Offhand flourishing lesson

In my long-term Spencerian lessons, we’ve covered all the letters of the alphabet by now and are on to the more advanced stuff. We just had our last lesson for 2013, and the focus was on flourishing. You want to talk about things that look effortless and turn out to be hard? We can talk about flourishing. The good stuff is a graceful, airy bit of pizazz. And then there’s what I do – leaden, sad, and hopelessly awkward. It’s just unnatural. I’ve known flourishing was coming, and I have been scared. Especially when your teacher spins out something like this in a few minutes, as if pulling this off would be way easier than picking up a notecard at the store:

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Basic flourishes are an integral part of Spencerian. It’s frilly. But hey! Spencerian offers up the magical world of offhand flourishing! Offhand flourishing is the ultimate decorative skill you can learn with a pointed pen. It’s daunting to look at a whole page of fanciful animals, feathers, floral sprays and swirls and think you’ll be able to figure out how to do it. Check out some of Jake Weidmann’s amazing work. Yeah… I’m supposed to be figuring out how to do that stuff.

Fortunately, it breaks down to rather simple elements you already know how to do, and the challenge is putting them together in one coherent whole. The little bits are the strokes I already know how to make for the most part, only more controlled, more precise. As it turns out, it’s a fabulous exercise to practice the pressure control on your pen without having to engage your mind in the business of letter-forms. After a few hours of sitting there doodling, we came to the conclusion that this is a splendid way to start practice sessions – very meditative.

20131118-174919.jpgThe big sprays and birds are super cool and very dramatic, but they’re not very practical for most applications. I’m a practical calligrapher, especially when it comes to how I plan to use Spencerian, which is for invitations, weddings, envelopes, and the like. Ain’t nobody got time to be making fancy turtle doves snuggling up on one of 200 envelopes…

So I got comfortable with something like this – extend some of the basic flourishes on the initial capital, then use that as a base to do something quick and small. Little floral things like this are quick. So are things that look like wheat, feathery things, and an underline that looks like a little pine bough.

Something tells me everyone is going to have very fancy tags on their Christmas presents this year…

 

Monoprinting

I take calligraphy lessons in one three hour intensive session a month. Inevitably, I do my homework diligently for the first couple of weeks, then kind of taper into not remembering to do it at all by the time my next lesson rolls around. To combat that – and the drudgery of doing lettering drills for an hour or more a day, every day – my teacher has asked me to start keeping an art journal where I cut out the best letters from my practices, make small free-form pieces, and generally experiment. Even if it is one more thing to do, it is a GOOD thing and one I should have been doing all along. Seeing your progress really does bolster and inspire you in your art.

To kick off the journal, we did a watercolor monoprint, let it dry, and wrote on it using a pencil. Pencil is actually a grand practice tool for pointed pen calligraphy since it lets you focus on just forms and keeping a light hand without having to think about ink, pressing, releasing, pen angle, and all that. You can go back through and draw in the thickened areas when you’re done. The monoprint I did was just a couple of colors smeared onto wet glass, covered in a sheet of watercolor paper. No big deal. It looks something like this when it’s done, and then I can letter on it, add layers, whatever. If I had wet the paper well first, the paint would have flowed and absorbed better, making each section far less distinct.

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Here’s another one I did in the same session with lettering on it. The paper was wet when I laid it down this time. The lines that are darker are because I ran them into the paper with a blunt object while everything was still really wet. I used the end of my paintbrush, but a reed pen works better. The surface is, in effect, bruised – the ink pools there, it’s darker. You can even scratch in words, almost like a watermark.

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Today, I was thinking about monoprinting, never having explored it before, and realized that there’s a lot of potential for putting layer on layer. In googling techniques, I found this:

 

Pretty cool, huh? His treatment of layers, of additive work and gentle building of texture really spoke to something in me. There’s such possibility in layering printed or decorated tissue over the print or layers of cellulose etched and treated to build a final scene. I’ve resisted making modern art for a very long time, preferring to press into the warm bosom of historical techniques and tools. But this? This is finally inspiring me in a way I haven’t been in a long time.