Archive for category Medium: Calligraphy

The Joy of Modern Calligraphy || Joyce Lee

This is nothing if not elaborately presented. A hard case with an elastic closure opens to reveal a beautifully produced paperback book and an envelope of practice sheets that contain outlines for basic letterforms. The same script is used throughout and is not, I think, one of the classic ones, but is still a pleasant sloping variant of Copperplate.

Calligraphy being about appearance, at least today, this elaborateness has a place, but you may also feel that there is a slight tendency for form to overtake substance. This is not, it should be said, a book about calligraphy as a complete subject. Rather, it is a guide, perhaps better, a list of suggestions for projects such as the inevitable – and obvious – invitations. What you may find useful are the extended guides to forming letters and the practice sheets for these. These exercises occupy a large portion of the book and are among the most thorough I have seen. If this is what you want (and I suspect a lot of people will), then they would justify the price of the book by themselves.

However, if you were looking for a guide to other calligraphic hands, or more extended projects, this is perhaps not the book for you. It’s very well done, beautifully presented and well laid out, but does have its limitations.

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Lettering With Love || Sue Hiepler & Yasmin Reddig

This is an attractive book that’s really hard to classify. It’s not exactly art instruction, yet not quite calligraphy either. That is, of course, broadly the point and the idea is to suggest images that contain both watercolour and lettering. The subtitle, “the simple art of handwriting with watercolour embellishment” says as much.

To be absolutely honest, I think you could flick through it, say “Oh yes” and then get on with your own ideas. However, if you want projects, images and letterforms, it’s all here and, in spite of my reservations, I can’t help liking it – and that’s really quite high praise.

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Decorated Lettering || Jan Pickett

Pitched rather nicely between craft and calligraphy, this is a project book for those who aspire to what we might call fancy pen-work.

It starts with some useful guides to techniques and letterforms before moving on to more freestyle work. This then develops into a look at ways of decorating letters that could be described as informal illumination. This is a book for those who want to have some fun rather than make a serious study, and it’s none the worse for that. Further ideas, under headings such as “going dotty” and “fun with pastels”, follow and there are hints, tips and demonstrations where and when they’re required.

The whole is relaxed and colourful while also being informative and inspiring and it’s an easy book to like.

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Complete Guide to Calligraphy || Vivien Lunniss

Well, I haven’t seen one of these for a while! Either I’m not being sent them, or calligraphy books aren’t as thick on the ground as they were a few years back. Certainly, I had to check this carefully to make sure it wasn’t a reissue, but I can find no previous trace and the author’s name is new to me. It originates with the packager Quarto, who have an excellent track record in illustrated instructional books and manage to make the whole process highly efficient and visually appealing while at the same time admirably easy to follow.

The structure of the book is much the same as any other with an identical or wildly similar title. The cover strapline is “everything you need to know, with 20 beautiful lettering styles”, which both confirms that and also sums the book up. There’s an introduction to materials and equipment and basic methods of working, along with the rudiments of design as you’ll need to know them. The rest is progressive, with a series of step-by-step demonstrations of commonly used scripts, showing you how the letterforms, both Roman and italic, are built up. What is different, though, is the much wider use of colour. This isn’t just to make the book more appealing than if it was black only and is a genuine departure. As well as simply being there, it also allows Vivien Lunniss to show the different penstrokes that go into a single letter, greatly increasing clarity.

Did we need another book on letterforms? Well, time, styles and book production move on and I’d say this nicely updates the literature without simply repeating what’s been done a hundred times before. It’s an attractive and innovative addition you should definitely look at.

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Calligraphy Studio || Christopher Calderhead

Subtitled, “The ultimate introduction or the art of hand lettering”, this is indeed a comprehensive guide and covers everything from letterforms and pen strokes to map-making and even writing on the human body.

The layout is not so much an instruction manual or a course as something to read through and immerse yourself in and, as such, is not (nor, it should be emphasised, does it claim to be) something for the beginner. Rather, it’s a book for those whose interest has been established and who already have some facility in the medium. The text is discursive rather than concise and the book is also generously illustrated with both examples and tips as well as finished works.

Having said that it’s not an instruction manual, there is nevertheless plenty of practical material and, if you want to take calligraphy seriously, this should satisfy you for a long time.

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The Encyclopaedia of Calligraphy Techniques || Diana Hardy Wilson

The Encyclopaedia series was a winning format when it first appeared and one that has stood the test of time well, setting the standard for design-led instruction books where each spread is an entity in its own right. Several of the volumes have been revamped and, although I can’t see any evidence that this one is more than a straight reissue, it retains a fresh and inviting feel.

There are two distinct sections, Techniques and Themes and the combination of what to do and what to do with it is pretty much unique, most calligraphy books going for just one or the other.

Techniques covers all the things you’d expect, from basic penmanship to letterforms in Carolingian, Copperplate, Italic, etc. Diana also includes extras such as gilding, the use of quill pens and ornamentation.

In Themes, she gives extensive examples of the sort of work you can produce, with illustrations from a variety of contemporary practitioners. There is a limited amount of detail here, so this is more a gallery than a series of projects, but the extended captions and chapter introductions go a long way towards giving you ideas to work on.

If you want what is effectively two books in one, you’ll get excellent value for money.

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Learn World Calligraphy || Margaret Shepherd

This nicely-done and copiously illustrated work offers a look at calligraphy alphabets beyond the usual Roman, Italic and Uncial. You get Celtic, Oriental, Greek, Hebrew, Cyrillic and more with details of how to cut and hold your pens as well as the letter shapes, and notes about the tradition in a variety of cultures.

I think it’s fair to say that this is something for the calligraphy enthusiast rather than the beginner or dilettante. You need to be comfortable with basic techniques (and Margaret has several books which will help you master those) before you try the less-familiar shapes that are shown here. However, if you’re looking for a way to expand your range, you’ll find a lot to explore and digest here.

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Calligraphy in 24 One Hour Lessons || Veiko Kespersaks

I think the first impression you get of this is from the title, which evokes (from me, at any rate) the comment, “Well, that sounds like a good idea”. Like everything else that promises to teach you a subject in a day, a week, or whatever, it’s almost certainly a tall order, if only because it doesn’t allow for all the practice you have to do in between. Nevertheless, something that breaks a subject up into bite-size chunks is always going to encourage those who like the idea but are put off by what they perceive as the size of the task, and that can’t be a bad thing.

Once inside, the book turns out to be a fairly conventional calligraphy manual. There’s the usual introduction to pens, paper, basic letterforms and script families. The 24 lessons are then divided between different hands, with minuscules and majuscules and exercises on letter and word spacing, composition and design, with a brief look at illumination. The book concludes with a series of projects that will give you ideas on what you can use calligraphy for, as well as put what you’ve previously learnt into practice.

It’s all nicely done and well illustrated. Yes, it’s not ground-breaking, but that’s not really what you want. The layout of calligraphy manuals was settled a long time ago and the author has the good sense not to mess with a tried and tested formula. At £12.99, it’s good value for something this thorough.

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Start Calligraphy || Maureen Sullivan

Basic lettering guides come and go and, if this is what you’re looking for, you’ve always been spoilt for choice. By their nature, they don’t differ very much and it’s often hard to choose between them.

For some reason, though, there don’t seem to have been as many in recent years – perhaps publishers realised that the market was saturated – and so this one has a clearer field in which to work.

Of its type it has the great merit of being simple. One of the complaints against this kind of book can be that they try to teach too much at once. There are a great many letter forms and shapes in calligraphy and it’s all too easy for the beginner to get overwhelmed with minuscule, majuscule, italic, uncial and roman.

The first third of the book is taken up with materials and basic techniques, which is just about the right proportion, with the rest being devoted to six hands. I was surprised that it’s that many because it’s all handled in only about 60 further pages, which means that you only get the most basic coverage for each one, and that’s about right for the beginner. Having followed this sampler approach, there are plenty of other books you can go to for further study, but you’ll do so with a lot more confidence than you would from a book that’s just left you confused by too much information at the start.

Calligraphy can be as simple and cheap or as complex as you want and it’s a satisfying craft you can follow very easily just from books. This is the best introduction I’ve seen in a good many years.

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The Simple Art of Japanese Calligraphy || Yoko Takenami

The title of this book offers a huge hostage to fortune, for Japanese calligraphy is anything but simple and to suggest that it might be is to reduce it pretty much out of existence.

This is intended to be a project-based craft book of the kind that offers simple and colourful demonstrations that the beginner can easily follow and which presents a result which is sufficiently seductive that the reader will always feel they have a chance of emulating, however tentative their initial steps. There are plenty of books such as this and their continued appearance indicates a popularity that suggests that the approach works, so we shouldn’t damn them with accusations of triviality.

The problem that this book has, however, is that, as well as showing some very attractive ideas, it also needs to go at some length into the formation of actual characters in several different scripts and this takes up a third of its length. Already, we’re into a more specialist area and, while I can see the value of being able to write Happy Birthday or Happy Halloween correctly, some of the details of the order of brushstrokes and the characters for unexplained voiced sounds seem just a little more than is necessary in a book essentially aimed at the beginner or, dare I say it?, the dilettante.

There’s no getting away from the fact that any calligraphic letter-form book is always going to look worthy and unexciting and this aspect seems to jar with the colourful and imaginative projects that occupy the last half of the book are which are the reason, I rather think, that you might consider buying it. None of this might matter if the book had had a title which suggested that it was more than something for the beginner, but then I’d be complaining that it wasn’t comprehensive enough. No, it can’t win, but I think that’s more the fault of the format that it is mine for being picky.

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