone call from a journalist from a popular Scottish tabloid. He explained that he was preparing an article about the demise of handwriting in schools and, since I am a calligrapher, he was interested in finding out my views on the topic.

Since I teach calligraphy, and have also taught handwriting, it’s obvious where my alliance lies, and I would have been happy to simply write a few paragraphs for him, (not only in support of handwriting for school pupils, but for adults too), but he opted instead for a question and answer session.

As his interrogation progressed, I got into the swing. I attempted to be interesting and amusing in my responses, offering anecdotes and personal experiences related to handwriting. After around ten minutes the journalist thanked me for my contribution and explained that the article would be published the following day.

“You’ll need to buy a copy of the paper,” said my wife, but I didn’t agree. I was more than familiar with my own opinion on the demise of handwriting, so why would I want to pay to discover what was already there inside my head.

As it turned out, I’m glad I didn’t buy a copy, since the article didn’t get published. I only found that out by surreptitiously leafing through a copy of the paper in my local Tesco. I wasn’t particularly disappointed by the article’s absence, so I put the experience to the back of my mind and moved on.

Then, the week before Christmas, I unexpectedly received an email from the journalist. He confirmed that, after a delay, the handwriting article would definitely be published on December 21st, the final Sunday before Christmas.

Needless to say, this news necessitated a further visit to Tesco for a sneak preview. I leafed through the newspaper, and there, on page 14, was an article entitled, “They think it’s scrawl over.”

As before, I intended to read the entire article for free, but it was a full page spread, and my loitering was obstructing genuine newspaper-purchasers who tut-tutted me into submission. I reluctantly parted with my 80p, headed home, and settled down to refresh myself on my own views about handwriting.

The premise of the article was that handwriting was becoming obsolete with the texting generation. It posed the question, “Do pupils’ illegible answers mean it’s time to axe written exams for tests on screens?” And there, halfway down the page, was a thumbnail-sized photo of yours truly, next to a large “NO,” with my views printed alongside. There was also a large “YES,” next to a photo of someone who totally disagreed with me. There I was, in print, at loggerheads with a complete stranger. I hadn’t expected the article to be presented in such a combative format. Nor had I expected my views to be be portrayed as if actually penned by me, and not the journalist.

But I didn’t write that, was all I could think of as I read the article.

Without the context of the journalist’s questions, my answers had become little more than a list of fragmented bullet points. The sentences were short, abrupt, and they continuously changed topic. My anecdotes were abridged, the grammar poor. The more I read, the more I cringed, and I was tempted to visit local newsagents to buy every available copy of the newspaper, just to prevent anyone I knew from reading the article.

In despair, I showed it to my wife. “It’s not too bad,” she said, but her barely-disguised grimace told a different story.

But maybe she was right. Maybe it wasn’t too bad. But it wasn’t me. It wasn’t my writing. And the views I had shared with the journalist now appeared stilted, disjointed, and tended to trivialise the seriousness of the subject matter.

A featured quote leapt from the page, supposedly attributed to me, which I don’t even remember saying. “Writing is a way to stand out from the crowd,” I had apparently suggested, as if I considered penmanship to be, above all else, an antidote to anonymity.

Well, maybe handwriting does offer that advantage, but that particular point would not feature in my personal list of 100 reasons why handwriting should not become obsolete. On reflection, if I was ever again asked to extol the virtues of handwriting, I wouldn’t need a full page spread. I would simply quote Samuel Johnson, who said, succinctly, “What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.”

So maybe pupils should try it.

Simply put away their keyboard… pick up a pen… and apply a little effort.

The pleasure would be theirs for the taking.

Don’t call us… we’ll call you

Over the years, I’ve received a number of calls from a Glasgow television studio, asking if they can borrow my right hand, so they can video it scratching out a few lines of script with a quill. The resultant footage would then be incorporated into some proposed period drama.

Apparently, a quill-wielding actor would be filmed at his writing bureau. Then the scene would cut to a brief, zoomed-in, shot of my hand doing its thing. Then back to the actor. Seamless. Who would ever guess it was me, and not the actor, doing the writing?

Unfortunately, as I mentioned in a previous post, it’s always Copperplate the studio requests, or some other form of pointy-pen writing, which instantly rules out me and my favoured broad-nib Italic.

Here we go again, I thought, when the studio called me a few months ago. But, as the conversation progressed, the possibility of success began to look more likely than in the past. The friendly voice on the line asked if I could be available to be videoed writing a few words in a calligraphic style. I was assured that neither Copperplate, nor a quill, were mandatory, which made me perk up.

“Why don’t you come along to the studio,” suggested the friendly voice, “and show us what you can do.”

It was a challenge I couldn’t resist. So, the following day, I travelled by train to the television studio. A smart young man greeted me with a firm handshake, and introduced himself as the friendly voice from the previous day. He introduced me to a flamboyantly-dressed older man… apparently the director of the programme. We found a vacant table in a communal seating area, where the two of them sat opposite me. It was now me v them, and felt like a proper audition.

The task, it was explained to me, was simple. They needed to video a calligrapher’s hand writing the title of a new series… just five short words… the footage of which would be incorporated into the title sequence.

The older man revealed the title to me. “Can you write it for us now?” he asked, “so we can see how it would look.”

I nodded and, from my bag, produced a selection of calligraphy fountain pens and a pad which I set out on the table. The two men studied the equipment intently. If they were disappointed by the absence of a quill, they kept it to themselves.

I wrote the title a number of times… different sizes, different weights, some compression here, some sharpening there, a little bit of flourishing. Just showing off, I suppose. I sensed two pairs of eyes tracing my pen strokes, scrutinising the lines of writing. I was happy with the standard of my lettering. But, despite my best efforts, I felt that I was failing to impress. I sensed a lack of enthusiasm, that both men were underwhelmed by what was on offer. Maybe it was because they were viewing my calligraphy upside down.

The older man nodded towards my pad. “What do you call that style?” he asked.

“Italic,” I replied.

“Hmmmm…. do you do any other styles?”

You don’t like Italic? I was tempted to ask, incredulous.

Concerned that I was being regarded as a calligraphic one-trick-pony, I opted to illustrate my versatility by writing the title in a more contemporary style. One that was less formal, more lively. While I wrote, the two men remained silent, their enthusiasm remaining in short supply.

“Hmmmm…” came the eventual response from the older man, a fingertip pressed thoughtfully against pursed lips. “To be frank, Duncan, we haven’t ultimately decided on calligraphy for the opening sequence.”

“You haven’t?”

The younger man back-pedalled in tandem with his colleague. “We have another option to consider,” he confirmed. “We have a Plan B.”

“Oh… a Plan B… OK,” I replied, a little flustered. My pen stuttered to a halt, mid-stroke.

So. A Plan B. I was confused about this unexpected u-turn, this Plan B that had turned up unannounced. Without warning, Plan A had gone to the dogs, and I wondered if I had somehow helped it get there.

As if reading my mind, the younger man gestured enthusiastically towards my pad, which he continued to view upside-down. “Oh, we definitely like what you’ve shown us,” he gushed (at this point, I swear to God, he told me how much he admired my ‘r’s). “Definitely!” he continued. “We just have to consider our options.”

“Of course,” I replied, gathering my pad and my pens and packing them away. In the midst of this anti-climax, the older man got to his feet, thanked me, and rushed off somewhere in his gaily chequered trousers.

The younger man escorted me to the exit, where he thanked me with his signature friendly voice and firm handshake. “We’ll let you know,” he said, before he too disappeared.

While walking back to the railway station, I remembered something I once read. When they say, “we’ll let you know”… you know!


Disappointingly, (and discourteously) they didn’t let me know. But, as I said, I knew.

The reason I’m relating this story months after the event is that the series is now being broadcast on tv. Selfishly, I’m disappointed that my rejection didn’t cause the cancellation of the series (I like to think of myself as indispensable).

It’s childish, I know, but I’m boycotting the series. I’m determined not to watch a single episode. Blame my ego, but I simply do not wish to see the title sequence and discover what I was discarded in favour of. Although, it wouldn’t surprise me if I was discarded in favour of Copperplate with a quill.

So, It looks like my right hand needs to wait a little longer before it gets its big break on tv. And I’m digging my heels in… television studios please note… it’s Italic or nothing. It’s time for my favourite script to get the tv exposure it so rightly deserves.

And, finally, for the sake of my reputation… I would like to confirm that (in my opinion, at least) my calligraphy isn’t as bad as the above experience might suggest. It invariably looks best when viewed as I intend.

Which definitely isn’t upside-down.

Fairies, flowers, and procrastination.

Garden quoteThis morning, although I should have been working, I took time off to create something calligraphic and colourful for my own enjoyment. I thought it would be nice to celebrate the arrival of Spring with some flowers, so I did just that, and I’ve featured the resultant artwork above (or see it on Flickr).

I decided to use a particularly floral scene that I remembered snapping with my iPhone last July (yes, I agree that makes the theme more Summer than Spring, but we calligraphers own an artistic licence that allows us to take liberties such as switching seasons around on a whim).

The photo features a cottage and garden that reside in the grounds of Culzean Castle, which enjoys a dramatic clifftop setting on the rugged Ayrshire coast of Scotland. Standing on the battlements, you are rewarded with stunning views across the Firth of Clyde to the islands of Arran and Ailsa Craig, and to the Mull of Kintyre. If you ever find yourself in the west of Scotland, Culzean Castle is definitely worth a visit.

On the day of our visit, the flowers were in full bloom… I remember being in awe of the incredible carpet of colour leading up to the cottage… and when I returned home and downloaded the photo from my iPhone to my Mac, I was amazed that the phone’s camera had captured the scene so well.

The original photo.

The original photo.

Although I had snapped the scene on a cloudless, sunny day, the sky in the photo had turned white through being over exposed (see original photo on left). So the first thing I did was replace the sky using Adobe Photoshop. This was a simple process by which I removed the white sky using the Magic Eraser Tool, then placed a photo of a more interesting sky in a new layer behind the original photograph.

Using PhotoTools, a free Photoshop plug-in, I added a subtle Impressionist filter to the entire photo to soften the flowers and to give the photo a slight painterly feel. I then used PhotoFrame, another free plug-in, to add a distressed border. (Both free plug-ins are available for Mac only).

All I had to do then was add the focal point, in the form of some appropriate hand-lettering, so I googled “flower quotes,” to enable me to find something relevant to write. Usually I spend ages looking for the perfect quote, but this time I was happy with one of the first I found, by Douglas Adams. The quote’s reference to fairies gave it a whimsical feel that I felt suited the style and subject of the photograph.

After writing the quote in black ink, I scanned the lettering into Photoshop and inserted it, line by line, into new layers above the garden photo. Then I resized, recoloured, and positioned it until I was happy with the layout. I tried colouring the lettering every hue under the sun, but only white stood out enough to make the words legible against the backdrop of multi-coloured flowers. I added a very subtle drop shadow behind the white calligraphy to help it stand out even more.

And that has been my morning’s “work.” I do feel guilty, since I ignored a pile of invitations next to my drawing board, all waiting to be inscribed, in order to create this post. But sometimes it’s nice to create something for the fun of it, rather than with a view to writing an invoice.

And now it’s midday, and time for lunch. Then, perhaps, I’ll attend to the invitations.


After calligraphy, it’s my favourite pastime.

Sharing my collection of calligraphy books

There's Something About A BookEaster is almost upon us, and I’ve just realised that I haven’t posted anything new since last Autumn. Six months of silence, which is shameful. Such evidence would suggest that I’m not worthy of the title, “Blogger.” But I’m back now, better late than never, and determined to make amends for my inexcusable absence.

But what to write about?

My calligraphy bookshelf.

My calligraphy bookshelf.

In timely fashion, while I was considering various topics, I received a comment referring to a previous post that I wrote about The Demise of Calligraphy. In that post, I featured a photograph of a bookcase shelf, packed with my personal collection of calligraphy books.

The comment that I received was from Rachel, who requested a list of the books in the photo. So, I decided that, rather than respond directly to Rachel, I would list my collection of books in a post, adding my personal thoughts about a few of them along the way.

Yes… I know… there’s nothing more boring than a list. I do appreciate that… and I accept that I run the risk of sending you, dear reader, to sleep (or off to some list-free calligraphy blog). But hopefully my personal thoughts will help break up the bullet points, and alleviate the potential for yawns and drooping eyelids.

A plus for me is that writing this post gave me an excuse to create a new piece of related artwork, which I’ve featured above, or view it on Flickr.

So, here we go:

Calligraphy: Tools & Techniques for the Contemporary Practitioner… Gaye Godfrey-Nicholls (Amazon link)
9781906417833This is my most recent book purchase. I bought it because I admire Gaye Godfrey-Nicholls’ calligraphy, particularly her italics, which have had a great influence on my own lettering.
Her book covers both traditional and contemporary calligraphy (including digital). It features outstanding and varied examples of hand-lettering, and includes profiles of many calligraphers, some of whom are unfamiliar to me.
There are interesting chapters on pointed brush, flat brush, pointed pen and ruling pen. And I am particularly interested in the chapter on ‘Gestural’ calligraphy, a fairly modern approach to rhythmic letter-making that I am keen to learn more about.
The book is lengthy, (as is its title) at almost 300 pages, so very good value. And definitely a great buy for anyone seeking an effective all-rounder.
Whether or not you buy the book, you should visit Godfrey-Nicholls’ Inklings website, and prepare to be inspired. She is a seriously talented, and prolific, calligrapher.

More than Fine Writing… Child, Collins, Hechle and Jackson (Amazon link)
This book relates the story of Irene Wellington’s life, and features numerous examples of her awe-inspiring calligraphy. It is not an instruction manual, yet there is much to learn just by admiring the colour plates of her lettering, something I tend to do a lot of.
A few years ago, while I was reading the book, my wife noticed that I had been staring at the same colour plate for more than fifteen minutes. Curious, she asked me why. (Her question broke the spell, or else I may be staring at the page yet). The truth is, oblivious to the passing of time, I had been tracing pen strokes with my eyes, calculating pen angles, analysing the spacing, deconstructing the composition, appreciating the near-perfection of Irene Wellington’s lettering. But, conscious of how odd such an explanation would appear to my non-calligrapher wife, I lied. I told her that I had simply been daydreaming.
Yet, despite its potential for turning me into a disingenuous husband, this is a wonderful book, and I never tire of leafing through it.

Starting Calligraphy (Osmiroid)… Tom Barnard (Amazon link)
The Osmiroid Book of Calligraphy… Christopher Jarman (Amazon link)
Making Calligraphy Work for You (Osmiroid)… Tom Barnard & Christopher Jarman (Amazon link)
069521c6918569f5593263725451434d414f414151cDLFawsGL._SY300_These are ‘simple’ calligraphy books, and I mean that in the nicest possible way.
There is nothing fussy or complicated about their content or approach… just straightforward examples of professionally executed calligraphy, and practical ideas about how to put your calligraphy to work.
I still use wonderful Osmiroid calligraphy fountain pens and nibs, despite the company going out of business in the 1990s, so I have a soft spot for these three books, which bear the Osmiroid name.

Calligraphic Styles… Tom Gourdie (Amazon link)
Mastering Calligraphy… Tom Gourdie (Amazon link)
Calligraphy for the Beginner… Tom Gourdie (Amazon link)
6594519-M1446769780800811884Speaking of soft spots, these three books mean a lot to me. Mainly because I attended a calligraphy class back in 1987 that was taught by the late Tom Gourdie. As I explained in a previous post, that two week class changed my life.
I purchased my copy of Calligraphic Styles directly from Mr Gourdie in the classroom, and I am honoured that he signed and dated it for me in his fine Italics.
Calligraphy has moved on since these books were published, but if you are seeking instruction that is presented in a pure, honest, uncluttered format, then purchase any book by Tom Gourdie.

Calligraphy Projects… Margaret Shepherd (Amazon link)
Learning Calligraphy… Margaret Shepherd (Amazon link)
Borders for Calligraphy… Margaret Shepherd (Amazon link)
Capitals for Calligraphy… Margaret Shepherd (Amazon link)
61fpFt4ciSL._SL500_SY300_71A7P79QRWL51h-Zb7IV-L._SX258_BO1,204,203,200_5186l6LmdTL._SY300_Another four books that were influential when I was teaching myself calligraphy back in the early 80s.
Although Margaret Shepherd’s lettering styles differ greatly from Tom Gourdie’s, the two author’s books share a simplicity that I believe is advantageous to anyone setting out to learn calligraphy. Calligraphy Projects is a particularly useful book, in that it shows many ways in which calligraphy can be put to practical use. If you are learning calligraphy, but don’t know what to do with your new-found talent, Calligraphy Projects will certainly come in handy.

Layout and Design for Calligraphers… Alan Furber (Amazon link)
Using Calligraphy… Alan Furber (Amazon link)
alan-furber-151EyFaE76xL._SY344_BO1,204,203,200_Two books that I cannot recommend highly enough.
If you want to learn about calligraphic composition, layout and design, you should buy these two books… today!
I have already featured the books in a previous post, in which I wrote extensively about their merits, so I urge you to read that post rather than I repeat myself here.
All I want to add is, you should buy these two books today! (Did I say that already?)

Mastering the Art of Calligraphy… Janet Mehigan (Amazon link)
51Z+XT15X3L._SY300_If I was asked to recommend a single calligraphy book for the beginner, this is it.
I suggest to all of my calligraphy students that they should treat themselves to a copy, because it is an amazing all-rounder… professionally presented in full colour with clear instruction, practical projects, and a gallery of top-class calligraphy.
Required reading for every incipient scribe.

Digital Calligraphy… George Thomson (Amazon link)
Digital Calligraphy with Photoshop… George Thomson (Amazon link)
Digital-Calligraphy-978082301297851gt7UQ+7WL._SY300_Anyone who is competent at calligraphy, is computer literate, and has a scanner and a software package such as Adobe Elements or Adobe Photoshop, will find these two books invaluable.
They explain how to transfer calligraphy from ink and paper onto a PC or Mac, to be viewed on a monitor. Once the calligraphy is ‘digitised,’ the possibilities are endless. Resize and recolour lettering at the click of a mouse. Easily reposition lines of calligraphy to try various design solutions. Add a subtle shadow effect or glow (but be careful not to overdo the novelty aspect), then reproduce the completed design on an inkjet or laser printer.
These two books have proved to be invaluable to me. I learned so much from them, and almost all of the calligraphy artwork that I now produce is created in digital form, using techniques that I learned while following George Thomson’s instruction.
The books are not for everyone, particularly not for calligraphy purists or traditionalists, but would benefit anyone wishing to create contemporary calligraphy in a digital form.

Modern Mark Making… Lisa Engelbrecht (Amazon link)
modern-mark-making-from-classical-calligraphy-to-hip-hand-letteringSpeaking of contemporary calligraphy, this is a book that drags the craft into the 21st century.
Modern, bold, brash and vibrant, every time I leaf through its colourful pages, I’m compelled to get my pens out and start lettering.
One word of caution: whenever I teach calligraphy, I always begin with the Foundational alphabet. It’s the natural place to start, and every available calligraphy book will back me up on that… except Modern Mark Making.
Curiously, it starts with Italics, a very unusual choice. But the book is all about breaking rules, experimentation, taking risks, and above all… enjoying the art of letter-making.
So I think Lisa Engelbrecht can be excused for dismissing Foundational in favour of having fun.
If you like to do things differently, this is the book for you. For more information, see my previous post, My Favourite Calligraphy Book Of The Moment. The book has since been retitled, “Modern Calligraphy and Hand-Lettering.”

Parallel Pen Wizardry… Brenda Broadbent
ppwizardry_bookIf you own a set of Pilot Parallel Pens, do yourself a favour and buy a copy of this book. These pens are an amazing writing tool, particularly their potential for colour transition, and the book is their perfect companion, telling you everything you need to know about them.
Although it is a very slim volume, at only 26 pages, it is definitely worth owning.
On behalf of one of my calligraphy students, I recently tried to source the book in the UK, but without success. So calligraphers in the UK may need to order from a US supplier, such as John Neal. Despite the extra effort and extra postage costs that would entail, I would still recommend the book to all owners of Pilot Parallel Pens.


Although I have given the above books my special attention in this post, the following books in my collection have also played an important part in my progress as a calligrapher. These books may have been slightly less of an influence than those described above, but each of them is worthy of inclusion in any calligrapher’s book collection.

In no particular order, they are:

Calligraphy Step-by Step… Gaynor Goffe & Anna Ravenscroft
Calligraphy Masterclass… Peter Halliday
The Complete Beginners Guide to Calligraphy… Mary Noble
The Complete Guide to Calligraphy Techniques and Materials… Judy Martin
The Calligraphy Source Book… Miriam Stribley
Logo, Font & Lettering Bible… Leslie Cabarga
Simple Stroke Calligraphy… Marci Donley
Creating Letterforms… Rosemary Sassoon & Patricia Lovett
Lettering and Applied Calligraphy… Rosemary Sassoon
The Practical Guide to Calligraphy… Rosemary Sassoon
Contemporary Calligraphy… (no author) published in association with the SSI
The Art of Colour Calligraphy… Mary Noble & Adrian Waddington
Calligraphy Techniques… John Lancaster
A Manual of Calligraphy… Peter E Taylor
Colour Calligraphy… David Graham
The Calligrapher’s Project Book… Susanne Haines
A Pocket Guide to Calligraphy… Susanne Haines
How to Become a Professional Calligrapher… Stuart David
100 Great Calligraphy Tips…Judy Kastin
Out of the Ordinary: Calligraphy and Meditations… A Dove & C Caldwell
Proverbs… Timothy R Botts
Doorposts… Timothy R Botts
Calligraphy Made Easy… Gaynor Goffe
Written by Hand… Aubrey West
How To Write Like This… (no author) a Rexel publication
A Book of Scripts… Alfred Fairbank

And that’s it. For a list, it wasn’t so bad, was it? I’m hoping that at least some of you who started reading actually got this far. I thank you for your perseverance.

And I thank Rachel for her comment that inspired this post.

If anyone owns a worthy calligraphy book that I haven’t mentioned above, please leave details in the comments below. I’m always on the lookout for new sources of inspiration.

The Amazon links included above will allow you to read reviews about the books, but don’t forget to visit Calligraphity, the online calligraphy bookshop.

In the meantime, happy reading!


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