Exploring the square capitals of Codex Sangallensis 1394, a fifth-century manuscript.

square capitals practice
The first 7 lines are a fairly close copy of the manuscript page. After that, I began making adjustments. Walnut ink and 1mm Tape nib on Strathmore Drawing 400. Yeah, it’s a horrible photograph. I may try again in daylight.

Square capitals

I have become particularly interested in capitals as a text hand. If you read this blog regularly, you may have noticed that I have long been drawn to capitals as a way to create texture on a page. (See this post and this one and this one. ) And square capitals are one of the styles of capitals that are found as a text hand in historical manuscripts.

I first began teaching the class, “Capitals as Text & Tiny Paintings as Graphical Elements” at the end of 2020. (See this blog post for more information.) I was able to organize my thinking about capitals as a text hand when I took an inspiring class with John Stevens in early 2021.

Then I took a really interesting class with Ewan Clayton in October and November. Six hour-long lectures traced the development of capital letters from the beginning of writing to contemporary times, and they were jam-packed with examples and information. And I mean jam-packed: there were sometime more than a hundred images covered in an hour!

Historical manuscripts

During the course of that survey of capitals square capitals caught my attention. They are found in only two historical manuscripts (that we know of so far), but it is thought that this hand was used in many more documents that have since been lost. One of the two manuscripts is Vergilius Augusteus, written around the 4th century, and only seven leaves survive. I found an image of page ruler (https://digi.vatlib.it/view/MSS_Vat.lat.3256), which enabled me to figure that the original letters on that page had been written at 5.6 – 6.0 mm high, and that the distance from the first baseline to the last was 200mm. When I divided by 18 lines, I got a line leading measurement of 11 mm. The calculations gave me my guidelines.

Codex Sangallensis 1394, written in the 5th century, is the only other extant example of square capitals as a manuscript hand. Only eleven leaves — partial leaves, really — survive. You can see them here:
https://fragmentarium.ms/overview/F-r237

I began this page in my daily journal by copying the first seven lines of this page as closely as possible:
https://fragmentarium.ms/view/page/F-r237/6/103
and then began to make adjustment for quirks that I wanted to leave out. I’ll keep working for another few pages, at least.


Current workshop: Capitals as Text & Tiny Paintings as Graphical Elements

Various examples of work that pairs small capitals as a text hand with small painted landscapes.

About this workshop: The idea of monumental Roman capitals is intimidating for many calligraphers. But making and arranging small capitals on a page can help us to connect with the fun of lettering while focusing on some basic design principles.

Great for beginners and the experienced letterer alike, this workshop explores the use of text capitals and creation of texture in our texts. We’ll do this with small broad-edged and pointed pens through the manipulation of letter spacing, color changes, and other design decisions. We’ll also examine how the act of writing creates rhythm and movement. In the second session, we’ll create tiny painted landscapes as a graphic element. And we’ll make them meld beautifully with our texts through the magic of color theory.

Depending on the length of the workshop, some of the following topics also covered include optimizing our working space, tools, and materials; developing layout options, including a variety of strategies for planning and making guidelines; painting and color theory.

I have now taught this workshop several times through various calligraphy guilds, and will teach it at least three more times in February and March. I have developed this workshop to work in several formats:

  • a two-session workshop, two hours per session one week apart
  • a three-session workshop, two hours per session one week apart
  • a two-day in-person workshop

If your guild is interested in hosting this workshop, let me know.

Another calligraphy piece now on display in my solo show in Missoula

“Unusual Words for Unusual Times”. Acrylic inks, pointed brush, metal pen. 18″ x 26″.

This is one of the calligraphy pieces in my solo show at The Artists Shop. If you happen to be in Missoula, Montana, this month, go by and see it.

Each of the words in this collection apply in some way to these pandemic times.

2021 roundel calligraphy – Ecclesiastes 3:1-8 at The Artists Shop

“To Every Thing There Is A Season” – gouache on paper, 24 in x 24 in

This is one of my pieces no hanging at The Artists Shop all month long in downtown Missoula, Montana. I’ll be there September 20 & 21. I’d love to see you there!

I have done this basic layout several times since the first time I tried it in 1983. It’s a kind of capstone piece, I guess.

In 1983, I was a rank beginner, and completely self-taught at that point, and I believe it is the first “finished” piece I ever did. Just for, I don’t know, entertainment, here’s an image of that first piece. I’m pretty sure it’s a scan of a photocopy of the original, which I gave to my mother way back then. So young and ignorant I was! But so enthusiastic, and I remain so after all these years.

I believe I did the original with a Schaeffer fountain pen (ack!) on the then-current version of Paper for Pens by Pentalic. The pad of paper was 11 in x 14 in, so this was about 10 in square in the original.

Come see a solo exhibition of my calligraphy in Missoula during September

The postcard for a solo show of my calligraphy at the Artists' Shop in downtown Missoula

I’m so honored to have another solo exhibition of my calligraphy at the Artists’ Shop in downtown Missoula. Thank you, Ann Franke, for all your support! Ann will be hanging this show, and I’m looking forward to seeing what she does with such a disparate collection of pieces.

If you’re in Missoula during the month of September, please stop by. If you do stop by, please let me know your impressions. Unfortunately, I can’t attend the opening reception on September 3. But I’ll be there sometime after that date to see the show.

During the month of September I’ll be posting a few of the pieces here. So if you can’t get to Missoula, watch this space! As you can tell from the postcard, the show will, at the very least, include a broadside version of “Scintillate, Scintillate”. A manuscript book in this edition will be on display as well.

It’s been a tough year. I can tell from the commission work.

Roman bookhand and sumi ink on watercolor paper. About 11″ x 14″.

Yes, it’s been tough. Theodore Roosevelt’s famous quotation, “The Man in the Arena” is really resonating these days. I recall only one commission to letter this quote in the past 30+ years. And yet I’ve gotten three requests for it in the past six months! This latest one was gender-adapted for a client who wished to give it to a woman. And that’s appropriate: in many ways, women, especially those with school-age children, have born the brunt of the past 15 months, in the arenas of employment, child care, and housework.

My artist book “Can’t Not Look” has sold!

I’m so pleased that my artist book, Can’t Not Look: Democracy in America, has sold to the Bainbridge Museum of Art. I’ve written about it here, and I had contemplated making three of them. I had planned to update the tweets foldouts for two successive eras of the 45th presidency. Books 2 and 3 were completed except for the tweets. Those tweets were difficult enough to write in the first (and now only) book; now I find myself even more unmotivated to write them out. I also completed a camera-ready print version, but have made no move to get those printed. Here are images of a few more pages of quotations by our first 44 US presidents.

Can't Not Look - unfinished spreads
Unfinished manuscript book series – a few spreads.
Can't Not Look - unfinished spreads
Unfinished manuscript book series – a few more spreads.
Spreads from the camera-ready version of a contemplated commercially printed version.
Can't Not Look - unfinished camera-ready version
More spreads from the camera-ready version of a contemplated commercially printed version.