More Roman minuscules practice

Roman minuscules practice with #6 Mitchell pen, using pressure-and-release
Roman minuscules practice journal, page 36.
Leftover palette of gouache with a #6 Mitchell nib, x-height 2.8mm
(or 9 pen-widths exclusive of pressure-and-release considerations).
12 x 9 in page of Somerset Book paper, I think.

Since mid-July, I’ve been steadily building a journal of Roman minuscules practice. This is today’s work: page 36, towards the end of my 3rd section. I’ll be happy to get off of this paper (Somerset Book?). And I’m looking forward to the Zerkall German Ingres that is the next folio.

At this point I’ve worked my way through the entire copious batch of handouts from Elmo van Slingerland’s 3-week online class. I’ve been branching out in a couple of ways. For a few pages, I followed some experiments to their logical conclusion, changing up size and boldness and shape. I have a lot more to do there. But then I branched out another way, emulating some pages I had long admired by past masters.

I had wandered into built-up pointed-pen Roman minuscules, thanks to a gorgeous page of those by Werner Schneider. (I don’t see it anywhere online, but trust me, it would blow you away.) They were a bear to do, and I actually had a little temper tantrum over them — rather out of character and most immature, but rather satisfying, in a way — before settling down to work on them seriously.

After the difficult work of building up monoline Roman minuscules, I took a break to do this page with a #6 Mitchell and pressure-and-release, curious to see whether I could approximate the general texture of the built-up monoline letters. The answer is: yes, sort of.

I believe I’ll repeat both the built-up pointed-pen and #6 Mitchell pressure-and-release experiments on the next two pages, if only to confirm for myself how much better life is on Zerkall German Ingres.

Elmo van Slingerland to teach Roman minuscules

Elmo van Slingerland (@lettertetter) is coming to teach Roman minuscules in Montana this September, and I’m in! It’s time to get my Roman minuscules groove on. I’ve begun a practice journal of 9.5″ x 12″ Strathmore Drawing 400 sections. Here are some of the first pages.

A year and a half ago I took his Roman minuscules class through the Society of Scribes, and it was a wonderful opportunity to work on these hands.  I’m looking forward to another round.

To anyone who reads my blog, it’s fairly obvious that I like Roman minuscules.

Mark Twain on the Southern watermelon

Mark Twain riffing on the Southern watermelon is one of my favorites. This is from his book Pudd’nhead Wilson. I have saved it since high school, I think, when I first read the book.

Calligraphy: Mark Twain on the Southern watermelon
Watercolors and metal pen on Arches HP 90# watercolor paper. Text/image area: 8.5 in x 9 in.

Pudd’nhead Wilson’s calendar entries are quoted at the top of each chapter, and some are quite harsh. Here’s one that I delighted in when I was young. “He is useless on top of the ground; he ought to be under it, inspiring the cabbages.” The book is a biting commentary on humanity, particularly the socio-racial times in which he lived. You can read it for free thanks to Gutenberg Press.

I haven’t done any watercolor in awhile, and am rather pleased with this simple watermelon. Yes, it’s lopsided, but then so are the best-tasting watermelons, in my experience.

Pointed-brush fun in Yves Leterme’s class

I had some serious fun in a recent pointed-brush class with Yves Leterme this spring. Very serious. So often, classes in lettering concentrate on the individual letters, with some attention paid to letter- and word-spacing. These weird, wild letters needed attention and care, but the true challenge was in making them work together as a texture. This required some serious attention and difficult decisions. And this is work I need to be doing. So I will be continuing this for awhile.

Homework done in week 3 of the pointed-brush class with Yves Leterme.  The point of this exercise was to come up with as many symbols that read as "A". 
Walnut ink and water brush on a fat 11 in x 14 in pad of drawing paper.
Homework done in week 3 of the pointed brush class with Yves Leterme. The point of this exercise was to come up with as many symbols that read as “A”. Walnut ink and water brush on a fat 11 in x 14 in pad of drawing paper.
Homework done in week 3 of the pointed brush class with Yves Leterme. Here I experimented with as many different kinds of connections between pairs of letters as I could manage. Then I used that new "vocabulary" of connections to write the word.
More homework done in week 3. Here I experimented with as many different kinds of connections between pairs of letters as I could manage. Then I used that new “vocabulary” of connections to write the word.
Homework done in week 3 of the pointed-brush class with Yves Leterme. At the end of the first page of this exercise, I felt that I had a few more different "California"s in me.
At the end of the first page of this exercise, I felt that I had a few more different “California”s in me.

If you want to check out work by others who took this class, search Instagram for #pointedbrushlettering. You can fairly easily tell which of those posts are related to Yves’ class.

This is the third online class I’ve taken with Yves. I took his class on Built-Up Capitals two years ago, which you may also remember from these posts here and here. I also took his Homegrown Trajans class four years ago, which was more serious fun.

His instruction is always interesting and his critiques are always helpful. I also like to look at his critiques of other students’ homework.

I believe I’ve mentioned before what a wonderful education venue Harvest provides as Acorn Arts.

Charles Darwin quotation on adaptability, rendered in Roman minuscules

"It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change." - Charles Darwin. Rendered in Roman minuscules.
Roman minuscules done in gouache with a 3mm Brause pen on Arches Text Laid. Text area 10 x 4 in.

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.

More Ben Shahn lettering influence, with pencil improv

NURTURE done Ben Shahn lettering style in pencil with decoration
Blackwing pencil, lettering about 9 in wide, on mystery watercolor paper.

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.

Weathergrams for a warm, muddy spring

one weathergram
Hewing more closely to the rules of weathergrams, this is black and red, with a chop, in portrait format. I didn’t not include, however, a vermilion initial capital, as recommended.

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.

three weathergrams, not following all of the rules

These don’t follow the exact rules for weathergrams, but I like the freedom of the longer line length.

Teaching Ben Shahn’s personal folk lettering – sorta

Gouache, resist, and metal pens on student-grade watercolor paper. 10 in x 4 in.

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.)

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 (, 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:

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

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