When my client, Jennifer, came to me with the idea of this piece for her nephew’s bedroom, I already had these letters floating around in my head. The alphabet is called Lombardic and lends itself to wonderful illustration and ornamentation. These letters are entirely drawn, line by line. Some letters are based on the shape of a circle, but there are many avenues for variant letterforms available. The piece that inspired me was from Julien Chazal’s book titled Calligraphy A Complete Guide. It featured Lombardic capitals in varying heights and colors. A lot of the work I’ve been doing has been on the formal side lately and this was a great opportunity to do something casual and fun.
The first sketch I made for this project was in bright green and blue colored pencil with slightly varied letter sizes. My vision was watercolor washed mountains at the left of the composition with geometric shapes on each and a forest of pine trees at the foot of the mountains that would stretch out sporadically beneath the lettering. I was going to put the moon in the sky at the top right and use spattered masking fluid to make a sky full of stars in an inky blue watercolor wash. Mixed the sample colors up — then Jennifer sent me a photo of the baby’s room.
Which was truly a good thing. The walls are a beautiful blue-teal and the theme is ocean. There is actually some netting above the baby’s crib with seashells and dark wooden letters that spell out the baby’s name. Clever; haven’t seen decor like that for a baby’s room before. But I knew one thing for sure and it was that my color palette and the walls of that room were going to clash. I started mixing again and came up with a darker blue teal and a cool reddish brown for contrast.
We chose 16″×20″ as a size for this piece. Thanks to my loving and supportive neighbors, Kim and Jason, I have large pieces of drafting vellum from when he was in school drawing up plans. I started lettering from scratch, using 2 – 3 different circle guides and graph paper underneath for straight lines as I worked. I wanted the letters to appear drawn but still have a rhythm and integrity to them. Some lettering artists are so skilled that their haphazard letters appear orderly as well: I am getting there! I used large stars instead of punctuation to break up the passage so that the night time theme would continue through the phrase but the reader would still be able to pause while viewing the text. I also included stars and dots in some of the stems and bowls of the letters to accentuate their height or their curve and to bring life to them. Sometimes I feel that my letters turn out a bit flat, so those accents were an effort to add light and detail to them. I also, characteristically, started the design too close to the center of the vellum and ran out of room at the end of the line for the last two lines of the phrase! I had to tape tracing paper to the edge of the vellum for the last few letters of each word! Classic.
After I completed the lettering, I traced it with a felt tip pen, making the lines nice and heavy so that I would be able to see them clearly through the paper I used for the final painting. I cut off the excess tracing paper and taped the design to the light table. I cut my watercolor paper to size and taped it on top of the design, using an L-square to make sure the lines of text were straight. Next I lightly traced the letters onto the watercolor paper and filled them in with watercolor. I worked quickly with the watercolor, leaving spots here and there, again to make the letters less flat and more lively, creating interest. Part of the appeal of watercolor, I have learned, is that the white of the paper reflects back to the viewer. If there’s too much pigment, then the light can’t shine through and the painting becomes dull. I did fill in spots here and there if they looked too sloppy. After that, I traced each letter with a sepia Micron pen.
Next, I needed to get going on the background artwork. I hung a moon in the sky and outlined the mountains. I knew I needed an ocean in there somewhere and that I wanted to make more large stars in the sky. The concept of woodblock prints popped into my head and it was all over from there. I had so much fun drawing the fluffy clouds and the lines around the celestial bodies in the sky. The waves I left simple, adding a little ship making its way through a windstorm, its flag flying brightly.
I intended to fill in the mountains heavily with the Micron but by now the pen was starting to dry out on me. So I stuck with the woodblock theme and pretended that the lines were just grooves for texture and worked with it that way.
I painted the sky, fading the blue around the stars to make them seem like they were shining. I also added curved lines around each star to accentuate their place in the sky.
I let the painting dry and then spritzed it with clean water and left it under a heavy drawing board to flatten it out overnight. When I looked at it the next day, I realized that the lines of the lettering needed to be much heavier to compete with the heavy lines of the artwork. I sprayed the final piece with a protective seal and had Wilson Graham take photos of it so that I can have prints made.
Jennifer took the piece up to Seattle with her and they framed it today, just in time for little Finnegan’s first birthday and from what I understand, the family loved it!
Renee is a an artist who is continually making an effort to avoid making a mess of her hands and studio. She loves to garden, cook, and of course learn everything she possibly can about calligraphy. She has attended countless workshops, both online and afar. Her first love was broad pen calligraphy, though she has developed skill in pointed pen calligraphy as well. She also loves to draw, paint and sit in the sunshine. She lives in Tucson, Arizona with her wonderful teenage sons and too many plants, pets, and books.
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