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!
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.
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.
Sometimes, I am not able to show what I’m working on for awhile, because the project is being gifted to someone. Now, I can share this project with you. In November of 2021, I had a wonderful visit from Father Nathan and Father Philip, both from Mt. Angel Abbey, Oregon. Father Nathan oversees the art acquisitions at the Abbey. Father Philip oversees the guest house, but is also a calligraphy instructor. Needless to say, we all had a great time getting to know each other! They came to hire me to create 2 Coat of Arms. One to hang at Mt. Angel Abbey and the other to be gifted (July 2022) to Westminster Abbey, British Columbia, which was founded by some Brothers/monks from Mt. Angel, back in 1939.
Above and below. These broadsides were created on genuine calfskin (aka vellum) with genuine 23.75 gold leaf, gold powder plus watercolor and gouache. They are about 3′ tall and about 2′ wide (from memory, not exact). In this first picture above, I have already sketched the design on tracing paper and transferred it to the hydrated and stretched/mounted calfskin. The dark pink color is gesso, made from the Italian Cennini recipe made right here in my studio. (If you would like to join a future workshop, sign up on my eNewsletter or email me.) There is quite a process to laying the loose leaf gold. As you can see, I lay down the gold before I paint the color. One of my agate burnishers, used to polish and shine the gold, is also visible in these first two pictures.
In the picture above, you will note that I have laid the gold leaf (beat to 1/300,000 of an inch in thickness) on the decorated letters and ‘In Gratitude’ meant to emphasize their appreciation.
The pictures above and below show the staples that I use to mount the skins to the board. I learned long ago to stretch the skins on a wooden frame, but I didn’t like it when my hand went off the side of the artwork and if the frame sat up too high, so I decided to hydrate the skins and staple them to a board. If they are put in humidity for an hour or so and then stapled, they will stretch as tight as the skin on my banjo….or ‘tight as a drum’ as the expression goes. If I don’t do this, I run the risk of my lines of lettering being a bit ‘wavy’ due to the cockling of the skin.
This photo was actually taken from the left side. I rotated it right so that you could see the art upright. It shows the finished art and calligraphy along side my watercolor mixing florets. I followed the already established designs that had been created for the respective Abbey shields, but added some shading for dimension as well as the Veil & Crozier. The crozier also spelled crosier, I learned is carried by the Abbot at Mt. Angel as a symbol of “The Good Shepherd” and his ecclesiastical office. The veil on each shield is symbolic of the sacramental veil.
Below, a close up of one of the decorated letters. The raised gold is obvious and the gold powder lies flat in contrast. (it is liquified so I could paint it on gives a nice contrast inside the W.)
I love the subtle texture in this skin. It was one large one, that I cut down for these 2 documents.
Above you will see how I mount calfskin. Note that calfskin will not lie flat, but can be held taught with the eyelets and threads. I teach this method in my revised Lettering on Vellum workshop. (It is not in the pre-recorded workshop from 2021. This one mainly covers preparing the skin and lettering on it). BELOW: the two hand created images, framed and read for delivery. They have a carved outer frame and an off-white linen mat with a black wood filet. If you visit Mt. Angel Abbey, Oregon, you will be able to see one of them hanging in one of their meeting rooms.
June 4-5, 2022 – 10-5 EST – Instructor Holly Monroe – Online My second Fantastic Flourishing (broad-edged pen) workshop is coming up. Some have asked, why in the world do calligraphers flourish? Well now, that’s a good question to ask. There is just something about beauty, something about decoration and detail that delights the eye. […]