Wednesday, July 1, 2015

I'm not finished with the architectural letters of Helsinki

It turns out I have more photos, using a borrowed camera, on one of those days I walked around Helsinki's Jugendstil neighborhood.  So here are a few more irresistible numerals in the Art Nouveau style that was the latest thing a century ago.

It's worth a trip to see them.  

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Helsinki ABC's and 123's

A recent trip to Finland opened my eyes to a treasure house of beautiful letters on buildings there.  The capital city is full of visual treats.

 A unique Helsinki residence facade.
Like many cities, Helsinki went through a period of prosperity--theirs occurred around 1905-1915--during which whole new neighborhoods went up.  To showcase their modernity, young architects specified the new, sleek Jugendstil, which was then known more commonly in France, England, and the US as Art Nouveau.  They interpreted it in a fresh, distinctly Finnish way, with coils, local materials, and historic colors.  
But if you look closer at those entryways and signs, and if you are a letter-noticer like me, you begin to see wonderful calligraphy as well as ornament.  I took a few snapshots of letters and numerals in the chilly rain, and hope to get more on a return visit next year.    

Finns use a lot of coils.  

I love that numeral 1.  
Swans, a characteristic motif of Jugendstil

Names of businesses, private homes, and apartment houses offer lots of Jugendstil letters.  Complete with their awkward spacing.  Note the first 5 letters above.   

We don't see as many examples of this charming letter style in American cities, because our downtown building boom had already come and gone a little earlier, when Gothic Revival dominated late 19th century architecture.  Finland also did not share America's 1950's booming prosperity following WWII, which swept away many smaller, older American city neighborhoods that had housed the now out-of-style Art Nouveau. The Finns were actually obligated first to pay war reparations to the Soviet Union.  It sounds surreal. Periods of economic stagnation, however, tend to be periods when people make do with older buildings; that's how all those Gothic Revival buildings survived in Boston, and how Jugendstil buildings survived in Finland.   

Today dozens of doorways, lintels, and plaques delight the strolling tourist in Helsinki.  Only one kind of passerby is immune to the charms of Jugendstil.  Check next week's post to find out who, and why.   


Thursday, January 22, 2015

National Handwriting Day

Penguin by Zoƫ Friend

January 23 is National Handwriting Day.*  Is there anyone out there who DOESN'T long for better handwriting?!  I know I do, and as a professional calligrapher, I write for a living.  Here are four easy steps to take that can instantly improve your penmanship:

  • Get your elbow on the table.  Don't write standing up or lying down.  
  • Put two sheets of paper under the paper you are writing on.  
  • Upgrade your pen: from ballpoint to rollerball, from rollerball to thin marker, from marker to fountain pen, from fountain pen to calligraphy pen.  
  • Write on better paper. 

If you also take half a minute to warm up, your pen will write better lines and your muscles will make better letters.
Write, by hand, to someone who would like to hear from you.  You'll be glad you did.  As Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, " a letter, We have not better things to say, But surely say them better." 

*National Handwriting Day is on the birthday of John Hancock, who signed the Declaration of Independence with special emphasis.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Thanks for not giving up on me

Thanks to everyone who gave me the recent year off to solve some health issues, meds issues, and a change of gears.  I think I can post more often now.  

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Zen master of the Thu Phap brush

I recently visited the monk Minh Duc who founded the Nuyen Khong pagoda and its gardens some 25 years ago.  I first found his work on the Internet, and after writing him a request, was honored to use it in my book Learn Calligraphy on page 78.  

My second visit included a camera crew that is shooting a program about calligraphy—mine and his—for broadcast in early April 2014 on VTV4.  The workshops I teach in basic Roman calligraphy seem to have raised general interest.  

Meanwhile, here is a demonstration of his technique, though he demurs at the term.  He says he harmonizes his writing with the landscape around him; certainly he has shaped the pagoda's landscape to harmonize with a Zen outlook on life.  “The present moment,” his follower explains to me, is what guides all good Buddhists.  

If the video does not play, view it here:

Thursday, March 6, 2014

1.4 Paper prep

Part of brush calligraphy's beauty is how the paper continues  to absorb the ink even after the brush has moved on. "Shhh," said one of my teachers, "Ink is working."   

To let your paper and ink accommodate the ink's flow, lay it over a sheet or two of  used  paper, and then on a mat of felt or a thin bamboo placemat.   This lets the air circulate  and keeps the ink from puddling on the hard surface. 
See the photo for the post below on February 11.  

Remember to let the paper and ink thoroughly dry before you hang it up - or else the wet ink will run down the page.  

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Note about translation

Note that my text is getting translated back and forth between Vietnamese and English, losing sense and sanity with every step.  I can't turn this off.  Any suggestions?