Monday, June 11, 2012

Back to Basics

Click on photo to see it bigger.

Today I decided to go back to my roots, broad-edged calligraphy.

I have been playing with pressure/release lettering and colored pencils a lot lately, and I promise to blog about that soon and show you how much fun they are.  But today, for some reason, the broad-edged nib was calling my name.

Isn’t it nice that we have all different kinds of lettering to use?  I personally need that VaRiEtY so I don’t get bored.  (Just bein’ real, here.)  J

I actually haven’t done much traditional calligraphy lately, using gouache and a broad-edged pen, and that’s because I lean over a ton when I letter so I can really see. 

And my back has been hurting when I leaned over that much for that long, so I had adjusted by habits by lettering in more whimsical and forgiving styles. 

But since my doctor took me off Vytorin, my daily back troubles have gotten tons better.  Isn’t that wonderful (!), but at the same time, soooo scary?? 

(My back still gets mad when I overdo it or even use it very much (then I have to ice it), but at least I don’t hurt just because I’m awake and alive.)  <whew>

ANYway, since my body will perhaps permit me…  I prepared to letter and see how out of shape my hand was and just to see if I could still do it. (!)   J

First of all, I got out a new sheet of fine art paper.  The good stuff. 

Why?  Because the surface is perfect for crisp letters, with its internal sizing and toothiness.  For daily practice, I use Ingres Antique (AKA German Ingres).  I also adore Arches MBM Ingres.  It doesn’t “ding” as easily, is super crisp, and can take more fluid without buckling (like Textura/Gothic).

Then I lined it the way Marsha Brady taught us:  with a steel ruler and a sharpened-to-a-needle-point pencil, leaving very generous margins.

Where would we be without Marsha Brady???  We all learned so much from her before she retired from teaching.  Ahhhh, the good ol’ days of Marsha Brady workshops... 

♥  Good times.  ♥

So!  Then I needed some fluid to write with.  Most serious calligraphers use gouache, which is an opaque watercolor, diluted with distilled water.  (Distilled, so mold doesn’t grow.)

I decided to use a beautiful Cerulean Blue gouache, lighten it to a tint with Dr Ph Martin’s Pen White, and then dull it with some Walnut Ink, just for fun.  J

And then I got out my favorite nib, which I think is a 2½ mm Tape nib.  After using it a little, I could tell it wasn’t acting right.  It wasn’t grabbing the paper enough and needed crisping up on some 600 wet/dry sandpaper.  Not much, just a few light strokes.

And then, off to write a few words.

Did you notice that I work on a padded surface?  I have a few sheets underneath my good paper for a little resiliency -- not too many.

And did you notice the “guardsheet” in the photo?  That’s to protect my paper from the oils in my hand.  Otherwise, the ink might spread when I get there and write on it.  So prevention is simple with a piece of paper under my hand.

I also use a bright light (coming from my left, since I’m right-handed) and mega reading glasses.  LOL

And I try to enjoy each stroke.  That’s critical for me and helps me slow down and focus on my letters and on my spacing.

Ahhhh, spacing…
That’s could be a whole ‘nother blog post, couldn’t it?

Spacing is such an important topic, and I am so not worthy to write about it, so I will just relay what I learned from John Prestianni:  view your letters in groups of 3.  Your next letter (that you haven’t written yet) is Letter #3. 

Now place it so that your previous letter, Letter #2, is spaced evenly between Letters 1 & 3. 

Oh my, is that as clear as mud?    Okay, here’s an example.  If you’re lettering “abcd”, and you have written “a” and “b” -- when you write “c”, aim for visually centering the “b” between “a” and “c” so that they look evenly spaced.

Then, shift over to the next set of 3 letters:  when you write “d”, it should be placed so that “c” is evenly spaced between “b” and “d” and so on and so forth.

Now keeping this up and concentrating like this is a bit difficult for me after too very long, but it is a good place to start.

Isn’t this crazy to try and write about?  It would be so much easier to just show you at my drafting table.  Sigh.  But suffice it to say, viewing them in groups of 3 really helps me.  I think it’s one of those things that’s easier to do than to read or write about.  J

Okay, so I hope that helps, and Happy Lettering!!

Lucky Dog  J


  1. Well done, Donna! Great descriptions for newbies and good reminders for us oldies, er, I mean veterans! Yes, we need to call Marsha and Larry out of retirement, don't ya think? :-)

    Thanks for a great post!

  2. Donna, have you tried working on a fairly upright slant board so you don't have to lean over much? I don't have back problems, but I do all my work at about a 30 degree slant (and I use both pointed pen and broad edge regularly). Happy lettering! --Cheryl T.

    1. I can adjust the slant on my table, so that's definitely something I can try! Thanks, Cheryl!

  3. Lately I've been using my fountain pen primarily for journaling since we've been away from home. Now after reading your post I'm itching to pull my dipping pens and good ink back out!

    Thank you!!