Alas, Poor Yorick…

Over on Reddit a week or so ago, there was a question about how long it would take to write out the entirety of Hamlet in calligraphy. A student wanted to know for an English project, and the general consensus was that it would take much, much too long and would probably not be nearly valuable enough in terms of the grade earned versus the time put in. We managed to talk the student down to a soliloquy-length piece.

Still, it got me thinking – how long would it take? I decided to give it a shot, and this is what the result was:

William Shakespeare - Hamlet

Overall, I think it turned out very nice. The versal is pretty much mine, and the trees come from the Wharncliffe Hours. I know – using a fifteenth-century illumination on lines from a seventeenth-century play? What kind of madness is that? But it fits the mood of the piece, and I like it.

In case you’re wondering, here’s how the stats worked out:

  • Eight lines, 76 words, 311 characters: 38 minutes

That’s about 7 seconds per character, about 30 seconds per word on average. There’s a few short pauses in there, re-dipping the pen, remembering to inhale, that sort of thing, but that’s my data.

Also, it took four tries to get through the whole thing without making a mistake, so I should add about another half hour or so for false starts, setting up a new page, etc. So just for fun, let’s call it a full hour – that feels short, but it’ll do:

  • 11.5 seconds per character, 47 seconds per word.

Let’s aim for somewhere in the middle: about 10 seconds per character (I get about 142,000 characters from the Gutenberg text)

Therefore, it should take me – writing continuously in italic with no breaks – 16.5 days of writing.

If I spend 8 hours a day writing, so that I can eat and do other things besides writing, it would take almost 50 days.

That would be quite the labor of love, to say the least. For now, I’ll stick to my short pieces.

Last Week’s Work

Since I’m really a beginning calligrapher, and don’t feel that I’m in a position to offer any real advice or tutorials just yet, I thought one thing I could do here is just show what I’ve been working on, comment on it, and see what kind of lessons we can all learn about what we’re doing here. So this should be my new weekly post, and if I have other things to talk about, I’ll fit them in as best I can.

Anyway, my usual work pattern with calligraphy is this: I do the Words of the Day and Quotes of the Week over on /r/calligraphy on Reddit, as that gives me at least one daily task to complete. Getting even that one thing done is better than getting nothing done. After that, I hit up my personal quotation archive and my Evernote note of Things to Calligraph and see what strikes me. If the mood is right, I’ll do a longer quote, or maybe a little practice or something like that. If I’m really cruising, I’ll have a more lng-term project to work on, but those are still rare. Most of what I do is done in an evening.

Without further ado, here are a few things I worked on this week.

From the upper left: Textura Quadrata, Fraktur, Italic, Foundational, Uncial, Romans, Engrosser’s

One important realization I made this week is that I have to change how I do my Word of the Day. Up until now, I’ve been using all the scripts I have on each Word, which is… tiring. So I figured that since I have seven scripts at my disposal, I’d do one of them per day. I hope this makes things a little simpler, and allows me to focus a little more on each one instead of hopping from one to another so that I can get the Word done.

That said, this is a good word, with lots of nice ascenders to play with. If I were the playing type, which it seems I’m not. Okay, that’s going on my list of Calligraphic Resolutions – “play more.” Done.

Quotation - PG Wodehouse

This was a Quote of the Week over on Reddit, and I chose to do it in Foundational just so I could have more practice with it. There are things in that script I’m still working on – the exit strokes on most letters, for example. I’ve seen some variants where it comes out in a strong hook, others where that exit stroke is subtle and a little understated. I’m still toying with it, to be honest.

I think this came out well in general, though. Some of the spacing is cramped – look at “beautiful” for example. The spacing of the vertical strokes from utiful especially should be equal, but they’re not. Regularity of spacing is key to doing pretty much any script well, and is probably a constant struggle for most calligraphers.

As for the quote itself, I heartily agree. Not only does it give you a point of familiarity to base a friendship on, as all friendships need, but it provides you with a wonderful shorthand for talking to each other. A quick literary reference can communicate so much so quickly. It makes things a lot easier, all told.

Quotation - The Jerk

I decided to watch The Jerk again, and it’s still a wonderful movie. The humor holds up really well, which isn’t something you can say about comedies over time. The above is the advice that young Navin gets from his adopted family as he goes out to seek his destiny, and honestly there is nothing more that needs to be said. Hard work is a virtue, people in power should not be trusted, and when you have a problem you should seek help for it. Boom. That’s life right there.

As for the script itself, it suffers from the same spacing issues as the Foundational – look at that poor apostrophe in Don’t, all squeezed in there. That’s because I put it in last, and reaped the unsurprising results. I think I’m a little better in italic than foundational, but to be honest, this was a hand that tasked me for a long while. And I still don’t think it’s as good as it should be.

The ink is J. Herbin’s Emerald of Chivor, which is an amazing ink. It’s a dark green, but it has red and blue in it, so that it dries to an amazing sheen. It also sticks around on your nib like a deadbeat relative, so a little extra cleaning is necessary once you’ve used it.

Quotation - Vogon Poetry

Oh, I’m so, so sorry you had to read this. I am, however, keeping this poem in my back pocket in case any of my lit students start to get cocky.

Once again, this was in foundational so that I could get more practice, because more practice is better. And while the spacing isn’t too bad in this one, it was a tough piece to finish, mainly because of the ink – De Atramentis Sahara Grey (which is green, dammit!) Over the course of the piece, the ink got harder to control – it felt slippery as I wrote, which probably means that the nib needed to be cleaned off fairly regularly as I wrote. I’ve seen this in a few fountain pen inks, actually, where they start off really nicely but get slippery and weird as you go. So that’s something to be aware of if you’re using fountain pen ink.

For practice I usually use either sumi ink or walnut ink that has been reconstituted from crystals. They behave much nicer, but from time to time I want color. Now I could use gouache, and I often have, but preparing and cleaning it up just feels like work.

So yeah, I’m lazy. That’s the takeaway here.

Quotation - Bob Ross

As you may or may not know, Twitch – a popular live gaming site – recently opened up a creative channel where people can basically host their own creative programs. They launched it by running the full series of Bob Ross’ “The Joy of Painting,” and the internet’s reaction was amazing. Earnestness and non-ironic passion are usually not popular on the irony-saturated internet, but I’ll be damned if the net doesn’t love Bob Ross. The response was so powerful that Twitch has decided to run a full season of the show every Monday night.

Why should this soft-spoken painter be so popular? Probably because he wanted people to enjoy creating something, and to find pleasure in the sheer act of making. Even if their paintings were never going to sell for a ton of money or hang in a museum, they could still look at it and say, “I did that. First there was no thing, then there was a thing, and I made it real.” That’s a powerful feeling, and it’s part of why I do calligraphy – in only a few minutes, and with a little patience and practice, I can make a Thing where there was no Thing.

So thanks, Bob.

Quotation - Habeeb Akande

This is done in the aforementioned walnut ink, which usually behaves very nicely, and in the Vespesian Uncial script. My uncial used to be different – closer to foundational, actually – until I found this variant. Now I do this.

It’s tougher, with that zero-degree pen angle, but the look is really nice when done well. I had to invent a w because there was none in the source document, and I still can’t get the proper n to look right. But I still like it.

And the sentiment is great as well. As a high school teacher, the problem of how students deal with each other is a big one, and one that can have life or death repercussions. There are always going to be those students who think that the best way to make themselves look good is to tear others down, and I hope we do everything we can to show them that’s not how civilized people behave. This one aphorism isn’t going to solve the problem, but it might help take the sting away a little.

That’s this week’s work. Any feedback or thoughts? Put ’em in the comments!

Riddle Me This…

I’ve always enjoyed riddles, probably since I read The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. There’s a key section in the fourth book where a psychotic monorail forces the protagonists to answer riddles in order to save their own lives. Classic evil AI strategy, really.

When I was teaching EFL I would sometimes use riddles on higher-level students to show creative uses of the language. It was good fun, really – for me at least.

So it should be no surprise that I would use riddles as calligraphy practice. Enjoy these!

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#riddles #calligraphy #Uncial

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Write All the Names!!

Yesterday I did a very silly thing – I posted on Facebook to see who would want their name done up all pretty-like from the people I know. I also asked them to pick a number from 1 to 6, which would (unbeknownst to them) determine the script that was used.

The response was great, and carried over into Sunday as well.


Some people chose their own names, or nicknames, or kids’ names, but I certainly had a lot to work with. In addition, it made me work more with all the scripts I have at my disposal, including the notoriously twitchy Romans. Lotsa Romans in there…

Anyway, it’s not something I would do every weekend, but it was good to try out.


Quotation – Jonathan Hule

I’ve always liked this quote. It has a very special truth to it.

Instagram - Jonatahn Hule


I’ll probably end up doing it again at some point, because there are some little spacing issues that nag at me. Someday, when I have the hang of proper spacing and proportions, it’ll look truly wonderful. I’m reasonably sure the ink is Private Reserve DC Supershow Blue, but it’s been a little while. I could be wrong.

2015 Calligraphic Resolutions

When you make resolutions, it’s good for them to be specific and achievable – something you can say either “Yes, I’ve done that” or “No, I haven’t done that.” So here are my resolutions with regards to calligraphy for this year. I’m limiting myself to five scripts – three that I consider myself not terribly incompetent at, and two that I’m really just starting. Without further ado…

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A new blog for a new year

Gotta love the digital age – starting a new blog is about the easiest Resolution one can make. Keeping up with it, however, is the tricky part. Pretty much like all resolutions.

Anyway, this is my new Calligraphy Blog, where I’ll put up what I’m working on and see what works and what doesn’t. Let’s get started, shall we?

Quotation - Ambrose Bierce

I like the colors – Noodler’s Apache Sunset and some bottled sumi ink. Honestly, Apache Sunset always works, which is probably why it’s so popular. Another thing I really like in this – the italic f is one of my favorite letters of all to write. The ff in “affairs” could be a smoother, but I’ll get it next time.

Italic isn’t my strongest hand, but it’s getting much better than it was. We can ignore that F in “future,” though…