Ed, my client, called me on the telephone and tentatively asked if I could letter an excerpt in calligraphy as a gift for his new girlfriend. I smiled and said, “I do that all the time.” The excerpt is from a book called The Little Prince and it reads, “It is only with the heart that one can see rightly; what is essential is invisible to the eye.” We discussed different sizes for the piece and other decor of the home. After consulting with a conspirator, he gave me the green light to get started on this sweet and thoughtful gift.
These are the sample pictures I sent to him. We decided on a wood panel that would most likely be displayed on a table. I like cradled panels, or ones that have a wooden frame behind them, because to me they feel more polished when complete. This panel is 8″ by 10″ — not too big, not too small.
Prepping the Panel
I started by painting a layer of acrylic gesso over the front panel and all the sides to give the next layers something to adhere to. I also did this because I wasn’t sure if the wood panel would absorb any paint, so I wanted to start with a sealed surface. I sanded the gesso, knowing that I would need a smooth surface for the calligraphy. I forgot to take a photo of this step because I was excited about the next part!
Painting the Background
I was inspired by the work of calligrapher Denis Brown for the layering of acrylic paint as a base behind the letters. I am pushing myself to use more abstraction and more than one calligraphic hand in my work. The weekend before I made this piece, I made a collage book that really set fire to the perfectionist side of my brain. I was excited to get my hands on this project.
When Ed first described the project and occasion to me, the colors red, white, bronze, and blue came to mind with white letters. My client chose Foundational hand for this piece after viewing the Laughter piece in my Gallery. I worked with thin washes of red and abstract brush strokes in blue and copper, sometimes wiping away parts with a towel to create depth and interest. I drew partial circles and used diluted copper paint to write the title of the book the quote was from. I did this lightly so it would be a part of the background. After it was dry (a few minutes in the Arizona summer sun did the trick!), I continued to build up layers. It needed to be dark enough that calligraphy would be visible. I painted the edges of the panel dark brown, followed by a thin layer of copper paint to give it a bronze-looking finish. Using the copper paint also tied the edges in with the rest of the piece and it catches the light from different angles.
I sealed the surface with a matte spray seal and let it dry before continuing. This was to make sure the surface was even so that the white paint and brush wouldn’t interact with the paint below it and pick up the other colors.
Transferring the Letters
Yeah, now for the juicy fun part! I did a few drafts of the quote and finally decided to vary the size of the letters. This emphasized sentiments in the lines of text but they also draw the viewer in — they can read the large parts and have to get closer to see what else it says. And then they get to pick out the nuances of the background.
I cut my draft down to size and used my tools to make sure the text was straight before taping it to the panel. Then I slipped white transfer paper under the draft and carefully outlined the letters. Here’s what it looked like when I was through:
I used teeny paintbrushes and the best of my eyeball power to fill in the letters with titanium white acrylic paint diluted with an acrylic paint medium. When working with paint or ink, it’s important to make sure it will actually move as you work with it. Otherwise you’re just fighting with the paint and brush to get them to interact. The small brushes I have are cut to a flat edge, so they mock the behavior of a broad edge nib.
After finishing the letters, I went back in with the background colors and added a little more to wherever I thought needed it. I also dipped into the white paint a little for this step to tie the letters to the background. I used a dark brown colored pencil to add a slight shadow around one side of the letters. This made them crisp and gave a little gravity to them. I sealed it one more time with a good few coats of matte sealant to protect the colors from sunshine and surface damage and let it dry in the sun.
I delivered the finished piece to my client in a nice little bag to protect it from scratches and also just in case he bumped into the birthday girl! You just never know.
If you have any questions about this project or would like to book me for a piece of your very own, I would love to hear from you.