Learning a New Script – Book of Kells

I thought it might be fun to walk everyone (crickets) through how I go about learning a new script – specifically a historical one from a specific source. In this case, it was the famous Book of Kells, an Irish manuscript of the four Gospels, currently located in Trinity College Dublin.

Now, one option is to get your tactical black turtleneck on, put your infiltration gear together and break into the College library. I would recommend the west skylights – they haven’t replaced the wiring for the alarms for quite a while and they’re unreliable at best. Rappel down quietly – quietly – and use your mirror array to deflect the lasers surrounding the Kells display. At this point, your diversion should happen – a small dry ice and water explosion set off by one of the neighborhood teens that you paid off in weed and beer, perhaps – which will allow you to break the case and take the book. Remember to carefully replace it with a bag of sand that you brought with you, so as not to set off the weight detectors.

I leave the escape from the building as an exercise for the reader.

Or, if that’s too much trouble, you can go to the Trinity College website, where they have the whole thing digitized in high resolution. If you’re lazy, that is. Here’s the page I eventually ended up working from:

Book of Kells - Page 292v

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The Importance of Exemplars

One phrase that I keep seeing used in regards to learning calligraphy is “Study as much as you practice.” To be honest, that’s tough for me. One of the things I enjoy about doing calligraphy is making something – having a pretty thing exist where there wasn’t a pretty thing before, and frankly a few pages of repeated letters and practice strokes doesn’t scratch that itch.

But that’s my hang-up to get past, because it’s still important to look at excellent examples of what you want to do and emulate that to the best of your ability. Over on Reddit, we’re beginning a weekly study session wherein we take a look at an exemplar alphabet and then do our best to copy it. So far this month we’ve been working off of this one, by Claude MediavillaMediavilla

The idea is to take a close look at the exemplar and see how he made each letter. You can see in the lower-case letters how there are a lot of repeated patterns, strokes that go into making more than one letter. In the upper-case this is less common, but you can still see some strokes being re-used over again.

It’s going to be hard to get these exact, but we can at least try:

Quadrata Practice 01 Quadrata Practice 2

As you can see, it got a little messy. This was my second shot at it, by the way. Not only did I learn more about Textura Quadrata, I also learned that your walnut ink doesn’t have to be thick and deep brown. In fact, it’s probably better if it isn’t. Anyway, this is a decent emulation, I think. There are hiccups – the letter s, small or large, is not my friend. And I don’t think I’ll ever use that wonky k or the long s. I did have someone call my Q “rock star,” so I have that going for me.

Since we started with this, I’ve been trying to use this variant of Quadrata as much as possible, and it’s working well for me, I think. So there you have it – study pays off. Who knew?

Do you have a favorite exemplar for your calligraphy? Share in the comments and let’s all give it a whirl!

What to do, what to do…

One of the occasional stumbling blocks of working on calligraphy is the issue of source material. Now if you’re a naturally poetic person, you can come up with all your own words – and gods love you if you do. But some of us need help, so here are a few places to go if you need things to write down.

I’ll start on Reddit, because I get so much material from there. First of all, if you’re not on /r/calligraphy then you should most certainly join. It’s a good place to meet others at a variety of skill levels and there is a regular Word of the Day and Quote of the Week for you to use as practice material. If you need more to practice with, I usually go to either /r/logophilia or /r/wordoftheday and start plowing through the listings. Off that site, you can go to places like Luciferous Logolepsy or The Phrontistery and take some interesting words from there.

If quotations are your thing, Wikiquote is an endless source of material to work from, as are Brainyquote and Goodreads.

Pinterest also has a lot of good inspiration for calligraphy projects that you might be able to be inspired by. Want to practice your envelopes? Go to a fake name generator and go to town. Behind the Name has a wonderful random name generator if you want to work on your ornamental penmanship.

The point is that there is no end to the amount of resources available to you for inspiration when you need to practice. The doldrums can be unpleasant, so switch up what you’re doing – try a new script or a new resource and see what kind of creativity bubbles up.

As a bonus, here are a few of my resources for you:

Have great sites or other resources of your own to share? Let us know in the comments!