Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Hand Lettering: Brushing Off Cursive Writing for Calligraphy

Much to my surprise, calligraphy is becoming popular again.

Back in my college days, schoolteachers observed that teaching beginning writers a calligraphic hand — either as opposed to, or in addition to, Cursive Writing — had the happy result of students with better, more legible handwriting. Since "Penmanship" (handwriting, with the goal of accurately replicating standard letter forms at all times and speeds) was my worst grade in school, I felt compelled to take up the study.

By the time I graduated, I had a stash of several Osmiroid left-hand fountain pens (yes, I'm left-dominant!) in both standard and my preferred oblique styles, several Speedball handles and an assortment of nibs, a handful of India and colored inks, and a preference for writing ornamental "text" hands on smooth vellum paper.
Vintage Calligraphy Supplies
While I've practiced on and off during the intervening years, (and added a Platignum set and a few Rotring fountain pens to my stash), I put my pens and inks away (I'd thought for good!) when it became simpler and easier to specify a typeface and size on my computer (I usually had several hundred faces installed at any given time) than to struggle with letterforms and slants that didn't stay as straight and as perfect as I would have liked.

While Michaels has sold a limited number of calligraphy pens and inks over the past several years, most customers were only interested in calligraphy markers — whether the Zig memory, Recollections (our house brand), or Speedball Elegant Writer. I've always associated these markers with dull corners, uneven edges, and dried-out inks — nothing worthy of the effort of fine lettering. (Then again, many professional calligraphers feel the same about steel pens as opposed to hand-cut quills and reeds...)

In the past year or so, our calligraphy offerings have expanded. We now have a couple of Manuscript brand sets, as well as a Speedball set or two, a set of Asian calligraphy brushes, and two lines of calligraphy ink.

So, too, has the range of popular calligraphy — although to make it less scary, we're calling it "hand lettering". And instead of using scary, blotty, messy dip pens (or slightly less scary, but still blotty and messy flat-tip fountain pens), we're using brush markers. And the letterforms we're teaching look more like Copperplate than Chancery Italic or Fette Fraktur.

Marker-Calligraphy Supplies
(Which, frankly, is making Copperplate seem a whole lot less scary to me.)

Of course none of pens we sell are designed for lefties, which is one of the reasons I've had to haul my stash out of storage. (The other main reason is to try to give my colleagues a feel for what our calligraphy customers might ask about or need.)

The latest "trend" in this craft area, which our buyers and merchandisers would like to believe is leading this return to hand-lettering, is "journaling". Like "planning", this seems to be an underdefined category. Our "journaling" aisle includes blank books for sketching, visualization, vacation planning, bucket-lists, to-do lists, and possibly even some diary-writing and creative writing. (There's a better-defined subsection of this area called "Bible Journaling", which I would suspect relates to individual and directed Bible study, and includes pocket inserts such as "Prayer Lists".)

During the process of preparing for tonight's "Hand Lettering" class, I've picked up and experimented with several types of brush marker, purchased some left-handed calligraphy markers, and started resurrecting my old dip pens. Unfortunately, both Osmiroid and Platignum have left the calligraphy-pen market, and while I have the tips, my old barrels are nowhere to be found. Surprisingly, though, a few of my inks — at least one of which bears the price tag from its purchase over 35 years ago — are still good. Time to get some new parchment, vellum, and chain-and-laid paper, and start playing with letters again.

The Great Fabric Medium Experiment, Part V

As you may recall, I spent some time this fall gathering different brands of fabric medium, different brands and qualities of acrylic paints, and testing them all at different dilution levels to find which would be the optimal combination for painting T-shirts.

The delay in posting the concluding part (parts?) to this experiment was a delay in heat-treating, curing, and washing the test T-shirts.

While the paint swatches were more flexible when warm, I'm not sure how much heat treating did for the preservation of the paint work.

More important is, how well did the samples survive the wash, and how wearable the paint/medium combinations are.

The yellow Liquitex acrylic ink pretty much disappeared into the red t-shirt, but it was fairly transparent to begin with. The more fabric medium in the mix, the less it seems to disappear into the fabric. It's fine on a lighter color fabric, such as the bleached areas on my Boo Christmas t-shirt, and no fabric medium was needed for that application.

The Golden High Flow paint//ink was soft enough without fabric medium, and looks like the Delta Ceramcoat and Americana fabric mediums have minimized what looks like a very minor amount of bleeding of the unadulterated paint.

Without fabric medium, the Golden Fluid and Liquitex Soft Body paints come out as similar textures to the various brands of craft paint, but with brighter color due to their higher concentrations of pigment — which is pretty much the same as before anything was heat-treated or washed. That said, neither is completely opaque.

In general, the thicker the paint, the stiffer the sample patch, even with fabric medium and washing. The thicker paints and applications (e.g., two coats) were also more likely to crack.

Of the craft paints, Folk Art gave the softest finish; it and Martha Stewart are the best for opacity.

The odd swatches of specifically-formulated "fabric paint" were a bit softer than their craft-paint equivalents, but not necessarily more opaque.

My patches of Elmer's "washable" School Glue did not wash out of the shirt, but I'm not sure if that's because I let it set in too long.