A special piece

A long while back my mum wrote out her favourite Leonardo da Vinci quote on nature, on the back of a blank postcard, and asked me to make her a piece around it.  Dutifully I filed it away in a work drawer, promptly forgetting about it for a number of years except when I had a spring clean and it resurfaced.  I transferred it to a text file – in 2013! – and the same pattern continued.

As her special birthday approached recently I was completely stuck for a gift, when I remembered the postcard…

Calligraphy + illustration + framing = appropriate present!

All the things we had seen in Italy were floating around in my mind, and after thinking through various ideas – more along the lines of illuminated manuscripts initially, but I discounted these as too fussy – I remembered an appliqué work we had literally come across round a corner, in the Santa Maria Novella museum in Florence.  Suffice to say we both thought it was glorious:

Giovanna Garzoni (1600 – 1670), Santa Maria Novella museum – no copyright breach intended

First steps for the piece were to work out the number of letters, a basic outline plan and size; this shows my workings before I had finalised the alphabet:

My calligraphy is just passable and I probably get away with it only because of the illustration, but fortunately I have a lot of resources and kit from my late Great Auntie Hilda who was a brilliant calligrapher and teacher.  After looking through the books I have of hers, I went with an uncial alphabet from The Craft of the Pen, by John R Biggs:

Copyright Blandford Press, John R Biggs, 1961 – no breach intended

It’s a great book for the illustrations and visual instruction in forming letters, but there are also pleasures to be had in the surrounding text: I prepared myself to ‘…guard against vulgar and ostentatious eccentricities’ and ‘inebriate showmanship’, whilst always bearing in mind that a P ‘looks vulgar if the bowl is made too wide’.  Lovely stuff.

I didn’t want to overthink the decoration too much, so I just got on with drawing up the text on heavyweight watercolour paper, and chose one of my auntie’s steel pens with a reservoir, using W&N sepia ink.  John R Biggs would have been horrified by my posture, but I got the job done without mistakes – for some reason I had a sudden difficulty with spelling the word ‘subtlety’ – and then had a cup of tea to calm down.

Here’s a section of my trial sheet, I always find it nice to look at afterwards and in this case the colour is more representative than in the final photo.

The flowers and foliage were drawn out roughly before using watercolour, and were sourced in most cases from a reference book.  I always tried to bear in mind the spirit of the Florence piece and the quotation itself, and to be honest what mum would actually like!  I really enjoyed and relaxed into this stage and hopefully this is reflected in the fluidity of the illustration.  Here is the final piece:

Watercolour and ink

I was rather worried about getting it to the framers on time, hence the dreadful photo above, but as time goes on I have come to realise more and more that pressure seems to be a good workmate for me.

I’m happy to say it was very well received!  Here it is framed and sitting in ‘present corner’ on the special day:

Tuscany highlights

I know I’ve been rather quiet of late on here, but this year I have been very lucky and achieved one lifetime’s ambition – to visit Tuscany.  After a Prosecco-fuelled 10 days of art pilgrimage with my mum, I have finally seen paintings, frescoes, buildings and landscapes that I have been dreaming of for 25 years!   So whilst we hit the Uffizi, traced the Vasari Corridor across the Arno, contemplated the Annunication at San Marco and watched the swifts circling the Duomo in Siena, we also made it to other highlights, Piero della Francesca’s Legend of the True Cross in Arezzo and his Resurrection in Sansepolcro.  Unbelievably the latter was just revealed after a long restoration.

When life gives you…

The wonderful Museo Archeologico in Arezzo has a fantastic collection of Roman and Etruscan artefacts, one of the most beautiful being this gold-glass portrait; and one of the least beautiful being this temporary exhibit:

Here’s a few sketchbook pages, they don’t really do anything justice but are a record of a very happy trip.  Now off to re-watch Room with a View and The English Patient…


Characters and gestures

I’ve been a bit preoccupied with IT exams in my other life recently, but eager to get back on the graphic novel-case. I’ve been reading Scott McCloud’s excellent book Making Comics, and as a really, really green comics reader I need some steerage at this point.

I’ve realised my figure drawing is very ropey after many years not doing it! Inspired by Scott talking about comics artists working in silhouette for full figures, I’ve been playing in Photoshop trying to capture gestures and character in some background scenes. I’ve been using pencils and graphic pens for years on this story, so a fresh approach being less precious has been a bit of a relief!  They are very much of one perspective but I don’t mind that at this stage – I’m seeing it as more of an exercise.

I enjoyed putting some background in to see how effective the characters could be in context.  As I was working I found my brain filling in the three-dimensional figure, a bit like the way I find producing drawings on black paper in reverse to be.

I also love silhouettes and they are an 18thC speciality so it will be interesting to see what ideas come of this!


Laundry women

Two men arguing