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Virginia Porter demo: "Fine Art &Calligraphy"
17 April 2015

You need to warm up a bit before starting work: to get your hand in and to make sure the ink is flowing.
Virginia used to design for De La Rue, the banknote and stamp people, but is now independent, doing small commissions and teaching.

Calligraphy is best done on a smooth surface: paper, parchment or if you are willing to pay a couple of hundred pounds a sheet, vellum made from the skin of a still-born calf. However, acrylic ink will work on fabric.

The original writing implement was the quill but now we buy metal nibs of various widths. Very versatile, because the width of the line can be controlled by the direction of the stroke. You can use dip pens (with their own built-in reservoirs) or calligraphic fountain pens.

The ink can range from chinese sticks (which needs some work to prepare the ink from the stick) through art shops' calligraphic inks, (which can be water-soluble or permanent acrylic-based, not shellac-based indian) to ordinary gouache (if you have the knack of diluting to the right consistency with distilled water).

Although calligraphy can include complex designs, tonight's demo concentrated on fairly simple script, starting with examples of some of the standard fonts.
Light pencil lines define the height of the text and a pen is chosen to give the required number of nib-widths for the font in question. Roman capitals, for example, need 7 nib-widths and a pen held at an angle of 30 degrees whilst Uncials need four nib-widths. For the more compact Insular Miniscules the pen is at about 45 degrees.

The alignment of the letters is always related to the shape of the "O", which may be round (as for Roman) or oval, perhaps aligned slightly off the vertical (as for Italic).

It is not commonly realised that the ascenders (the tops of letters like "d", "h" or "k") are normally taller than the capitals. Lower-case "t", on the other hand is a very short letter. Although there are standard fonts you may have to design your own shapes for non-traditional symbols: accents, question marks, apostrophes etc.
Look here for more detail: https://calligraphypen.wordpress.com/2009/01/16/stroking-the-rules/
After coffee (and crisps and mini muffins!), Virginia showed us some more exciting aspects of her work.

"Proper" work must be planned carefully: she would normally make a draft before starting a final version.

Virginia started one example with blue gouache. Part way through she loaded the nib with yellow and finally reverted to the blue. The result was an interesting spectrum-like sucession of blues, greens and yellows.

Using a very broad nib with two slots cut into the edge, she put the blue in one side and the yellow in the other, again getting a range of colours, this time across the letters.

A 5-line music staff pen also produces interesting lettering.

Virginia ended this most interesting evening by explaining to us a display she had produced before she left de la Rue to commemorate the 200th anniversary of its founders birth.
De La Rue commemorative display
Detail from De La Rue commemorative display

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