Friday, June 22, 2012

Dots, letters, and stars, rethought

I recently lettered an interesting quotation a second time, after a gap of a couple of decades.  An astronomer's students had named a newly discovered star after him [Michael Lescault], and he asked for 5 lines from Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet to celebrate the event.   Having given away the first version, he asked me to rethink it without any pre-conceptions.

Here's how a calligraphy design evolves.   Get the original text, complete with correct punctuation.  Check your spelling!  Don't mess with the line breaks in poetry, unless you have an overriding design need.  Look for ways to echo the text's words "stars" and "night" and "face of heaven."  "The garish sun" would have overwhelmed the design, and anyway the text says to "pay no worship" to it.

If you look closely, every period, letter o, dot over i is written in gold rather than silvery blue.  if you're not a calligrapher, you'd be amazed how hard it is not to dot that i.  Calligraphers get into a kind of flow, and it's hard to interrupt. 

A star constellation connects dots and o's
A piece of calligraphy should give you more than you notice at first glance.  It's good to get used to looking more carefully.  After a good night's sleep (a key ingredient in any design process), I used vellum overlay to sketch a number of different ways to connect some of the dots and o's, to make the kind of constellation chart that kids use to learn where the Big Dipper and Orion and the Swan are.  It took a surprising amount of erasing to decide on the configuration, which I then added with blue ink.  If you look closely you'll see a few dotted lines in black too; it just seemed interesting to lead off the page. (BTW I first lettered it a little larger, on a black background, and decided against the palette.  No idea why; it just looked incomplete.) 

I am fanatical about including enough of a citation for any reader to track down the source of a quote.  And I like to sign my work inconspicuously--this time in pencil. 

If the design seems obvious and inevitable, then the designer has done a good job.  What would you have done differently? 

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