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Friday, May 6, 2011

Big Awesome Calligraphy, Part 2

When last I posted about this, I believe I got as far as the planning stages with you; making decisions about layout, testing different text styles, and so on.  Moving on!

The happy cluttered workspace. As seen from the other side of the table.

First, there was an intermediate period where I rested my hand, 'cause ouch.  I hadn't done any major calligraphy in about three years, and while you don't forget the letters, you can lose some of the finer points of technique if you let yourself get rusty.  One of the big ones is a mistake beginners make all the time and you have to train yourself out of doing, and if you let yourself slide for awhile, it will come right back.  We usually call it The Death Grip - you're So - Focused - On - Getting - Each - Letter - Perfect - You Must - Hold - The Pen - as if it were trying to escape, as if a super-villain was trying to take it away from you as part of their plot to destroy the world, and as if you needed to prove the depth of your concentration and commitment by bruising the tips of your thumb and fingers.  Trust me, the bruises might not ever show, but things will hurt for close to a week after you do something like that.

There's an invisible part to every piece.  I know I talked in my previous post about some of it - the decisions, the measurements, the research that all go toward the final effect you're looking for.  But there are also false starts, side trails that you follow to see if they'll go anywhere, options you wish you could have used but didn't work out, and so on.  Some work doesn't have any of that, if you're feeling really confident or treading familiar territory.  But with any new challenge, anything that's stretching your abilities or represents something you haven't tried before, you'll see a lot of those.  A note of advice: having this happen does not indicate failure.  It's part of the process, just like it's part of the process to scrape your knees at least a couple of time when you're learning to ride a bicycle.  Falling off isn't failing; it's learning.  (And if I could just remember that myself, I'd be all enlightened and stuff and my life would be a lot more serene, dammit.)

For this project, the main "false start" or dead end was that I'd really, really hoped to use vellum as my ground material. It's sturdy, it's authentic to the time period, and it's one of those things that we traditionally reserve for the Really Special (tm) awards in our society. The particular piece of vellum I wanted to use had gotten damaged shortly after I got it.  Alas.  I had already found a text size I was happy with, and I'd done a lot of work with wording and so on to make sure that the entire block of text would fit into a precisely-measured space, which meant that the rest of the piece had to be a certain size overall if it was going to look good, which meant that the vellum couldn't be trimmed down far enough to completely eliminate the damaged areas.

Oh well.

Research into the Cross of Cong (again, see previous post) gave me the shapes I was going to use in my decoration as well - except I had to modify them because my open areas turned out to be about half as wide as the ones on the cross.  Here, I can show you:

Sketches from the Cross of Cong.

These sketches are of the creatures woven all through the metalwork on the Cross of Cong; the three large shapes in the middle are roughly the same shape as the corresponding areas on the cross itself.  Along the sides you see my attempts to make sense of the knotwork by breaking it down into the main elements: critters and weaving lines.  And then across the top are attempts to get the creatures to fit the shapes I'll be using in the large initial.

As a complete tangent, I never plan it this way, but these pages always delight me afterward because they remind me of stuff from da Vinci's notebooks - all sketches and notes in the margins and ideas in progress.  Frankly, if I planned a page to look like a da Vinci, it wouldn't work as well.  I know this, because I made one once as an award for someone else.

Adaptations and variations of one creature,
with explorations and development of a bird figure.

The first figure was the best for adapting to my initial shape, but since my own open areas were going to be so much narrower, in the end I decided to just use a single critter rather than two of them tangled together.  I also needed something that would fit into the end sections, which were smaller still, and ended up creating a knotwork bird.

Knotwork birds (aka twisty-bendy birds) are found all through the Book of Kells and other sacred texts from Ireland.  It turns out that peacocks represented the incorruptible flesh of Jesus, back in the day.  You wouldn't think there were very many peacocks in Ireland at the time, and in fact there weren't, but there was a bit of folklore that insisted that peacock meat would never rot.  And that is your nerdy tangent for the day.


I really expected writing this post to take less time today, but my mind is not at full speed for some reason, and I've had to edit, re-write, erase, and start over way too flippin' many times.   It's getting late enough that I'd be better off going to bed instead of continuing to fight with myself.  I promise the next post on this topic will get out of sketches and mockups, and into the actual project.  I do not, however, promise that the next post will be on this topic.

Good night.  If you like, tell me about some situation in which you've found yourself making side tracks and false starts, as part of your process of learning, or of growth.  I'm curious.

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