Monday Art: Fine-tuning my calligraphy quotes

Dr Seuss quote

Most recent installment of the project

Last night I uploaded a few more of my calligraphy quotes to flickr. If you haven’t seen these before, they’re part of my yearlong 2009 Christmas present to my best friend: one decorated quotation per week. I have a vast file on my computer (50+ pages) of all the quotes I’ve saved over the years, and I have savored this opportunity of setting them to paper. This morning our mutual friend Sophie saw the latest pics and asked, “Do you have a little book of these decorated quotes? I would love to buy one for my coffee table.” Oooh, I thought, great idea. Unfortunately, I don’t know an easy way to make that happen. If I did a book by hand, it would be very expensive; if I printed it up, I’d be worried about quote attribution and rights. Either way, you know I have enough on my plate as is. But the idea has stuck in my head. Any suggestions on how to make this work?


Storey quote, freehand original

For the moment, it’s tickled my creative spirit to imagine these really going into a book. When I’ve had time I’ve tried to do the quotes properly, trying out the text in pencil first and planning out the spacing, but mostly they’ve just been freehand. At right is the original freehand rendering of a quotation attributed to David Storey. I mixed two inks and wrote out the text in cursive. I love the way the blue and turquoise inks flowed together, but I didn’t pre-test the inks or nib on this paper, so the ink bled. At second glance I also thought the loopy cursive looked cramped on the small (3″ x 6″) paper. So I decided to redo the quote, as if I really were preparing this as a page of a coffee-table book.


Take two. Oops.

For the new version, I selected a larger paper (about 6″ x 7.5″) with a rough texture, a wide calligraphy nib, and a mixture of blue and violet inks (since this paper is a little darker than the first one). I tried out a new style of writing, and immediately botched the attempt by running out of space on the page. An elementary mistake!


Third attempt

But I liked the new “settings,” so I tried them again. This time I used the same size paper but I turned it the other way. This sheet also had a line of silver painted along one side. I liked my original idea to make the words “have confidence” and “you can” larger than the rest of the text, so I wrote those using the big nib, and switched to a smaller version of the same nib for the rest of the text. It’s not bad, but I decided I don’t like the look of so much of the same calligraphy style.


Now with two "fonts"

I tore off another sheet, and set out the emphasized phrases in the same nib and writing style, but this time with the rest of the text in cursive. I did a neat, rather upright script, but it didn’t seem to fit the composition. When I got to the author’s name I made the writing a little looser, and decided I preferred that look. So I started over yet again. Yes, I am obsessive.


All wrong.

I experimented more with the composition this time, but I hated the result. It looks all awkward and uneven. But the cursive was much closer to what I wanted. I started afresh once more, and it was looking good, but then I wrote “big” instead of “little” in the first part of the phrase, and had to throw out the attempt. I read that it’s possible to fix calligraphy mistakes by sanding down the paper, but for simple cards like these, why go to the trouble?


Almost finished

The final version became so by default: it was my last sheet of this paper. (And there’s no possibility of getting more, since the pad was made of trimmings from a bookbindery.) I didn’t get a consistent ink flow in the top phrase, so there’s a blot in the f and the other letters are uneven, but I like this composition much better. The only problem is that I started too far to the right on the page, but that’s an easy thing to fix with scissors (or the crop tool in a photo editor)!

Storey final

Final version

Is this really the best version of this quote? Is it even better than my original freehand version (aside from the problem of the ink bleeding)? I’m not satisfied. If I were preparing it for a book, I’d certainly redo it. Some text is easier to make pretty than others; this is one of the more difficult quotes to set into a nice composition. Looking at it again, it occurs to me that it might be very cute — if I were to illustrate it — with the big phrases as banners carried by little marching people…

Well, I’ll leave it for now. And I’ll let my mind keep turning over this coffee-table book idea. What do you think of it?