Tuesday, November 7, 2017

What does the universe look like? V: 2 - 6

Song of Songs: Timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy.

Every step of this design was really hard to get right.  The translation desperately needed modernizing; the intense emotions it described went from pleasure to despair; the fiery central glow had to be created from pen strokes; the lettering should follow curved guidelines.  
I'll describe how I made some of these decisions.  
1. Several words from the King James Version clearly needed re-translation.  When the woman hears her lover at the door, she says that "my bowels were moved for him." It's a real mood-killer.  Of course the modern reader, startled, can figure out the idea, but this phrase that was routine 500 years ago is unpleasant today. I substituted words from a later version, which also convey a visceral reaction but without any unwanted associations, "my heart trembled within me."*  

Translating the Bible for calligraphy is like rendering it for musical performance; you want the meaning and the art to reach the viewer or listener without any distraction.  

*The 50-some translations I consulted ranged widely to describe this gut feeling of anticipation: from "I was thrilled that he was near" to "my heart began to pound for him" to "I felt excited inside" to "my inmost being yearned for him."  

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Deep space

Calligraphers, like other artists, reflect the time they live in.  Medieval scribes and illuminators saw their universe as a starry bowl inverted over the world. That style still charms us.  

Today we can see much more of the sky up there. Cassini, the recent space probe to Saturn, sent back pictures from up close, while orbiting telescopes show us fantastical clouds, clusters, and explosions we could not imagine. We don't need to be limited to the medieval point of view when we can mine such a rich visual source. 

I have been working on a Song of Songs text that suggested a whirling vortex of passion, V: 2 - 6.  I knew that quaint medieval stars would not do justice to the intensity of a night-time encounter that ranges from ecstasy to despair.  I'll be working on the layout this week; maybe a few weeks to come.     
I wanted to arrange the words in what we now know is the shape of a galaxy, with a hot core and long trail of stars (suns), collapsing double stars, planets, black holes, space dust, exploding novas, and other matter. All of this, while using only letters, pens, and colored ink.   

Saturday, October 21, 2017

What does wind look like?

Song of Songs: Timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy.

This tandem design was too tame to portray the force of wind.
Sometimes you need a few failures to find a design that works. Above is my first take on the text at the end of Chapter IV that starts "Awake thou, O north wind..."  
I tried to distinguish among the four distinctly different thoughts that fill this very short verse by making the two winds seem to blow into and out of the garden.*  But they didn't have any force, and the green letters didn't add up to a garden.  

*Note: Against all artistic advice, I rushed to complete these for an exhibition deadline.  A lesson to remember; you cannot rush the design process.  

On the next try, I took the time to ask myself: What does wind look like?  Once I began to develop a design that suggested the wind's motion, I also had to decide, how big is the wind? and what color? 
These were drafted at maquette size, about 4" x 5,"
letting me try a design quickly and then move on.  

Through a series of drafts, I focused on the garden wall to create a sense of privacy, and then let the wind swirl around it.  

I went down a few dead end streets before I found a path to my present design; whirls of wind around a garden seen from above.  Then there were details to tweak: the relative sizes of the wind and the hedge; how uneven the contour of the hedge should be; where to add the citation; even the shape of the finials on top of the gold fence rails.  A path of small, careful decisions leads to a design.   

This blue ink (above) is 
actually much closer 
to the original tone
than the aqua in the full 
picture (above right).

Monday, October 16, 2017

Parallel evolution

Song of Solomon: timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy. 
The series of Song of Songs is on view at First Church, Boston, until November 19, 2017.

Some designs keep evolving till they reach where they want to go; others, however, want to have a second, distinct identity that develops in a different direction.  The design here is from the same “GARDEN ENCLOSED” scripture shown in a different design at left, but the layout is different.   
I used rose stems to form the garden enclosure; this gave me the chance to use the many ascenders and descenders* to suggest leaves.  I took a chance that making the flower stems slightly crooked would not create an uneven tone of voice in the reader’s ear.  I filled the O spaces with orange to look like little fruits in the shrubbery.  

*A feature of lower case letters, ascenders go up: b, d, f, h, k, l, and half-way t. Descenders go down: g, j, p, q, y, sometimes f.  Sometimes you need to rearrange your layout to give these long lines room to grow; then you will find out what they want to be.  

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Fixing the "oops"

Yesterday's post about proofreading raised the topic of how to handle the mistakes you find.  
Let's define "mistake" as pigment that doesn't belong where it is on the page.  There are several ways to handle a calligraphy mistake. 
First do no harm.  I can't emphasize this enough; don't make the situation worse by over-reacting.  Spend 10 minutes to assess the error, relax, remind yourself that everyone makes mistakes. 
Assess the limits of your materials: What kind of ink: is it made of pigment or dye?  What kind of paper: soft and spongey or coated to keep the ink from soaking into the fiber?     
Level of scrutiny vs magnitude of error: is this a small glitch or something fundamental to the whole piece?  how close will the reader be to the page?  Is this original art or is it for a print?    

Hold the paper against a mailing tube or... 
... roll the paper around itself. 

In my recent mistake--the extra comma after the word "glance"--several factors were working for me: the paper had a hard surface already, called hot press, plate finish; it was made harder by a thin coat of sizing; the ink had dried to a thick layer on top, scarcely soaking into the paper fibers; the comma was sitting in white space, all by itself.  These allowed me to put a fresh blade* in the X-acto knife, curve the paper over a cylinder, and shave the ink off.  
*either curved #10 or pointed #11

With the blade parallel to the paper, peel up the smallest possible surface layer, then trim it off at a right angle to the first motion.  


Saturday, October 7, 2017

Proofread it one more time!

Song of Solomon: timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy.  

Corrected. How? see the next post.  
One comma too many
If you learn just one thing today, learn to take off your calligrapher's hat and put on your proofreader's hat.  I was ready to frame and show this finished design when a typo* jumped out at me.  Can you find it?

That prompted me to go back and re-proof my other two-dozen finished pages.  

This is the most frequent question that people ask calligraphers; what do you do if you make a mistake?  We will look at one solution this week.   

*Technically, a calligrapher's mistake should be a "write-o." 

Wednesday, October 4, 2017

G is for gem. But which g? Which gem?

Song of Solomon: timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy.  

As soon as I saw the final lines, about being ravished with one glance, "with one gem from your necklace" I knew that the word "gem" was a gift. No calligrapher could resist enlarging that g and embedding a round gem in it.  Since the landscape was rendered in tints of gray-blue, I liked the contrast of sharp green;  this all added up to an emerald.*

*Everybody's an art critic.  My husband, an expert on minerals, looked at my design and protested, "But no gem cutter would ever give an emerald a round cut like that!"   
At right: Triangles and rhomboids in just four shades 
of paint can suggest an emerald: black, dark green, pale 
green, and white.  If you have trouble, use a photograph,
above, to make the facets hold still.  It's a good exercise  
in painting what you see, not what you think you see.