Sunday, June 25, 2017

Chapter I: Verses 2 - 4 from The Song of Songs

Timeless love poetry from the Bible, in contemporary calligraphy.   

These verses introduce us to love poetry, in all its immediacy, from Song of Solomon.  The speaker, a young woman, longs for the kisses of her beloved, and describes how much he is loved by everyone.  She intends to follow him wherever he leads her, and hopes that they might end up in his chambers. 

I wanted the design to suggest this burning desire.  I illuminated the capital O of "O my beloved" to look like a torch or a brazier, with the Florentine scrolls inside the letter-stroke itself made of ash and embers, with flames* flickering on top.  The orange and yellow border is charring at lower right from the heat.  The rest of the verses are lettered in shades of gray, to resemble the fragrant smoke rising as incense.  
Detail from upper left of O.

The inner decoration of the capital O suggests the ashy embers in the hottest part of a fire, hotter even than the flames.  This grisaille technique is comparable to a black and white photograph; it appears occasionally in medieval manuscript illumination to add a supernatural note.

Not wanting to distract attention from the strong lines of this design, I rendered the text in simple Roman capitals and Bookhand lowercase, to keep the spotlight on the illuminated O.  The ashes and flames and smoke are complex enough.  

*I'll write about those flames next time.     

Friday, June 23, 2017

The Song of Songs, which is Solomon's, in calligraphy

My new project is to transcribe into calligraphy the whole book of the Bible known familiarly as "Song of Solomon."  I first encountered it some decades ago, in the verses that start "My Beloved spake and said unto me..." as a wedding present for a friend.  

Like many calligraphers, I found that after I finished it, the text kept pestering me for a redesign.  So I tried it again a few years later, with a little different approach.  And again.  It's a lovely passage and makes a nice gift.  It is full of sensual treasures from the poet's world--the song of birds, flowers in bloom, and the aroma of the vineyard.  Although it did not seem to settle into a definitive version, I enjoyed the process of finding better ways to present it to the reader, learning a little more about its meaning each time I tried.    
Four different designs for Chapter II: verses 10 - 13, as they evolved over 3 decades.  The most recent, part of my new series, is at far right.  And I 'll probably keep finding new ideas to clarify its meaning.   

I enjoyed designing calligraphy for "My Beloved Spoke"  so much I began to read more from the Song of Solomon, looking for other texts that I could turn into calligraphy.  I'm now about halfway through the 8 chapters, and hope to finish by the end of 2020.  I'm going to chronicle my journey here.  Check in tomorrow to see where the next turn of this biblical road took me.  

Wednesday, September 21, 2016

Calligraphy--a perfect wedding gift. Part 2, the next to rendering

Ready for performance, with a few tweaks. 
Yesterday I worked on early drafts for a wedding gift based on Philippians 4:8.  I took that draft, critiqued it, revised it, and used it with the guideline overlay to letter the final rough draft.  

Right away, I noticed I had left out the citation of chapter and verse.  Calligraphers should always take care to include this information, as average mortals often forget or think it's implied.  

This version is like a dress rehearsal.  I usually try to make it as good as I can but not worry about making little errors that don't require redoing the whole thing.  I'm more concerned about some basic aspects like the exact curve of the long line; is it too curved at the ends or too flat?  Do the purple and blue read with enough clarity?  I solved those questions with a calligrapher's  most powerful design tool--and an essential step in the process--I slept on it.    

And here is the very final rendering, done today.  At the very last minute, I decided to use black ink, to keep the design from being all about purple rather than all about joy and grace.  The margins are wider so that the frame can offer the option of a mat.  Or the framer can cut it down.    

BTW Designs evolve more smoothly for me if I work on a 3-hour project for one hour each day, rather than putting in 3 hours on one day.  If you are a more spontaneous, confident scribe than I am, you don't need this pacing. 

Calligraphy will help you give your friends or relatives a wedding gift that nobody else has given them, one they haven't even imagined, and one that is uniquely personalized for them.  

Some helpful tips about hand-lettered wedding gifts, from my experience; 
  • Ask the couple what text they would like.  While you are at it, find out what color they prefer.  Take their wall space into consideration and don't make the piece too large!  
  • Don't rush to get it to them by the wedding day--much better to take your time and get it right.  Good manners forbid you from bringing a gift TO the wedding, anyway.*  
  • Add a line at the bottom, in tiny letters, with your name, their names, the occasion, and the date.  
  • Send it to them in a modest standard frame, since they will be too busy to go get it framed themselves.  Or include a check to cover the cost of their choice of frame, which might guilt them into getting it done.  
  • And, before you render the final piece, proofread that final draft. If you blink while you letter "Philippians," can you swear to how many l s and p s there are?   Trust me, typos will find a way to creep in during the design process.  
*With enough lead time, you can ask the couple if they would like you to letter the text not only as a gift but as a design element in their service, to be used in, for instance, the printed program or as a separate handout or mailing.  Be sure they loop you into their stationery source, early on, to ensure that you provide what the printer needs.  

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Calligraphy--a perfect wedding gift. Part 1, the all-important draft.

Although I am willing to click on a box to buy a gift in a wedding gift registry, sometimes I'm up for a more personal gift.  I've recently been working to handletter a wedding present for a relative.  Most people are thrilled to have a copy of something that was read at their ceremony.  In this case it was a verse from Philippians 4:8.  

Whatsoever things are true,
Whatsoever things are honest,
Whatsoever things are just,
Whatsoever things are pure,
Whatsoever things are lovely,
Whatsoever things are of good report;

If there 
be any virtue, 
and if there be any praise,
Think on these things.
Thumbnail sketch. 

Beautiful, austere, and inspiring words, but calligraphers will probably join me in their first reaction; WHAT am I going to do with that one long line!?  I tried focussing on the repeating W, but turning them into six butterflies or nesting swashes didn't work our for me.  Then, sooner than most of my searches for a rough draft, I did this thumbnail sketch at right:  

I saw right away it would transform that long line from a problem into an asset, so I enlarged the sketch from 1" across to 8" across, took a stab at the guidelines, and wrote a rough stab at the word placement, at left below.  Yesssss!  

Check to see if the words will fit the idea.
Get the lines accurate, try colors.
On an overlay, right, I carefully penciled my guidelines, checking the space between lines with a ruler.  I also use vertical lines you can't see to keep the words "Whatsoever things are..." the same length in each line--it's easy to get disoriented on curved or slanted guidelines.  If you are not sure of the color scheme, use colored pencils to hatch in your idea and then squint at it. 

You'll still need to write a final rough draft to get the letter spacing right and make sure the chosen pen nib fits the letter size.    Check tomorrow's blog post to see how that calligraphy turns out.    

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Chubby columns, from Helsinki doorways

Entrance to the Uspenskin Cathedral. 

Yogi Berra said it: "You can observe a lot just by watching."  In the process of looking for numerals and letters on the street, I've started noticing other architectural treats, such as Helsinki's imposing pillars. Many Finnish buildings feature these stubby, powerful, and decorative columns in doorways and on facades. They really look like they are up to the task of bearing heavy weight.  
It's really fun to see those chubby granite pillars from the front get copied in brick at the side door, and again in the back.  

Above, brick rendition of granite pillars, Uspenskin cathedral.  

In a nearby neighborhood, this doorway facade bundles several pillars together.  If you look up close you see lions in those carved doors.  

A neoclassical pillar, right, has an Art Deco capital.  

And from Turku, at right, this massive column anchors the corner of a building.  The decoration along its top is unlike any classical order.  


Now I have a new mission--to go back and take a second look at all the neighborhoods where I was concentrating on numerals and letters, and didn't pay proper attention to the columns.  

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

A modern Finnish Gothic alphabet

Last week, I noticed this war monument* in the Kamppi cemetery, by the Old Church in Helsinki.  It is carved in a stark, forceful version of Gothic, without the square serifs but with the same heavy width of stroke and uniform letter bodies.  Letters have to be robust to survive being carved into granite, a process undertaken today almost invariably with a power chisel.  

The letters e and a break up the rows of vertical
strokes, with half- or whole-round shapes, 
The letter g shows the kind of calligraphic
ingenuity that brings a smile to a calligrapher's
face. And the thought: I've got to try that one!  

The same message appears in three languages: Finnish, Estonian, and Swedish.  

* "The...monument in the Old Church Park was erected in 1919 in memory of the Finnish volunteers who fell in the Estonian war of independence. The bodies of 25 Finns from Helsinki were carried back from Tallinn aboard the icebreaker Wäinämöinen, and a service was held on 16 February 1919." From Park Walks in Helsinki website. 

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Numbers on the street, Helsinki

I continued to find new numerals on my rambles through Helsinki.