Color in calligraphy

The thing that is absorbing me now is color in calligraphy. So many color courses are geared toward painting or landscaping, where the artist is dealing with fields of color. But in the case of most lettering, we are dealing with two colors: the letter color itself and the background upon which the letter lies.

(I should say: *at least* two colors. If the background is not a flat color, then the color or tint is changing. And whether the color of the lettering is flat or variegated, it is changing against a variegated background.)

And the letters must have at least enough contrast from the background to be read, unless you are simply making a calligraphic painting which is meant to be abstract or representational.

So how do these new parameters affect our study of color? I don’t know. I’m floundering about on this, and have been for awhile.

The solution for many calligraphers is to simply separate a color study from the lettering, as I did in the preceding little landscapes. There are other solutions, all with pitfalls.

A column of little landscapes

Here is a study I did last week. I started with the column of little landscapes, with no particular purpose in mind. Later, I added this quotation from Alexander McCall Smith’s book Portugese Irregular Verbs, amazed when, with no copyfitting or planning ahead, the length of the text fit the length of the column of paintings. This kind of fortuity doesn’t come along every day, or week, or even year.
I wanted to reproduce the feeling of texture engendered by the text itself, so I used no line spacing and tight letter spacing.

And here’s some detail:

Schmincke Calligraphy Gouaches

For the past year, I’ve been working with the 6-color+white palette of Schmincke Calligraphy Gouaches: Vermilion, Madder Red, Ultramarine Deep Blue, Paris Blue, Lemon Yellow, and Cadmium Yellow Tone Light. And glair! I love glair. Lately I’ve dropped the white from the palette because I’m so enthralled with the layering and glazing which the glair allows that I’ve been using the gouaches as watercolors.

Here’s a little piece (8″ x11″) I did last week, and bit of detail below.


I’m a calligrapher and book artist. They’re not too thick on the ground in Tallahassee, Florida. I’ve been used to that fact for the past couple of decades. But this year I’ve attended three week-long book arts workshops, and the experiences have pointed up the lack of community in my hometown. My friend Julia agrees. We try to get together once a month to talk about what we’re doing, identify problems in specific pieces, and generally talk about serifs and letter spacing with another kindred soul.
But once a month is not enough. The creative process is a day-to-day one (if I’m working as I often as I want to work), and the conversation about what’s happening dies without a talker and a listener both. So here I plan to be the talker and listener as I work. (But feel free to join in.)