Washington, D.C.—Preparing a batch of sample envelopes to send to my sister-in-law Nikelle, who is opening her floral design shop Wylde in Raleigh, NC. She graciously offered to keep a sample book of my calligraphy envelopes in her shop. Can't wait to show her the final set and to visit her shop.
Washington, D.C. — A client reached out to see if I could mimic a Victorian-era love letter. Since I did not have vintage paper on hand, nor had the time to go look for some, I had to craft my own.
After doing some research on distressing paper and consulting with the ever-knowledgeable gang at the Flourish Forum, I was able to transform my Strathmore ivory stock into vintage-like paper, complete with faux deckle edges, smudges of "dirt", and a whole lot of wrinkles. To enhance the overall look, I mixed Higgins Eternal ink—which is fairly grey in color already—with walnut ink to achieve the faded aesthetic of the letter.
It turned out to be quite the labor of love, and I believe that the end result captured the heartfelt words that lay within.
Annapolis, MD — Last June, Tina Byland of What's Up? publications in Annapolis contacted me to do onsite calligraphy at historic St. John's College. The campus was chosen as the site for their Fall weddings issue. Playing with the classroom theme, Tina requested a few romantic literary quotes to be lettered on the chalkboard. I hadn't touched a chalkboard since 8th grade math, but I figured with a sketch in hand, how different could chalk be from a calligraphy pen or marker.
Indeed it's very different. New chalk pieces come in cylindrical shapes and are more challenging to produce the fine lines and dramatic shades associated with script calligraphy. After doing a little research, I set out to sharpen new chalk pieces with an X-acto knife and a pencil sharpener, while watching The Flight of the Conchords. I worked out a few different sketches and felt ready to wing it.
The next day I met Tina, her adorable son Max, and her photographer Tony Lewis. We walked over to the historic McDowell Hall to see the classroom and my chalkboard. The building itself was beautiful, lots of natural wood, large windows, and brass classroom numbers on the doors. We discussed the game plan and Tina and Tony left me to do my thing.
Overall, I had a lot of fun doing the chalkboard. I saw it as being very similar to the envelopes that I do where I fill in all the negative space of the paper surface. In fact, it was the perfect training. Doing all those envelopes helped me strike the right balance between the words (which among themselves required equal visual weight) and the leftover space for flourishing. I was well aware that the flourishes should enhance, and not dominate the overall piece. After a while, I got the hang of drawing in the letters to achieve those thicks that the chalk couldn't create in one stroke. Adding highlights of color also helped to flesh out the letters and give them dimension. After doing the big guy, the little chalkboards seemed like no big deal.
Special thanks go to Tina, Tony, and especially Gregory Shook from St. John's College, who referred me to Tina. I look forward to seeing the final photos of the shoot.
Washington, D.C. — While working at my desk, I noticed soft evening sunlight creep into the room, illuminating my inspiration wall. I turned the lamp off, stopped working, and enjoyed the moment of unexpected light. When the evening light passed, I turned the lamp back on and got back to work.
N.B. One of the things on my wall is a tearsheet of a Spanish coal miner from a beautiful photo essay in the New York Times T Magazine. His features, especially the eyes, struck me as very Boticcellian.
Washington, D.C. — I was hired to calligraph a song of friendship by a client. What I had originally conceived as a long vertical piece eventually turned into a multipage booklet. I was a little nervous not knowing how to approach binding the pages together. After a bit of Googling, I came across this wonderful YouTube video by Sea Lemon, demonstrating a DIY approach to binding single pages.
It was easy to understand and implement, down to waxing my own embroidery thread. I didn't have access to curved bookbinding needles, so I tried bending straight bookbinding needles with jewelry pliers. It took two snapped needles for me to realize that I should heat the needle in a bit of flame to make it more malleable. I couldn't achieve a graceful curve, but what I did make worked well enough. (Sidebar: I found that using the straight needles also worked, but required some maneuvering between the pages.)
I love to embroider and cross-stitch, so I found this process to be really fun. And oddly enough, the repetition was quite meditative. When I have more time, I would love to make hand-bound art journals for my niece.
I was happy with the results, and the hand-done binding added an even special touch to this already unique gift from one friend to another.
Washington, D.C. — I recently finished up a small wedding suite which included 26 invitations, with accompanying RSVP cards and envelopes. The invitation design included a monogram with the motif of clarinet (the groom) and percussion mallet (the bride), illustrated and produced each time by hand.
To add a bit of specialness to the invitations, I created custom-made Pearl Ex ink to complement their wedding colors of blue and white hydrangeas. With a vase of blue hydrangeas before me, I made several attempts at mixing light violets, blues, and micropearl Pearl Ex pigments to achieve the hydrangea ink. When I held the paper up to the light and the ink gave off a nice subtle sheen of periwinkle, I knew I finally got the right balance.
I don't know what it was, but I really enjoyed the Frankenstein-ish aspect of this process. It was very gratifying experimenting with different hues to create an entirely new color. It reminded me of trying to make new Crayola colors by overlaying one crayon color on top of the other, which usually didn't turn out as well on paper as it did in the mind.
Washington, D.C. — I have reached the 100th letter in A Letter A Day. This art project to write a letter every day not only serves as valuable calligraphy practice but also as a creative wellspring for my illustration work. I make sure that each letter I write—both in form and content—is unique and tailored specifically for the person receiving it. You can view the project thus far on my Instagram.
More importantly, this project enables me to get back in touch with long lost friends and family. I appreciate this opportunity to reconnect with people I care about. But what I appreciate more is to hear back from them with news that they are healthy and happy. Letter writing gives us the chance to have deeper connections with the people around us. It is an irreplaceable art and tradition worth keeping alive.
Washington, D.C. — I was just about to photograph a set of handmade wedding invitations, when along came Frances to review my work. She's the resident QC'er at Handmade Letters. It's her job to hold me to the highest standards—I think I got away easy this time.
Rio Grande, Puerto Rico — Back in October when I started studying calligraphy more seriously, I looked to letter writing as my primary means of practice. My practice evolved into writing "a letter a day" to family, friends, and Flourish Forum pen pals.
As the New Year approached and I started thinking of how I always fail at keeping resolutions, I thought to myself why not make "a letter a day" this year's resolution. I vowed to see this project through until the end of 2015, a total of 432 letters.
While in Puerto Rico over the holiday, I diligently wrote letters and postcards with my travel kit of calligraphy supplies.