Thursday, 26 November 2015

Our first and CLAS's 21st Festival of Calligraphy

Festival 2015 in the Malvern Hills

Day one - Friday

I left home at 6.35 drove in the pouring rain to Elim in time for breakfast where I met Andi and Mary who arrived just a few minutes earlier at about 8 o clock.
Unloaded the cars in more rain and dumped the office things in the room off the dining room which we have decided to use an office in time for a meeting with Karen and Leanne from the centre.

Signs had to be posted so we rushed around from door to door generally finding the sign needed was not the one in the hand. Where was the blue tack! Fortunately the centre could help us out here - tiny pieces for each label. Was I using the most up to date list! We could not believe how many last minute changes there were.

People started to arrive! Travellers from Sweden...must hurry to get the folders out and into the garden room. Registration officially started at 3pm but mistake number one was diplomatically pointed out to me by Mary (who is an old hand of course at organising the festival) - I had accidentally cut and pasted to everyone, the line meant for tutors, that 'we were there all day and they were welcome to arrive early to sort out their rooms'!! An accident on the M4 meant long delays for some and all had trekked through bad weather and were tired when they arrived.

Some key people were still missing...where were Scribblers? The staff at their office were not allowed to divulge such information! Stuck in traffic!

A quick meeting with tutors at 5.30 - they are the reason after all that we are all here but one is missing....

Then time for wine and a chance for delegates, but not Andi and myself, to relax.

Last in to supper and all that is left is fish and chips! But I had that for lunch! The last stuffed peppers were supplied. Now time to welcome everyone to Elim and festival 2015, our first! I introduced the tutors Gemma, Edward, Rachel and Sally-Mae - does anyone know anything about letter carving in stone?

Right on cue in walked Lida and her assistant Russell - thank goodness!

I breathe a sigh of relief and then someone gets up quickly and their leg gives way. Right next to me he falls to the floor and I realise I am the resident first aider! Help! I know one of our delegates is a doctor but we also have two nurses too. Unfortunately we learn later that Andrew has broken his hip before even putting pen to paper and he goes off to A&E in Worcester by ambulance late in the evening as his condition worsens.

Time to get the wine out sorting out change, red, white, rose or spritzer. Not much in the way of soft drinks sold on the first night but we hold back and need to keep our heads clear.

Off to learn about the presentation tools in the theatre - quickly decide who is doing the intro and the vote of thanks...after an excellent talk by Rachel  - first aid to the fore again as someone has a fly in their eye and is very upset about it.

Quick update with Andi at midnight as the paramedics arrive to take Andrew off to hospital In Worcester.  We thank Frank for standing in the road waiting to direct them quickly to the second floor of de Walden.

Time to sleep but my mind is whirring. So far so good...

Saturday and classes start promptly 

- I am lucky, I can go and write copperplate all day with Rachel. I get back to the main building at lunchtime and Andi has transformed the place. We have set up a little office off the dining room and are using the raised area at the back of the dining room for our exhibition boards and envelope display. There is a box for presents for the last night and we leave out the means for people to display their own work. This year we are resolved to get people to help us with the bar, displaying work, collecting raffle money and changing the water in the buckets in the classrooms. We find everyone is willing to do their bit.

Jen arrives back at Elim after spending all night in the hospital with Andrew and having no sleep and somehow manages to join her class with Sally-Mae.

The suppliers are still on site until lunchtime and are very happy with business. When they leave they ask to come back next year when we are in Leeds. 

The rest of the day runs smoothly and we get into the flow.

Someone needs to move rooms and there are no cleaners to prepare the room. Andi gets it sorted and one delegate is happy again.

Gemma does her talk about calligraphy in Australia and afterwards Sally-Mae practises her karaoke skills with the microphone ready for Sunday!


Everyone is getting into the swing of things now. We sort out expectations and teething problems. It isn't always easy to accommodate people whose expectations of a class are different from the actual thing but we do our best to address all the issues. Some things we can't change - there are no more bedside lights anywhere but we do bring down a couple from directors and tutors rooms for after the evening talk in the garden room. Wine sales are steady and people are pleased with the quality of the wine. The subdued lightning is a definite improvement and we have help with the sales. The Idea of labelling bottles so people can buy a whole bottle and drink it over a couple of sessions works well.

At dinner we remind everyone about the arrangements for the trip to see the chained library, Mappa Mundi and Magna Carta at Hereford cathedral. There is total chaos as we sell tickets and check those who haven't appeared but find they have changed their minds. Finally the drivers and car spaces seem to match up. 

We lay down the law and everyone is told they must not move their things to their new workshops until after supper on Monday so people can work on during the free afternoon and evening so there will be no unseemly grab for places straight after the end of morning session. 


The last half day of the first session followed by a free afternoon and evening. We say goodbye to a few people and newcomers arrive and are shown round. Several people say they are pleased at the chance to work on undisturbed and most studios are occupied by a few people.

I try to do two final versions of my piece. The very first stroke of the second attempt goes right off line!

The Hereford people leave and Elim is very quiet. They are delighted with their tours when they return. 

Later that evening the tutors and I slip off to an Indian restaurant in Ledbury and hatch a plan for a show and tell at the end of the week rather than working to the very end and all dashing off or having to go round all the different classrooms. The dining room is identified as the best place so everyone can easily get round but we will have to get approval from the kitchen.

When we get back we join the newcomers in the bar area. There is a really friendly atmosphere in the garden room and it turns out to be our best day sales wise. The bar is being very efficiently run when we arrive.


and I am the person on duty. Andi is a hard act to follow  and I feel more nervous than I have done since the start of the festival.

I make myself useful helping a beginner rule up eight pages of lines and margins for Edward's class. But most of the work is done and there are just final details for the gala dinner to sort out....what did Andi say I needed to do...? I remember I have to check that there are enough gifts for everyone, that the raffle is all ready and displayed for people to see before a final chance to buy tickets. I organise volunteers to fold the stubs after lunch tomorrow 

Reports come in of rooms left unlocked and even open after being cleaned on changeover day. Fortunately nothing appears to have been lost and the centre apologise.

Another talk to get get set up after supper and we need to find batteries for the microphone. A quick call to Dani helps with that, but Gemma and I have worked out by now what most of the sliders control on the mixing desk. Our biggest problem is that I had forgotten I had arranged for Janet to do the vote of thanks for Edward and I ask Jenny too! They both stand up but Janet quickly sits down again and few other than me notice but I am mortified. Still it could have been worse and Janet is very understanding but I know how something like that can make you very nervous and spoil your own enjoyment of a talk because you are thinking about what you have to say at the end!


The day of the final dinner! How quickly it has gone but we still have a day and a half of workshops left. I have a meeting with Karen (Centre Manager) and Tim (head chef) and sort out coffee arrangements for the last morning and the show and tell, and final details for the dinner. We agree a slightly later start, without having to keep the staff too late but enough time for everyone to get their glad rags on and have a little drink before. We include a bottle of red and white on each table and give everyone a copy of their menu choices to display on the table in front of them because we know lots will have forgotten what they had decided!

We announce a quick welcome to the evening and get on with the food. While coffees and chocolates (special gluten free ones for the special diets arranged by Andi) are served we did the raffle. No wrapping this year and no choosing but we still made over £400 which went towards the cost of wine for the dinner. I introduce Marion who had arrived on Monday and she says a few words. Then it is time to thank the tutors who after all are the main draw; the kitchen; who had really stepped up to the mark, the centre staff and the delegates - we couldn't manage without them!! 

The Drawing game goes really well - The tutors are getting very competitive and 
Edward jumps up without having the exact wording ready - he is sent back....half the teams are running to the back of the room to Andi and the rest are coming to me. It soon becomes apparent that the list (based on how long I could keep a class of eleven year olds happily occupied at the end of term) is much too long. We have a quick conflab and decide to shorten the list by nearly half. All the words and phrases relate to lettering or Malvern such as 'a really sharp pencil' or 'the view from here'. The teams must draw but no talking or acting! There is a lot of running involved too! One of Andi's teams wins but we keep going until we have second and third places too. We can see that some people are already getting tired and those that aren't can join us for a drink in the garden room. 

Thursday morning

The last day already. I chase around reminding people to give in their keys and tidy up and pack away as much as possible. I take the CLAS signs down - if they don't know their way now they never will! I overhear plenary sessions in different classrooms.

Coffee is provided from 11 in the dining room only, in return for being allowed to use the dining room for our first show and tell - but everyone is concentrating on finishing their work and don't begin to drift in until about 11.30. 

Show and tell has been cut down from the originally proposed hour to half an hour so we are not taking people away from their classes too soon. (There was near mutiny from one class but I was determined to try it). As everyone put one or two pieces of work on the tables according to the class they were in for both sessions they walked round looking and talking and taking photographs. It was really good to have this half hour - and it was just about the right length of time - to appreciate the achievements of the week. No one thought it had been a waste of time. There was no need for speeches or votes of thanks that had all been done the night before but it felt like a full stop to the work of the week. 

All that remained was lunch and goodbyes and the final checking of rooms and counting of boards and stuffing of cars and then off home to count the money take back spare wine and sort out the accounts.

On getting home we have both been overwhelmed at the number of messages of thanks and appreciation which make all the behind the scenes work worthwhile.

And then to start looking at bookings for next year! And find a venue for the year after…

Sunday, 22 March 2015

Sword of Honour

Project number two was to redesign the document that went with the Sword of Honour presented to Radley College near Oxford after the Second World War. I have also seen an identical case at Marlborough College. The new document for Radley was to be framed to go with a new glass case for the sword itself in the magnificent new school art gallery.

The work was to be on stretched vellum and took many hours working on the design of the arms. A lot of research is necessary and I have started to keep reference photographs on Pinterest. I have created boards of heraldic reference and I prop up the iPad on my desk to refer to when drawing out,  refining and improving the design. 

Finally I started work on the real thing. As usual it is traced through an Armenian bole sheet to give a red outline. The lettering is done first, then the gold, then the painting.

All the ruling is still visible and changes to refine the motto scroll...

Creating the metallic effect of the helm, armour and helmets is the most tricky area. This was done using watercolour rather than gouache paint. The final bit is always writing the motto on the scroll. I repeated the red rose from the compartment (that is the grassy mound under the shield) as a break between text areas on the final document.

Sunday, 15 March 2015

Lincoln College Benefactors book

This was the first of three heraldic projects completed in Autumn 2014 which I worked on simultaneously, trying to work the colours and gold in parallel on each piece. This was for a book and had to finished, on the same paper, before the book was bound. This led to several problems to find solutions to....

Firstly the paper was fairly thin, as it needs to be for a book, but not heavy enough to avoid cockling when using wet media such as gouache - as you can see in the photo below of the first practice design where the paper is bruised.

I wasn't sure whether it was heraldically correct to use the above shape - I wanted to make the central panel wider at the bottom to line up with the division between the curves along the bottom edge of the shield. 

In the end I opted for a more straightforward heater shaped shield.

To avoid the cockling of the paper I stretched a larger sheet, making sure the grain was going the correct way i.e. parallel with the spine. But after working on it, I found on removing it from the wooden board it was stretched on, that the back was stained by the wood. This wouldn't normally matter on work that is framed but in a book it would show.

I sought advice from around the world via Facebook and decided to pack out the stretched paper with extra sheets to stop the stain coming through. This proved successful in the end and I was very grateful to the binder for sending me yet more blank sheets of paper!

Finally it was time to start work on the actual design...Firstly the lettering, protected with a piece of layout paper, then shell gold applied (above) before burnishing

then the colours....

and lastly modelling and burnishing and outlining - sounds quick when you say it but those lions took ages and the harts had to be 'dansant'...

a quick breather before starting again

I have been away from this blog for too long but for good reason and that is lots of work. I have just finished three heraldry projects and they take many hours of work each as the detailed progress shown in this blog of the working processes for my Oxford City Arms. I am writing one up to go in the magazine Bound and Lettered, an invitation that came about from a reader of this!

Together with the lovely Andi (below) we are planning next year's and the following year's Festivals for CLAS (The Calligraphy and Lettering Arts Society) We both attended as delegates this year to Malvern, which is also where our first festival will be. The programme is planned, nearly all the places are gone and now we need to visit some potential venues for 2016 and decide who we want to ask as tutors. It is amazing we find any time at all for our own calligraphy!

Here we are with friends, having a break in Ledbury on our free Monday afternoon.

Here we all are in Massimo Poello's class studying 'the dance of the calligraphic line' and 'Order and Chaos'

this is my book from 'Order and Chaos'

I found time to sort out my studio and invested in some new cupboards and shelves - much more appropriate and professional looking now.

Cleo needed to check out the shelving - it seems secure...

CLAS Study Day at Winchester Cathedral

I just loved seeing the heraldry in Winchester Cathedral at the CLAS study day last September. Here are a few examples that I will refer to for inspiration in the future

a different way of doing mantling - different colours for husband and wife I assume

love the oak leaves in this design and the one below

This was helpful for the mitre design on my Lincoln college commission.

Oh dear I wish I had written down who worked on this beautiful memorial book! - could it be Grailly Hewitt?

Of course we were really here for the Bible and that was brilliant of course - we had an hour of private access to the exhibition and a really interesting talk from Jo Bartholomew curator of manuscripts, who told us that it had been commissioned by Henry du Blois (grandson of William the Conqueror), Bishop at Winchester and completed between 1150 and 1171 when Henry died. The Winchester Bible is very important in enabling us to know how these great works were produced because it was never finished and that allows us to see the order the work was done on each page. 

It is made up of 496 folios - that is more than 900 pages which would have needed skins from 250 calves to provide the vellum for its large pages.

One of the saddest facts, in my opinion, was to hear that a whole page, known as the Morgan Leaf was removed from the bible as late as 1820 and sold in 1912. It is now in the US.