Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Quills & Conservation

Christchurch’s recent earthquake has been a sobering surprise. Thankfully, no one was killed, the clean-up continues on, and the calligraphy friends in Christchurch went through  it fairly intact. Wellingtonians are now being alot more careful about stocking up for an emergency, as the possibility of one is all a little more real. Our love, thoughts and help still goes out to the people in Christchurch. In the dim distant past, I spent two years studying in Christchurch, and I still remember with fondness, the very bright and frosty winter mornings, biking through Hagley Park on my way to university, surrounded by beautiful trees, ducks and daffodils at this time of year.

Thinking about Christchurch in recent weeks led me to an interesting coincidence of calligraphic interest. Have you ever heard of a penwiper? Sensitive Victorians needed something more refined than a simple rag to wipe the end of their nibs, and went to great effort to create exquisite embroidered and beaded penwipers. I guess this has similarities to creating beautifully embroidered handkerchiefs on which to blow your nose. You can find pattern books on amazon or ebay. 

Found in the Southern Alps of Canterbury very near Christchurch, perhaps not so strangely, is a unique and beautiful New Zealand plant Notothlaspi rosulatum, commonly known as a penwiper plant, because its appearance was similar to some of the patterns used to make penwipers.

Well, winter is over and spring has arrived since my last blog. The garden is full of primulas and daffodils, the tuis are fighting in the kowhai trees which are now in full bloom, and there are new lambs about.
Toby Gillman is a boutique winemaker at Matakana, north of Auckland. A number of years ago, I designed the Gillman Vineyard logo, very much as a calligrapher doing my best to capture the vision that Toby had for the label. Toby’s wine has found favour with Ryan Nelsen, the captain of the New Zealand All Whites football team, and I have been helping with lettering for personalised labels, often as gifts to be sent to amazing people and places! It has been a very special last few months to have been associated with the Gillman Vineyard, the All Whites becoming the toast of New Zealand. 
I am using quills more and more in my work now. Sourcing a good supply of large flight feathers has been difficult locally. Or so it seemed. After contacting a couple of New Zealand free range turkey proprietors and finding out that their feathers were destroyed in the plucking process, should I be surprised to find the solution on Trade Me?   I have found two unique suppliers. First, I obtained some feathers from Margot Ardern, a delightful lady in Tauranga who makes exotic fascinators, those beautiful feather creations worn on race days and for weddings. 
Second, Mawera Karetai and family at Feathergirl export a range of feathers in the service of Environment Bay of Plenty: they keep the non native bird numbers under control at no cost to the public this way. 
Another fascinating find has been Jim Marshall’s new websiteIt is a treasure trove and of special interest to one of my recent correspondents, Whetstone. But not for the faint hearted! Jim has a great pdf illustrating historic quill preparation and cutting too! You will notice just how many specialist books Jim has authored on writing instruments, accessories and their maintenance. This includes Victorian Quill Cutters.

I have some colour lightfastness samples for my new pencils that will be ready for review next time. An interesting article popped up in The Wall Street Journal last week on coloured pencil history! The title: As Pencil Makers Push the Envelope, Age Old Rivalry Stays Sharp. Faber-Castell and Staedtler are serious competitors, the article and video are good fun.

This September I have had the privilege of having a poster from my research on artists’ materials, on display at the Art Technological Source Research (ATSR) meeting in Vienna. The ATSR is a working group of ICOM, the International Council of Museums. I created the versal titles by hand with a quill, and a quote from a 12th century scribe in a Spanish Beatus, in a largely forgotten hand, which Stan Knight calls “Protogothic D1”.  
The Australian Society of Calligraphers also invited submissions recently for a new publication. I have had two pieces accepted. The intention is for it to be published before Christmas, and if you are interested, it will be available from their website in due course.  It will be interesting to see how their Australian Bestiary project develops too, launched by Timothy Noad in August.
Some interesting developments happened after my last entry on David Jones and The Wales Millennium Centre. Marc Stengel contacted the Wales Millennium Centre with regard to the influence David Jones might have had on the design of the building. The architect, Jonathan Adams, gave a very full response to the way in which David Jones’ work was one influence on the design, together with many other sub-narratives. Mr Adams noted that he has always given reference to David Jones in the public talks he has given on the design of the WMC.  Bet Davies, Head of Corporate Affairs at the WMC, also responded. As a fan and collector of David Jones’ work herself, she was keen to highlight the similarities between David Jones’ work and the design of the building in her future guided tours at the centre. Special thanks to Marc for his generous efforts.
Here is another link which contains a variety of David Jones’ work, including some painted inscriptions David Jones - Reminiscent of David Jones is the work of lettering artist Stephen Raw
Marie Angel, unfortunately passed away earlier this year. Her beautiful illuminations of animals, often captured while delicately balancing on a versal letter, are a delight and inspiration. I received a number of her books for my recent birthday, and I most enjoyed her visual portrayal of the twenty third psalm, with amongst other creatures, a timid rabbit laying down to rest, a rather scary owl in the valley of the shadow of death, and swallows and angel fish dwelling in the house of the Lord. I think some of her books deserve the benefit of modern colour reproduction. Does anyone agree with me, that a Marie Angel retrospective book, beautifully produced, would be a real treat?
One of the most useful books I have in my library is Marie Angel’s “Painting For Calligraphers”. Marie very thoroughly explains composition, painting techniques, materials and heraldry, and illustrates her teaching with examples of her own work and other notable calligraphers and illuminators. And it is through this book I was first introduced to the work of Nicholas Hilliard. Marie Angel herself initially studied the work and teaching of Hilliard to inform her own technique.
Nicholas Hilliard (1547-1619), is best remembered for his beautiful miniatures of Elizabethan royalty, courtiers and noble men and women. He also wrote an informative and insightful, if somewhat rambling, treatise; “Art of Limning”. “Limning” comes from the word, “miniature” and was specifically used to describe miniature painting, as distinct from illuminating in manuscripts. Nicholas Hilliard at National Portrait Gallery

Meeting children has been a feature of my participation in the local Eastbourne market each quarter. I primarily make bold and colourful name plates for children using brush lettering, but I get requests for name plates for teenagers, grown-up sons and daughters, and grandparents in rest homes. The children’s reactions to their names written out, and seeing “live” calligraphy is always very encouraging. 
I have been approached to tutor some children in calligraphy. If you know of any children and parents interested please call me on +64 4 562 0950. I am hopeful that my opportunity to demonstrate and teach calligraphy to children is going to grow over the coming summer which is very exciting given the interest received from some Wellington public institutions in inviting me to do so. 
I have had a number of very interesting jobs lately. One, has been to provide some lettering for Te Papa’s newest exhibition, "Slice of Heaven: 20th Century Aotearoa", which opened on the 2nd October 2010. One of the requirements was to write in the style of an 11 year old boy during World War II. Some examples proved a little difficult to find, until my father-in-law was able to pass on some beautiful letters he had written home to his mother, having been sent to country Victoria in Australia during the war. Below is a photograph of the antique pen holder I used to complete my first job for the Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, again some handwritten titles in another WWII style. The penholder is an interesting combination of a New Zealand pounamu (greenstone) handle, which was exported to Birmingham where the rose gold top was added around 100 years ago. The antique pen holder was acquired in Wellington, and came with a vintage nib in very good condition that I have come to like very much, the nib being a Perry & Co 88M.

Another amazing job, was hand lettering some simple yet elegant invitations for adidas to launch a new season collection by Stella McCartney, and her new perfume “Nude”. The invitations were entirely done by hand, with pale flesh colour writing on black paper. 

I have just taught a great “Italic for Beginners” weekend. It’s always rewarding to meet new students and I have been particularly encouraged by the level of interest in my various classes and demonstrations recently. 

One of the participants was Glenn McDean who is an interior consultant, who spent five years training in specialist paint finishes such as gilding, faux marbling, etc. Glenn wrote the book “The Gilding Kit” which is unfortunately now out of print.
I’m hoping to organise a short but sweet gilding class, using traditional gesso, to create a small illuminated or decorated initial. The gilding process normally takes place over two days, so I am looking at two consecutive Saturdays. If you are interested, please contact me.
This summer we are looking forward to holidaying in the warm Hokianga again, and I will be giving a couple of demonstrations at the historic Stone Store in Kerikeri, Bay of Islands. Demonstrations are on Friday January 7 (10 am- 1 pm) and Saturday January 8 (10 am- noon) and there will also be a short introductory calligraphy workshop on Saturday January 8  across the road at historic St James Anglican Church in the James Kemp Hall between 1.30- 3.30 pm. There is a small charge for materials, so you will have a pen holder and some nibs to take home and play with! Please contact Debbie Lewis at the Kerikeri Mission Station on +64 (0)9 407 9236 to book. Further details are on my website events page. The Stone Store continues to encourage calligraphic curiosity in new generations with a range of penholders and nibs on sale.
Until next time, with a flourish, Alison.

Friday, April 02, 2010

Scriptrix Scribblings

It is Easter once again. The pear tree has been full, its produce slowly being transformed into glistening bottles of fruit ready for winter. Easter has been a time to take stock and enjoy some of the quiet spaces and beautiful singing at St Paul’s Cathedral in Wellington.

I have been fortunate to be able to play with some genuine lapis lazuli and Tyrian purple to begin autumn.

Here you can see the colours on vellum, with a small lapis heart. I have compared the lapis with modern ultramarine pigments. The Kremer lapis pigment has been purified according to Cennini’s recipe.
I was recently asked by a delightful Welshman living in New Zealand to inscribe his wedding vows as a first anniversary present. The piece was done on a beautiful piece of handmade flax paper as flax had been a theme at their wedding. 

I wanted to incorporate something Welsh, so I chose to do the Welsh title in lettering based on the work of the renowned Welsh artist, David Jones.
The most extensive reference for David Jones’ lettering is the now rare 1981 book by Nicolette Gray, "Painted Inscriptions of David Jones". The copy I borrowed is in the Auckland City Library collection (which was oddly stored in the basement, normally a place for books that are very rarely borrowed, and/or on the way out; it fetches quite a price second hand). If you ever get the chance to borrow a copy it is well worth it to see the unique and beautiful lettering art of David Jones. The book is also an insightful investigation into his artistic vision.  Here are two links to the National Library of Wales which holds a collection of his work and you can see some examples of his painted inscriptions. 
My client loved the piece but had never heard of David Jones. When I showed him a reproduction of his work he immediately thought of the lettering that makes up the Wales Millennium Centre.
The Wales Millennium Centre appears to be a unique and stunning building in which lettering is a central design feature and an integral part of its structure. The letters are in fact the windows in the front face. 

In the online description of the inspiration behind the calligraphy on the building, there is no mention of David Jones. There seems to be a direct reference to David Jones’ work in the design. The letter “S” seemed to follow the particular sloped version that David Jones used. Similarly, the “O” with a dot in the centre, the sloped “W” and the unusual serifs on the “N”. What do you think? Has David Jones been forgotten? 
I was recently commissioned by a Wellington bookbinder, Bill Tito, to inscribe a poem in book form for one of his clients. 

The old world style of the poem was reflected in a gothic style hand for the script. Gothic is something I never normally get to use, so it was interesting to do some extended writing in it.
I have enjoyed making cards recently for friends and members of the family, using brush lettering on rough water colour paper, with collage using interesting textured and hand coloured papers.

Finally I have some Caran d’Ache Luminance coloured pencils to play with. Can I say they are gorgeous. 

The pencils themselves are made using a most beautiful light ash coloured wood with a silky varnish which is lovely to hold. The feel of them is unlike any other pencils I have used before. The leads are soft, with a slight bit of flaking when you use them; opaque and brilliant in colour.
I bought a small selection from their full range of 76 colours. I was surprised to see that the colours I had chosen were all the colours in my garden at the moment. 

So, here is my play with the pencils and my water colours following my garden flowers colour scheme.

I’m very happy with the Luminance pencils so far. I’ll be very interested to see how they respond to my lightfastness testing, given their claim to exceptional lightfastness properties.

If you are wondering, "Scriptrix" is the Latin feminine term for a scribe. An example, is a manuscript of moral treatises and sermons copied around 1100 by a nun who signed herself as "scriptrix", (Wemple, S. F. & Reno, C.M., Scribes and Scriptoria, in "Women in the Middle Ages" (2004) eds. Wilson, K. M. & Margolis, N., Greenwood Press, London, p. 831; the original manuscript is Oxford, Bodleian Library, Bodley 451). "Scripsit" is the Latin masculine term for a scribe and has historic usage by women and men. "Scriptor" is another masculine term for a scribe.

Wishing you peace at Easter.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Princes, Protocol & Pencils

It seems such an age in many ways since my last entry. Luke, my little cherub, is now almost two and into everything. His birth seemed to usher in many changes to our lives. For my husband, it was a change from full time student, to looking for a full time job. The best job available was in Wellington, so for all of us it involved selling a house and buying a new house in Wellington, with the entire family moving in November 2008. For the girls, a new school. For me, it meant leaving family, friends and my Auckland clients. For someone like me who doesn’t like change, it was a lot of change.

Although many of my Auckland clients continue to send me work in Wellington, it has been nice to finally have some new Wellington clients. A highlight and privilege has been starting to do work for New Zealand Parliament. This has included some work around Prince William’s New Zealand visit that has started today.

It always is a delight to be the agent in creating something special for another’s loved ones. Wedding vows and special poems that are gifted to people for their anniversaries, birthdays or Christmas are really a privilege to complete.

One highlight of November/ December 2009, was finally getting to meet Charles Pearce. I have had two of his books, “ A Little Manual of Calligraphy”, and “The Anatomy of Letters”, ever since I started calligraphy and they have always been a solid and useful example of fine lettering. The double spread page of flourished Italic from “The Anatomy of Letters” continues to be the pinnacle to which I aim in flourishing. Charles himself was a delight, as well as a reflective and instructive teacher.

His workshop in Wellington “Pen Manipulation Techniques”, taught a modified foundational hand, which exposed me to some pen manipulations I’d never met before. The strength and subtle beauty of the hand grew on me, as well as being delighted by the beautiful, fluid forms that Charles managed to conjure out of a broad edged nib. You would have thought it was a brush.

We have just returned from two warm weeks in Sydney over Christmas and New Year. One highlight was having sulphur-crested cockatoos and rainbow lorikeets as our breakfast companions. Another was trailing around a number of Sydney art shops. Unfortunately, Wills Quills wasn’t open over the time we were there, but I particularly liked Parkers, hidden in Sydney’s historic Rocks area, and Oxford Art Supplies in Chatswood, which also had a very impressive bookshop.

Pantone recently indicated turquoise to be the colour for 2010. So for Christmas I received an interesting piece of food and travel writing by the same name, “Turquoise: A chef’s travels in Turkey” by Greg and Lucy Malouf (Hardie Grant books 2007). I have always been interested in Turkey, and Persian manuscripts, so I look forward to learning more about its history and culture.

I am always interested in any new developments on the colour pencil market. For some time I have been interested in the Caran D’Ache “Museum” range of coloured pencil leads, which claims to be a premium range in terms of quality and light fastness. The fact you need to purchase a separate, and expensive, lead holder has always put me off until this summer, when I finally bit the bullet and purchased some. I have found the colours to be beautiful as well as intense, and the leads are if anything, very soft to work with. They are also water soluble which gives you another range of fun options to try out.

Their only draw back is that they are loose leads which need to be interchanged in the lead holder. Being a person who tends to work in the fast and furious mode, this is really a bugbear. It is interesting that Caran D’Ache has recently put out a new premium range “Luminance”, which comes in the more usual form of wooden pencils. It makes me wonder if the “Museum” range, with its separate lead holder, hasn’t been popular. I have ordered some of the “Luminance” pencils from overseas, as nobody in New Zealand stocks them, and I look forward to trying them out.

Another interesting find while perusing the art shops in Sydney, was the Old Holland range of watercolours. I have seen the Old Holland oils in New Zealand but I didn’t realise they had a watercolour range. The enormous range and intensity of their colours looked very impressive on the actual colour chart at the shop, and they claim to be 100% light-fast, which seems a little bold to me. They were tempting enough for me to buy a few to check out. My initial reaction is that they are very nice to work with.

I came home with a book I hadn’t heard of at all; “Calligraphy: A Book of Contemporary Inspiration” by Denise Lach ( Thames & Hudson, 2009). The book is an inspiration, not only for the mainly abstract lettering of a textural nature with a variety of tools, but for the wonderful photos of natural patterns, from a close up of a leaf’s veins to an image of the pattern tide and wind leave in the sand.

Many friends helped out enormously when little Luke was born. Theresa Cashmore helped in so many ways with clients, and at the drop of a hat, with tutoring an overseas calligraphy student. Dr Allan Taylor helped me to sort through the muddle that was my head at the time. Rev Stan Thorburn also helped us at this time. Many school mums and church friends helped in umpteen small ways that made life manageable in the upheaval.

Wellington, now seems more like home. I enjoy the beautiful Wellington harbour in all its many faces; brilliant sun to impressive storms, although the wind and cold takes some getting used to sometimes. I enjoy our small community of Eastbourne, and its relatively remote and serene, peaceful location, despite being a half hour drive from Wellington city. We live in Rona Bay, surrounded by a strong bay of steep bush covered hills with the beach before us. There are birds; moreporks calling at night; tuis, bellbirds and fat woodpigeons by day with the odd kingfisher; seagulls, shags, herons and oystercatchers by the seaside.

I hope the new year continues in the fresh way that new years do, and I get to add to this column a little more regularly.