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.

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Authentication of Module 3 Work

Storage of Work, Materials, Tools and Equipment

Health and Safety Rules Observed

Additional Note:
The neck-piece has been made using some hematite beads.  These are not suitable for anyone with a pace-maker to wear and the neck-piece needs to be labeled with this warning.

Costing Materials for Giacometti Necklace

Friday, 10 February 2017


I have always enjoyed looking at Giacometti's post war work; the elongated spare sculptures cast in bronze, figures reduced to their barest minimum, hardly existing at all.

 After I'd visited "A Line Through Time" at Sainsbury Centre in Norwich, where I was able to admire Giacometti's works at close quarters (and saw work by his contemporaries), I felt compelled to find out more about him.  I read James Lord's biography and this put Giacometti's life into context and helped me understand what were the forces which evoked such a strong emotional response.

Giacometti was born in 1901 in the Bregaglia Valley on the Swiss Italian border.  "It is a region of precipitous slopes, jagged peaks, icy streams, high meadows, and simple villages.  Beautiful but austere."  From early November till mid-February, the sheer mountain walls cut off all sunlight, and the coldest time of day or night is high noon. Surely such surroundings would influence anyone living there, especially the children of an artist.  Of the four children born to Giovanni and Annetta Giacometti, Alberto, Bruno and Diego, became artists. Family bonds were strong and throughout his life Alberto returned annually to his home.

Self Portrait
Albert Giacometti studied at the Genoa School of Fine Arts, moving to Paris to study sculpture with Antoine Bourdelle in 1922.  Giacometti was an accomplished draughtsman, printmaker and portrait artist. He created a likeness of his sitter using many rapidly applied lines.  Almost always the sitter faced the front, the eyes circled by lines which drew attention to the sitter's gaze, seen by Giacometti as a symbol of a man's vitality.  He would talk about the rest of the head being a prop for their gaze.

Giacometi's Drawing Technique

Giacometti experimented with Cubism and Surrealism in forms influenced by primitive art, psychoanalytic theory and toys.  After the war he broke with Surrealism and began to revise his view of sculpture working on the very elongated and seemingly withered forms that touch me most. They are his own unique view of reality where everyone is" thin as the blade of a knife"; they are a metaphor for the post war experience of doubt and alienation.  Their heavily worked surfaces are rough and eroded, nothing is superfluous.  Their bronze patina seems to speak for all time.  They evoke a haunting and ethereal atmosphere.  In their creation Giacometti became linked to the work of Jean-Paul Sartre and existentialism.

As with his drawings, Giacometti felt his sculptures were never finished, beginning  each sitting with a complete reworking, which he claimed could go on for ever.  "His work is an intense record of the ever-changing living presence of his subjects."

Walking Man 1960 
Alberto Giacometti died in Chur, Switzerland in 1966, aged 64.  He was buried close to his parents. Diego, the brother who had worked with him making armatures and casting his work, placed a casting of Alberto's final work on his brother's grave together with one of his own pieces, a small bronze bird.

Alberto Giacometti
"All I can do will only ever be a faint image of what I see and my success will always be less than my failure or perhaps equal to the failure."

Thursday, 9 February 2017


It seems to me that evaluating a resolved sample is a delicate matter, given the investment of time, effort and emotion.  Between the concept and the finished article lie a succession of small decisions, some of which reveal another problem to be resolved.  Of course that is the pleasure as well as the frustration of being creative.

Writing an evaluation also reveals growing confidence and sure-footedness in shaping materials to an idea.  And that is where I want to start: I certainly feel that in this task I have been able to realise the image I had in my mind, that my skills and the materials  I've chosen are a match for the task. Such a relief too to have escaped the endless looping round of sample making and feeling that I can't move on.

How do you feel about the resulting conclusion?

As I've alluded to above,  I really am delighted with the neck-piece.  It helped to have a really clear idea: I wanted to make a neck -piece that was industrial looking and in a narrow colour range. Working with Tyvek, a new material to me, was challenging and interesting especially controlling the length and width of each bead, to say nothing of the textural effects which were often unpredictable.

Having an idea and realising it are two different things and I was fortunate to find an interesting range of beads to use as spacers; finding the hematite ones opened up my mind to other possibilities and the larger milled glass beads were the happiest of accidents.  I decided not to change the component parts of the cord as I felt it was the best combination of threads and wire.  Learning from early mistakes I adjusted the way I threaded the beads and had less problems.

Is it fit for purpose?

Yes, and for a number of reasons.  Firstly it's light, and surprisingly so given its look, so it will be comfortable to wear.  Secondly, its length is ideal to be seen in a low neckline or within a collar. Thirdly the fastening is secure, simple and easy to use.

If you were asked to make it again, what changes would you make to the way it's designed and the way you made it?

I think the idea has potential.  I could see it translating into pendants of varying lengths with between one and three Tyvek beads, possibly with the inclusion of some metal pieces.  The Tyvek beads could be of a more exaggerated length, for instance between 10cm and 12cm.  Earrings are another possibility, dangling ones using bronze or red-gold findings, or even round shaped beads as studs.  A final idea, and one I suggested on my blog when I originally made the card mock-ups (see the Composite sheet), is a brooch or corsage-style piece of jewellery.  This would be mounted on a pin and suitable for wearing on a dress or jacket lapel.

Thinking only about this neck-piece, I would experiment further with the Tyvek and heat gun to improve the profile of each bead and ensure that there was a place for making a threading hole at the correct point (approximately a centimetre in from the top).  I would also experiment further with using threads and printed words, though the use of these might be more meaningful in the pendant and brooch versions.  The bead fastening could also be made from Tyvek or a small version of the soldering iron samples in Chapter 7.  Thinking about the colour of the neck piece as a whole, I wonder whether it's possible to achieve greater intensity of colour with Tyvek?  Maybe some matte paint under the metallic would help.

The constituents of the cord caused most problems.  If I leave out the hematite beads with their narrow holes the problem of the metallic thread component disappears.  Alternatively I could opt for chunkier spacers and make a slightly more substantial cord, including the metallic thread and possibly a thicker beading wire, as the finer beading wire has also been vulnerable to breaking.  A thicker cord would probably be most appropriate with  the pendant version.  Each decision is a balance between practicalities and aesthetics.

Chapter 11: Composite Sheet with Completed Accessory

Creative Pathway to Giacometti Neck Piece

Sunday, 5 February 2017


Well, I've had my neck piece feedback and now it's time to complete it, which I'm really keen to do.

The final dilemma concerned threading the hematite beads on to the cord which caused the it to break. I inquired about the holes being made bigger and tried myself with a gimlet, but the stone is far too hard and the idea not recommended.   I do like the hematite beads and really want to use them, though I recognise their limitations: their scale is possibly a little too small and maybe they are almost too close in colour and texture.

So what did I decide to do?  I've taken the whole thing apart, made several lengths of cord in case of disasters and decided to include some milled old bronze-brown glass beads as additional spacers. I've placed these where I had used the circular Tyvek beads in one of my trials. They add another layer of texture which emphasises the industrial  look I wanted to achieve.  They also allow the long Tyvek beads to splay out, as shown in the neckline of the evening jacket photographed below.  I think the combination works well.  The neck piece fastens with a further milled glass bead and a loop.


Bead and Loop Fastening:

I threaded 10cm of the cord through a milled glass bead and twisted it five times.  I looped the cord in two and twisted it along its length.  To disguise the end I then spiralled the twisted cord in the direction of the bead.  The attachment is neat, secure and strong.  The loop is made in a similar fashion.



Tuesday, 24 January 2017

Chapter 10: Design an Accessory

It's an interesting process to review this module's work highlighting the creative path that will lead eventually to an accessory.  Part of this story is this image of a University of Anglia (UEA) spiral staircase: an upwardly curving column of concrete wrapped in a metal turquoise handrail.  Practical and elegant, its proportions appeal very much to my eye.

10: 1

A further link with UEA, and again on the same creative path, is the events progamme for Sainsbury Centre featuring "Standing Woman" by Alberto Giacometti, an artist whose work I have always admired.  I like the exaggeratedly long, lean proportions of the woman and her stillness.  The texture of the piece is attractive too, looking as it does as if the surface has been built up little by little.  It is cast in bronze which has a warm finish which is not a single colour, but an intermingling of tones.

A divergence here in my thinking about Giacometti and on to artists generally.  Like others I have spoken to, I don't always complete the chapters in a module in the order in which they appear.  In the excitement (and relief) of coming to the end of this module I decided I was in the mood for Chapter 12: Research Three Artists.  And what a revelation they have all been: their work ethic, their continual drive to develop and improve -- it's what I read about and value in Giacometti's work.  I am sure this lesson about the way artists work is one I have registered before, but this time it is sufficiently memorable to make me want to change the way I do things and so in Module 4 I'll be researching Cas Holmes and Lois Walpole at the beginning, leaving, of course, my own choice of artist to much later in the process.  It is not that I want to copy another's work or be overly influenced by them (though that may be for others to say), it is more about having a conversation with myself but using them as intermediaries.

To return then to Giacometti who Sian suggested I could use as inspiration for this piece.

10: 2

Below then, in images 10:3 and 10:4, are the next stepping stones on this particular creative path. Both show elongated structures wrapped in a number of expressive ways.  Originally I'd though they might be suitable as brooches and it may well be that that's what they become at some other time. I've already learned the Zandra Rhodes lesson about what a rich source sketchbooks can be a. For now though, my thinking is leading towards a neckpiece made of a number of elongated shapes, probably graduated and as in image 10: 5 made out of Tyvek.  Applying a heat gun to Tyvek is, as I've written before, a magical experience, though knowing when to stop is a finely balanced decision.

10: 3



Bead Making:  For the Giacometti beads I chose to combine two weights of Tyvek.  One is light weight, its surface is fibrous looking and the Old Brass Light Body Metallic Acrylic which I've chosen to use is difficult to apply.  This version of Tyvek simply absorbs the paint at the first touch, even the addition of water to the brush makes no difference.  The result is very uneven coverage, unless you want to use the whole pot. The slightly thicker weight of Tyvek is smooth and no such problems occur, though both sides do need painting.

I put pieces of both types of Tyvek together and rolled then tightly round a knitting needle, fastening it with two dressmaking pins until the heat has begun to take effect.

In order to try and graduate the beads I measured the Tyvek taking shrinkage into account.  Unlike my initial euphoric experiments this was a more painstaking proceedure with plenty of stop and go, in an attempt to give some uniformity to the beads beyond that of using the same materials and colours.

Then there was the question of winding thread around each bead and whether this added to the look, giving an extra element of texture, or whether it restrains the way the Tyvek melts and morphs into different shapes.

I decided to make a completely new set of beads, using a shorter piece of Tyvek and wrapping it round a thinner knitting needle (size 11).  Spiraling the Tyvel made for a very "produced" look that I didn't like.  I also decided not to use thread.  The set of beads I made in the end are organic looking, graduated and the right sort of mis-matched.  It does seem to be important to make them all in one sitting.

Threading: The beads need holes before they can be threaded.  When thinking this out I had considered putting a hole through the Tyvek before heating, leaving a thin metal rod in place during the heating process.  This isn't really practical.  My next thought was to use a small drill on the finished beads.   Having spoken to Alice Fox at the Harrogate Knitting and Stitching Show about this (she uses a drill on the shell brooches), she suggested that an awl or bradawl would work and this in fact was what I did.  No easy task as the heat gun can melt the Tyvek creating too arrow a waist at exactly the place I want to put the hole and these I did want to be evenly positioned.  It had also become clear in the bead-making process that each one had a top and slightly tapering bottom.

A further consideration at this point was the cord on which the beads would hang.  It needs strength without bulk, so I combined fine wire with very fine rayon (hand-dyed) and what I've taken to calling tiger thread, a brown and metallic combination made by Madeira.  It should be possible to get this combination through the eye of a medium needle and the double thickness will slide through the hole. If this isn't successful a Beadalon collapsible eye needle may well work.

Spacers: This subject hasn't been fully resolved yet, as it seems to be dependent on the personality of the neck piece.  However, spacers are necessary both for practical reasons as well as aesthetic ones.  Practically they give weight so that the piece hangs in the right place and they allow each bead to breathe; aesthetically they add a extra textural dimension. So this is where the neckpiece's personality comes in.  Is it a classic, quite stark looking piece of jewellery true to the Giacometti sculpture, or could it be pretty?

The length of the cord may also come into play here.  Should the neckpiece sit on the collar bones, or mid-chest, or nearly waist length?

What should I use as spacers?  They need to be in proportion to the Tyvek beads; they also need to compliment them in terms of colour and texture.  Although I've used metallic paints and they do have a gleaming quality I had hoped for, maybe the Tyvek beads look a little flat.

10: 6

10: 7

10: 8

Image 10: 6 shows amber coloured beads as spacers, image 10:7 shows the addition of gunmetal smaller beads either side of the amber bead.  Image 10: 8 shows the amber beads interspersed with Tyvek circles which have been head-treated, resulting in a lacy slightly distorted shape and finish -- an attempt at prettiness.  Neither is completely successful though  think a classic look is much more to my taste.

A Shopping Expedition  Yesterday  I went into Norwich on a bead hunt.  I did not have enough amber beads in my bead collection, so needed to replace or supplement those and perhaps look for another possibility.

Hobbycraft first, where I did find some amber beads, but unlike the ones a home, saved from some craft buy years ago, these were mass produced and without any colour variation.  I bought them, in case I found nothing better.

The next stop was Raphael Crafts, a wonderful store of beading treasures.  There I found the perfect thing -- hematite discs in two sizes, a gorgeous bronze-brown.  The material is just right and complemented the Tyvek beads.

Making up.

10: 9

Today was making up day, exciting as I thought I had everything ready to go, and yes, I am pleased with the result but there were trials along the way and there are some problems still to overcome.

The piece has rhythm and that is what delights me most.  It's as if my beads and the hematite ones are speaking the same language, though there is a downside to using them -- anyone with a pacemaker should not wear them as they are magnetic.

A Downside and a Dilemma 

The main downside has been using my lovely cord.  I was able to make good sized holes in the Tyvek beads with a fine awl from Hobbycraft therefore an ordinary needle worked well.  In order to pull the cord through the hematite beads, particularly the small ones, I needed to use the collapsible eye needles.  The metallic tiger thread became caught up and sometimes broke as the threading process continued.  I threaded the beads from both ends thinking the cord would be less worn in the process, however,  little by little I had to cut pieces off the cord and even though I had made a metre long piece, it's now less than half that length.

The shortness of the cord leaves me with a dilemma.  I can leave the cord short (that is suitable for a collar length neckpiece) and make a bead and loop fastening with what cord is available.  I could try to attach an additional piece of cord either side using beads as a disguise.  This may be attractive and echo the rhythm of the piece, but I don't think it would be strong. Alternatively I could start again and thread the beads on a fresh piece of cord, being very conscious only to thread each bead once so that it is less likely to become snagged or frayed.