Frequently Asked Questions
What calligraphy equipment do you use?
I'm glad you asked. I have written an article about getting started in calligraphy and you can read it here. I want to help nurture this revival of interest in calligraphy. It is such a beautiful art form with such an interesting story going back thousand of years. Calligraphy is a powerful medium with broad appeal. It has the ability to move and inspire people. It needs to evolve to survive and I am hopeful that is happening.
Are you going to teach any online classes?
I do plan to do an online class this year, as soon as time permits. I owe it to myself, and the people who pay to take the class, to do a great job so I'm not going to rush it. Please sign up for my occasional mailing list to be the first to hear about it.
Will you design me a tattoo? Will you do my wedding invitations? Will you write my name?
Thank you for asking, it's obviously a compliment to be asked to do any of these things and I appreciate it. However I do not do projects like this. I am extremely busy working on both client and personal projects.
Have you ever done foreign calligraphy? Like Arabic Calligraphy for example or any other languages?
I find Arabic and many Asian scripts very beautiful but I haven't tried them yet. I have to choose my battles, but hopefully one day. I still have so much to learn about Latin calligraphic forms.
What first got you interested in letterforms?
I gravitated towards letterform design in college when I was 18 and haven't looked back. It probably sounds odd but I don't think I chose letterforms, I think they chose me. I stumbled across a book in the college library called 'The Graphic Language of Neville Brody'. He has done some iconic work and I was struck the graphic power of written language. That was the first time I thought about designing letterforms and it quickly became a passion and obsession. I think the Latin alphabet is one of our most profound and beautiful creations. I have developed a strong emotional attachment to it. A great calligrapher of the 20th century, Rudolph Koch, once said. "The making of letters in every form is for me the greatest pleasure. It was and is for me the most happy and perfect expression of my life." I feel the same way.
How did you get into calligraphy?
It's actually a really terrible story in some ways, but I think it shows that sometimes clouds do indeed have silver linings. I tell the story simply because it might be helpful to someone out there. You can read about it here.
What is your favourite letter?
Many type designers would say 'R' because it has many of the components of all the letters and is beautiful. My favourite letter is the letter 'S'. It's always the hardest letter to draw which I like and it's a pure, simple, sensual, beautiful shape.
With your online clips do you do a 'mock up' first to make sure your letters are spaced evenly on the page?
On average I try something perhaps four times and picked the most acceptable one. There has to be a cut off point. I'm an extreme perfectionist and if I waited until I was really happy with a clip I'd never post anything and miss a lot of deadlines. Occasionally I do get something good enough first time, sometimes I try a dozen times and just can't do anything. You have to be in the right frame of mind which for most calligraphy is calm and focused.
Do you ever draw any guide lines?
Not normally, mainly because I have no formal training in calligraphy and so I never got into the habit of drawing guidelines. My interest in calligraphy began with me doodling in sketchbooks in a very free, expressive and unregimented way. I would certainly recommend beginners, and everyone else, draws guidelines if it helps them. I suppose I just like to make things difficult for myself.
Do you ever doubt yourself and question your ability?
All the time, it is normal for creative people to question themselves and their ability. I have a very large reference library and regularly study and learn from the work of the best Western calligraphers of the last two thousand years or so. It keeps me very humble. I think anyone who understands what they can do understands what they can't yet do. I feel I have a long way to go to become the calligrapher I want to be, but if I ever get there it will be a pretty crazy thing to see.
Who do you admire most in the world of letterforms?
The very best work with letterforms shows a profound understanding of the subject and is expressed through virtuosity, often showing progressive thinking. The best of the best work charts new territory in the field. It's generally the kind of work you see from people who have been working with letterforms for decades. In terms of current practitioners John Stevens, Donald Jackson, Sheila Waters and David Smith impress me a great deal to name a few. I was very saddened when Jean Larcher died recently. He was truly one of the true greats, a real master. I feel very lucky to have seen him talk a few years ago. There is a very rare breed of person working in the field of letterforms who I think could do anything at all in the visual arts if they put their mind to it. I suspect all of these people are in that category.
In other fields of the visual arts I love the work of artists like James Jean, David Kassan and Serge Marshennikov.
You make calligraphy look easy. I find it very difficult and it is discouraging.
Remember I've really worked very hard at this for a long time, and still have a long way to go. Four years doing traditional calligraphy now, but 20 years since I was in college designing digital letterforms. Hermann Zapf said anyone can be a good calligrapher and I agree with him. It boils down to study, practice and perseverance.
What is the relevance of calligraphy today?
That's an easy question to answer. There are some things computers do better than traditional tools and vice versa. I feel working with both traditional and digital tools has made me a much better and more versatile artist and designer. I have a broader range of tools and techniques to choose from. Calligraphy can be very beautiful and I don't see beauty becoming irrelevant anytime soon. Our appreciation of it is so fundamental to what makes us human.
Calligraphy, until recently, has had a bit of an image problem. In the UK it conjured up images of elderly ladies in church halls copying out passages from the Bible. There is nothing wrong with that picture, I love that traditional aspect of calligraphy. However it is only one side of the story today. Calligraphy is enjoying a renaissance. A lot of young people are interested again and they're applying calligraphy in new contexts and often with a progressive, exploratory and sometimes irreverent attitude. I see calligraphy influencing logo design, graphic design and graffiti at the moment. I find this renewed interest very exciting.
What are your future plans?
I think it was Buddha who said "the trouble is you think you have time". That really resonates with me and this year I'm focusing more on art, something I've wanted to do for a long time. I'd like to try to become established in the art world as well as in design. I would like to find a high profile and prestigious gallery to work with. I am extremely ambitious and, while I'm pleased with progress so far, there is so much more I want to try and achieve with my life. I have set some very big goals for myself this year and beyond and it will be interesting for me to see how things work out.