Lots of fun with Big Sky Scribes and Suzie Beringer

I had a thoroughly good time at our state guild’s spring workshop last weekend. Suzie Beringer taught her “Once Upon A Circle” and was a fantastic experience. Helena’s local guild were wonderful hosts. Deb brought a slice of her store, Queen City Framing & Art Supplies, for our shopping pleasure and also hosted a dinner Saturday night. All in all, a beautiful weekend, and I’m grateful to have had to opportunity to be there.

Layouts & monolines guild project

Our local guild, Bridger Mountain Scribes, is now 8 months into a year-long project. We are each making a portfolio of 6″ x 9″ pieces featuring a variety of monoline lettering styles and watercolor decorations. My theme is “Questions.” And here’s my piece, which I may re-do, for month 6. (You can see 3 earlier months’ work here.)

Experimental letter weaving with built-up capitals

A weekly online lettering prompt “Warp & Weft” coincided with work I’ve been doing to develop a workshop on built-up capitals. And this resulted:

Leftover palette of gouache, #6 Mitchell Roundhand nib, student-grade watercolor paper.
Content area 5 x 4 inches.

Note to self (for the umpteenth time): don’t use crappy paper even for experimentation if there’s any chance at all that something interesting will result.

Having fun with our local guild’s long-term calligraphy project

Our local calligraphy guild, Bridger Mountain Scribes, has embarked on a long-term project. Each month, Diana demonstrates a new layout, monoline lettering style, and/or decorative treatment for our 6″ x 9″ watercolor pages. At the end of the project, we’ll make an enclosure to house our pages. Here are three of the pages I’ve made during recent meetings.

Summer flip-flops, illumination, and Ben Shahn’s folk hand

FLIP-FLOPS illuminated, in pencil
Pencil-illuminated Ben Shahn lettering.

Here’s a perhaps weird mash-up of summer, illumination, pencil, and Ben Shahn’s lettering.

I have an impressive, or perhaps merely excessive, array of flip-flops, all dating from at least 15 years ago, when we moved from Florida to Montana. They were all the footwear I had, besides a pair of sneakers and a pair of dress sandals. My closet looks very different now, but I love hauling out the box of flip-flops every summer for, oh, about 6 weeks each year.

Done in my pencil journal on a plane with a Blackwing pencil (Natural).

Recent work & philosophy on learning

The shop is hopping!

Later I’ll discourse at length on a philosophy of learning, but first: There’s a lot going on in the studio! But I have very little to show here. Nearly all of my recent work has been commissioned for weddings and other occasions. I’ve also updating the workshops I will teach this summer and fall.

In the past few weeks, I’ve completed a ketubah with watercolored maple trees, a Quaker-style marriage certificate (on mat board, unusually), place cards, menus, chopstick tags, invitation addresses, and more. And I’ve been developing new handouts for my updated “Ben Shahn-ish” workshop.

How we learn

I often use the pages of my daily journal to determine lengths, plan layouts, and explore scripts and script variations. When sharing my daily journal with my (awesome!) critique group last week, someone asked me how I switch so easily between calligraphy hands. I didn’t have an answer then, but I’ve been thinking about the question a lot.

It has something to do the way we learn. I vaguely remember that the ancient Greek philosophy of education asserted that when we learn one subject, we apply that learning to the next subject we learn, and we also learn how to learn, and so on. I think it’s called constructivism in modern jargon.

It’s all coming together

So when I first learned Edward Johnston’s foundational hand, I learned to analyze shape and spacing. Later, I learned pointed pen lettering and the important kinetics of pressure-and-release and gestural writing. When, much later, I circled back around to bookhand, that learning gave me the tools to do the pressure and manipulation required for a nuanced bookhand such as Civilit√© or those taught by Elmo van Slingerland. That’s just one example.

My point is that, after a mere 40 years of lettering, the disparate disciplines have come together for me, both intellectually and kinetically. Every hand has its mix of shape, counter-shape, gesture, tempo, rubato, pressure, nuance, and more. At this point, to sit and write in an italic hand and then switch to an uncial hand is, at its simplest, a matter of changing up the combination of these elements.

… except when it’s not, of course

This is not to say that I can perfectly render every hand at any time. Not at all! To write my very best bookhand, for instance, I’d need to write a lot of bookhand for several weeks. And I’d have to write with focused intention. This is true for just about any hand. And it’s true for broad-edge pens, pencils, and pointed pens. (I’m least tutored in the latter). The brush lettering is creeping its way into the tent, though I may not live long enough for the brush to join the other tools fully.

This is how I feel today. Tomorrow, I may sit down at the desk that my great-grandfather built for his son, the desk I’ve sat at for the past several decades, and find that I know nothing whatsoever about lettering. It has happened often enough now that I know to expect it.

Studio tools and guidelines

Calligraphers are always on the lookout for cool studio tools and guideline makers. Hanging out on social media can net you some great resources; online guidelines generators are some of these.

These are good, but give me one of those green lettering liners any day. Too bad they’re not made anymore. The closest equivalent is the Ames lettering guide, but I don’t use those. It took me awhile to figure out what was wrong with them. There just aren’t enough of the holes that I use for pencil guidelines. The Linex (Koh-i-noor and Steadtler also made them) liner, on the left below, has 16 holes, compared to the Ames lettering guide on the right, which has only 10 holes down the center. The Linex lets you do a lot less repositioning, which means you can do it in a lot less time.

Linex lettering liner
Linex lettering liner. Antique, as you can see.
Ames lettering guide

These lettering liners are far from intuitive. There’s a great tutorial at JetPens that explain how to use all the features of the Ames lettering guide. I only use the center row; the holes in that row are equidistant. But perhaps I should try the other rows, which allow for an x-height that 2/3 of the capital height, or an x-height that is 2/3 the capital height.

Guidelines are a constant source of interest to calligraphers. I’m amused to re-read my post on guidelines from more than 10 years ago on the subject. I still mourn the demise of Calli-Graphic, an app that allowed one to make straight and even circular guidelines with a desired x-height and leading.