Tuesday, 6 June 2017

Grasping the Illusive

Trying to grasp the illusive, isn't that what we often try to do?  Fleeting thoughts, connections, glimpses of something that could be profound and that really is why I'm trying to explain my choice of words for these exercises.

"Encode, encoding" to me they have a meaning for then and now: the past, that world of cyphers and spying, the mysterious world of John Dee; it is also part of the present with its computer resonances.  But the idea of using the word wasn't linked to either of these things, instead it occured when watching a short interview of an elderly couple on television.  Though long retired he had been a fisherman and she throughout her life had knitted his ganseys, those densely patterned, navy or cream close fitted pullovers designed to fit snugly, to protect and keep the cold at bay.

Herring Girls knitting, filling the time 'til the catch comes in.

So where is the link between ganseys and encoding?  Well, she explained how the many patterns knitted into these pullovers had names: Marriage Lines, Tree of Life, Fishnet.  They were in fact a form of abstract art connected to families and to places. passed down the generations.  It also occured to me that encoded in each gansey were similar messages to those I found in the envelopes arriving from my family, messages of an enduring connection that goes well beyond surface meaning.

Monday, 5 June 2017

Chapter 2 : Lettering Designs

I'm feeling rather muddle-headed about these activities, in spite of working through them twice.  I think I expected instant success, though I'm not sure quite how I'd define that: liking the results, I suppose, is the bottom line and many of them seem contrived without the flow and naturalness that I'd expected to be the case.

Using handwriting is a curious thing, it's such an intrinsic part of self.  Therefore it seems to me my samples work when my writing flows, slopes, is semi-joined.  For the other samples (those for example using a card edge) seem to push me towards an upright hand, the chalk board one with its precision and legibility, but little comfort.  Also, the sloping hand self is attached to the self that jumps ahead seeing the next phase of experiments, their untried nature being the very thing that attracts me.

So, if I discuss the story so far I'll be able to decide where the gaps are so that I can fill them in, decide what I should try again.  These samples are from my very first session.


Some warming up handwriting exercises on a piece of printing paper leftover from a dressmaking pattern download: testing out a range of felt tips -- thick permanent marker, fine super colour marker, the brush and felt tip ends of an Art and Graphic Twin.

Now with Brusho: a waterbrush, feather, piece of metal tubing, then my Grandmother's dip pen.


On the inside of an envelope: a 5.0 calligraphy pen with Brusho.


A metal calligraphy pen with Brusho allowing it to partially run out.


Now much more exciting results using two directional writing.  2:5 is achieved with a water brush, 2:6 with a calligraphy chisel ended felt tip.  Both samples use Brusho,

I particularly like the impression of entanglements and knots.  In 2:5 there is a sense of disorder, the very opposite in 2:6.  The pressure of my hand on the pen is noticeable in 2:6.  Both have energy and have started me thinking about how they can be achieved in stitch.


The final experiment of this session where I try out different pens.  The lines of writing in samples 2:5 and 2:6 used the same pen for each direction.  In 2:7 I have used a dip pen horizontally and a waterbrush for the vertical writing.  Interestingly the sample is upside down. Clearly legibility is a thing of the past!  I can see there's scope for plenty of permutations.

And below an example using bleach, which I like very much indeed.


Sunday, 2 April 2017

The Ones that Charm my Eye:

I have gathered together an interesting collection of lettering.  Although it seems a random lot, I know it's not --  I chose it.  So I've devised a sort of game to help me understand what it is I'm seeing. I have a collection of small slips of paper and as I look at each example I write one or two words down, separate words for separate ideas, on separate pieces of paper.  Though I now have twenty slips of paper it's surprising I don't have more. Of course the images are suggesting the same thoughts, the lettering conjuring in my mind similar things.  And though the materials and tools used are not the same, and the artist and purpose is different too, there are common threads.  So much so that the dealing of images and words can happily make a match many times.

The first two images I've chosen are an inscription from The Trajan Column and a single letter from a tomb in Wighton Church, one elegant and triumphant, the other ornate, speaking of longevity, and success.  They are both public endorsements, though what I admire is the design, the finish, the workmanship,  The way each letter is perfectly made, the inscription beautifully balance. And that single letter "B", lines etched in the stone leaving matte surfaces, the domed top polished, together a monochrome gem of past thinking.



Yet more incised pieces: stone in the case of the Rosetta Stone and cuneiform marked into clay. It's almost possible to feel the stones demanding our attention, wanting us to understand their repetitive marks and rhythms.  The carvings written on the Rosetta Stone in 196 BC were in three languages used by the Egyptian elite in praise of their Pharaoh.  Cuneiform is a writing system from a disappeared world several thousand years old and we are aware of those times only because this clay tablet has survived.


A more recent survivor is Leonado da Vinci's Vitruvian Man.  What I like here, beyond the used of space, is the combination of drawing and text. One informs the other, neither drawing nor text informs so well alone. Leonardo's ingenious back to front writing adds a layer of mystery waiting to be unravelled.


Here below is another individual's hand.  Lorina Bulwer, incarcerated in a workhouse, has let fly in stitch to tell her story.  Her feelings are expressed in bold capitals, the thread and fabric cobbled together from what she had to hand.


And here Rosalind Wyatt stitches a love letter, capturing in thread the feelings of yet another individual, living in another time connecting us to him and his love in a way the original may not.  Is it the time taken, or the artist's engagement, that makes this a work of art?  Or the fact that it's made for us all to gaze at?


It's the rhythms across this work by Alice Fox that appeal to me.  I'm not sure that they are anything to do with lettering, but they have the look of a skeleton language, possibly runes.


Cecil Touchon takes individual letters apart and uses elements of them to create this novel collage. Our brains work as we look at it to reconstitute the original letter forms.


Now, at a Distant Stitch workshop some years ago Louise Baldwin recommended "Calligraphy: A Book of Contemporary Inspiration" by Denise Lach.  Here is an absolute feast of examples any of which I might have included here.  What I have chosen reflect two ideas -- rhythm and layering.

First of all the images which illustrate rhythm.  The first two were created with a pen, the third with a pointed brush.  So many aspects of calligraphy affect the finished work: the tool and the pressure on it, the ink's tone and colour, the paper's weight and structure, letter spacing and its direction, the intention of the artist.  Any imperfections on the writing edge or paper makes changes to individual letters, frequently the look of the whole piece. The examples below illustrate just that.  They also show the way the stroke quality and its direction influence the end result..




The image below illustrates the power of thick and thin.  A cola pen is used on a rough surface, a good combination for expressive work.  It  is fascinating to compare the rhythms in these four images (28-31).

I've included image 32 below as an example of layering.  The artist has used a pen and dilute ink to write in lines across the page.  This has then been superimposed with dark splashy markings.The artist wants to convey the shadows of grass on a wooden fence, two contrasting textures and two different treatments to convey them.


Both the image above and that below (32 and 33) show calligraphy in an interpretive light.  They are both attempting to express textures which have caught the artist's eye.  I've included example 33 because it's loosely connected with themes I'm considering for my resolved sample. It captures in lines and words the patterns in sand after the tide's gone out, as shown in image 34.



Finally, what a neat summery of success this phrase is.

Tuesday, 21 March 2017

Lettering Research

The Ones that Catch my Eye:

At first glance this is a disarmingly simple activity: simply collect examples of lettering.  Instead I see it as a conversation with myself about what catches my eye, and pleases it, and why.  So often the text is in combination with an illustration or photograph.  How is it that they complement each other, or maybe they don’t?  Is it just a matter of personal taste?

“Just my Type: a book about fonts” was drawn to my attention when it was serialised on Radio 4.  It’s by Simon Garfield and tells the story behind many of the fonts our computers make available to us.  Here are a few of the stories of the more than 100.000 fonts in the world: the debate about serifs, the notion that Optima is a perfect perfume font, the idea that a font can convey the identity of a nation.

You only have to walk along a high street, preferably an unfamiliar one, to understand the flexibility of lettering.  It can convey playfulness and warmth, exoticism, solidity, desirability, a chain’s identity, individualism and so much more.



Short words lend themselves to visual playfulness.  I particularly like the reversal of  the L in salt.



 Above are coffee shop signs -- contrast Costa, the chain with its predictable offering, with Minkies, unfamiliar, quirky, tempting the customer to make a change.  Gail's too is different, suggesting warmth and quality, predictable but of a continental kind.


Then there's the suggestion of the exotic, the "definitely from another place".  Even the Dutch, so close to us geographically, have their own look.



Of course London is the place to be and who better to convey it than estate agents selling that dream.

Monday, 20 March 2017

Items of Stationery

Searching around the house for items of stationery to photograph and draw I realise what a stash of them I have.  Mostly they have been birthday and Christmas presents from family or friends, chosen for their beauty more than their usefulness, though surely that overstates the case – maybe I will finally use up the hundred Vogue postcards charting the evolution of fashion since the magazine’s inception.  Many of the images are irresistible and can’t possibly be used, rather like their containers, which it hurts to throw away and wait to be reused.

I also came across two rag paper folders made to showcase a collection of photographs taken for a course I took some years ago.  I like the simplicity of the designs and the way the button and ribbon fastening echoes the tones within the photographs. (see 4:1:6)  I remember and can still see the challenge of folding the rag paper.  Here it is again, the difficulty of balancing aesthetics and practicalities to achieve the best result.

Also in the same image is a triple folded postcard case which gives the opportunity for the artist to write a biographical note and to explain how the designs came about: in this case they were made for her young son.

 Below in image 4:1:7 are two stationery boxes, both hinged, one with a well for cards and stamps and a drawer for the envelope.

In the construction of all the stationery holders the bulk of the items enclosed is accommodated through folds.  The two boxes illustrated are made of much more substantial card and this is made a design feature and also influences the dimensions of the finished item.

Module 4: Loosely Lettering

Media Research:

The mention of Media and Lettering and Writing really makes my heart sing.  Living abroad for quite a number of years as we did, letters and parcels had a significance that others may find difficult to imagine.  In the early days of this phase we had no telephone, so the letters we received and wrote assumed a very special place in our world.  They were never delivered, appearing through the letterbox and lying to be discovered on the hall floor, but instead came home in a briefcase or had to be collected from the post office whose opening hours,then, seemed a mystery.

Scanning the outside of each letter, recognising the handwriting, seeing the imprint of family and friends, knowing before opening much of the content: the week's routine, a recipe requested and reading between the lines how everyone was.  Such care opening an airmail letter, best to slit it with a knife; the more robust Basildon Bond could be opened with a thumb, the contents unaffected by the rough tears.

The handwriting was as clear as a photograph -- the round upright script of my mother, the quirky tails that spoke of the other side of her personality; my father's sloping and overly compressed hand a residue of childhood illness.  Personality was there too in the brown paper packaging, the individualism of a knot, the thrift of string reused, or the extravagance of layers of sellotape.

In combination with no telephone and a heavy reliance on the post, we also had no, or until the early 1980s, access to British television.  Instead newspapers and magazines occupied a more important place.  A very different life. Now with the internet I can always be informed.  And now, though my children are in far flung places, I can email, even text, write a letter. We need never be out of touch.

Recognising the handwriting, I take care and slit the envelope open with a knife preserving any letter or photographs inside.  Note the lovely irregular torn edge when the cheap envelopes of junk mail are opened with my thumb, in so doing a skyline of mountains, icebergs or sails comes into view, revealing the lining in places pushed and pleated.



A range of envelope linings arranged Wild Geese style.  Their designs compliment and enhance the envelope's use, whether it's a birthday card or utilities bill.  They also advertise or promote a brand.

Corrugated card ridged and rippled, brown paper layers and bubble pack trap air to wrap and cushion a parcel's contents.  The image above also shows a range of sealing structures, tapes and string. Folds enable extra bulk to be enfolded; perforations allow those contents to be released undamaged.  How is it such mundane things exude beauty?


What's on the surface?  Celebratory borders in gold and silver; a moorland scene evoking Yorkshire and all it stands for; transparent windows reveal an address or other information.  Then there are stamps, franks, logos, barcodes, lines and numbers.  All encode information: the where from, where to and time of year -- some strange notation to locate the mail. Advertising, celebrating, it's all there.