I lettered this quotation by Charles Darwin on adaptability in Roman minuscules fairly quickly. There wasn’t much time for lettering this week.
I don’t have much to show for what I did do this past week. The 6-pound beef brisket cooked in 7 pounds of caramelized onions and the even larger quantity of spring vegetables are mostly gone. I didn’t even take a photo, even though it was gorgeous. Our fellow diners brought even more delicious things, and it’s been some time since I’ve eaten so well!
Regardless of the text shown above, this annual meal has not changed since 1995. That’s a good thing, too.
The Ben Shahn lettering continues! In a private Facebook group, the weekly prompt was “one word”. I chose “Nurture”. And because I have just finished teaching two online workshops titled “Ben Shahn-ish”, those letter forms are on the mind and in the hand.
This is not my first post about Ben Shahn-ish letters. You can read more here.
It’s unseasonably warm for March in Bozeman. Ski season will end early, and the mud is just about everywhere. Earlier this month the trails on the 38 acres of Snowfill in the Bridger foothills mud and slush on top of slippery ice. My most exciting purchase lately has been a new spin mop 🙂 Time for some more weathergrams. You may remember this post, autumn before last, and this one a few weeks later, showing those weathergrams after they had weathered some.
These will, once again, be distributed throughout the trails in town. This one is almost out of date, but the memory of slippery mud is still fresh.
Weathergrams should be short, original insights, 8-10 words long. I did not follow that rule for these next ones, which are not my own words and are longer texts. If you wish to follow the suggested format, more guidance may found here in the form of Lloyd Reynolds’ book Weathergrams in PDF format.
These don’t follow the exact rules for weathergrams, but I like the freedom of the longer line length.
I’ve just been teaching a fun take on one of Ben Shahn’s personal lettering styles. The Ocala Calligraphy Guild explored this amusing but challenging folk hand with me as a one-day online workshop. I’ll teach it again in more depth for a guild in southern California, also online. It’s such a happy hand! Encouraging improvisation and fun, it also introduces the compound stroke and pen manipulation in a low-stakes way. (You may remember that I posted about teaching “Ben Shahn-ish” last year.)
The text is from a poem titled “Impressions” by Alice Ruth Moore. This is the section subtitled Thought. The page design is done in the style of a page from the book *I Am Loved* that Bryan illustrated. Like Ashley Bryan, Moore used her art for social justice. I chose a Ben Shahn style of lettering because Bryan and Shahn led mostly parallel lives in the the social realism art genre, sometimes intersecting in the mural work on public buildings in the 1950s. (Bryan’s “Harpist” in this Tweet looks for all the world like a Ben Shahn drawing.)
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!
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.
Actually, I gathered up all the bits and pieces of work/play in this seal-script-inspired vein and was shocked at the height of the pile. I can see a number of applications for this style of working. So much fun!
Have I mentioned how much I’m enjoying Elizabeth McKee’s brush lettering class? Well, it bears repeating. Here are just a few pages of the homework I did in November, the 3rd month of classes.
I’ve mostly been writing with Pentel Color Brushes (all four tips), Winsor & Newton Series 7 pointed brushes (1, 2, 2 mini), and the Pentel Pocket Brush. I’ve mostly been using fountain pen ink, Schmincke gouaches, Winsor & Newton watercolors, Dr. Martin’s Pro White, and FineTec metallic watercolors.
I’m happily balancing this kind of work with the formal, slower work of study in Elmo van Slingerland’s Roman minuscules class through the Society of Scribes … and the geometry and paper handling of folding portfolio folders and fulfilling orders for my ABC portfolios. I’ll post some of my work in the Roman minuscules class next time.
If you’ve been reading this blog, you’ll know something about How to Be in the World: An Abecedarian Commonplace for Living. This is a portfolio of 26 sheets that each contain an illuminated letter, a verb, and a favorite quotation relating to that verb. Written and drawn all in pencil, these pages were developed over a number years. It was featured in Letter Arts Review earlier this year, and I also made a clamshell box to hold the stack of original sheets.
As of the end of May, these are all sold out. Thank you to everyone who purchased one!
I am so enjoying a brush lettering class with Elizabeth McKee. She was my very first serious calligraphy teacher, way back in 1988-1989. The homework assignments have included making weathergrams, and this has been perfectly consonant with what I want to do. These past few weeks here in Montana, our dog Zeke and I have simply wallowed in the beautiful autumn. And we’ve enjoyed long walks among the brilliant trees and blessedly clean air and gorgeous sunlight.
Given all this, it’s no wonder that I can’t seem to stop making these weathergrams! I’m addicted to that slightly rough drag of the brush on Kraft paper, the daylight within the strokes as the ink feathers on the paper. And I have been hanging them around the walking trails in Bozeman. (I’m not sure whether to replace the ones that have disappeared, or find another place to put them. If people are taking them as souvenirs, that’s okay. But perhaps they’re simply taking out the trash. Or maybe the deer like them. How to tell?)
Weathergrams were developed by Lloyd J. Reynolds, a calligrapher who had a profound influence in the western US in the 70s and 80s. The form is a sort of Western melange of Japanese tanzaku, haiku, wabi sabi, and more. Weathergrams are not sold but given as gifts or hung from trees and allowed to weather. If you want to know about weathergrams, read Reynolds’ booklet on the subject. And that booklet has been digitized here by The Haiku Digital Foundation Library.
Read more about Lloyd Reynolds at the website of Reed College, where he was a professor for 40 years.