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!

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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.

Procrastination.

After calligraphy, it’s my favourite pastime.

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