Tuesday, November 13, 2018

An Abecedary to Color: N

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N is a simple letter in both its angular and rounded versions.  It figured often in Latin manuscripts in Nunc, or Nobis, or Pater Noster, or Nolite [do not], but not so often that illuminators--or readers--ever got tired of it.  

I've colored this N but only to make a cautionary example of it.  It comes from the Celtic tradition of interlaced knots, but if you look at it carefully you will find that the artist who constructed it realized that the coils in his two verticals did not really match, and he tried to tried to fix them up with dots.  It did not work.  AND his lumpy knots and coils make you appreciate the meticulous illuminators of the Book of Kells.  We can only excuse him for living in the early days of Celtic decoration, and perhaps not having access to a model to copy.  

Alex Bain, whose 1951 book* analyzed the structure of Celtic art, was unsparing in his disdain for anyone who would not take the trouble to look at the existing masterpieces of knotwork and dissect them accurately.  If you embark on constructing a Celtic letter or border, check the accuracy of your interweavings and crisscrossings!  Better yet, get the book; it's still the last word on Celtic calligraphy.  

*Celtic Art, The Methods of Construction.  Now available from Dover books.  

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

An Abecedary to Color: M

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full-page printable.
The English language gives you many, many chances to put M to use in your calligraphic life: the first letter for eight of the 50 states in America; Mr., Mrs., and Ms; and all those girls' names like Mary, Megan, Martha, Mariana, Malia, Maureen, and of course Margaret.  

AND, as a bonus, if you rotate them 180° many of your M designs can do double duty to serve as W s.  Or rotate them 90° to turn them into E s . 

Historical note: the last M on the page above seems to show you a scribe at work.  Don't believe it!  In the middle ages, pages were lettered on single sheets of calf vellum and illuminated, and only then were the finished pages bound into a book.  BUT it's just possible that he is a scholar making annotations in the margins.  

The drawing does include one an authentic detail, however. While he writes with his right hand, this scribe holds the page steady with a flat stylus, probably of bone or ivory, that keeps his left fingers from touching the surface of the page.  Oils from human skin would darken parchment or paper and make the ink bond less tightly.  

Mary holds her book in a linen
cloth to keep it clean (detail,
Annunciation Triptych)

Devout readers, also, were careful not to touch their most precious holy books.   In The Nun's Story, Sister Luke describes being told to keep a small square of paper under her fingertip that touches the page as she reads, to keep the pages from being soiled. 
Like many calligraphers, I avoid letting the heel of my hand rest on the writing surface, to ensure that the ink will adhere evenly to the paper.   

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

An Abecedary to color: L

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full-page, printable. 
Two weeks ago I showed you the way that printing your letter onto  parchment paper can add a Celtic feel to your color choice.  There are lots of other background textures that will help your letters create a different visual story. 

Here I printed a cross-stitch capital L onto denim motif paper and colored it in with colored pencils in two shades of lavender.  The slight variation in tone imitates the texture of yarn.  Voila: personalized bluejeans!  

I have left the grid lines showing in this example. If you want the cross-stitch L without the grid, I've pinned that version onto my Pinterest board, "An Abecedary to Color." 

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Abecedary to color: K

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high res printable.
K is a peculiar letter; while it was common in ancient Latin, it died out around the beginning of the Common Era,* only to be re-discovered a few centuries later.  It joined the alphabet in the early Middle Ages in northern languages,** although even today it is absent in French, Spanish, and Italian, where it is used only to spell foreign loan-words.    

*Used only occasionally, and then always followed by a letter A.  
**But there is no K in the Book of Kells.  Go figure.  
This K appeared in Learn World Calligraphy,
Margaret Shepherd, Watson-Guptill, 2011

A letter's national identity can be strengthened through color choices. Russian graphic art blossomed in the early 20th century. This letter K can be colored in with its original garish hues (shown at right), or with the softer tones of nostalgia for a folk past popularized by master graphic artist Ivan Bilibin (shown below)

Check out some examples of Bilibin designs on my Pinterest board An Abecedary to Color.   

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Abecedary to color: J

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Color in calligraphy can strongly suggest national identity. In America-- and especially in Boston where I live--we are so conditioned by St Patrick’s Day, the Boston Celtics, good luck charms, and the myths about leprechauns, that any letter with a little knotwork implies Celtic origins. When you write in Celtic style, you have to be careful; and once you add green, you’ve basically suggested that March 17 is right around the corner. 

To heighten its Irish flavor, I’ve printed this letter onto faux parchment paper to suggest the yellowed parchment of the Book of Kells. (Even though the original scribes strove for pages of the purest white.) 

If you want to get picky, green paint was not common in the past: some pigments were expensive; they reacted in unpredictable ways when mixing with or touching other pigments; and they were not light resistant. There are, however, many blue-greens and yellow greens in the historical examples here and on my Pinterest board “An Abecedary to Color.” Over the centuries, green pigments improved and spread, until today our choices range from Olive to Pine to Lime to Emerald.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Abecedary to color: I

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high-resolution printable.
It is always a challenge to make something out of capital I.  All you have to work with is basically one stroke, a simple rectangle.  And just to make your life difficult, there are an inordinate number of capital I s in written English. Not only is I is always capitalized when it occurs alone, but, except for the letter T, no other letter starts a sentence in English more often than I (as in the first sentence in this paragraph). Calligraphers find it hard not to envy the medieval scribe who frequently got to play with a capital Q, which frequently starts verses and chapters in Latin scripture.  

Feel free to make any plain I you encounter more elaborate.  

This letter I illustrates the Florentine technique of decoration that was popular in the late Middle Ages and Renaissance.  The leaves are highly stylized from the acanthus, shown at right, traditionally used in antiquity at the top of Corinthian columns. 

The manuscript leaves are colored with three slightly different tints (you can use two if you are just learning or the scale is very small), very pale at the edges and getting darker in middle.  Some styles add a row of white dots down the spine of the leaf, and surround the leaves with gold sparkles.  

I haven’t outlined the areas of light, medium, and dark tints for you on the printout, because the colors should seem to flow into each other.  But I’ve provided a set of step-by-step illustrations here.  

πŸ€† Light blue πŸ€†  Light blue finished πŸ€† Med blue πŸ€† Medium blue finished 
πŸ€† Dark blue  πŸ€† Dark blue finished  πŸ€† White dots πŸ€† White dots finished

Now I have to confess that I had trouble deciding what color to add once I'd finished all the blue.  So I ran four copies and tried out four different color combinations. This is usually a good way to discover what you like, but I still can't decide!  I'm thinking... 

Tuesday, October 2, 2018

An Abecedary to color: H

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high-resolution printable.
A few weeks ago, with the F page, we talked about the Mauve Decade of the 1890s and its letter forms; I just can't resist adding a second installment.  Spoiler: it wasn't only about mauve.  

There’s always more you can say about Art Nouveau, and more of its characteristics to re-discover.  It permeated fashion, art, architecture, and typography for a generation.  Its pale colors, its drooping line, and its pose of blasΓ© fatigue were so fundamental to the larger Aesthetic Movement that they were soon ripe for satire.  In Gilbert & Sullivan’s operetta Patience, a pretentious character based on Oscar Wilde describes himself: 

“A pallid and thin young man,
A haggard and lank young man,
A greenery-yallery, Grosvenor Gallery,
Foot-in-the-grave young man!”

Note on the poster design at right; Art Nouveau's languid line even manages to take the rigor out of classical Roman capitals.  

Here is an H colored in pale verdigris and yellow.  Try your own color choices versions.