Wednesday, March 31, 2010

The Illuminated Alphabet

Another awesome book, subtitled An Inspirational Introduction to Creating Decorative Calligraphy. Calligraphy by Timothy Noad. Text by Patricia Seligman. Similar to yesterday's presented book in many ways--introductory chapters on tools and methods; sections by Celtic, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance, and Modern Revival.

Both books offer exercises as well as pieces of scroll, animal, and plant ideas for building one's own work. What I have grasped in a general way is that one can study examples of the past but the thought is not to reproduce what has been done but to use the past as inspirational launch points for one's own creations. Loosey-goosey, that's what it's all about.

I'd like to quote a bit of Gretchen's recent comment, seconded by Threadspider:

A bit overwhelming isn't it, when one delves into the calligraphic arts-such a rich history and influenced by so many cultures. Each individually formed letter is a story unto itself, let alone the stories they tell can when combined onto the page to form words and sentences.

That sure seems so very, very true for me. History, cultures, religions--an incredibly fascinating world that I have stumbled into.

I am taking a baby step into this world with the first exercise in the Celtic section of The Illuminated Letters. My scanner is not catching the wonderfully glistening coppery-gold finish of the W&N gold gouache that came in today. That stuff is so cool. If I'm understanding correctly, traditional Celtic illumination did not use gilding, only gold colored paint. Works for me as I don't have any gilding supplies. (In fact, I've not yet written up my shopping list. And no worries, as I suspect I can live in the Celtic world for quite some time.)

The before and after pine cone drawings were enthusiastically accepted today, and my blog as a recent screen shot graphic will also be included on the "Meet John Perry" slide. I'm not expecting to hear any more for a couple of weeks--Marcia's off on an international junket.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

The Bible of Illuminated Letters

This book by Margaret Morgan is totally awesome. The first third of this spiral-bound wonder is all about tools and techniques. Chapter 3 (150 pages!), the Alphabet Directory, categorizes illuminations into style and period--Celtic, Ottonian, Romanesque, Gothic, Renaissance: White Vine, and Renaissance: Neo-Classical. Now, this is all really a mouthful, never mind a mindful, for me.

So, what can I do but take this all poco a poco? My dear friend's thought on how to eat an elephant comes to mind here. I do want to know about all these various styles... Perhaps I can mix things up a bit into a contemporary kind of thing (gorgeous examples in Chapter 4). But for starters, I will try some traditional designs with what's on hand--watercolor, colored pencil, pen and ink, a bit of gold gouache. I'll leave out the gesso and gilding for now, but be ready. I could spring these out at any moment! :-)

Regarding my before and after drawings for the Cornell webinar, here is the pair I'm thinking of going with:

Monday, March 29, 2010

Flowering Quince

I've always enjoyed viewing the flower and fruit of the Flowering Quince, ever mindful of those sharp little spikes. The flower buds are swollen and the leaf buds and just now beginning to open. And amazing as it seems, these buds have colors other that browns and grays!

And speaking of color, today I dug out the tubes of Winsor and Newton. I'm amazed by how many watercolors I've collected, each new one promising to be the silver bullet that would jump start my painting. I'll find my brushes--there are some nice W&Ns and Raphaels about. I'll pile up the hot press blocks. I think I've found my spot, that place where I can leave my tools and toys and work, all set and ready to go. I'm on a slow ramp up as the Cornell course gets closer.

And speaking of Cornell (I promise, this is the last segue), I've put together before and after drawings for a Powerpoint slide. I'll get them out here soon. Marcia, my drawing instructor, would like a slide about me before I'm presented in a Cornell webinar on online courseware. I'm a bit vague on the details but it sounds like I'm to do a little talk on the student experience and then join discussion with other instructors. Still to be worked out are the logistics--getting my voice live into their production, me getting queued, and whatever other high tech stuff needs to happen.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Pens and Inks

Pens and inks. My foray into calligraphy leads me into both.

That inexpensive chiseled-edge felt tip no longer lays down a nice even swath and corner lining is light and scratchy at best. My speedball square nibs are a most welcome respite. I've a kit of Rotring calligraphic pens on the way and I think they'll be handy for easy practice like the felt tip in that dipless way, but with the advantage of a good metal edge.

I've quite accidentally came upon ink permanence. Oh a whim, I ran a wet finger across this felt tip Gothic practice and was completely taken by surprise! The colors are absolutely lovely... of course, if that is what one wants.

Next up for the wet finger test came the Rotring ArtPen. The ink comes in little cartridges from Rotring. This stuff just completely falls apart.

And here we wrap things up with Higgins India ink. The "N" smeared just a bit and I suspect that was because the ink hadn't time to cure up completely. That little block in the corner had a bit longer to dry.

Along with my recent calligraphy book, two additions on illuminations joined the library this week. More on these inspirational texts soon. Having little clue on how to get under way, but still with some curiosity, I messed around on this little exercise with graphite and a couple of Prismas.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Skunk Cabbage Revisted

nce the stormy weather passed,
while everything was still soaking wet...

Friday, March 26, 2010

NESBA, MFA, and Beaked Hazelnut Flowering

The Beaked Hazelnut just up the road is another early flowerer.

It was a long day in the big city. My feet hurt and I'm tired. But..I had a blast! :-)

This morning I caught the commuter rail into Boston. My MFA ticket allowed a second admission within ten days so I hiked all about that museum. My favorite this time was a set of Monets. There is something about the color of light...of a lovely pinkish quality.

In late afternoon, I made my way over to the Boston Flower Show for the NESBA exhibit. I got to meet Joyce Westner who with her friendly and engaging ways instantly made me feel completely welcome. In fact, she handed over her badge and left me to hold the fort while she went about for a while. Thanks, Joyce! :-)

I met a few members as well as other artists who may become members. I saw the most wonderful botanical paintings. I mean wow! Egg tempera of three gourds in a lovely limited palette. Copper etching, graphite, watercolor, colored pencil. Oh, everything was so beautiful and inspiring. I'll have to check around and see if there might be a link to the exhibit pieces.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Skunk Cabbage

Spathes in two color patterns. Tiny flowers shielded. Extensive leafing begins as a rolled up spike.

When my brother and I were young and roamed about in the swamps beyond the back yard, every once in a while one of us would toss a rock through the leaves, just to raise a stink.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Pussy Willow in Pencil

Perhaps this little twig will root...

I've been long weighing my ability to keep up with band as my art interests gain traction. This week I decided to leave. Important decisions are never easy and don't always leave one with an immediate sense of relief. But, I do know it's the right time. My hat is off to the wonderful and kick ass Subterranean Cafe Band, wishing you all the best.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Pussy Willow

I'd lately been wondering when I could first see some springtime buds. A look back into Nuncketest told me that pussy willows should be about and a visit to my only known location on the lake paid off.

Curious, the bicoloration on the stalks. The rusty color is pointing south and away from the lake shore.

In the spirit of my recent favorite Dutch painting, I thought I'd take a try at a fiery image with backlit candlelight.

The Art of Calligraphy by David Harris arrived today. I've had only moments to poke through it and hope for soon acquaintance but for now the quick review is that this book is absolutely loaded with calligraphic hands, seemingly a fantastic calligraphic overview and yet with the details of individual character formation.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Calligraphy Alphabet Complete

Using Katharine Scarfe Beckett's wonderful instructional web site , I have made it through the minuscule gothic littera textualis quadrata. I've had the opportunity to get the feel for each character, some with obviously greater ease than others. Katharine's writing style brought humor and made the lessons much more like fun than work.

Now I can fall back and practice words and sentences to help imprint character strokes, style, and spacing. I'd like to find a resource for majuscules. Also, I may take some time to try out other hands. But for now, in the very short term, I feel like it's time to get back to graphite.

I've only been "without course" now for a week but it seems like ages. I so miss it. Sigh...

Okay, enough melancholia. Today my very first copy of ASBA's The Botanical Artist arrived . The quality of the illustrations is very good and I look forward to reading the articles over and over. And speaking of articles, there are two interviews conducted by Joyce Westner, NESBA president, and a Nuncketest subscriber. Joyce has been very supportive of this beginner artist and she doesn't know it yet (oops, the cat's out of the bag!) but I'll be introducing myself and thanking her in person at the NESBA exhibit in Boston's Flower Show this week. It's nice to have inspiring people in one's life and I am blessed with many! :-)

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Springtime Around the Lake

On this warm and sunny day...

Saturday, March 20, 2010

A Day at the MFA

I spent Friday completely absorbed in Boston's Museum of Fine Arts, the goal being to catch these special exhibitions:
Meléndez's stunning realism with light and color... Dürer's ever so fine hatching and crosshatching... I think I could study them every day for a very long time. Here's a link to a couple of the Meléndez paintings. I only found one picture of my favorite on the web--a single bream fish with other foods--but the reproduction was so poor that it just wouldn't work. You see, the lighting on the fish's scales was so real. I was looking at a real fish glistening in the light. The MFA doesn't have Dürer's images available yet but they are easily Googleable.

It's interesting to note the tomatoes in Meléndez's paintings from the mid 1700's. The fruit are all deeply lobed and furrowed, like what we see depicted in seed catalogs of today's "heirloom" tomatoes.

My very favorite painting of the entire adventure was Old Woman Cutting Bread by Gerrit Dou. First off, the image on that link is so sadly reproduced that I hesitate to present it. The light is of a wonderful fiery nature and quite subtle off the rafters above. Lovely reds and oranges...

This has been a fascinating day, one that I think is going to stick with me for some time. I'm of swirling reflection with color and light, and oils...

And here's a bit of a start on the third and final set of character exercises. As I near completion of the alphabet, the exercises are calling for words and sentences. Visual balance and alignment are the considerations once the mechanics are in order.

Happy Vernal Equinox!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Second Gothic Set Complete

And this wraps up the second set--f, k, o, q, p, and v. Interesting how some characters come easier... Here I'm using that new guideline generator to print out practice sheets.

The upcoming third and final instruction set includes the last eight characters, symbols with some squiggly lines and a fancy trick using the edge of the nib.

I am trying to relax while forming characters but it takes a good deal of awareness to keep a loose hand.

And lastly, do check out the British Library Online Catalogue of Illuminated Manuscripts. I will be getting lost there.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

White Pine

I'm getting in a bit of sketching with White Pine. On the final day of torrential rains, I came home to find this pine cone on my doorstep, just begging to be sketched.

I tried a pine cone a few months ago and had a lot of trouble--too busy into counting and figuring... This time I lightly penciled in a rough outline and then began simply placing in shapes. Starting from the top and working across, everything fit nicely (and quite unconsciously) into my predefined outline.

This little piece is safe in my sketchbook dedicated to the white pine project.

Tomorrow it's back to the Gothic characters with an ambitious plan to wrap up the second set! :-) I have printed guideline sheets to ease the process. And, I printed out Katharine's lesson pages--it's so much easier for me to work from a printout, rather than the LCD screen.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Second Gothic Set Continued

First off, I found this awesome tool from Scribblers for printing practice pages with calligraphic guidelines. Set your own ascender, descender, and x-height, and spacing between guideline sets. Now how cool is that?

This session I tackle r, t, h, and b from the second set of calligraphy exercises. See how there are two kinds of r? That second was a bit difficult--it just doesn't feel right to me.

And that puts me at twelve letters deep into the alphabet! But of course, it's practice, practice, practice. :-)

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Second Gothic Set

I thought that yesterday's set of six Gothic characters (i, l, c, e, n, u) would be easy to remember... The "n" and "u" took some review and just didn't seem to work very well. More practice is needed... :-)

And hold those guidelines in mind... Keep that nib at a forty-five degree angle. Make those little end caps square. Keep the uprights straight up with no wiggles. Observe good character spacing. Keep x-height consistent.

Today I began learning the second set of twelve characters, starting with the "m" and the "w". My guidelines aren't showing here but I do have the 9 mm x-height lines in place. Didn't bother with the 5 mm ascenders or descenders.

I got a few good m's and w's. It sure feels good when they come out nice. This is just like with drawing in that I can move into this tranquil state, when my focus is clearly on what I'm doing. Fascinating, this pathway to meditation.

Monday, March 15, 2010

My First Gothic Characters

Please note that the teaching web site that I am referencing is the work of Katharine Scarfe Beckett. I've just sent off a thank you note for making her wonderful lessons available.

I'm working from this page of instructions, starting off by using the 2.0 mm felt-tipped pen.

First I set up guide lines. The x-height, that is the height of regular characters (x, e, c, i, n, u), should be marked in with 4.5 nib widths (4.5 x 2.0 mm = 9 mm). The ascender and descender heights should each be set in with 2.5 nib widths (2.5 x 2.0 mm = 5 mm). I also dropped in some perpendicular guide lines.

There are a few rules for creating Gothic characters:

  • Hold the nib at a constant forty-five degree angle.
  • Make all straight up lines constantly perpendicular.
  • Relax, making easy strokes. (Prevents wobbly lines.)

After a bit of practice with the felt-tipped pen, I tried out the C-4 calligraphy tip with India ink. This tip is a bit narrower so could probably use narrower guide lines. I did most of the C-4 work (except the last "icicle" on the second line) without guidelines.

And here's another little try with only a base guide line:

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Intro to Calligraphy

I'll begin with my links of interest.

IAMPETH - The International Association of Master Penmen, Engrossers, and Teachers of Handwriting. An incredibly rich site spilling over with text-based and video instruction.

A few instructional sites, probably a good place for this beginner to start:
My first book, on its way: The Art of Calligraphy by David Harris.

This incredible event will occur just up the road from me:
Odyssey 2010 - The 30th International Gathering of Letter Artists

Yesterday, I displayed my tools. Today I'll spend some time with the Speedball Elegant Writer black ink felt-tipped pen. The tip is a 2.0 mm wide (labeled Fine) chisel point. It's not the choice of pros but good for beginner practice. With this pen, there are no worries with ink dipping and it can easily be used anywhere. In fact, it you're calligraphically challenged as am I, why don't you pick up one of these inexpensive pens and follow right along with me?

Next post, my first Gothic characters.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What's Next?

Really, what's next? In light of the course completion and resulting post-course depression, I have pondered that question. I asked a few artist friends. I got lots of good advice and one intriguing thought--try doing something completely different.

In a couple of months, I plan to take Cornell's watercolor course. Before long, the local flora will be exploding, bringing to me loads of subjects for drawings and photos and research. But right now, for something completely different (although a friend giggled how I could consider this completely different), join me for a foray into calligraphy.

I picked up these instruments and links for a few web sites to get me started. There's a book on the way although it may not arrive for a couple of weeks. More on all this with tomorrow's post! :-)

And for something else a bit different,I'd like to share with you a couple of blog links:

Happy Healthy Long Life inspires me to take better care of myself. I've been subscribed to this fascinating blog for months.

Just today I came across Bedroom secrets in an article from Art Knowledge News, another of my daily subscriptions. Follow the restoration of Van Gogh's "The bedroom".

And lastly, a special welcome to my fellow Cornell students! :-) I recently posted a blog invite on our course forum.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Last Journal


Prospective Cornell Botanical Illustration I students, welcome to my blog and in particular my daily posts as I worked through the course earlier this year. Any questions, do feel free to email me.

I encourage you to check out the comments attached to many of these posts. I am blessed with the presence of professional artists who offer their thoughts and encouragement.



My last assignment is to submit this weeks journal. Here are the guidelines:

You're coming to the conclusion of this course! Please reflect on "highlights" and "lowlights:" what have you enjoyed the most, learned the most, and which aspects of the course have assisted this process for you? On the other hand, where does the course most need improvement in helping you along toward your goal of drawing the plant world?

And here is my submission:

What can I say? I had a blast!

I appreciated the one on one attention. From the very first assignment, I was guided to focus on line quality. Also, I think needing to produce art for assignments brought me to work hard while experiencing many techniques within a short time. These aspects served to really raise my confidence.

I find myself observing negative space and measuring relative angles while walking about. I now have no qualms about working with ink. I have a greater awareness of light and shadow. And, I am really so happy with all these results.

Thursday, March 11, 2010


Here is the completed drawing based on a thumbnail sketch. I call it "salsa" and it's the first time I name a drawing. No word back yet with instructor comment but no doubt soon. This is, sadly, the last drawing upload for the course. I have a final journal to work out and then that's that. More on next steps soon...

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Drawing Based on Thumbnail

There is something rather amazing about the drawing process. Turning off my logical thought process of how something is supposed to look and allowing myself to simply see what is there... There is such pleasure when that works...

This drawing excites me. It's not done yet, but I feel that my most important task here is to not overdo it.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Final Work Results and Thumbnails

I submitted my final drawing this morning. Yes, a singular drawing. I was expecting to upload all three Calla images but the interface allowed for only one. After uploading the ink wash, I dropped the other two in the supporting document with an explanation and emailed that along.

I heard back in a few hours. My instructor preferred the graphite as it had shading that better let to three dimensionality. Being able to compare the graphite with the ink wash was very helpful and I can now see how the ink was kinda flat. I think I was having a time of it with the white petals and was leary of getting into the darker tones. But, without tone there is no depth. So, this was a very interesting exercise, one that I got a lot from.

There is still work for this week! Below is a series of thumbnail sketches from late Sunday evening. I had to work various compositions and lighting, creating quick sketches as I go along. Now it's time to pick one for a drawing. I'm leaning towards the upper right. The sketch doesn't really portray it properly but it's a nearly level on point of view with cool lighting.

That was my last sketch of the night and it shows, but I did get photos to back me up.

Monday, March 8, 2010

The Tools

I find it all rather amazing that just a few simple tools can be so powerful. Along with some select paper, these items were all that was needed for creating the course assignments. I am rather proud of my short pencils--they reflect many hours of practice.

I spent a good while in the produce section of the local market selecting interesting vegetables for my next and final exercise, a series of compositional study thumbnails and a selected illustration.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Three Of A Kind

Here are my final drawings. There's really only supposed to be one final submission but I had so much fun trying this composition in different media that I decided that I will send them all in!

First graphite:

Next ink line:

And lastly ink wash:

Students are asked to supply comments on their work and here's a snip from mine, thoughts that I didn't cover in yesterday's post:

My triplicate entries may be a bit unorthodox and if I must choose one as my submission, well, let me see... I initially worked out the graphite to completion, feeling I'd better stop before overworking the piece. Next I pulled out all the stops with the ink lines. Bold and daring! The ink wash I suppose really is my darling. I do love the softness and smoothness. So, ink wash it is. But really, I like 'em all!

I think what I worked for with the ink pieces was to separate out line from wash. My previous exercise and your comments really got me thinking. I feel that I found a way to isolate the qualities of each medium by letting the wash work in a gentle flowing manner and letting the line boldly demand attention.

I've another exercise and lots of composition reading and review left for this week. More on that tomorrow :-)

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Calla Progress

Last night I started in on composition, over and over placing the lilies about on the Oasis block. I decided to leave out the willow--it just wasn't working for me. Finally, I hit upon an arrangement that felt right and I blocked in a initial sketch.

After working that sketch for some time, I transferred it off for a second round sketch. I felt that the left lily needed to be pulled in so I only transferred to two on the right, then lifted and retaped the transfer before dropping in the last, sort of like the manual version of Photoshop.

I was up until 3 AM working in some detail and shadowing. I am going to proceed cautiously as this drawing may be quite close to completion. It is so important to know when to stop. Less is more, I remind myself.

As well as this graphite version, I made transfers to two watercolor blocks. I'd like to do versions in ink line as well as ink wash. It's going to be another late night...