Remembrances in Writing

As we all know, 2016 has been off to a rough start, with the deaths of two people who have affected a lot of us more than we might be able to acknowledge. It certainly didn’t help that no one saw either one coming.

Alan Rickman and David Bowie both carved out places for themselves in their arts, and as I look back at the movies and music that helped to make me who I am, I see both of them. So when they passed, I knew I had to do something.

So I did.

I’m a little too old for Rickman’s Snape to have lodged himself in my psyche, but that one word – “Always” – as his past and his history were revealed to us carried so much power and meaning that I couldn’t leave it out. The line from GalaxyQuest is one of my favorites from the whole movie. Not just because of what is said, but because of what is not said – the struggle for this actor to not just collapse in a pile of self-loathing is visible with every muscle on Rickman’s face:

As for the line from Dogma, he was able to make Metatron go from flippant to deep within moments, and seemed to really enjoy the portrayal of someone so utterly human, despite being an angel.

The first one I did was the line from “Space Oddity,” and that was probably because – like many other people online – it was one of the first to pop into my mind. I used FineTec blue to write it, and that’s stuff that I’m still getting the hang of. I may do that line again at some point. In the same way, I think I may re-do the line from “Memory of a Free Festival” – the “The” is just kind of… there. It might look better if I include it with “Sun Machine”, which I think turned out really well. And that’s it, really – the rest of it makes me happy. Good colors, good scripts. I can make it work.

The line from “Let’s Dance” was done quickly, but it worked out. Quite a dark vibe that song has, I think.

Finally, the “Starman” refrain took a few days and several tries to get right. This is another that was being passed around the internet (and the Instagram calligraphy circles) pretty quickly after Bowie died, so I wanted to make sure it looked the way I wanted it to. And, in the end, it did. I tried to make the blue an Electric Blue, in honor of “Sound and Vision,” but I don’t know that the gouache available to me was going to make that possible. The Starman itself is a mix of yellow and gold gouaches, and looks very nice in person. As for the dots along the bottom, they’re for the “morse code” that comes before the chorus in the song. I knew I wanted to represent that, but it took some puzzling out to figure out how.

And that’s all I can really do. It’s hard to explain, sometimes, why the deaths of people you had never met and never really known can have an impact like this. All I can say is that they were, through no choice of their own, part of my life. Because of that, I feel like I can’t let their passing go unnoticed and their influence go unacknowledged. This is what I can do, and so it is done.

It’s all in the Versals

I thought today I’d talk about Versals. Why? Well, why not?

If you’ve ever seen something like a Medieval manuscript (and who hasn’t right?), you’ve seen versals – they’re the giant, ornately illustrated capital letter at the beginning of a passage. Here are a few examples:


They’re a great way to add a little flourish and flair to your piece, but they can be a little tricky. Here are a few of mine, with some thoughts about how I worked them out.

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Angels and Demons

I do sometimes enjoy organized lists of things, and I’ve had these in my Evernote for a while now.

So there’s the Kabbalah, a Jewish mystical tradition, to which I was introduced through Alan Moore’s utterly amazing series Promethea. One large part of it is the organization of the spiritual world through a “Tree of Life” known as the Sephiroth which depicts the ten celestial spheres which surpass this poor, mortal world. Within the Kabbalistic traditions, each of these ten worlds is highly detailed in many ways, and each one is governed by an angel. So I decided to write them out.

Angel 01 - Metatron Angel 02 - Raziel Angel 03 - Tzaphkiel Angel 04 - Tzadquiel Angel 05 - Kamael Angel 06 - Raphael Angel 07 - Haniel Angel 08 - Michael Angel 09 - Gabriel Angel 10 - Sandalphon


Now because the Kabbalah is big on organization, it should go without saying that where there is a map of God’s creation of the spiritual universe, there must also be the opposite – a shadow map of sorts that describes the inverse of what God wants for Creation. Enter the Qliphoth – the Tree of Husks which represent our obstacles to God, and each of these ten worlds is ruled by a demon. So I wrote those out as well…

Demon 01 - Satan Demon 02 - Beelzebub Demon 03 - Lucifuge Demon 04 - Astaroth Demon 05 - Asmodeus Demon 06 - Belphegor Demon 07 - Baal Demon 08 - Adramelech Demon 09 - Lilith Demon 10 - Nehema


So there we go – some interesting names and titles and a whole metaphysical universal superstructure barely appreciated even a bit. I fully expect to see some annoyed people in the comments, so remember – it’s all in fun. Enjoy!

Here Come the Tautograms!

No, it’s not some kind of new-wave European boy band – although perhaps it should be. A tautogram is a sentence where each word starts with the same letter. Think of it as extreme alliteration, if you like.

While these may not have a lot of practical use, they’re certainly good for calligraphy practice. During the HandwrittenABC challenge over on Instagram, I used them to practice the various letter forms. Some of them turned out well, others… not so much. Here’s a few of my favorites, in a variety of scripts:

Damn you, aardvarks!
Damn you, aardvarks!

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Ten Days of Firefly

I can always use a good project to do, and so I set myself the task of doing ten days of quotes from Firefly. It was good fun, and a little more challenging than I expected. Some characters – Mal, Jayne, Wash – have lots of great one-liners. Others, like Inara and Zoe, are pretty much the straight men and set up others’s great lines. River, Simon, and Book generally require more context.

It was good fun, though, and I got some good ones done. Take a look!

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Calligraphy Bootcamp

Over on Instagram, the calligrapher Judy G has started hosting the Calligraphy Boot Camp – a chance to go back to basics and revisit the fundamentals of Copperplate. It stretches over a week and is a really nice way to make sure you know what you’re doing.

Day 1 – m. n. i. u

Calligraphy Bootcamp - u Calligraphy Bootcamp - i Calligraphy Bootcamp - m Calligraphy Bootcamp - n

These are the letters you need for that magic calligraphy word, minimum. Fairly simple, to the point. These aren’t bad, although the cutoffs could be squarer.

Day 2 – w, v, r, x

Calligraphy Bootcamp - r Calligraphy Bootcamp - v Calligraphy Bootcamp - w Calligraphy Bootcamp - x 1 Calligraphy Bootcamp - x 2

I did x a couple of times, as there are a couple of ways to do it. The Copperplate version (the one that looks like two cs stuck back to back) versus the Spencerian version is a tough choice do make.

Day 3 – c, e, o, a, s

Calligraphy Bootcamp - s Calligraphy Bootcamp - a Calligraphy Bootcamp - c Calligraphy Bootcamp - e Calligraphy Bootcamp - o

Oh, the ovals – the ovals! Ovals are so very important, and I’ll need to do more practice with them.

Day 4 – d, t, p

Calligraphy Bootcamp - t Calligraphy Bootcamp - d Calligraphy Bootcamp - p

This was not my best day. The t was too low and the d was too high. The p seemed okay, though.

Day 5 – l, b, h, k, f

Calligraphy Bootcamp - h Calligraphy Bootcamp - k Calligraphy Bootcamp - l Calligraphy Bootcamp - b Calligraphy Bootcamp - f

Oh, those upper loops – those upper loops! The light touch on the upstroke is tough to maintain, as is the long stroke downwards. Everything, basically.

Day 6 – j, y, g, q, z

Calligraphy Bootcamp - y Calligraphy Bootcamp - z Calligraphy Bootcamp - g Calligraphy Bootcamp - j Calligraphy Bootcamp - q

Finally, on the last day, I think I’m getting the hang of it. It might have helped that I was using a Zebra G nib, which is a little more forgiving of my heavy-handed ways, than a Leonardt EF Principle, which, well, isn’t.

Anyway, that was the Copperplate Calligraphy Boot Camp, illustrating one of the fundamental truths of any creative hobby: sometimes you have to go back to basics, just so you remember how it’s all done. Next up will probably be Copperplate Capitals, which will be an interesting adventure all in itself. See you then!

The Great Nib Test 2015

Yes, every test has to be Great. Why do you ask?

Inspired by an exchange I had over on Reddit about improvements I could make on my Copperplate, I thought it was high time to do a pointed nib test. The purpose of this was severalfold:

  1. To see if I could make those square cutoffs that are so important to making pretty Copperplate.
  2. To see how far I could take a loaded-up nib.
  3. To practice using my whole arm to pull the nib back, rather than just my hand.
  4. To give me something to entertain myself on a Sunday afternoon.

Each test was done on a small Rhodia pad, with walnut ink reconstituted from crystals, and each line came from a fully-loaded nib. The oblique penholder is from Unique Obliques. Terribly scientific, I know.

Let’s get to the results!

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