–Reasons and artwork by Risa Gettler
–Reasons and artwork by Risa Gettler
Over one hundred scribes gathered to celebrate the Society’s 40th Anniversary at the Grolier Club last Friday night with founding member Alice Koeth. Everyone enjoyed an entertaining, inspiring, and artful conversation between Alice and moderator Jerry Kelly: we learned about the early days of the Society, Alice’s travels and teaching career, her work for The Morgan Library and Steuben Glass. We were especially happy to see founding member Emily Brown Shields, longtime member Jeanyee Wong, Linda Dannhauser Setzer, Amy Chapman — founding member Abigail Chapman’s daughter, who flew in from Michigan — and so many others, without whom the Society would not be going 40 years strong.
Heartfelt thanks to everyone!
(Photography © Grayson Dantzic; Calligraphy by Alice)
This year the Society of Scribes is celebrating its 40th anniversary. It was founded by a small group of practicing scribes who wished to share their enthusiasm for calligraphy with a wider public by offering workshops and lectures on the history of the lettering and book arts. Following Donald Jackson’s landmark lectures in New York City, SoS offered a dazzling array of workshops and seminars in almost every historical script imaginable.
Renaissance Italic, Roman Capitals, Bookhand, and Carolingian headed the list of classes that newcomers flocked to. Shortly thereafter members were introduced to a rich palette of luscious, exotic Blackletter alphabets, along with the more eccentric regional hands such as Luxeuil and Beneventan Minuscule. By the early 80s pointed pen alphabets began to make their mark, attracting other members who were content to work in a more contemporary mode, while others were thrilled to journey through time to study and put to use long-forgotten scripts.
Recent years have witnessed an unprecedented interest and super-charged enthusiasm for pointed pen in all its variations. This is a welcome development in the light of increasing technology which has caused some to declare an end to the age of handwriting. What makes it more pleasing is the fact that in most guilds and at the national conferences there appears to be an increase in the younger generation exploring our art.
But it also seems that with a few exceptions, such as Blackletter variants in the hands of a Julian Waters or Luca Barcellona, interest in the historical scripts has waned considerably since the halcyon days of the 70s and 80s. This is a shame, because familiarity with these alphabets goes a long way to creating interesting, arresting designs that attract a reader’s attention and lead to a desire to know more about these scripts. And when called upon to write out a text from a particular historical period it may be more appropriate to render the text in a style of writing peculiar to that time, or at least with a modernized version as Sheila Waters so brilliantly executed Carolingian in Dylan Thomas’ Under Milkwood. I can recall passing the Morgan Pierpont Library and seeing with delight Alice’s blazing, authoritative banners heralding a particular exhibition, sometimes in a scintillating Batarde, sometimes in a majestic Uncial, always conveying the right flavor.
This term SoS is offering a most unusual, rather esoteric script, Visigothic Versals, the alphabet of 8th and 9th century Spain. At first glance one is struck by the strange, slightly weird, sometimes wacky forms. Upon closer scrutiny, however, one comes to see the incredible imagination and exuberance of this alphabet, and how winsomely they have been applied by the instructor Risa Gettler in her childrens’ books. Indeed, in that context they convey a child-like innocence that imparts a greater liveliness than the texts might otherwise have had if they were written in, say, Italic or Bookhand. An unfamiliar script may also slow the reader’s pace, resulting in a greater concentration on the words and the text’s meaning. This actually happened to me several years ago, when I was commissioned to write out the opening lines of the St John’s Gospel. The client chose a highly personal, quite eccentric version of Gothicized Italic, stating that the elaborate forms caused him to slow his reading speed and to focus on the content. And remember Edward Johnston’s admonition to his students to “think about the words.”
No less a compelling reason to study antique scripts is that they provide building blocks for the creation of new and unique, personalized versions of familiar alphabets. Once you have attained the understanding and ability to execute traditional styles, you may then start to experiment with various elements of different scripts and synthesize them into something new and exotic. So, for example, you may apply one of the quirkier elements of a Visigiothic Versal to the solid structure of a Roman or Uncial form, and develop something quite unexpected and attractive. This brings us into the realm of calligraphic playing, a time no less valuable than concentrated, disciplined study. So, for example, examining a truly bizarre lettering style, Luxeuil Minuscule, the precursor of Carolingian, that looks rather like a plate of spaghetti randomly tossed into the air, has a verve and texture that can be applied to quickly rendered gestural strokes resulting in an unusual and visually arresting composition. This is not to imply that the process is always easy or a guaranteed success, but it does expand the field of creativity.
Way back in the 90s a wave of expressionist, abstract calligraphy began to seduce scribes and other practitioners of the broad-edged pen. For all the razzle-dazzle it was often apparent who had a solid foundation and understanding of classic letterforms — and who did not. Not even the most bravura strokes and bold applications of color could mask the weaknesses and flaws in these designs, but those who knew their traditional forms understood how to break the rules and succeed in creating something new and dramatic.
So, the next time you attend a cocktail party whip out a marker and write the guests’ names in Schwabacher Fraktur or Merovingian Minuscule. Not only will you delight and fascinate your friends, but you may wind up with a contract for the next remake of 10,000 BC.
Looking forward to celebrating 40 years and seeing members — old and new — at The Grolier Club tonight! Hope you can join us for a festive evening and conversation with founding member Alice Koeth and moderator Jerry Kelly. (Invitation designed by Anna Pinto.)
Letter Design & the Influence of the Pen: Calligraphy into Type and Back Again
A Workshop with Julian Waters
September 27 @ 8:30am – September 28 @ 4:30pm
Type Directors Club, 347 W. 36th Street, Suite 603, New York City 10018
Hey Members! Still a few spots left in this upcoming TDC workshop with Julian Waters…
This course will look at the parallel worlds of type and calligraphy (hand pen lettering), how they have influenced each other over the centuries and are again today. From Gutenberg to Jenson to Aldus, 15th & 16th century early type was heavily influenced by pen lettering of the age, and over the centuries some of the best calligraphers have been involved with typeface production, from Schöffer, Arrighi, Neudørffer to Gill, Trump, Zapf, and on up to today.
In this spirit, learn fundamental underlying proportions of classical capitals, pen written and early types including Textura, Roman and Italic. Fleshing them out with the broad edged pen reveals how the tool can naturally distribute and modulate weights throughout the shapes. This can open up possibilities for letter design not possible by drawing outlines alone. We can use the pen to analyze and learn more about pen related types, how axis relates to pen angle, how the broad edged pen line differs from the pressured pen swelled line and what types are influenced by either – eg Venetian vs Modern etc. We will go back and forth between written and drawn lettering, and focus on the optical balance of the volumes inside and between forms. Harmony of spacing is inseparable from the linear shapes.
More information and registration here.
Monumental Design: Lettering in Green-Wood with Paul Shaw
Sunday, September 14, 2014 from 1:00pm – 3:00pm
Green-Wood Cemetery, 500 25th Street, Brooklyn 11232
Here’s an event that may be of interest to our members: One of the best places for a lettering tour is in a cemetery – each stone, mausoleum and monument presents its own language and design. Join Paul Shaw, SoS instructor and lettering expert, for a look at the varied lettering and designs to be found among Green-Wood’s myriad tombs, mausoleums, monuments and more. Shaw will show how lettering styles and layouts have evolved, from the beginnings of the cemetery into the 20th century; and discuss the influences of printing, posters, pneumatic tools and materials. At the end of your visit, you’ll take home a unique stone rubbing made during the tour.
Paul Shaw is a calligrapher, author, designer and design historian. He teaches calligraphy and typography courses at Parsons School of Design and the School of Visual Arts, and has led lettering tours across the country and globe.
$25 for members of Green-Wood and BHS/$30 for non-members.
SoS members can sign up at the member price (a $5 discount) by using the code “letteropener” when ordering through the event page here.
Kathy Milici’s Modern Storybook Script sold out in just under 2 days last month! — So she’s generously agreed to do a second session for us on Sunday, December 7th. Same time, same location, same price. This is a new hand that Kathy developed with lots of swirls and flourishes; you won’t find it anywhere else. The letters — and the teacher! — are fun, playful and energetic. Don’t miss out on this second opportunity; it’s sure to be an enjoyable day. Details and registration here.
Our Fall Classes & Workshops have just been posted! More details and registration here.
(artwork above: Dancin’ Pen by Carrie Imai, September 20-21, 2014)
We’re just putting the finishing touches on our upcoming Fall season! Classes/workshops will be posted by August 15. Current members will continue to get email notification and a special 24-hour advance registration period on August 17. Registration will be open for everyone on August 18.
Workshops & Events
Friday, September 19 – Adventures with Alice & 40 Years of the Society of Scribes
Sat/Sun, September 20/21 – Dancin’ Pen with Carrie Imai
2 Sundays, September 28/October 5 – Vector Drawing with CJ Dunn
2 Weekends, October 18/19 and 25/26 – Fraktur with Luca Barcellona (pictured above)
Sunday, November 2 – Modern Storybook Script with Kathy Milici
November 3 thru November 22 – Annual Members’ Exhibition at the National Arts Club
Sat/Sun, November 8/9 – Visigothic Versals with Risa Gettler
Sunday, November 16 – Annual Holiday Fair at the Brotherhood Synagogue
Sat/Sun, December 6/7 – Roman Capitals with Marcy Robinson
Copperplate-I with Elinor Holland, 5 Sundays starting September 21
Italic-I with Anna Pinto, 5 Saturdays starting September 27
Copperplate-Intensive with Marcy Robinson, 2 Sundays starting November 2
Copperplate-II with Elinor Holland, 2 Saturdays starting November 15
All dates are subject to change, and more events may be added.
(Calligraphy by Luca Barcellona)
Excitement is starting to build and registration is now open for next summer’s International Calligraphy Conference, The Passionate Pen, at Sonoma State University in northern California. More information and registration here.
The truth is that the Roman Majuscule “Capitalis Monumentalis” is perhaps the most majestic and seductive alphabet produced in the West in over 2000 years. And it is with us everywhere we go, from street signs to advertising to government buildings and museums, and very often even unto our final resting places. It is far more than an accident of history that these sublime letterforms have traveled the corridors of time and show little, if any, hint of ever being deflected from their magnificent paths of deployment. Yes, they ARE difficult to render with pen and ink. But let us first remember that this alphabet was originally designed to be carved in stone, not for the writing of manuscripts. The Roman alphabet evolved from Greek forms of the 5th century BC and slowly developed into the elegant and sophisticated letters that adorn the great monuments of ancient Rome and the wealthier cities scattered throughout the Roman Empire. The letters attained their highest degree of refinement during the late 1st-mid 2nd century AD when the Empire was at peace (Pax Romana) and at the peak of its prosperity. The intention was to extol the deeds and accomplishments of the emperors in as resounding a manner as possible; hence carving them in marble on the temples, arches and great public buildings explains the nomenclature of Monumental Capitals. Just as they strike fear and trepidation in neophyte scribes, so too were they meant to convey a feeling of awe and power in the viewer as he/she wended his/her way through the crowds on the way to the forum or the gladiatorial games. “MATINÉE TODAY: CLAUDIUS vs MARIUS”
Exercitatio optimus est magister (Practice is the best instructor)
No less an authority than Sheila Waters believes that these letters are mystical and mysterious, and that “somehow you never quite get them.” What this really means is that the forms display an abundance of subtleties that are tantalizingly elusive, from the slight swelling at the heads to the even slighter swelling at the foot of the letter (a mimicry of the architectural concept of entasis, so prevalent in classical architecture), to the 4-degree angle off the vertical of the 1st stroke of M to the 6-degree of the right hand stroke. “Who cares about 4-degrees and 6-degrees?” Well, you do… and if you don’t, then you should. Because only then, when you begin to focus on these deceptively trivial elements does your calligraphy begin to achieve a polish and refinement that hitherto you may have only sporadically attained. Studying Roman Caps trains your hand to master greater control and touch incorporating techniques of pressure and release, and to write with strength and conviction. Your eye is likewise sensitized to correct rhythmic spacing and enables you to identify active counterspace as opposed to “dead” space that can ruin a design. A heading of beautifully rendered Romans is an immediate attention grabber, just as the emperors intended, and sets a tone of anticipation for what follows.
Yes, the alphabet requires a commitment of time and patience. Precise, voluptuous forms in general will not magically emerge after only a 2-day workshop, but the building blocks will have been put securely in place. Augustus Caesar, who reigned 41 years, declared that he found Rome a city of brick but left it a city of marble. And was Rome built in a day? Obviously, the effort to build The Eternal City was worth it.
Barry Morentz began studying calligraphy 37 years ago, and like most normal newcomers avoided Roman Caps like plague for the first three years. After an intensive workshop with Julian Waters he experienced The Great Awakening, and he has been studiously challenged and happily seduced by these wondrous forms ever since. (Article and photo by Barry Morentz)
Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible
Knights of Columbus Museum, One State Street, New Haven CT 06511
Open Daily: 10 am to 5 pm
Opening on June 2 and continuing through October 2014 at the Knights of Columbus Museum, Illuminating the Word: The Saint John’s Bible showcases the first handwritten and hand-illustrated Bible to be commissioned by a Benedictine monastery in 500 years.
Illuminating the Word presents 68 original pages from all seven volumes of The Saint John’s Bible along with tools, sketches, materials and rare books. More information here.
Saturday, July 19 at 2pm
The Scripts of the Saint John’s Bible: An Introduction to the Manuscript’s Calligraphic Art
Christopher Calderhead, author of Illuminating the Word: The Making of the Saint John’s Bible
Click here for full calendar of events.
Some world-class calligraphers and SoS favorites are coming to Type@Cooper (Cooper Union, 41 Cooper Square) in June!
More information on Herb Lubalin Lecture Series and registration here.
Automotive Identity at General Motors with Susan Skarsgard
Monday, June 9, 2014 from 6:30 to 8:30pm
Free and open to the public.
Reflections on Eric Gill with Ewan Clayton
Monday, June 16, 2014 from 6:30 to 8:30pm
Free and open to the public.
More information on Public Workshops and registration here.
Push, Float, Glide, Dab: The Joy of Movement with Ewan Clayton
Saturday/Sunday, June 21-22, 2014 from 10am to 5pm
Eclectic Inspiration, Hand Lettering with Carl Rohrs
Saturday/Sunday, June 28-29, 2014 from 10am to 5pm
Guild of Book Workers Spring Swap Meet
Saturday, June 14, 2014 from 10:00 am to 4:00 pm
Judith Ivry’s Studio, 25 E. 4th Street, 5th Floor (between Bowery/Lafayette)
The New York Chapter of the Guild of BookWorkers is hosting a Spring Swap Meet at Judith Ivry’s studio on the second Saturday of June. GBW members will be selling or trading supplies and tools form their seasoned collections. It is open to all, and they are graciously inviting SoS members! There will be calligraphy supplies, Japanese papers, book cloth… and much more.
From Celine Lombardi of the GBW: All are welcome! We’ve been very excited about the responses coming in from veteran binders to new beginners, as well as from the printing and papermaking and calligraphy communities! It is promising to be a fun social event with some great treasures to be discovered.
Some of the latest highlights….
Nora Ligorano and Vin Buchanan unearthed a secret stash of their Lost Link paste papers to bring to the sale. Jenny Hille has an alum tawed skin, vellum, a sewing frame and some litho stones to sell. Nelly Ballofet has printing type along with other supplies. Davin Kuntze from Woodside Press in Brooklyn will bring bookcloth remainders and paper offcuts. Plus Pergamena will be selling leather and vellum and Talas will be bringing bookbinding tools and supplies.
There will also be a SWAP SPOT at the sale, so please be encouraged to bring something small (book related) to add to the table and to go home with a little something new to you.
We hope you can join us! Please RSVP to let us know if you would have interest in attending or if you perhaps would like to bring items to sell: firstname.lastname@example.org
Optimizing Your Art: Tips and Tricks for Preparing Your Art for Reproduction
Friday, May 16, 2014 from 6:30 to 8:00 pm
School of Visual Arts Annex, 214 E. 21st Street, Room 701A (between 2nd/3rd Avenues)
Free and open to the public. Guests are welcome. Refreshments will be served.
Xandra Zamora will take the mystery out of scanning and digitizing your original artwork for any kind of print method using a scanner, and Adobe Creative Suite. Learn time-saving tips from the experience of a master! And treat yourself to a slide lecture of Xandra’s drop-dead gorgeous work!
Xandra’s weekend workshop is completely sold out, but everyone is welcome to attend on Friday night!