Sunday, June 30, 2013

Calligraphy Inspired By A Saint

"Out of something old, you compelled me to make something new."

Just a quick follow-up to my previous posts, "What's In A Name?" and "Calligraphic Time Travel."  I came across this short report from the BBC today—a little more background and some visuals of places I wrote about, as well as my hero saint, Cuthbert.  I hope you enjoy!

"Lindisfarne Gospels: Who is the saint who inspired them?"

Friday, June 28, 2013

Calligraphic Time Travel

Most of my commissioned calligraphy work is for weddings, but I also love teaching calligraphy.


I’m also a bit of a nut when it comes to the history of my craft.

Although the focus of my classes is teaching others how to do calligraphy, I firmly believe in the importance of knowing when and where a style came from historically. 



A couple of years ago I decided to take a new approach and do a historic monologue for the history presentation in my Uncial calligraphy class.  I spoke as the voice of Bede, a monk, scholar, and historian from the 7th century—the time period of the particular Uncial script I was teaching.


But why stop there?  When asked to do a brief calligraphy demonstration at the art store where I teach, I decided to expand on the monologue idea.

Donning a bowler hat (thanks, Grandpa!) and fake mustache, I became Edward Johnston, the “father of modern calligraphy” who developed the Foundational hand, based on the 10th century Ramsey Psalter manuscript.  

But I also teach Italic…off went the mustache and on went the Renaissance scholars hat (did you see the teaser photo here last week?) and I spoke as Arrighi, Writing Master of the 16th century. 


What follows are some still shots and short video clips of my presentation.  I can assure you, I won't be quitting my day job and taking up acting, but this was fun to do!  The video clips are not complete, so I’ve included my monologue script with more detail for those who are interested.  
I hope you enjoy it!   





My name is Bede and I am a monk from the monastery of Jarrow in Northeastern Britain.  I was born in the year 673.  I am also a scholar and an historian, and I have spent many years of my life recording the history of the English Church and People.

A vast number of beautiful manuscripts were commissioned and produced from my fellow monks and scribes at Jarrow.  One in particular, however, stands out among the rest—the St. Cuthbert Gospel manuscript.  This manuscript was created shortly after my birth in the late 7th century and contains the Gospel of John. With its binding of red leather and Celtic interlace patterns, and its calfskin vellum pages of Uncial script, this little manuscript miraculously survives as the most well preserved and fully intact book of its time.

an enlarged sample from the St. Cuthbert Gospel
The Uncial script found in the St. Cuthbert Gospel was the common hand of my day in the monastery scriptoriums, and in fact, has a long and geographically widespread history.  Various forms of Uncial are found in manuscripts dating from the 4th through the 8th centuries.  The style traveled as books were borrowed and passed from region to region.  But, I understand that the Uncial of the Cuthbert Gospel is the model used for new students here, among you, today.  The round form of this capitular script makes it an ideal hand for new scribes to learn.

Although Uncial had such a long and prominent life, its characteristics were adapted and changed over time, eventually taking the form of the Caroline Minuscule scripts…


Good afternoon.  My name is Edward Johnston, and I became known as the “father of modern calligraphy.”  I must say, it happened quite by chance—here is my story…

I was born in 1872 and, from the age of three, grew up in England.  I always had an interest in both art and science.  I dabbled a bit with lettering and drawing as a child and that interest remained with me into adulthood. 

My original career focus was in medicine, but in 1898 I discontinued my medical studies and decided to accompany my cousin on an expedition through the United States and Canada.  In fact, we spent time in Seattle, as well as an extended camping stay on Salt Spring Island in British Columbia.

But before this expedition, the direction of my future studies took a dramatic turn.  While staying with friends in London and preparing for my travel abroad, I had the great fortune of being introduced to several kind gentlemen involved directly and indirectly with the late William Morris and the crafts movement in England.  I was encouraged to pursue my interest in art—specifically, lettering—and guided in how to study ancient manuscripts at the British Museum.  I guess you could say I found myself in the right place at the right time—I was offered a job teaching illumination and lettering at the Central School of Arts & Crafts in London, following my expedition to the United States! 

as E.J., with a sample from the Ramsay Psalter
My development of the Foundational calligraphy hand for my students was based on my studies of a 10th century manuscript, the Ramsey Psalter.  This manuscript was written in a Caroline minuscule script that emerged from a form of Uncial over the course of several centuries.  My Foundational hand was excellent for new students pursuing calligraphy studies, and to this day, with its round form and upright structure, is still recognized as the most fundamental hand in calligraphy for a new student to learn.

Although the 10th c. Caroline Minuscule was highly readable and an excellent model for my Foundational hand, it was not the most speedy way of writing.  The pen is lifted for every stroke and the letters do not join together.  Those characteristics were to follow several centuries later, with the emergence of the Italic script of the Renaissance scholars…




Greetings, friends.  My name is Arrighi, and I am a Writing Master of the Renaissance period.  I was employed as a professional scribe by the Papal Chancery (administrative offices of the Catholic Church) from 1519 to 1523. 

Scholars of my time were tired of the heavy, burdensome appearance of the former Gothic scripts that were prominent in the 14th and 15th centuries—you may be familiar with the style, as seen in Gutenberg’s early printed books.
We Renaissance men were looking for something new—a fresh face in our written scripts.  But we also needed a style suitable for faster writing, in transcribing the non-printed documents of everyday business affairs.  We looked back to the earlier Caroline Minuscule styles from the 12th century and adapted these to suit our needs.   

What developed was the Humanist Italic Corsiva—better known among you aspiring calligraphers as Italic. 
As a Writing Master, I was the first to publish an illustrated instruction book for writing the Chancery Italic.


Other Writing Masters after me, liked to “show off” a bit for their students, creating Copy Books with ornate capital letters and extreme flourishing.



The Stampadoodle lunchtime demo group
So, you see my friends, the task we undertake as calligraphers has a long history—one filled with elements of faith and devotion of early monastery scribes, the adaptation of writing styles to suit specific needs of a time period and people, and the artistic pursuit that brings out the beauty of written words.  We are all connected across the centuries through the unifying force of the written word, the dance of the pen, the flow of the ink, and the cushion of our pages that become part of history for all time. 

Reference material

The History of the English Church and People, Bede
The British Library website and manuscript reference

Edward Johnston: Lettering and Life, Ewan Clayton
Historical Scripts, Stan Knight

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

What Is Your Elevator Speech?

Turning my favorite quotes into greetings of encouragement

When I started my calligraphy business three years ago, I attended small business workshops, determined to be successful from the start. As any self-employed individual will likely say, it has been a continuous learning experience in wearing many different hats—promoter, advertiser, saleswoman, accountant, computer tech (my least favorite!), etc. Somewhere down the line, the hat of my business intent is put on and calligraphy calls out for attention saying, “Hey! I’ve been waiting for you to show up!”

The Burning Question


One thing that stuck with me from those business workshops is the question, “What is your elevator speech?  If only given the amount of time it takes for an elevator ride to introduce myself and explain my work to a stranger, how do I accomplish that most effectively and eloquently? 

After numerous times telling people that I am a calligrapher and watching their eyes glaze over in incomprehension, I decided to tell the next person, “I am a lettering artist.”  The kind gentleman replied, “Oh!  You’re a calligrapher!”  The first person of many who knew what calligraphy is!  

display sample for my Foundational calligraphy class

My ‘favorite’ response from people is, “Oh, I did that once,” or, “That’s pretty writing, right?”  As I have learned and try to impart to my students, the art of calligraphy is so much more than learning to make pretty letters! 

 An "A-Ha!" Moment


In trying to devise my own elevator speech, I remembered a conversation I had with my aunt’s sister, Brigitte.  When I told her I’m a calligrapher, she responded with enthusiasm and said, “What’s your favorite part about what you do?”  Wow!  That simple question allowed me to briefly say how much I love the deep, rich history of calligraphy and sharing that with my students.  I also told her I enjoy doing calligraphy for weddings, knowing that I can add a special and beautiful touch to the details of a memorable day.

wedding envelope calligraphy

Brigitte also reminded me of the importance of really listening to someone when they talk about their life or occupation.  I make more of an effort now to ask questions, because after all, it’s human nature to want to share our passion—whether it’s a job, family, or special interest.

lettering art sample for classes

So, what is my elevator speech?  “I am an artist and teacher of calligraphy and its ancient history—an art that gives beauty and visual interest to the written word.”  For now, that’s enough to say—it will change over time and that’s okay.  Thanks Brigitte, for giving me a new insight.

Now it's your turn...what is YOUR elevator speech?       

Friday, June 14, 2013

Renaissance Hats & Quills

The mighty quill

Halloween arrived early at my studio this week!  I don't recall playing dress-up as a kid—I guess I'm making up for lost time.   
Check back in a couple of weeks to find out the purpose behind my play...
Have a great weekend everyone!

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

What's In a Name?

"The visitor goes through the place; the place goes through the pilgrim."

-Robert Cooper

In 2005 I traveled to England with my mentors, Stan and Denys Knight, and a calligraphy study group. Together we visited sites of great historical significance in the development of calligraphy and manuscripts. 

Meandering through small villages, sitting in ancient churches and cathedrals, and standing on the coastline among monastery ruins, I discovered a profound connection to calligraphy through an ancestry of scribes and the words they had written. My journey became a pilgrimage of discovery; hence, the name Pilgrim's Quill Studio was born. Pilgrim, in this sense, defines me as an artist blessed to be journeying through an art form with an ancient lineage.

The Journey 


South Cottage, Ditchling, East Sussex

This was my home for four days—a cozy B & B owned and operated by a former stage actress. That's "my room" in the right dormer, with a lovely view of the South Downs.

"Downtown" Ditchling

Ditchling was home to Edward Johnston, the "father of modern calligraphy", in the early 1900's. The local museum displays some of his work, as well as his writing desk, stained with ink.

headstone of Edward & Greta Johnston

I had to visit the grave site of Edward Johnston (b. 1872, d.1944) and pause for a moment, just to say thank you for his efforts that revived serious studies of calligraphy.

Durham Cathedral from the River Walk

Next, we traveled to Durham Cathedral
For three days we viewed manuscripts, toured the Cathedral, and gained a time and place context for the Lindisfarne Gospels, the topic of our study in the days ahead. This late 7th century manuscript is said to have been scribed by one individual, in honor of St. Cuthbert who was Prior of the monastery at Holy Island in that century. Durham Cathedral houses the relics of St. Cuthbert to this day.

Durham Cathedral Triforium

"Many of the 600,000 visitors each year may not think of themselves as pilgrims, but the regular daily services and prayers of individuals are still, as always, at the heart 
of the Cathedral's life, its main purpose."
(Quoted from a sign at the exit of the Durham Cathedral Treasury) 

Priory ruins, Holy Island, northern England


After Durham, we spent four days on Holy Island
studying the Half-Uncial script and display capitals of the Lindisfarne Gospels manuscript.

Priory ruins, Holy Island

Feeling the bitter cold that numbed my fingers as I walked through the Priory ruins, I tried to imagine the life of a 7th century scribe living on the cold northern coast—exposed not only to the elements, but the threat of Viking invaders wanting to destroy this way of life. 


The procession of Cuthbert's body; sculpture by Fenwick Lawson

 I returned home from this trip with an even greater sense of my passion for lettering, but full of questions too—about my place and purpose as a calligrapher. 

From my journal: "Calligraphy is the surface label—there is so much more, and it is that 'something more' that I am now seeking and will try to find the answer.  Faith, the spirit behind my hand and the hands of those before me, the history and tradition of this art and the spirituality behind it, and the strongest, deepest longing within me to decipher this labyrinth of connections.  There is meaning here that cannot be put into words yet."  

Cuthbert's Island—solitude and meditation

Eight years later, I still don't know that I have found a way to fully describe my experience in England, other than through the words of one of my favorite calligraphers, Ewan Clayton:

"I need not worry whether I am an artist or a craftsman.  
Nor need I waste time arguing that calligraphy should be taken seriously
because it is an art like dance or music.
It is something in its own right entirely, with an ancient lineage and a deep responsibility."

-from, Calligraphy of the Heart 


Monday, June 10, 2013

Ink Spills & New Adventures

a corner of my studio on an organized day—light and inspiration

There is a first for everything.  After 23 years of doing calligraphy, I recently had a major ink spill on my studio carpet—my personal Exxon Valdez.  Though my supply cabinet is permanently tattooed with the reminder, I handled the situation with very little "blue smoke" escaping from my lips.
So, in the spirit of firsts and handling the explosive ink with a small amount of grace, I decided perhaps I'm ready to take on another challenge that has been on the back burner for over a year.  Here begins my journey into blogging about my calligraphy work and experiences.  What better name to christen the effort than, "Splatters from the Inkwell"?  Photos, thoughts, discussion, and step-by-step processes about the art I live and love—I hope you check in once in awhile and enjoy it too.