So I’ve been making little “illuminated” things like this:
This is all super new to me and you may be surprised to learn, judging by the *incredible* professional quality of literally everything I have ever posted, that I have no training or experience or talent as an artist of any kind and I’m also kind of an idiot. So I’m just figuring stuff out. I figured I’d share with you the (horrifying) process by which I produced this stunning piece, which has already been purchased by the Vatican library. They said I could send it to my friend, Pau, first, so that’s cool.
1.) Most of my calligraphy ideas come from music lyrics, but this time it was an image that inspired me. I was flipping through Gotham Central issues and I thought, “Ah-ha! The bat signal is the bowl of a ‘P’, and the leg is the beam of the searchlight! I’ll make that for Pau!”
I quickly determined that I can’t really make that look cool, so I went with “bat signal inside an appropriately Gothic letter ‘P’.”
2.) I found a cool looking capital P in a book of illuminated initials and set about sketching it in pencil. This is more akin to actually drawing something than calligraphy, so I’m in way over my head. Still, I’m getting better at recreating the basic shapes of decorative letters.
Okay, so…my big secret. I’ll happily stencil or trace highly geometric elements like little wing-a-lings on the borders of stuff I make. But I steadfastly refuse to stencil or trace letters. At that point, there’s no point in doing it by hand if I’m just trying to make exact replicas. I would not call the end product “calligraphy,” so screw that. Plus the size is usually wrong blah blah blah. BUT! I will trace or stencil a letter that *I* made on a separate page. More on this later. I usually draw the capitals I use several times until I hit on the right form, and go from there. This time, I was having so much trouble that I erased and erased and erased and made one really shitty version of the P. I tried to fix it as I traced it on to a fresh page, free from the damage of constant erasing. That got traced and corrected a second time, leaving me with a decent version of the model on clean paper. The nice thing about tracing your own work is that you have the full letter there to look at it. Proportions are so important when you’re trying to make attractive letters, so I find it helpful to see the entire letter and work on top of it, rather than just erasing and correcting small sections. In the future, I want to try drawing my models using my calligraphy pens - pleasing angles and curves are so much more natural to me when writing calligraphy than they are when I’m trying to draw the same elements with a pencil - and tracing outlines from there. Either that or using a watered down grey and seeing if I can layer colors on top of that without them mixing too much. New ideas!
The original had more of an open oval inside, which I didn’t bother with, except two small semicircles to show how thick I wanted the inner border to be.
I could not find my stupid compass, so I had to find a circle to trace. Lego to the rescue.
3.) I knew I’d have to alter the form to better hold the circular border. Done.
4.) The wings of the bat signal from the cover of Gotham Central #1 follow a circle. I used my ring to lay down a guide.
5.) So the answer to the question “can I draw a batman logo?” is a firm “no.” Erase erase erase. Finally, I thought the proportions were kind of okay. I’m a firm believer in my pencil work not needing to be at all perfect, as it’s all covered, and I make so many adjustments in laying down the ink. If I get hung up on it, I’ll just screw up a line while inking and need to change it up anyway.
6.) I looked at the writing in the comic and it totally works there, but I wanted something more decorative and Gothic for my Batmanian creation. The Old English style that Ive been practicing wasn’t quite what I wanted (I usually draw a decorative capital and then finish writing the word in my usual calligraphic style. Adding gold or silver borders to the letters helps tie it all together, or so I tell myself), so I looked at some scripts. I liked this one and knew I could reproduce it with my parallel pens.
7.) I wanted to be able to color in my letters, and I knew I could not reproduce them in one go, so I practiced on a separate sheet. It took three swings at both the ‘A’ and the ‘U’ before I thought the proportions were okay. Unfortunately, looking at the size of the ‘P’, my initial attempts were a bit too small. I made a bigger ‘A’ and ‘U.’ The ‘A’ sucked, but I thought I’d fix it when I traced it on to the actual piece.
8.) At this stage, these things always look like crap. But this one really bugged me. I know I suck, but I was doing worse than usual - making that ‘A’, which still bothered me, required some pretty extensive revisions.
I strongly considered crumpling this up and tossing it. Lord knows I’ll post all sorts of things that are less than perfect (less than good?) - this is a blog for my progress in learning calligraphy, not for the best work of a confident, mature artist. Still…yuck.
9.) But I carried on, if only to practice the latter steps in making a little piece like this.
I looked at some batarang designs as border elements, but thought I might be getting a little too cute with my idea. Instead, I picked a somewhat bat-ish Victorian corner design. The inner border left the piece feeling a bit squat, so I added an outer border. Much better.
10.) I try to remind myself that these things all look like garbage until the inks go down. I had originally planned metallic outlines for the letters, then a black and yellow color scheme, reflecting the searchlight design. I wasn’t sure how this would work on the ‘P’, so I decided to change my plan and go with a golden searchlight and metallic silver letters, against the black background. This would all be accomplished with paint pens. I usually work with ink washes and Stabilo pointVisco pens, but they’d sit this one out.
11.) This is the first point at which I thought this might turn out OK. The bat is not perfect, but the effect isn’t bad. It all kind of pops.
I would not need to erase my pencils this time, so you can see where I’ve clipped them and altered things with the metallic outlines. The ‘A’ and ‘U’ aren’t perfect, but they no longer fill me with shame.
12.) Cut out, the finished piece is about 4.5” by 3”. The finished product is…well, it ain’t the Book of Kells, but I’m fond of it all the same. I hope you like it, Pau!
Start to finish was around 3 and 1/2 hours, with an unusually high amount (for me) of revision, despair, and consideration of giving up and finding a new hobby, like playing the saxophone.
Whew. Thanks for reading! Questions and comments are more than welcome! I almost always take progress pictures as I make things, and I can post them in a less text-dense format in the future if anyone is interested.