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!

Autumn is the hardest season

Autumn is the hardest seasonEvery Autumn, I make a point of going out and about with my camera, getting snap-happy with the golden, terracotta and burnt umber foliage that graces my local park. The resultant photographs provide a background for a hand-lettered seasonal quote that becomes my traditional Autumn post.

This year, for some unknown reason, Autumn snuck up on me. Disappointingly, by the time I visited the park most of the trees had already shed their leaves, so it was back to the drawing board and Plan B.

After much consideration, I decided to create a simple greetings card design.

I layered a diamond shape in Photoshop with an assortment of autumn-coloured leaves (the shape started out square, but I quickly discovered that revolving it by 45 degrees made it more interesting). I wrote out the quotation using black ink and coloured it using Photoshop’s colour-picker tool, which allowed me to sample various colours from the leaves image. The common colour scheme tied the lettering and the image together. Conveniently, the completed composition fitted perfectly into a square, which I surrounded with a narrow border, the colour of which I also sampled from the leaves image.

The resultant artwork, shown above, was not as satisfying to create as the artwork in my previous Autumn posts (here, here and here), but a departure from tree-themed artwork was probably long overdue anyway. All I need now is a square envelope, and a postage stamp, and a friend who would appreciate receiving an Autumn-themed greetings card.

In the meantime, so that I don’t miss out again next year, I’ll set my phone to notify me of the start of Autumn 2014.

It’ll be here before I know it.

Halloween… I’m having so much fun, it’s scary!

A Man Goes Riding By

Who needs kids around them in order to have fun at Halloween?

Certainly not me. Despite my two children being grown up and no longer needing to be entertained in spooky fashion, I still like to make an effort… just for me!

I’ve already bought my pumpkin, which sits proud on the kitchen worktop, waiting to be carved. The story goes that we Scots make our lanterns out of turnips. Hah! Don’t you believe it. Have you ever tried to scoop the brick-hard centre out of a turnip? No, nor have I. So I’ll stick to carving a hollow pumpkin, with the added bonus of snacking on the roasted seeds afterwards.

With only a week to go, I decided to get myself into a Halloween mood by creating a piece of calligraphic artwork (see image above or on Flickr) to celebrate the imminent arrival of “All Hallows’ Eve.”

Some of the original lettering that I incorporated into the artwork.

This is some of my original lettering which I split into separate short lines within Photoshop.

Rather than go down the typical haunted house and witches on broomsticks route, I wanted the artwork to be more moody than spooky. That’s why I used the poem, Windy Nights, by Robert Louis Stevenson. It’s not strictly a Halloween-type poem, so doesn’t mention ghouls and ghosts and things that go bump in the night, but I felt the words would lend themselves to a dark and atmospheric treatment.

As with most of my artwork, I created the background in Adobe Photoshop by stacking a number of variously textured layers. The moon started off as a simple small white circle to which I applied a blur filter and a very large outer glow. I used Photoshop’s lasso tool to cut the horse and rider out of a colour photograph, then darkened it to create a silhouette. I wrote all the calligraphic lettering using black ink. After scanning the lettering into Photoshop, I split, coloured, resized and repositioned it until I was happy with the overall composition.

I didn’t use the second verse of Stevenson’s poem, so for anyone who is interested, here is the poem in its entirety…

By Robert Louis Stevenson

Whenever the moon and stars are set,
Whenever the wind is high,
All night long in the dark and wet,
A man goes riding by.
Late in the night when the fires are out,
Why does he gallop and gallop about?

Whenever the trees are crying aloud,
And ships are tossed at sea,
By, on the highway, low and loud,
By at the gallop goes he.
By at the gallop he goes, and then
By he comes back at the gallop again.


Whatever you decide to do on Halloween, I hope you have fun.

Me? I’ll be carving my pumpkin, dookin’ for apples (another old Scottish tradition), then settling down in front of the telly with lots of candy to watch Garfield’s Halloween Adventure.

I might even do all of the above while dressed as Batman.

As I said, who needs kids around them to have fun at Halloween?


Another quick Birthday Card created with Pilot Parallel Pens

Another family birthday, another opportunity for me to speedily create a card with my trusty Pilot Parallel Pens.

I get asked a lot about these quick, 15 minute creations, further examples of which you can find here and here. These previous posts have attracted many views, so I thought I’d share my process with anyone who would like to create a quick card of their own.

Please note, Pilot Parallel Pens are not essential if you want to give this a try – any large-nibbed pen will suffice – but the Parallel Pens will definitely enhance the effect with their subtle colour transition.

Since this process is quick and loose, don’t expect perfection. I’m not happy with all of the lettering in the finished card above (in particular, the extended stroke of the ‘y’ in ‘birthday’ makes me cringe a little)… but hey ho… warts and all is the price we pay for spontaneity!

So, here we go…

STEP 1: Fold an A4 sheet of card in half (it will later fit into a regular sized C5 envelope for addressing). Quickly score three light, evenly-spaced pencil lines across the card, as in fig 1 below. It’s not necessary to measure the position of these lines… just keep a light touch as you sweep the pencil across the surface.


fig 1

STEP 2: Roughly pencil in your chosen message, as in fig 2 below, using the lines as a baseline for your lettering. If you feel you need an x-height, then pencil an additional three lines parallel to the original three. But I find it liberating to work with a baseline only, allowing the letters to slightly vary in height. While you write the text, be aware of any possible pitfalls where ascenders and descenders might clash. You may have to erase and rewrite some text in order to find a solution to this problem. Tighter or looser letter spacing can help, or you can simply shorten the ascenders and descenders. If all else fails, try manipulating the ascenders and descenders to connect with or cut through each other. If you choose the third option, remember to maintain legibility and aesthetic quality as you manipulate the strokes.

fig 2

fig 2

STEP 3: Trace the pencil lines with your pen of choice, as in fig 3 below, correcting the spacing as you go. For my completed birthday card at the top (and bottom) of this post, I lettered the text using a 6.0mm Pilot Parallel Pen loaded with green ink. After each pen stroke I transferred a little purple ink from another Pilot Parallel Pen (any size) by briefly touching the two nibs together. The longer the nibs touch, the more ink is transferred, so it’s better to transfer a little ink at a time so that the colour transition within the writing remains regular. If using this technique, please note that mixing two very dark ink colours doesn’t produce attractive lettering.

fig 3

fig 3

STEP 4: When you have completed all the lettering, use a simple silver or gold monoline gel pen to decorate the letters, as in fig 4 below. I started off by creating small circles of gold ink on the vertical centre of each pen stroke. I then drew gold lines along the very centre of every pen stroke to complete the effect. It isn’t obvious in the example shown below, but these metallic lines really catch the light on the actual card.

fig 4

fig 4

STEP 5: I then carefully erased all the pencil lines, and used the gel pen to draw a simple gold monoline border along the edge of the card to finish it off, as in fig 5 below.

fig 5

fig 5

And that’s really all there is to it. Make sure you have all your equipment and materials to hand before you begin, and after a few attempts you’ll be creating attractive greeting cards in minutes. And if, like me, you never remember birthdays until the last minute (or, also like me, you’re reluctant to pay the exorbitant price of shop-bought cards), then the above hand-lettered cards can be life savers… with the added bonus of being a joy to create.

When I designed the above card, I discarded steps 2 and 3, preferring to write the final text directly onto the baselines without the convenience of pencilled writing. This is not for everyone, but does save a few minutes of preparation.

And I confess that I initially had a very big empty space after “Happy,” which wouldn’t have happened if I’d had the patience to follow steps 2 and 3. The late addition of “30th” to balance the design was an afterthought, but I’m happy with how it all worked out. Even in calligraphy, necessity can be the mother of invention.

If anyone has difficulty following the above steps, or has any questions about the process, please leave a comment and I’ll reply straight away.

In the meantime, I wish you good luck with your “instant” calligraphic card-making!


Finding calligraphic inspiration in unexpected places

The Joy of ScrapbookingYes… I know… you came here looking for information on calligraphy, and were greeted by the front cover of The Joy of Scrapbooking.

But despite what you’re thinking, I haven’t gone over to the dark side. I’m still a calligrapher, not a scrapbooker. And if you bear with me you’ll find that there’s method in my madness (and maybe a little madness in my method, but you can be the judge!).

I’ll get back to The Joys of Scrapbooking in a moment, but I’ll lead you there with a question that is regularly asked of me by my calligraphy students. “Do you need to be artistic to be good at calligraphy?”

I never hesitate in answering, “no.”

Of course, it is advantageous for an incipient scribe to be creative, imaginative, and naturally good at art. Calligraphy projects will definitely benefit if executed by someone possessing those qualities. But such qualities are not essential in the quest to become a competent calligrapher (in my opinion, the requirements are guidance, application, discipline, lots of practice and patience).

Despite my profession, I confess that I don’t regard myself as naturally creative or artistic. And although I’ve been producing original calligraphic artwork for the past twenty five years, ideas have never come easy. The problem is I have little, if any, imagination.

designMany years ago, as a school pupil in art class, I had no difficulty drawing a still life. If a vase of flowers was placed in front of me, I could produce a passable sketch in no time. But if I was asked to draw something from my imagination, without any props, I was incapable. If I couldn’t see it, then I couldn’t create it. And, all these years later, little has changed. My calligraphic creativity requires kick-starting from visible sources.

For decades, when seeking such inspiration for my artwork, I scanned my many calligraphy books for ideas. I didn’t copy or plagiarise other calligraphers’ work. I was simply looking for appropriate design layouts and colour schemes that inspired me. As soon as that initial spark fired up my creativity, my own talent and expertise took over and saw the job through to completion.

Searching through those calligraphy books worked for a while, but I eventually became so familiar with their illustrations that they no longer did the trick. I began to look for inspiration in design books with a typographic slant, since remaining within a lettering context seemed to be a natural progression. I was immediately inspired by the content of many excellent books including, Roger C Parker’s Looking Good In Print, Robin Williams’ Design Workshop, and Leslie Cabarga’s Logo, Font and Lettering Bible. But I didn’t appreciate how much I was limiting my progress by seeking inspiration only within the confines of the lettering arts.

That changed unexpectedly a few years ago when I found myself in a Glasgow bookstore, browsing books in the arts and crafts section. Having exhausted the calligraphy and typography books, and with time to kill, I began to idly leaf through books on crafts that held no interest for me… or so I thought.

I’m not sure what I expected to find when I opened a copy of The Joy of Scrapbooking, but it certainly wasn’t the treasure trove of original designs and amazing colour schemes that confronted me. I was transfixed. Up to that point I knew nothing about scrapbooking (I still know very little), but the more pages I turned, the more enthusiastic and inspired I became. The book was crammed with amazing examples of scrapbooked artwork that incorporated well-executed typography and occasional examples of hand-lettering. And I was knocked out by the original design layouts, varied colour combinations and wonderful textures. A bonus was the inclusion of tips on digital scrapbooking that I could easily apply to my digital calligraphy projects.

Before I knew it, I was at the checkout with my credit card in one hand, and The Joy of Scrapbooking – my new favourite reference book – in the other.

This unexpected discovery taught me to expand my horizons in terms of where I sought inspiration for my calligraphy, and I began to unearth further resources within non-calligraphic books. A fine example is Peter King & Company’s,1000 Greetings, which features inspirational designs in the form of “creative correspondence for all occasions.” I discovered the book by accident in my local library, which was a lucky break, since its illustrations have sparked my creativity on numerous occasions.

In my experience, it is natural and easy for calligraphers to play safe, and stay within the boundaries of the lettering arts when seeking calligraphic inspiration. Yet other crafts and disciplines have much to offer… it’s just a matter of making the effort to peer over the boundary fence once in a while to check what’s on the other side.

So, the next time you are in a bookstore, stride past the familiar calligraphy section and browse some random craft books instead… you never know what you might find. And, if all else fails, you can always buy a used copy of The Joy of Scrapbooking from Amazon for £1.89 plus p&p (at time of writing). It definitely worked for me.

If you are a calligrapher, and have been influenced, motivated, or inspired by non-calligraphic sources, I’d be delighted if you left a comment sharing your discoveries.

Controlled imperfection in calligraphy

Imperfection is importantControlled imperfection.

I have no idea who coined that phrase, in terms of calligraphy, but to me it perfectly describes that mysterious element that gives calligraphic lettering its character.

I frequently mention the importance of controlled imperfection to my calligraphy students, explaining that there is little point in them striving for perfection because, as no less an artist than Salvador Dali once said, “Have no fear of perfection – you’ll never reach it.”

Despite Dali’s advice, it didn’t stop me from attempting to perfect my lettering a number of years ago. The credit crunch had just happened and, as a consequence, a lot of my corporate-based calligraphy work dried up considerably. Companies began to cut back on non-essential services and, for a little while, my calligraphy business became a casualty of the times.

In the interests of discipline, I spent much of my new-found spare time practicing calligraphy, trying to improve my lettering, something I had neglected for too long. Over the years I had become complacent, content with having, “just enough education to perform,” so here was an opportunity for this old dog to learn some new tricks.

Every day, I spent hours practicing my Italics. Eventually, every sloping vertical became parallel, as did every serif and diagonal. All of my ascenders and descenders became of equal length, and the body of each letter sat tight and precise within the boundaries of the x-height. I strove for absolute uniformity, with the naive notion that my calligraphy would improve as a result. I became so blinkered in my quest for perfection that I didn’t notice the resultant letters were not so much dancing rhythmically across the page, as marching rigidly, like soldiers on parade.

At the time, I thought this was a good thing. After all, I was achieving ultimate consistency… what a breakthrough. What I didn’t appreciate (and now, on reflection, I fail to see how I was so blind), was that my quest for perfection had sucked the life and soul out of my letters.

Like an author who writes and rewrites the same passage until the original spark of originality is snuffed out, my intense practicing had caused my letters to become characterless, lacking vibrancy. Yes, they looked professional enough, and were reasonably pleasing to the eye, but ultimately they had lost their individuality and their personality.

My folly became clear to me when, right on the heels of this misguided practicing spree, a bride-to-be came to collect her wedding invitations, onto which I had inscribed her guests’ names.

“Wow,” she said, inspecting my work, “you made a brilliant job of them.” Then, still assessing my calligraphy, she added, “In fact, they look so good that you would think they had been done on a computer!”

I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. The customer was obviously delighted with my work, so I knew her words were intended as a compliment, but I felt deflated. What calligrapher wants their hand-lettering likened to a computer font?

So I went back to the drawing board (literally), in an attempt to undo almost everything I had spent the previous few months honing. I began to gently curve my straight strokes, push the pen in unexpected directions, flout the laws of proportion, break rules and take risks. And, as a consequence, I began to enjoy my calligraphy more than ever.

Suddenly, I felt like I had cast off a straitjacket, and the effect was liberating. Rather than trying to achieve perfection in my lettering, I strived for controlled imperfection. And the effect this new approach had on my calligraphy was clear to see.

The philosopher Goethe is unlikely to have been considering calligraphy when he said, “Certain flaws are necessary for the whole – it would seem strange if old friends lacked certain quirks.” But, like Salvador Dali and Eric Cantona (see Cantona’s quote in my artwork at top of post), Goethe hit the nail right on the head with his astute observation on the need for imperfection in life.

In essence, we calligraphers should leave perfection to the perfectionists, choosing instead to introduce a few flaws and quirks into our lettering. And if we really want to improve our calligraphy, we should forget about the letters awhile and concentrate on improving the spaces between them.

But the art of spacing is another blog-post for another time. Until then, introduce some controlled imperfection into your lettering, stand back, and admire the immediate improvement!

Glasgow Scribes

scribes logo

As regular readers of this blog will know, my early involvement with calligraphy was a lonely affair. Back in the eighties, there were no classes and no local calligraphy-related societies or groups that I could belong to. England did have a thriving calligraphy-based community, but somehow everything calligraphic stopped at Carlisle, never quite making it over the border into Scotland. The biggest problem for me was having no-one nearby with whom I could share my passion for calligraphy.

I joined The Society for Italic Handwriting, and became a lay member of The Society of Scribes and Illuminators, just to make me feel like I belonged to a larger community of calligraphers. But all I could look forward to were monthly newsletters and notifications of major calligraphy events and exhibitions that were happening in London and other big cities south of the border. Scotland was simply not on the calligraphic map.

Things began to change in the late eighties, and I like to think I did my wee bit for the cause by teaching one of the first calligraphy classes in Glasgow City Centre (something I’ve continued to do).

A number of years ago, I learned just how much things had changed when I discovered Glasgow Scribes, a group of passionate calligraphers who meet regularly in the centre of Glasgow to discuss all aspects of calligraphy, and who motivate and inspire each other in the process. I’ve even had the pleasure of having a few members of the group attend my evening classes.

Evelyn, one of the Scribes, describes the group like this…

“The Glasgow Scribes was founded in 1998 to allow calligraphers to meet informally, to share/develop skills and ideas and also to promote the art of calligraphy to others.  Members live within travel distance of Glasgow and have a wide range of calligraphy interests and experience.  The group meets in the Mitchell Library and/or Glasgow Caledonian University between September and May and is funded by an annual membership subscription.  Each year there is a programme of events chosen by members and which contains presentations, workshops, visits, annual exhibition, etc.  All visitors, and past and future members, are welcome to visit us to see if you like the group and its activities.”

I have had a sneak preview of the group’s 2013-2014 Programme of Events, and I’m impressed by the standard of the events, particularly the upcoming workshops by eminent calligraphers, Manny Ling and Janet Mehigan. And during September, Calligraphity, the Calligraphy Bookshop, will be in attendance with a large amount of calligraphy books for sale.

Any enthusiastic calligrapher in the Glasgow area who would like to meet up with like-minded folk should get in touch with Glasgow Scribes. Having met many of the members, and having viewed examples of their calligraphy at their annual exhibition, I can vouch for their friendliness, enthusiasm, and passion for calligraphy. The meetings are informal, all levels of ability are catered for, and everyone is made welcome (the one and only condition of being granted membership is that you love calligraphy).

You can find out more about Glasgow Scribes on their website.

To obtain a copy of the current events programme, or to get more information about the group, please email the Membership Coordinator at,  or telephone 07538-823723. Then you can arrange to drop into one of their meetings for an informal chat.

You might even be offered a cup of tea and a chocolate biscuit while you get involved in all things calligraphic. Sounds like heaven to me.

Calligraphy Tuition in Glasgow


I know it’s only the middle of August but, already, the evenings are getting darker and there’s definitely a wee nip in the air.

Every morning, my wife insists that she can smell the approach of autumn, but I haven’t given up on summer just yet. I’m keeping the barbecue on standby just in case the sun intends one final fling.

But, as my wife’s nostrils have testified, there’s no denying that autumn is just around the corner, and that means my calligraphy classes will be starting soon.

So, if you live within travelling distance of Glasgow, and have always wanted to learn “the art of beautiful writing,” don’t put it off any longer. My classes are offered in Glasgow Metropolitan College (0141 566 6222), and in Strathclyde University (0141 548 4803). Both venues are within Glasgow City Centre and are easy to access.

Enrol now and, with a little effort, your writing will be read with pleasure!

Anyone who’d prefer to teach themself calligraphy from books, please consider the likely pitfalls described in my earlier post, learning calligraphy: my experience.

Below is the schedule for the 2013-2014 term. More information about the classes is available on my website.

As of 27 August, I have been advised that the classes highlighted in red, below, are fully booked. However, Strathclyde University are now accepting names with a view to starting an additional morning class in October. If you are interested in putting your name on the waiting list, please give the University a call asap on 0141 548 4803.

Tuesday mornings at 9.45 – 11.45 for 10 meetings from 8 October 2013. 
Tuesday mornings at 9.45 – 11.45 for 10 meetings from 14 January 2014. FULLY BOOKED

Thursday evenings at 18.00-21.00 for 10 meetings from 5 September 2013. FULLY BOOKED
Thursday evenings at 18.00-21.00 for 10 meetings from 6 March 2014. FULLY BOOKED

The image containing the Samuel Johnson quote at the top of this post, plus more examples of my calligraphic artwork, can be viewed on Flickr.

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