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.   

Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Abecedary to color: G

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high-resolution printable. 

You can print out your letter onto imitation parchment
 paper, color it, and then add hand-lettered names or words.  
My grand-nephew Gavin is shown
here practicing the Celtic alphabet,
 with the precision that comes from
using a dip pen.  It’s worth the
extra focus it demands. 
Now seems like a good time to remind you that you can select one letter and paste it into a blank page to make the initial of a name. 

This week’s page is dedicated to all the guys in my family with G names: Geoffrey, George, Graham, and Gavin, who is pictured below.  And most especially to all the Gordons, 5 of them at last count.  It’s a clan name that comes from my Scots great-grandmother Margaret Gordon.  People who marry into my family get confused, to put it mildly.  

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Abecedary to color: F

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high-resolution printable. 

Last week we talked about how the colors you choose can suggest a specific place; we aren’t done with that idea and will come back to it again and again.   
But color is not just about where, it’s also about when.  Some color combinations have become strongly identified with certain decades or centuries.  You can play around with them.  

The last F on this page comes from Art Nouveau, which dominated the 30 years that peaked in the 1890’s, which was actually known as the “Mauve Decade.”* Around the turn of the century, the most popular colors were lilac, ochre, olive, brown, dark red, and of course, mauve. 
I've colored this sample F in a mix of these desaturated, languid, and slightly off colors.    

* A few years later, historian Lewis Mumford coined the nickname “The Brown Decades” to describe the 30 years leading up to the Mauve Decade, from the end of the Civil War to mid 1890.  

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Abecedary to color: E

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high-resolution printable. 
These E s are older than 300 years.  The six letters here show the different forms of E, as well as the many kinds of decorative vinery that the illuminator can choose from.   

The last E on the page is derived from one of the earliest books printed in South America. I included it because I studied with the researcher, Antonio Rodriquez-Buckingham, when I spent some years at school learning about rare books.  (Here’s what I learned; there is no end to what you need to know about rare books.)  

I included this E to remind you to read the notes I’ve provided on where I found the letters.  They can point you toward color ideas. 

But I also want to remind you that Europe and England are not the only sources for beautiful old letters, nor does North America have a monopoly.  Letter designs in the New World come from all the Americas.  Anglo-Americans should remind themselves that the founding of San Marcos University in Lima predates Harvard by 85 years; a printing press was established in Lima 54 years before the one in Massachusetts. 

To reinforce the Peruvian 
connection, you can borrow from the distinctive blue, turquoise, and golden- yellow color scheme of the distinctive ceramic tiles.  (Though they originated in Spain, and then were brought to Lima, they are now more generally found with an online search for “Mexican tiles.”)    

Friday, September 7, 2018

Abecedary coloring tips: D

Warm! ☀︎
Print your page out on paper that adds a background color of its own.  For a striking effect, combine orange, pink, and yellow on pale yellow.  Or, if that feels too hot in late summer's muggy weather, create a cooler effect with deep blue and fuchsia on lilac paper.