How to get started in Calligraphy

In this our third guest post, typographer, letterer and calligrapher Seb Lester gives us an insight into his practices and offers tips to anyone wishing to develop their calligraphy skills. Full videos of above animations here: Destiny and Heart & Soul

Calligraphy is enjoying something of a renaissance at the moment. I first noticed at the beginning of 2013 when mainstream publications like Salon started taking an interest in my calligraphy work.  Momentum has gathered since then to the point that one of my calligraphy clips has now had over one million views and, due to the interest Instagram have recently taken in calligraphy, I now have 156,000 people following me there. So something is clearly in the air and I find that very exciting. I think a lot of the resurgence of interest is a reaction to the ubiquity of pixels in our lives and indicative of a more general growth of interest in traditional craftsmanship.

Many hundreds of people have been asking me questions about how to get started so this seems a perfect opportunity to help promote the practice and appreciation of this beautiful, ancient art form. Calligraphy is a broad term encompassing a wide variety of letterforms. These alphabets have been created with a wide variety of tools over the past 2,000 years or so in the West. One of the attractions for me is that in calligraphy we find the foundations from which typefaces and typography have been built.

The key to producing beautiful calligraphy is perseverance. You will only persevere if you enjoy what you’re doing.

In terms of broad edge calligraphy tools, necessary for Gothic and Italic styles, ‘Manuscript’ brand calligraphy fountain pens are widely available and practical beginners tools. Pilot Parallel Pens are also great fun and easy to use. As you advance you will probably want to start using traditional metal calligraphy nibs made by established manufacturers like Brause and Mitchell. They can be a bit more difficult to handle but can help achieve finer results.

For pointed pen calligraphy, characterised by graceful curves and strong contrasts in line width, I would recommend trying Nikko G nibs. You can use these in either a traditional or an oblique pen holder, it is a matter of personal preference. Iron Gall ink is best for this type of calligraphy. McCaffrey’s and Walker’s Copperplate Ink get great results for me.

Paper is always an important consideration. The paper I often use with Pilot Parallel Pens is Daler Rowney Smooth Cartridge Paper, but any smooth cartridge paper should be fine. When I’m working on roughs for any type of calligraphy I often use Goldline Layout paper and Goldline Marker pads. In terms of sketchbooks a lot of calligraphers like the Rhodia brand as the paper doesn’t bleed easily. As with everything the key is to experiment, paper with more texture can produce interesting results too.

In terms of books for inspiration I can recommend ‘Scribe: Artist of the Written Word’ by John Stevens, a true modern master. For instruction I would also suggest ‘Foundations of Calligraphy’ by the brilliant Sheila Waters. ‘Calligraphy’ by Gaye Godfrey-Nicholls was published this year, a very good book for beginners. Any of ‘The Speedball Textbook’ series are also inexpensive sources of information and inspiration.

The key to producing beautiful calligraphy is perseverance. Progress comes through focused and sustained study and practice. You will only persevere if you enjoy what you’re doing. For this reason I’d personally suggest starting with a calligraphy style you particularly like the look of. When you have a reasonable grasp of that style you will notice many of the skills are transferable to other styles.

I feel so lucky to have found what Hermann Zapf described as “this peaceful and noble art”. My working process as a designer and artist has evolved into a hybrid style blending my knowledge of both traditional and digital tools. I think this is a great way to work and as a result I feel I am becoming a better designer and artist every day, which makes me very happy. So if you want to try calligraphy just have fun. Don’t be discouraged by early failures, there will be many of those. However, I can say with some authority that success is built on failure.

Above image: Some recommended tools: From top to bottom: Nikko G nib with oblique pen holder, Copic Wide Extra Broad, Automatic Pen, Kuretake Brush Pen, Pilot Parallel Pen, Manuscript Italic Fountain Pen, Tombow ABT Brush Pen, Ruling Pen.

See more of Seb’s fantastic work on: Tumblr and Seblester.co.uk

A for Art

A logo for the Philadelphia Museum of Art has has been designed by Pentagram’s Paula Scher.

Aiming to put ‘art’ front and centre, it features a flexible initial A that can customised to show off the museum’s collection of 227,000 items. The Museum’s typeface Avenir is customized for the new configuration.

The identity overhaul coincides with the unveiling of plans for a renewal and expansion of the Museum by architect Frank Gehry.

Embrace the wobble

In this, the second of our guest posts, Ged Palmer, designer, letterer and burgeoning sign painter, reminds us of how wide the pool of inspirational lettering is… 

Good typography is all about clean lines, smooth curves and harmony, right? Well, for the most part I subscribe to that philosophy whole-heartedly. I mean you only have to see Herman Zapf drawing curves to agree with that! Then again, these days I find myself more and more attracted to the weird and wonderful world of vernacular typography and lettering. I’m talking about the type of design that’s not made by designers: wonky signs, yard sale posters, janky tags and sketchy handwriting. Things that are made by hand are imperfect and that human quality is what gives it life, as Margaret Kilgallen once eloquently put.

So whilst we strive to make our work as beautiful and well polished as we can, let’s take a moment to embrace the wobbles, the drips, the busted-up, the forgotten and the downtrodden. 

Recently the Type Worship blog reached a milestone of 150,000 followers. To mark the occasion we have invited a selection of creative leaders to guest blog on the subject of their choice. In the first of these posts, Rob Clarke describes a pivotal time in his education that led to his career in lettering and typography, and offers his advice to aspiring designers.

Why a career in type?

I’m often asked why I got into such a niche career as typography. Back in my student days there weren’t many opportunities or information on a career in type design or lettering. I didn’t even think you could make a living purely out of playing around with type. In the early 90s I studied an ordinary graphic design degree course and loved the work of many contemporary designers of that time including Neville Brody, David Carson, Jonathan Barnbrook, Emigre, Why Not and 8vo. However it was Erik Spiekermann who really caught my attention. He had recently co-founded FontShop and was proving an inspirational speaker. 

With Brody at the helm FontShop developed ‘the magazine for the future’ entitled Fuse. In each issue four designers were commissioned to create a font and poster based on a theme. The designs rejoiced in pushing the boundaries of legibility and creativity. It was this experimentation with type that I found most inspiring at that time. I only have a couple of Fuse issues but now I wish I’d bought them all.

I had the pleasure of meeting Erik in his MetaDesign studio in Berlin in December 1992. I was hungry to learn and this short visit would prove incredibly important to my future career decisions. At this time MetaDesign were working extensively with Berlin Transport Services (BVG). I was lead through the process of designing fonts and bespoke type in order to suit the needs of a particular project. I was also given a copy of Erik’s book entitled ‘Rhyme and Reason – A typographic Novel’ – a light-hearted look into the world of type and well worth a read if you can get your hands on a rare copy.

Berlin Map Sketch
 
When I met Erik, 1992

The revelation of my trip, however, was being introduced to an emerging East Berlin design collective called Grappa. They were originally established in 1987 and were pioneers of the Mac – embracing both its capabilities and limitations. Prolific poster designers for dance, theatre and music, I found their work so expressive and engaging. With a minimal and inventive style they created an unpredictable relationship between type and image. They were not traditional typographers and went with their gut instinct. Co-founder Andreas Trogisch told me they wanted their work to stay fresh and experimental. Their supplies were limited and budgets low therefore creativity was essential. Andreas was both warm and passionate and continues to champion freedom in design today. Grappa became Blotto in 2002 and recently Andreas left to form Troppo.

Andreas Trogisch talking through his process 1992
 
Grappa1
 
Grappa2

Meeting these guys had a lasting effect on me and I couldn’t help but be hugely inspired. To see how they worked in the real world and getting physically involved proved to be the real inspiration. I based my thesis on the emerging graphic design scene in Berlin and it heavily influenced how I would look at and treat type in the future. I still had no idea that I would end up concentrating purely on type and it wasn’t until I got my first job alongside a calligrapher that my education really started.

My advice for students/aspiring designers today: If you don’t ask you don’t get. It’s all too easy to send a generic email to a designer you admire, in the hope of receiving some magical inspiration. You have to dig a little deeper than this. Without becoming a stalker, try and meet your idols – go to as many talks as possible, you may bump into them in the pub afterwards. If this isn’t possible look at websites, like Dribbble, I’ve found this a great place to get feedback and virtually rub shoulders with all levels of designer.

We all had to start somewhere and my experience is that us designers aren’t a bad bunch and most are willing to help. 

Image Credits:
Above from top left: Neville BrodyJonathan Barnbrook, EmigreTypography Now2 (Why Not Associates), Fuse Packaging, Fuse poster by Neville Brody.
Images 7-10 & 12: Rob Clarke, December 1992, aged 21.
Image 11 Eye Magazine Winter, 1991

Something Wonderful in the post

Martina Flor, based in Berlin, is embarking on a charming side project to design and send around 100 lettered postcards to people she likes, loves, knows or wants to get in touch with around the world. Each will be entirely made, written and sent by her over a period of time.

Her dedicated blog, Letter Collections, documents the postcard design and receiver. I’ve picked a few of my favourites above. I’ll keep you posted if I’m lucky enough to receive one!

You maybe remember Martina’s work as part of last year’s Lettering vs. Calligraphy project and exhibition. You can see more of Martina’s work on her Tumblr.

Posters at Reading

Following on from the Type Design course (TDi) course I attended at Reading University last year, I’ve returned to learn more about type design and the industry. If you like to know more about the intensive summer course take a look at my daily diary from last year.

Meanwhile here are some of the cool posters I’ve spotted around the faculty. Top by Jamie Wieck, bottom right, specimen of MATD 2013 graduates.

The nail in the ampersand

How’s this for an opulent piece of typographic art. I’ll admit that I can’t quite decipher the meaning of it, the semiotics are a little over my head. Any suggestions?


New York’s political magazine The New Republic approached me to design a trademark ampersand for them. I accepted and created this mighty marble-and-gold rendition of a snake nailed to a sinking skull, coiling into the “Amperxandt” form. A lot of symbolism going on here.
High-res

The nail in the ampersand

How’s this for an opulent piece of typographic art. I’ll admit that I can’t quite decipher the meaning of it, the semiotics are a little over my head.
Any suggestions?

New York’s political magazine The New Republic approached me to design a trademark ampersand for them. I accepted and created this mighty marble-and-gold rendition of a snake nailed to a sinking skull, coiling into the “Amperxandt” form. A lot of symbolism going on here.

via londondesignz:

More from No Straight Lines.

Following my recent post showcasing the ‘No Straight Lines’ exhibit that formed part of the Alchemy Festival, here’s a few more examples that were on display. This time the glyphs derive from the Roman character set, but the forms are more delicate and exhibit organic elements. Quite a contrast to the Geometric San Serif qualities of the letters based on a hybrid of the Sinhala and Tamil writing systems.

There’s more detail on the work in general at dropr.com/aodgraphicdesign, while a summary of No Straight Lines can be found on the South Bank Centre’s website.

36 days of type

I noticed this open project over on Instagram recently, organised by Alejandro López Becerro. There’s a huge variety of characters to look through including just these 3D designs by Alejandro himself. 

While the main letters were going up in April/May the project still seems quite active. Search on Instagram #36daysOfType and #36days_<glyph name>.

Lace Lettering Magazine Cover
You may have seen a few past posts about the lettering stitchwork of the twin designers Maricor &amp; Maricar. Here is one of their recent projects. I can’t think of a more perfect evolution of the textile twins’ work.

We embroidered lettering for the cover of French magazine Paulette and their Romantique issue. The mood board we were given was lace, white and Virgin Suicides. It was tricky knowing the type would appear against a very light airy image and the first time we&#8217;ve had to composite our embroidery onto a photographic image but it turned out well I think.

via type-lover High-res

Lace Lettering Magazine Cover

You may have seen a few past posts about the lettering stitchwork of the twin designers Maricor & Maricar. Here is one of their recent projects. I can’t think of a more perfect evolution of the textile twins’ work.

We embroidered lettering for the cover of French magazine Paulette and their Romantique issue. The mood board we were given was lace, white and Virgin Suicides. It was tricky knowing the type would appear against a very light airy image and the first time we’ve had to composite our embroidery onto a photographic image but it turned out well I think.

via type-lover