Sunday, November 30, 2014

Calligraphy: A Course in Hand Lettering by Maryanne Grebenstein

Calligraphy: A Course in Hand Letteringby Maryanne Grebenstein
Alexandre's Rating:
ISBN-13: 978-0823005536 - Amazon
Images of Period Examples
Historic & Paleographic Knowledge
Ductus/Instructions on Historic Scripts
Accessibility to Novice Calligraphers
Techniques for Left-Handed Calligraphers
If you want a detailed history of calligraphy, look elsewhere. If you want a beginner-friendly book that uses a different technique (tracing!) to get you started quickly putting pen to paper, this is a great choice. While it only covers 4 period hands and one modern teaching hand, it does so in a very accessible way. It also includes a great deal of information on tools and techniques a new calligrapher will need, and transparent guideline sheets to match each of the 5 hands it teaches. Please note: you will need a 2mm wide calligraphy pen and translucent tracing vellum to use the book as intended.

I would have preferred to see the scripts presented in a different order: Foundational (a modern teaching hand), followed by Carolingian, Italic, Uncial then finally Gothic. But this is a minor thing, especially considering the instructional method. There's also nothing stopping you from practicing the scripts in that order instead.

The real strength of this book is that it allows students to jump very quickly into making letters. By comparing your letters to the example you are tracing you can immediately see what you did right, and what you didn't. If you are new to calligraphy, and frustrated or intimidated by creating letters freehand, this book offers a great alternative way to get started.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Building a Calligrapher's Writing Slope

Image of a scribe at work.
Estoire del Saint Graal, La Queste del Saint Graal, Morte Artu.
British Library, Royal 14 E III   f. 6v
Image originally found at

I've mentioned on occasion that I prefer to work on inclined writing slope. It has a number of benefits such as improving my comfort, allowing for more consistent pen control, and keeping my work piece where I can see what I'm doing more easily. Working on a slope also for better control of the ink flow from some types of pens, allowing for cleaner, crisper lines.

Medieval manuscripts contain many images of scribes at work like the one above. In almost every one, the scribe is working on an angled writing desk. Given the effort and materials to build such a specific piece of furniture, they must have been necessary for the scribe's work. I believe there are two main reasons that a slope was important to medieval calligraphers, both of which are also relevant to modern calligraphers.
  1. Body Mechanics - Calligraphy is written best with whole-arm movements. It's much easier to get the correct movement and control it with your elbow hanging straight down in front of your shoulder. Working flat usually brings your elbow up against your body, forcing you to create letters by moving your wrist, resulting in a loss of control.
  2. Ink flow control - Feather quills and reed pens hold their ink through the physics of surface tension. If you try to use them on a flat surface, gravity overcomes much of that tension resulting in a lot of ink flowing onto the page. This makes crisp lines, especially hairlines, difficult or impossible to achieve. By working on an angled writing surface, gravity pulls less ink from the pen, resulting in crisper lines. This is also true of metal dip nibs, especially when used without a reservoir. It's less true of dip nibs used with a reservoir, cartridge pens, or felt pens.
As not everyone has the money or space for a large adjustable drafting table or a period style writing desk, here are some tips on how to create a writing slope for minimal cost. 

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Leon d'Saint Aubin - Tyger's Cub - a.s. xlix

Project:Tyger's Cub for Leon d'Saint Aubin
Words:Lady Adrienne d'Evreus
Illumination:Lady Adrienne d'Evreus
Paper:Strathmore 300 Bristol Board
Script:Proto Gothic
Pen:Mitchell Round Hand #4
Ink:Walnut Crystal
Guidelines:AMES 2:3 @ 7
Size:Margin Guidelines are 5.5" wide by 9.5" tall.
Inspiration:13th Century Bestiary, British Library Royal 12 C XIX f.40

Deormund Wulfscyld - Grand Master Bowman - a.s. xxiv (presented xlix)

Project:Grand Master Bowman for Deormund Wulfscyld
Words:Lady Adrienne d'Evreus
Illumination:Design, gold & paint by Lady Adrienne d'Evreus; Whitework by me (Alexandre).
Paper:Strathmore 300 Bristol Board
Script:Gothic Textura Prescisus
Pen:Hiro Rond #4
Ink:Walnut Crystal
Guidelines:AMES 2:3 @ 6.5
Inspiration:The Luttrell Psalter, British Library, Add MS 42130

Miron d'Allaines-le-Comte - Award of Arms - a.s. xxxxviij

Project:Award of Arms for Miron d'Allaines-le-Comte
Words:Lady Adrienne d'Evreus
Illumination:Lady Adrienne d'Evreus
Paper:Strathmore 300 Bristol Board
Pen:Hiro Rond #4 or #5 - Oops, I didn't keep good notes on this one...
Ink:Blots Iron Gall Ink & Winsor & Newton Scarlet Calligraphy Ink
Guidelines:AMES 2:3 @ 6
Size:Calligraphy space is 4.25" x 5.75".
Inspiration:The Hours of Catherine of Cleves, The Morgan Library MS M.917

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Inspiration - Model Books of Calligraphy

There are hundreds of manuscripts and documents that are available digitally that can serve as inspiration for artists. As a calligrapher, the surviving model books deserve particular mention. Those I talk about below were created during the Renaissance, after the introduction of the printing press. While I'm focusing on their capacity to provide examples and inspiration to a calligrapher, they are great for painters and illuminators as well.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

New Bookshelf Section

Up at the top of the page you'll notice a new heading for a section of this blog labelled Bookshelf. For now it contains updated versions of the reviews in my original calligraphy books post from over a year ago. Over the upcoming weeks and months, I'll be posting full length reviews of these three books. I'll also be posting reviews of some additional books I've acquired over the past year. When I do, the Bookshelf will be updated to include summary reviews of those as well.