What is a Calligram?

Friends! Callligrams are so much fun to create. They are shapes of people, animals, places or things in which the words form the image. I have a few that have been in the public since 2005, but Fall 2023, I was asked to make another commemorative print for the Women’s Night of Worship for Riverwest Church in Lake Oswego, Oregon. My assignment was John 1:14 as the Bible Study was focusing on the Book of John. The design was to be reds, greens and cozy….thinking particularly about the word ‘dwell’ as Jesus came in the flesh to dwell among us. My daughter said when she read the verse, it made her think of a door. So I drew a funny little cabin. I showed it to my group leader, Jan, and she suggested that I design the cabin to look like the Women’s Ministry leader’s cabin in Montana. Here is the result….500 were gifted to attendees at Christmas.

Cabin Print with John 1:4. Towards the bottom, I was compelled to add a particular scripture below the cabin. Think about it..if Christ came in the flesh and dwelt among us and He was full of Grace and Truth, what does that mean to us? Well, in part it means that the God of Glory came to be with us, to offer us a second chance if we sincerely ask for His forgiveness. So it made sense to put the verse….’Behold, I (Jesus) stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and dine with him and he with me.” Can you picture Him, the God of the universe, knocking at your door? He loves you and wants to spend time with you. He offers you this gift.

Now, onto some older calligrams.

Back in 2005, when Abbey Press was still in business, I was asked to create a horse with the words “What Horses Teach Us” for a sweatshirt. The wording that they gave me, had advice for people with a horse twist. The words were terms or expressions that people use to refer to horses. This is my first calligram that went out to the public on a sweatshirt.

I loved making this, so Abbey Press agreed that I could make another horse, if I revised the wording. Below is my horse along with my wording.

I had such a great response that I designed a dog and a cat. One Thanksgiving when my kids and I were visiting friends at their lake house, we all sat around and thought of phrases specific to dogs, cats, pigs, birds and trees – advice to people with an animal twist. We had a hilarious time with everyone’s witty words. I have created the Dog and Cat calligrams, but yet to do the other 3. Below are the results. You may purchase them as framable prints or greeting cards on my website – links below. (Red is toned down in dog print). Prints do not have my website written on them.


CAT, Perfect Advice for a Cat Lover’s Life

DIY Calligraphy On Freixenet Wine Bottles

Valentine’s Day is approaching and I want to share a simple but effective gift idea! You can imagine why this would be appropriate…a celebratory toast, some sparkling wine and chocolate or even with a romantic dinner together. The Freixenet company, a Spanish producer of cava¬†and other sparkling and still wines hired me this Fall to letter on their black wine bottles. I was a little surprised that the company asked me to letter with a gold sharpie marker, but after checking out their site, they have devoted a whole section of their website with this nifty little idea. Despite the simplicity of the tool, the impact of the gold on the black bottle is fantastic and people purchased to give as seasonal mini-gifts.

Everyone LOVES personalization on items that they buy. Whether you choose a word, a short phrase and/or names it will be a hit. See what you think from my pictures below. If you have beautiful or clever printing or handwriting, you too, can create a special “I love you” gift for your special someone. I have a tip for you below the photos.

And the tip is……

If you make a mistake, it takes a little work to remove the Sharpie marker, but if you trace over the gold with another layer of the gold marker, then take a slightly damp Magic Eraser (special sponge from grocery store), you can remove the mistake. The second layer of the gold sharpie reactivates the first layer of gold and then it’s easier to erase it. It might take a little time to completely get it off, but I found that it worked pretty well. I hope that helps you!

Lake Oswego Open Studios 2023

Hello Friend! This years Open Studio was great fun. Many new faces, everyone’s names hand lettered, multiple rooms full of calligraphy designs, a slide show of custom work that has gone out to clients, cider and churros. Below are a few pictures of the event.

Many thanks to my friends Pauline Kim, Marie Hibbs for taking orders and guest calligrapher/penman David Grimes of www.masgrimes.com A sample of his beautiful lettering is also below. Thanks to Richell Chui for sharing her photos with me. You can find her amazing peg people at https://www.instagram.com/living_mosaic_design/

If you came for a visit, it was great to see you. If not, you may make an appointment to meet concerning your calligraphy project. Mission: to feed the soul by making meaningful words beautiful.

Inspiring the next generation to learn how to write beautifully. Though mainly adults take this tour, it is always a delight to show children the art of calligraphy. BELOW IS A VIDEO
Embellishing the name
It was a steady flow of people, but spaced so I was able to meet one on one with many of the 45 that came. That is the special part!
I still display my dear father’s work, Clifford D. Mansley, Sr. He is the 2nd generation calligrapher in the family
The talented David Grimes’ work is above. His pointed pen lettering as well as a striking bird flourish. David graciously came for the afternoon Saturday to help me out as people flowed through the studio. It was great fun to spend time with him and people loved the graceful versions of their names that he created. Thank you David!!
Holly’s work in process
Inspired to try her hand at calligraphy….even some decoration with it!

Calligraphy on Calfskin #2

And this my friend is the companion piece to MERCY, in my last blog post. It is The Man in the Arena, a famous speech that Theodore Roosevelt gave April 23 at the Sorbonne in Paris, 1910. Whether you agree with Roosevelt’s politics or not, his speech is an inspiration. In my mind, it’s about getting into the battle of life rather than sitting on the sideline. Making an impact for good in your country. To me, it is incredibly relevant in today’s world. (In the image below, you can see how I mount the calfskin for framing. These skins move with the humidity, so the threads are mounted like little springs that help to stabilize the skin in differing humidity.)

This design was created from approximately one third of the skin (the other two thirds used on the MERCY piece in my previous Blog post). To prepare the skin there are special grades of sandpaper used to smooth the surface and to remove oils. Then you pumice the surface and brush off the residue. Look closely as the images and see if you can see the beautiful texture of the skin.

Although you see the layout for my MERCY piece (above), The Man in the Arena calligraphy was lettered on the right (blank) side of the calfskin. It’s always nerve wrecking to cut these large expensive skins as I never want to make a mistake in measurement…but all worked out well!

Here you can see the famous title. My client requested that the design be straightforward, legible and not too fancy. As a lettering artist, I try to make it interesting. by using a unique style for the title and adding flourishes to give it flair. In my mind, the flourishes show the movement of a ‘man in the arena’ and they highlight the two nouns. I had a different lettering style on the line “It is not the critic who counts” and didn’t like it, so with my handy electric eraser I was able to remove the ink. Then I lightly sanded the area and put in the new line (Italic). Calfskin is so wonderful if you need to make a correction. Better than paper.

Gold leaf never shows well when you scan or photography from head on. I typically have to photograph at an angle to catch the glint of the gold. To tie the two designs together, I used the same Bookhand style for the main body, the same crimson color and gold leaf, but changed the titling style. This lovely lettering style was in an old Speedball textbook, but some of our modern scribes have updated it so that it’s better than ever – see the newest Speedball text book.

And here are the two finished designs together. I framed them with a black carved frame, linen top mat, crimson accent mat and a black beaded wood fillet in the inside window of the mat. Note, that calfskin never lies completely flat, but that is the beauty of it.

Calligraphy on Calfskin with Gold Leaf

About a year ago, I completed this special project. 2021 to early 2022. It was a gift and the recipient had not yet graduated from law school. His kindly friend and wife recognized the great potential that this young man has and so wanted to gift him with some very special words to hang in his law office. The theme is about MERCY. He chose the real deal, calfskin, which is a delight to work on, although you need to know how to prepare it. This skin was purchased from Pergamena, NY. Read below to learn more about this very special project.

First, a close up of the capital letter. My client was a dental surgeon, not an artist, so in his mind, he was imagining black and white. His wife talked him into a little crimson. After the word MERCY was hand lettered, I felt it was much too plain, so we discussed putting some illumination and decoration in the counter spaces of the M. My handmade gesso is always painted on first. That is the light pink stuff that you see inside of the M below. The leaf is laid on the left, just laid on the right, but not yet cleaned up. Typically, I lay the 23.75k gold leaf first, but it was an afterthought on this project. I teach a workshop on laying gold leaf, if you are interested…contact me.

The thought of MERCY for a lawyer or a judge is surely one to be considered. I thought of Les Miserables while I was creating this. Remember how the priest gave the silver candlesticks to the thief Jean Valjean and it changed his heart? The entire piece contains a reminder at the top to ‘Remember who you are and what you stand for’ (i.e. a decent, fair and just man), a scripture from the Sermon on the Mount, the main body – a memorable speech from Shakespeare’s The Merchant of Venice and 3 more Bible verses about Mercy towards the bottom. My client wanted legible and traditional, so I used a Lombardic style at the top and a more modern Bookhand for the body, plus Italic for the small red phrases at the top.

Above is the completed project. Below is the client presenting it to the younger recipient. Notice that this large piece (about 4′ tall, 3′ wide) was placed in an Airfloat Systems box. You can ship frames in these foam lined boxes or just present the art and hold on to the protective box for a future move. This was the largest piece of calfskin that I have worked on to date, so I was able to create both projects out of one. Visit my next blog to see the companion piece.