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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


Extract from Ghosts Passing, a novel by Emma Cameron

Extract from Ghosts Passing, a novel by Emma Cameron

What an incredible time I had last week preparing for and “performing”at an event at Keats Festival , “International voices with Parnassus Poets and Guests “, curated by London Literature Lounge and hosted by Anjan Saha . I have often demonstrated calligraphy for the public but this was a new departure where I interpreted the words of  writers and some of  the Parnassus poets as they read their work. My designs were then shown to the audience and displayed as I explained my creative processes and reasons for layout, colour and script.

Extract from a novel by Sangeeta Bhargava

Extract from a novel by Sangeeta Bhargava

A few days before the event I was sent copies of the readings and I admit to wondering if I had taken on too much of a challenge , as three page extracts from novels and many versed poems arrived in my inbox. I decided that I must develop a strategy for interpreting the 7 pieces. I gave myself 2 hours maximum to immerse myself in each piece, come up with extracts to write out and develop a design to the point where I could carry on with it to completion at the event.

Extracts from a poem by Anjan Saha , Justice /Just I/ Just Us , detail

Extracts from a poem by Anjan Saha , Justice /Just I/ Just Us , detail

So, unlike  usual calligraphic practice, I had to think quickly and instinctively  chosing appropriate paper, tools and scripts and  I let the  designs develop as I worked on them. Some were easier to respond to than others.  So, no ruling up, no time to rewrite , adjust and perfect. This was meant to be spontaneous , lively and ephemeral and I had to keep telling myself this -and still do -when I see a wobbly letter or ink blot ! By the time I had finished, my studio looked as though it had been hit by a tornado  -with paper, pens and paint absolutely everywhere . However, I had to keep some sense of organisation and carefully labelled each tool and mixture of paint that I used with the relevant name of the writer so that I could access them instantly on the night.

Extract from Towers, a short story by Karen Onojaife

Extract from Towers, a short story by Karen Onojaife

During the event it felt good to be familiar the words that were being spoken as I picked up a pen and worked on the designs in front of me. It was  also wonderful talking to the writers and audience afterwards. I had concerns that my interpretations of their the words may not have been in line with their own  but I was soon reassured and received the most enthusiastic responses from them.   I am now looking forward to seeing where this is going to lead me-more collaborations, exhibitions, multi media projects perhaps? …The discussions start next week when I have recovered !

Extracts from the poem, Taking the Medicine, by Ishaq Imruh Bakari

Extracts from the poem, Taking the Medicine, by Ishaq Imruh Bakari


FB poetrynotes1A few years back I was involved in the production of the Jane Campion film about the last years of John Keats` life and his love affair with Fanny Brawne. an envelope for the film Bright StarAs the calligraphy consultant for “Bright Star” I advised on appropriate writing tools and props, gave lessons on how to write in the style of the time and created many period documents and ephemera for use in the film. I learnt how to replicate the writing of Fanny Brawne from studying her original letters and notes and wrote it according to her task in hand. So,envelopes were very neat and flourished ; letters small and tidy and writing in notebooks was more informal. I also had to write on camera with my hand well out of the way for the sake of continuity !

Since then I have  exhibited my work inspired by Keats poetry and the film script at Keats House in nearby Hampstead (as part of the North london Lettering Association exhibition) and I loaned the museum some of my film props for display.

Last week I was back at the house again for a meeting as I am participating in this year`s Keats Festival  which is happening over the next couple of weeks. As well as running a calligraphy workshop I am also responding “live”to poetry readings at an event entitled: “International Voices with Parnassus Peots and guests”. Letters written for the film Bright StarIt promises to be an interesting evening.


The Society of Scribes and Illuminators held its Lay Members Day at Kings College, London this year . sketch books and small finished pieces on display  at LMDIt is always a highlight in the calendar for calligraphy enthusiasts in the UK. Members come from all parts of the country and we welcomed visitors from Finland and Sweden. During the morning there was time to admire calligraphy by members, see demonstrations and buy paper, books and equipment. In the afternoon we had a lecture by Ieuan Rees and heard feedback on the lay members exhibtion by Janet Mehigan .

LMD display of workThere was a wonderful and varied display of work by students who have recently completed the advanced training scheme . It was encouraging to see their  progress since I taught them in the first year. The pieces were eye catching and very individual.

This year, I had the opportunity to show my work too and was on hand to answer questions.text in ink on printed background collage On display were my sketch books ,experiments, sculptures and finished pieces that have developed out of my studies at the museum. I enjoyed explaining my working processes and showing people my scrap book with images of all the activites and events I have been involved in since my Residency began. These images show some of my work on display.

Handwriting classWell done to those dedicated students who came along to the Idler Academy every Tuesday for 8 weeks to take a course on  how to improve their handwriting.

Idler Academy , handwriting class  It was a real pleasure teaching such enthusiastic participants who put in a great deal of effort into re establishing their writing skills.

The aim was not to teach a specific style but to build on participants own writing and enable them to develop a style that suited them. They learned what to look for in creating neat, consistent writing and how to work towards achieving  it through group exercises, observation and plenty of practice.

Here are  samples of writing by the same student at the begining and end of the course and  two further examples to show what was achieved. I just wish I had room to show them all.Ian`s writing at the end of the courseIan`s writing at the start fo the course




The students are aiming to keep the momentum going by writing to each other and we will have a refresher session in the Summer. This course will be repeated later in the year. Next week I will begin teaching a new calligraphy course at the Idler.Jo`s writing on completion of the courseVineeta`s writing at the end of the course

Since exploring the continuous line in my lettering at V&A I have noticed a plethora of advertisements/ graphics featuring this sort of connected cursive text. The products that they are promoting range from an energy provider, a skating rink, music concerts, contraceptives and only today I noticed my sugar sachet had lettering as a moving line too!
This joined lettering has been with us since the invention of neon street signs. It is now familiar as text art too in galleries with neon displays by artists such as Bruce Nauman, Tracey Emin and Ian Hamilton Finlay.
chorus line
I have continued to explore the extreme cursive line in my lettering with a new design ready to be translated into an iron work sculpture. I am also working on an experimental book. The two examples here, relating to the word line, can be read if you study them closely.line up

Much of my time lately has been taken up with teaching commitments.  I have been helping children and adults with their handwriting and advised a talented young art student , interested in illustration, on how best to combine text and image. I spent last weekend at West Dean College and introduced calligraphy to a group of enthusiastic students there. frame

I have  begun teaching my first ever ” Improve your handwriting” course for adults at Idler Academy. That is going really well.  I am also teaching a professional development course for calligraphers on visual and museum studies. We are based at Kensington Palace and using V&A as our initial source of inspiration.

When introducing  both these courses I talked about how important it is to take time out to observe and absorb details of what we are looking at, whether it is studying letter shapes, looking at patterns on the pavement or exhibits in a museum. Most of us lead such frantic lives that it may only be on holiday that we take the time to try to absorb what we see and even this doesn`t always happen these days as we focus on capturing the moment with our camera.

I was telling the students that occasionally I imagine that I am on a tourist excursion or at a gallery whilst out walking the dog.  It helps me to see my surroundings afresh and find inspiration. Strangely, the day after I had been talking about this, I happened upon this frame hanging from a fence on a path I take almost daily !

FCM christmas card 1945

I am often asked what led me to to take up calligraphy.  One of my many early influences was my father.  I admired his copperplate style of writing which always looked neatFCM card 2b even when he used a yellow bic biro. He loved to sketch in pen and ink and I would read the names out as he inscribed sports certificates for schools.

This card, which is one of my treasured possessions, was created by my father in the 1940`s and sent to my mother during the war. On the inside he inscribed a poem telling of his sadness at being far from home and his optimism for the future. He also wrote this message here.

And now, over 65 years on,  I send this special greeting to you . Happy Christmas !

I was preoccupied by colour last week.

Keats, oil pastel and gold leaf I had a discussion with my class, about my observation that some students visibly relax when they change from writing in black to using colour. Why ? Is it that black reminds us of the perfection and uniformity of the printed word? does that create tension?  is it that the design choices that colour affords gives us more confidence in expressing the words more clearly?  Or is it about the evocative nature and qualities of colours ?Rembrandts studio

I had just spent a weekend in Amsterdam where I visited the Van Gogh collection and Impressionist exhibiton at The Hermitage. Van Gogh wrote that  “colour expresses something in itself” which is more than evident in his vibrant paintings.

I also spent time in Rembrandt`s House and explored another fascinating aspect of colour – the making of it. This is a photo of his painting studio.  I had a long chat with an artist there who very generously photocopied about 10 pages of notes on making tempera for my students.

The image at the top of the page is one of my brighter pieces which has a rainbow coloured oil pastel base with incised gold leaf.

Next term at Kensington Palace I will be teaching colour theory in depth .  I can`t wait.