A selection of students' work  .

A selection of  work – traditional and experimental -by students at Surval, Switzerland

Running workshops on calligraphy and handwriting skills in schools is something I have done quite a bit of in the last few months.  My recent trip to teach at Surval Montreux ,an International School , with spectacular views overlooking Lake Geneva in Switzerland,  was a particular highlight – in all senses of the word !

The cream building, top right, is the international school where I was teaching in Switzerland

The cream coloured building, top right, is the international school where I was teaching in Switzerland

I had previously completed a commission for the entrance hall of the new school and I was thrilled to be invited to visit and have the opportunity to teach pupils from all over the world. The sessions took place over three days, giving me time to work with different age groups and deliver a variety of activities. The participants engaged well, despite the jet lag (and unfamiliar surroundings for some new pupils ) . I loved their enthusiasm and ability to slow down , absorb and apply the techniques to be able to create something they were really proud of . I am hopeful that some of them may develop a real interest in lettering arts and spread the word within their own families and cultures .

Work by students after just two hours

Work by students after just two hours

(More information on the workshops can be found in the school website link above .)

A while back I bumped into an ex school pupil I had taught about 20 years previously. I was heartened by her comment that she still had good handwriting.

Teaching youngsters can be challenging but knowing that there is a possibility that you might make a  difference in their lives by sparking an interest or helping them develop life long skills makes it very worthwhile.

 

 

 

ruling pen and black ink

ruling pen and black ink

Before and after samples from a student on the handwriting improvement course

Before and after samples of handwriting 

This title is part of a recent commission I undertook for a jazz composer who will be performing in London during the Jazz Festival. The composer wanted something designed and executed by hand to reflect the style and message of his music. Something he felt a typeface couldn’t easily achieve.

Similarly , I have recently been teaching a group of employees of a well known retailer to be able to adapt their own handwriting  to create a more stylish and sophisticated look. Why ? Because management were of the opinion that a printed note to a customer does not reflect the ethos of their company which prides itself on attention to detail and customer care. In their opinion a well crafted handwritten letter would express just that.

When I teach handwriting improvement courses for adults, I often receive the same message from participants. Many wish to relearn and develop their handwriting skills to be able to send letters and notes that more accurately reflect their personalities and express a more meaningful and heartfelt message. Some wish to improve to indicate a higher standard of professionalism at work whilst others wish to recapture the enjoyment of the writing process and be able to communicate this to others with confidence.

Before and after samples from a participant in the 6 week Idler Academy  handwriting improvement course

Before and after samples from a participant on the 6 week Idler Academy handwriting improvement course

Whatever their reasons, it is clear that writing by hand can provide a very different  visual message to an effortlessly typed note on the computer. A recent report on scientific findings , published in New York Times also emphasises the proven benefits of writing by hand, including creative thinking.

To quote the article:“It is not just what we write that matters but how “ . Whether it is handwriting , formal presentation calligraphy and lettering or more informal personal calligraphy,  I totally agree !

 

" Now", quote from  E. Tolle . Dripped acrylic paint and contrasting text using gouache paint .

” Now”, quote from E. Tolle . Dripped acrylic paint and contrasting text using gouache paint .

 

“Splashes, wisps and fragments” is the title of a group exhibition organised by EFO artists. I have a number of pieces on show which grew out of my experimentation at V&A with dripped acrylic letters on canvas and board.

This Jackson Pollock style lettering requires a good understanding of the media you are using to create exactly  the effect you want  and calls on internalised movement and muscle memory  to create the forms. This gives the letters a controlled freedom.

I was interested to see that this Jackson Pollock style technique was being explored enthusiastically by students at the CLAS festival of calligraphy  in Malvern this Summer. Tutor Massimo Pollelo gave his class  gloss paint  to drip letters and contrasted this with  formal brush lettering to make striking page designs.

What a great week that was. I taught two workshops . The first was all about designing drawn alphabets using (sometimes very quirky) lettering on objects at V&A for inspiration. A tough call, but everyone rose to the challenge and each participant produced  well resolved and distinctive forms.  My second session explored  modern gilding techniques and materials. By the end of the workshop they too had produced some individual pieces with confidence. Here is a small selection of the fantastically varied letter designs.

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Fan book by Marie Jeanne

Fan book by Marie Jeanne

I am returned from Belgium and before I go to the CLAS Festival in Malvern today (to teach for a further week) I am posting some of the results of my recent design workshop  that so many of you on Facebook have commented on .

The art , which inspired their work, is shown in the pictures .More  pieces can be see on this Facebook page .

I was delighted by the way the students, ranging from near beginners to teachers , put a lot of effort , skill and enthusiasm into this challenging course . The aim was not simply to produce a furnished piece but to explore the design process ; to ” look, think and do” . They  analysed different colour palettes (and why they work in a design), the quality of line ( to suggest letterforms or tools to use ), surface decoration and layout by studying postcards and photographs of modern art and artefacts from V&A.

Design by Ingrid (unfinished )

Design by Ingrid (unfinished )

They discovered a little bit about their aesthetic preferences  and how best to marry text and image whilst increasing their visual vocabulary . A lot to achieve  – but they did work day and night !

 

Ironwork sculpture created by Agnes Jones and designed by me using drawn letters .

Ironwork sculpture created by Agnes Jones and designed by me using drawn letters .

Here are some images of recent work shown at the open house exhibition. It was a great success with plenty of visitors and a number of sales.

It transpired that all four of us exhibitors had a common theme running through our work .

"Solid Air", an interpretation of the John Martyn song using a design with a flowing script . Created by Agnes Jones .

“Solid Air”, an interpretation of the John Martyn song using a design with a flowing script . Created by Agnes Jones .

We created meaning and expression through layering. For Kate, the glass sculptor, she used materials within her torso forms  to  explore the theme of DNA. For Adam , the photographer , he was looking at visual memory through multi layered images and for Ellie , the print maker, she was successfully  capturing atmosphere within her sea and landscapes through layering techniques. To see their work, have a look at the EFO website .

With many of my pieces, textures and layers created with lettering and colour and the play of light on gold or paper surfaces provide visual depth and help viewers explore the messages within them.

A corner of my exhibition space at open house, East Finchley, London .

A corner of my exhibition space at open house, East Finchley, London .

 

Detail of quotation by Gandi .  Gold and metal leaves , gouache and trocol bronze powder.

Detail of quotation by Gandhi .
Gold and metal leaf, gouache and trocol bronze powder.

I am pleased to announce that an exhibition of my work has just been set up and will be on show from tomorrow, 12th July , in North London , N2. I am participating in the  East Finchley Open  which takes place over two weekends

This annual event invites the public to visit  “open houses” in the area to view work by members of EFO , a group of  local artists and crafts people . It is a wonderful way to engage and inform the public, spend time with other exhibitors and have the opportunity to sell originals, cards and prints.

D H Lawrence quotation

D H Lawrence quotation (before gilding)

I have been working  on new designs , such as the detail shown here , and developing some pieces that had their origins at my V&A studio . It has been really rewarding  having time to revisit and build on this work.

Metalwork features too (another V&A influence) , with framed brass plate etchings and lettering designs transformed into small iron work sculptures by blacksmith Agnes Jones .

More images to follow of the venue and my work .

 

 

Calligraphy has taken me to The Cotswolds , Kent, West Sussex and Scotland in the last couple of months . This has involved  plenty of teaching , some fascinating research and much discussion about lettering. One theme that emerged was the value of the interaction and exchange of ideas to the development of one’s working practice .

Le Livre de l'Ecclesiaste , 1602 inscribed by Esther Inglis

Le Livre de l’Ecclesiaste , 1602 inscribed by Esther Inglis

I belong to a small group of professional calligraphers who meet annually to share what we have been working on, reading and researching. The group  established a lasting  bond during the three year SSI Advanced Training Scheme  that we all followed . This was around 15 years ago . (I now teach on this scheme).

We met in Edinburgh this year, at the home of group member Susie Leiper . Some of her larger pieces of work are hung in a brand new gallery space installed in her basement .

 

Susie Leiper's gallery in her home in Edinburgh

Susie Leiper discussing her work with our group 

During our stay we spent an afternoon at the National Library of Scotland studying manuscripts. All bar one were written by women . They included work by Esther Inglis, the letters of Mary Queen of Scots to her mother , early Gaelic fragments , an illustrated  20th century  travel journal and the illuminated manuscripts on vellum (all self taught) by  Phoebe Anna Traquair .

Detail of wall painting by Traquair

Detail of wall painting by Traquair

An Arts and Crafts movement artist , Traquair , belonged to artistic and literary circles in Scotland and had access to museums through her  husband who was a palaeontologist. Brought up in Dublin she was fascinated by The Book of Kells.  She was  a friend of JM Barrie and William Morris. All major influences in her artistic development. Like Morris she practiced  a variety of craft skills to a high standard and her output was prolific. A converted church near Susie’s home displays striking wall and ceiling paintings by Traquair which took her many years to complete.

In contrast we also saw some contemporary art including a thought provoking exhibition by Louise Bourgeois. Influenced by psychoanalytical thinking of the time , many of her sculptures and paintings expressed her inner thoughts and feelings. Her creative relationship with her studio assistant was also explored. Not surprisingly  many pieces contained lettering.

A simple mantra from the artist

A simple message by Louise Bourgeois

Following a really positive weekend, teaching first years on the SSI Advanced Training Scheme, I began to reflect on the impact of space and light on our working practice. We were at a conference centre in a beautiful rural setting with uninterrupted views of the Cotswold countryside.Did it contribute to the widening of horizons in our creative thinking ? It certainly felt like it .

Moving Forward . Gravity lettering layers on rollered background.

Moving Forward- created at V&A; non contact lettering using dripped acrylic paint and gestures using the body on canvas

In my personal work my horizons were expanded by being in a huge studio at the V&A. It enabled me to pursue new areas of research, try out techniques and materials , work on a larger scale and push the boundaries of conventional calligraphy. However, the shrinking of output and scale of work  when I finished my Residency , due mainly to space issues, prompted me to set up a second work space in my home .

View of one area of my V&A studio

My original loft studio , looking out onto gardens and allotments, is now my  contemplative space for drawing, planning, research and my calligraphy and gilding.

loft studio

View of part of my loft studio

My bright new workshop, on the other hand , is ideal for anything large or messy. Perfect for my acid etching and  canvasses and acrylics. It is a great space for teaching too . I am now running regular adult handwriting improvement classes and calligraphy sessions in the studio.

Having two dedicated work spaces has provided me with a wonderful freedom to expand my creative practice

Second studio

The new studio during a workshop

 

In the past 7 days  I have run a one day workshop, 2 half day workshops and 4 different evening sessions teaching  handwriting or calligraphy with adults and taught regular handwriting lessons with children.  Not every week is as full but much of my time this year has been taken up with a variety of  interesting and sometimes challenging teaching commitments . V&A workshop , work in progress by Win

The first, which I have spoken about in a previous post, was my V&A workshop. We studied the work of writing masters first hand from the National Art Library archives  and used specific models from the Spanish calligrapher Francisco Lucas’s  rotunda style lettering (Redondilla). This was used as a basis for developing a script to use within a collaged design. 

My next participants were school children. My challenge was to inspire pupils from the ages of 7-11 to improve their writing. With only short sessions in each class I created ways (including standing action games) to focus attention on aspects of writing such as the scale and proportion of letters. The oldest children, however, were given a treat of trying out copperplate lettering with dip pens and ink. Messy but fun.

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My next three workshops were simpler to prepare as they have been tried and tested before.  One was for an enthusiastic group at Idler Academy on Italic scripts.  The other two were  for regional calligraphy groups  on two of my favourite teaching topics: developing an original script and using words as patterns. The results were most impressive! The  images below are by members of North London Lettering Association.Summer by Sue M

Two recent workshops were  particularly  challenging.  The first took place at Idler Academy. I had three hours in total to introduce beginners to calligraphy. Using dip pens and ink they were able to write an uncial script  with confidence by the end of the session. I repeated this with another group in the afternoon and they too did really well .

The second three hour workshop was organised by How To AcademyI  taught a group of adults about the process of how to develop more stylish handwriting . I chose an italic form as my model and gave them strategies and techniques  to be able to practice and progress

NLLA workshop

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A recent trip to Marrakech highlighted the importance placed on the art of calligraphy in Arabic culture.

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How common would it be, when visiting a guest house in UK , to find a framed reproduction of an illuminated manuscript  on the wall of your bedroom and a calligram of a tiger and an antique inscribed wooden tablet on display in the lounge ?  This is what I found  in the small Riad I stayed in . I  saw further examples in cafes and restaurants.

How often, when shopping in a small coastal town in UK,  would you come across a number of small independent shops dedicated solely to selling and demonstrating calligraphy ? This is what I found, to my delight, in Essaouira . The scribes were proud to show me they could turn their hand to Western scripts too.

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Some fine examples of  lettering  could be found on architecture, as expected . This one, from the Bahai Palace, shows two styles. Beneath the carved lettering on the pillar is an embellished. less formal script.

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