Thursday, January 18, 2018

Colors that I like to come back to

Shortly after I started copying the Song of Songs, Which is Solomon's, I designed a title page that used seven strong, basic colors, which I have gone on to use over and over in the 50-some designs for the group.  I was especially partial to orange, indigo blue, and gray. 

But along the way I have found some new favorite colors that surprised me.  (If you've just sworn off browsing in art supply stores or sites because you already have too many pencils or inks, you might want to skip this post. I have too many pencils and pens and inks but I still just can't resist one more.)  
By exploring the Prismacolor display, I've found four colors new to me and learned to mix them with ink. 

  • First is the palest "Grey Green Light" color that I've already worked into the background of three pieces to add soft, subtle texture.   
  • The second is "Black Grape" that gives purple truly serious weight.  It was the perfect foil for the cream and sepia band of color in "Majestic as the..." Now I use it often.  
  • The third is "Metallic Green," a verdigris that seems to solve every color problem I encounter.  It's almost worn down, to a 3" stub.  Too bad for me, it seems to have been discontinued.  I'd give a big reward for anyone who finds one more.  
  • Orange comes in a lot of variations, such as the "Vermilion" here.  I like it because it punches through soft gray colors.  

Here are three of the designs 
I've used these colors in.  Let me know your own favorite colors.    

Saturday, January 13, 2018

Kinds of light from the sky

SONG of SONGS: Timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy. 

Letters, letter strokes, and lines of letters can portray many natural forms.  Here, suggested by the central metaphor, they portray what we see in the sky.  
(Scanned at home, not corrected yet for tone)

  •    A round area of aqua letters makes the disc of the moon.
  •     A descending column of gray letters falls right through the blue letters, suggesting a broad beam of light.
  •    A diagonal sliver of gold falls at a different angle within that beam.
  •    Simple lines of lettering with the verse's citation make thin rays of light.  
  •     The words spoken by the other young women form two other rays of light, set off to the left like a chorus or echo just outside the central spotlight.
  •    Traditional repeating pen strokes radiate out from the glowing moon, and evoke its pale greenish-bue light.  

We are so grateful to live in an era when astronomers' photos fill our eyes with gorgeous images of the heavens nearby and of deep space.     


Sunday, January 7, 2018

Galaxy arms Part two

SONG of SONGS: Timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy. 
Galaxy arms Part two: 
After comparing total randomness with strictly repeating pattern, I combined the two ideas.  The four different swaths I ended up making were based on spiraling galaxies, the DNA double helix, two twined colors, and an irregular sine wave that faded in and then faded out. In each case, the pattern formed against a background of random dots.  

I wanted the galaxy arms to have a similar texture to the lines of lettering--not too dense or too light--and to in some way echo the words in both form and content. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Galaxy arms Part One

Song of Songs: Timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy. 

The vortex design posed many challenges.  How DO you show the arms of a galaxy?  Stars without number, and clouds, gases, black holes, and things we don't even have names for?  It's a little off-topic for a calligraphy design, but I've learned from decades of calligraphic design that to harmonize with the letters on the page, most decorative elements should be done with the same pens and inks.  
The decorative trails between the lines of lettering were mainly made of dots, plus a few stars and new moons and planets.  I experimented with both a random sprinkling, and with some clearly repeating patterns before I found a blend of both that also hinted at the underlying structure of astro-physics. 
Here are the experiments that didn't make it: random swaths of dots, at right, and some repeating patterns below that were too obvious.  Mimicking the texture of text is not simple; it challenges you to find more than letters in your pen.  

(Please overlook my problems with the background tone.) 


Friday, December 29, 2017


Song of Solomon: timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy. 

Sometimes calligraphers have to guard against making words too pretty, too quaint.  I like to use Versal letters, familiar capitals from medieval manuscripts, because they have more majesty, presence, and warmth than pure Roman or casual Italic.  But Versals can exude a little too much charm, reminding people of the middle ages or of Victorian Christmas cards, (above).  

The frank, fervent declaration of anguished love in this text called for letters that would make the words more stark and serious.  I took out or shortened some of the ball finials in my first draft.    
Compare the two sets of Versals at right to see where I simplified the capitals.

Tuesday, December 26, 2017

Lettering on the curve; belt or disc?

Song of Solomon: timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy. 

Rough draft, undecided
between disc or belt,
with both curves shown.
The warm yellow tone in
the center will come later. 
About V: 2 - 6. Letters can suggest not just depth but also the angle you are seeing it from.  I had a lot of trouble deciding whether the curved arms that spiral outward from the galaxy's vortex should look like they are on a belt, like a ring from an astrolabe, or suggest a disc, like the rings of Saturn.  They looked confusing in my draft, shown at left.  
It was hard to describe the problem with words, even to myself, so finally I had to build little models out of stiff paper, letter on them, and stare at them.  

Right, note how the verticals lean in at the ends of the upper curve in this belt mockup...           
...or out at the ends of the lower curve.  

Left, in the disc mockup, the letters lean out at the ends of the upper curve... 

...or in at the ends of the lower curve.  


I just could not decide how to portray the universe using letters.  Finally, I went back and looked at the astronomy photos that first inspired me.  That's when I discovered I should use BOTH kinds of letters.  They needed to start out flat on a disc, and end upright on a belt, and then vice versa below the vortex. 

There are two useful design lessons to learn here: 
1. If you can describe the problem, you can start to solve it;  
2. Your original inspiration--thumbnail sketch, napkin scribble, or internet search result--is often the most useful corrective to confusion.  

Thursday, December 21, 2017

From joy to despair

Song of Songs: Timeless love poetry in contemporary calligraphy.

I wanted my overall layout to suggest the intense pleasure and intense despair described in Chapter V: Verses 2 - 6.  I set myself the goal of using only the line spacing to evoke emotions.  

The text reads very simply, from top to bottom.  
The curves get closer and closer to each other as the young woman hears her lover approaching; the lines crowd together around  the glowing vortex (at present just a white space) where her "heart trembles;" then when he is unexpectedly gone the lines start to pull apart; finally when she says "he did not answer" her hope seems to drift into the cold and dark of the empty sky at night.  At that point, she feels as far from him as a distant star.