Tag Archives: workshop

A Calligraphy Workshop at the Red Dot Gallery


Red Dot

One of our local schools, Icknield High School, offering a wide range of subjects in the Creative Arts at GCSE level, and home to the Red Dot Gallery, made a request for local artists to come in and run a workshop for year 9 & 10 students currently working towards their Silver Arts Award. As you may well imagine, I thought this would be right up my street. I am sure to grab any excuse to plant the calligraphy seed in young minds.

That is how Gill and I found ourselves one Monday afternoon pinning sheets of lining paper to the gallery walls, wondering how many prospective scribes might come along. Red Dot staff thought there might be ten or so. I had made up fifteen packs consisting of the usual guide lines plus examples of the Roman and Round-hand alphabets as used in the Luton Calligraphy Workshops. Luckily, I had a few spares also, as eventually, at the allotted hour, we were graced by the presence of seventeen of the most attentive, industrious youngsters one could wish to meet.

I had decided previously, that, as many of these students would probably be aiming at a career in the graphic arts/design fields, and there being such a bewildering and sometimes expensive, variety of thousands, probably millions of fonts and type faces available, that I would put to them the idea of taking the half dozen or so historic scripts that we would discuss today,  and making them their own. Using just the models, and tools in front of them plus lessons and resources from this blog, especially the links pages, they could become proficient at drawing their own letters, rather than trawling through all those on offer.

We had approximately one and a half hours to fill and six thousand years of the evolution of western letterform to cover, as well as factoring in as much practical work as we could manage. A massive task, you might think, but by turning my experience as a youngster round and likening my searches through encyclopaedias and dictionaries to searching the web, today, I was able to start with a picture of a Sumerian Cuneiform clay tablet dating to c.3300 BC,


then, briefly that this highly advanced form of record keeping had already evolved over some millennia and eventually, at the hands of several trading nations, percolated toward Greece where scholars adapted it to their own use. From there it was taken by the Romans to become the familiar script we know today.

Calligraphy.Roman capitals alphabet.double pencils.img.jpg

This alphabet then became part of our British culture. Meanwhile, from Greece the writings travelled northward and were eventually used by St Cyril and his followers to form the beginnings of the familiar Russian ‘Cyrillic’ script of today. On the way it was probably hybridised by migrating Celts who carried it up through Scandinavia and thence to our northern islands and shores and of course Ireland, then merging back with the Roman hand where it became what we know as Uncial.


For some centuries there was a proliferation of styles as the Roman cursive developed, some of which became unreadable as the Romans moved out and the highly artistic Anglo Saxons added to the mix. Charlemagne, Holy Roman Emperor, with the help of Alcuin of York, managed to bring some uniformity to the written word in what we know as Carolingian.

Here is my version of Uncial top, Carolingian bottom.

Uncial (top) and Carolingian

Later, this would become a humanist roundhand

Roundhand (Foundational)

and was used by Edward Johnston as a foundational hand.

Calligraphy.roundhand alphabet.double pencil.img.jpg


Then we come to the Gothic period with Blackletter, Old English. etc. where due to the scarcity, and expense of animal skins, more letters had to be crammed onto each page.

This shows the difference in space required for Uncial and Blackletter scripts.

Uncial/Black-letter red

Old English Script



For speed and ease of writing most styles were italicised and various hands developed. Secretary, Chancery, various forms of Copperplate alongside the various types that were being carved and cast to be used by the early printing press and even more now as digitisation comes to the fore. Today we briefly mentioned Italic as one of the forms to concentrate on when building a portfolio of lettering styles along with Roman Capitals, a Roundhand, a Blackletter, Uncial and perhaps one of the Copperplate scripts.

Italic script

Phew! 6000 years in 20 minutes. Now It is now time for the students to go to work. First they were invited to have a go with markers, pencils etc on the paper spread around the walls.

This next sequence of six photos, courtesy of Miss S. Lavin.

S. Lavin's pics 1

S. Lavin's pics 3

S. Lavin's pics 2

S. Lavin's pics 4

S. Lavin's pics 5

Then with my usual beginners tool set of double pencils, guideline sheets and model Roundhand and Roman alphabets it didn’t take them long to really impress Gill and I with their enthusiasm and with some really nicely formed letters.

S. Lavin's pics

We also had time for a very enjoyable, for me, question and answer session but only a few moments, as parents arrived to pick up their offspring, to search through my tool box and show just some of my fountain pens, poster pens, dip pens, hand made quills, reeds, bamboo pens etc.

The tool box

Many thanks to the students and to the staff, firstly for the invitation, then for making our visit such an enjoyable experience, and for keeping the tea flowing. We hope this has begun, for some, a life long interest in the wonderful world of letters. We shall look forward to our next visit.


Bill and of course, Gill.



Luton Calligraphy Workshops. Week 5

Link to week 4

It was good to see that PPP has obviously been partaken of over the last few days. If letters have not actually been made with pen and ink, or passages planned upon an actual page, then there must have been a great deal of making of letters and planning of pages taking place in the minds of our scribes in the making. Perhaps my theory of “Don’t count sheep. Make letters”, is bearing fruit. The pens are now beginning to work as they should, more ink on the page than on the fingers this week. Some nice work is beginning to emerge.

Due no doubt to my involvement with the Red Dot exhibition some of my plans for this class had to be put on hold, hopefully for another time. I had planned to bring along my collection of home made equipment, cola pens and the like, some vellum scraps and other interesting bits and pieces I have amassed over the years. I stupidly left them at home, along with the camera and lap-top. I did, however, have some hand cut quills, bamboo and reed pens for everyone to try. Everyone was so taken with the bamboo though, that we got no further down this road.

Hand made pens. Cola pens. img. jpg

Taken from Getting started in calligraphy.

My take on the Cola pen. The RED STRIPE Pen. To my mind, much more fun emptying the can.  A chisel cut pencil to dip.  A needlepoint and 6mm with film reservoir, bamboo, and a 2mm Reed.

Make sure mummy and daddy are supervising.  Heheh. We don’t want any cut fingers! With scissors, cut top and bottom from the can, making sure you have first downed the contents.  (Adults, it might be best to leave this stage ’til tomorrow, depending on the strength of the aforesaid). Carefully, (The cut tin can will be very sharp).  Open up and then fold down the length of the metal. Cut whatever shape you are looking for for the nib…then continue down the length,making sure to leave enough for the handle. These are rolled and then taped tightly. Perhaps strengthening by rolling the handle round a pencil. You could make a much prettier job by soldering.  Just make sure that all bare edges are covered or blunted.  ‘speriment and enjoy.
You might like to note that I have been experimenting with various materials to use as reservoirs. The best so far is old fashioned film or even negatives. Used flat it can be cut and pushed into a slit formed in the quill, reed, bamboo or whatever, or rolled into a spring and pushed into the aperture.
Some other examples…………..


Bamboo / Reed pen. Clarinet qalam. img. jpg

This one is made from bamboo and a clarinet reed with film reservoir.

We then had an impromptu discussion on the differences  in scripts over the years and how, due to the number of books being made, the speed of hand needed to produce them, and the scarcity of animal skins, there was a shift from the rounded forms of Uncial, Carolingian and Humanist, to the much more compressed angular forms of Blackletter or Gothic scripts.

Uncial & Blackletter script. img.jpg

The comparative roundness of Blackletter capitals enough to let in a little light to the page.

Blackletter Capitals.img. jpg.

And so, we regretfully started to wind up this final session of what to me has been a most rewarding five weeks of calligraphy workshops. I am hoping that from these humble beginnings of Roundhand and Roman scripts, all who have participated will now have the inclination to learn more, to hone their skills by way of practice, practice, practice, and go on to become the scribe that I always wished to be.

We all agreed it is a shame that the group should come to an end. I have written to my contact from “Luton Culture”, with a view to an extension, either at the museum or some other venue. It seems she is on leave until Wednesday May 8th. Once I have word, I shall update this blog and will be in touch.

UPDATE :- A new group has begun at Luton Irish Forum.  All Welcome.

Until then, my inky friends, I wish you all a fond farewell. By way of homework I refer you To Mr Reynolds’ little series.

Cheers.   Bill.

Keep watching this space.

Luton Calligraphy Workshops. Week 4

Link to week 3

Luton Calligraphy Workshops. Week 4.Img. jpg

Before I begin this week’s write up, I would like to thank Andrew for getting in touch and offering some toughened glass suitable for light-tables, and also for delivering same to the museum. Your generosity is greatly appreciated. They were soon snapped up and are probably in use already.

Luton Calligraphy Workshops. Week 4. Light Table. img.jpg.

Here Peter is trying my portable Light-Table and finding it easier to transfer lines from his guideline sheet.  For more information on working with Light- Tables, especially layout issues as discussed this week, have a look at this earlier post on hints and tips.

Luton Calligraphy Workshops. Week 4. Pen-work. img. jpg

Now, while beginning to get to grips with broad nib and ink, we explored how the balance of the written page is found, bearing in mind that the optical centre, is, as with letter construction, (i.e. the central cross stroke on “E” sits on the centre line rather than straddling or hanging from it), slightly above a measured centre. The hints from “My Cool School”, on putting together a brochure give a very good illustration. As the author writes,

You can measure all you want, follow all the rules, and do everything you have been taught, but the bottom line is:  If it doesn’t Look right – it isn’t!”

Luton Calligraphy Workshops. Week 4. Coming on Nicely. img jpg.

Next, how to plan a page of script, perhaps a poem, without having to write out the whole page only to find you haven’t left enough room. It is a good idea to always copy text from a printed page. It saves any ambiguity (specially when dealing with a client), and at a glance you can pick out the longest line. After first working out, with your guide-line sheets, how many lines you can get on your page, write this longest line in the chosen script  and size. If it is too long or short for the sheet it is meant for, you can either modify the page size, or the size of script, or use a more compressed script, or opt to write that particular line on two lines. Either way you are now in a position to know that what you have planned for the page will actually fit. Your work will now fail only due to faulty execution rather than bad planning.

Luton Calligraphy Workshops. Week 4. A nicely balanced page. img. jpg.

Having been asked to PPP with all their might, the slightly bemused, exhausted group, left with these words ringing in their ears, “Heheheh”.  “Just wait to see what I have in store for you next week”

Looking forward to the final session, for now, I hope, and to seeing you all next week.

Cheers.   Bill.

Link to week 5

Luton Calligraphy Workshops. Week 3

Link to Week 2

This week we concentrated on the transition from double pencil alphabets

calligraphy. A Roundhand alphabet.double pencil.img.jpg.

to using dip pens, fountain pens and marker pens, using at first the widest nib in our kit.

calligraphy. A Roundhand alphabet. written with a broad pen. Img. jpg.

If using a dip pen, first we need to remove the thin protective lacquer coating by running the nib through a flame just for a second or two, then a dip in water; or dip in boiling water and then dry with a cloth before applying the reservoir which slides under the nib to within about 1/16″ (2mm) of the tip.  I was intrigued to find that the ink converter on the Manuscript cartridge pen does not fit the length of the barrel. I shall be looking into this.

A few tries to get the ink flowing, adjustments to reservoirs, inky fingers and smudged paper, then using the more closely lined guideline sheet to gauge the x height needed for the size of nib chosen and that is the next stage of the journey started. All that is needed now, as before, is Practice, Practice, Practice, on which subject I shall point you to one of my earlier posts, Positive Practice.

We did not delve too deeply into layout this week but in the next session we shall be looking at the easiest ways of judging how to fit the printed copy onto our shiny new page at the first attempt, after writing out just one line on a piece of scrap paper.

Looking forward to seeing you all again next week.

’til then PPP.

Keep watching this space.

Link to week 4

Luton Calligraphy Workshops. Week 2

Calligraphy Workshops Luton.Wardown park Museum. img.jpg

 Link to WEEK 1

Sorry to see a few people missing from the last session due to holidays, work commitments, illness etc. Hope to see you all again soon. Some new faces though, made the mix of abilities even more interesting and everyone had the chance to recap as the roundhand alphabet was demonstrated once more with the double pencils and then later with a broad nib.

Then, a look around the room to find that most had been doing their homework “PPP” and had even made a start on the Roman Capitals. Some though were a bit confused by my notations on the sample. I apologise for not pointing out the formula for letter proportion which can be found on Lesson 2 Roman Capitals.

Monumental capitals might be 8 to 10 nib-widths high. These on the example are 7. Pen angle should be 30 degrees except for diagonals -AWXYZ- 45 degrees, and legs of N, written with an almost upright pen. Capitals in body text are better kept to perhaps half again as high as the minuscules. Widths of Roman capitals vary from 1 nib width – ”I”, to half a square – “E”,  3/4 – ”G”, 1 square – ”O”, to one and a half squares -”W”.

Calligraphy Workshops Luton.Wardown park Museum. img.jpg

We have one left handed scribe among us and it might be worth mentioning that he took calligraphy classes while on a graphic design course but was never asked to try to write from below the line rather than over the top, which is more natural for a “leftie” when writing with a pencil or ballpoint, but not as efficient when using a broad nibbed pen. I must say I am impressed with his progress so far with the double pencils, I am hoping the transition to pen and ink will be as painless.

Calligraphy Workshops Luton.Wardown park Museum. img.jpg

Just a couple of comments in passing, this week, on spacing, make sure to use the balloon example, even when practising, to give your eye, brain, hand and arm, plenty of exercise and to build up coordination.

Balloon.calligraphy spacing guide.Calligraphy Workshops Luton.Wardown park Museum. img.jpg

On layout. You will notice that all your guideline sheets have borders. Not very big ones so far as we need to conserve paper while practising. Later on in the course we will be looking into the correlation of white and black space but it is a good idea to bear in mind that a page with half the amount of black space to white, if nicely balanced, is easier to read and much more restful to the eye than a page crammed from corner to corner.

calligraphy templates.combinations.x height guide.jpg.Calligraphy Workshops Luton.Wardown park Museum. img.jpg

To make it easier to work out what this is all about. The x’s to the left of the page have the space of two x’s between them, making room for  ascender and descender . The x’s to the right of the page have only one x between them, useful for a page of capitals or uncials, or, short or intermingling ascenders and descenders. So if we always work in multiples of 1/8 of an inch, one guide line sheet will suffice for any number of layouts. More on this later.

Calligraphy Workshops Luton.Wardown park Museum. img.jpg

Hoping you are able to make the next session where we will be putting the above into action.

Link to WEEK 3

Luton Calligraphy Workshops. Week 1


It was good to see so many people showing an interest and turning out on such a freezing cold day. I know that some had some experience, but most had no idea what they were letting themselves in for. They each received a starter pack with the instructions, “On pain of death, do not write on these guideline sheets”. “Why not?” you may ask. Well, with care these sheets will last a lifetime. Once written on, unless you have unlimited access to a copier or PC with a printer, they are gone.

In the pack were …. A3, Roundhand and Roman alphabets. 1 inch lines, a double page spread of 1/8 inch lines. A4, a sheet of 1/8 inch lines with various combinations of letter sizes that can be used using the same guideline sheet, and a simple spacing guide, “the balloon is going up”.

New roundhand alphabet.double pencils.img.jpg New Roman Alphabet.double pencils.img.jpg. Template. 1 inch guidelines. A3.calligraphy.img.jpg.  Template.1/8" guidelines. A3. double page spread.img.jpg. A4 Template combinations using 1/8" guidelines.img.jpg. The balloon is going up.a lesson in spacing.Bill Grant.img.jpg.

…….. and a set of double pencils.

First, with a sheet of decorators lining paper spread across two tables, a very brief  (we are here to learn how to do, rather than why) history of the scripts we were going to be using in this session, from Greek, to Roman Capitals, Roman Cursive, leaving Uncials for another day, through Alcuin’s involvement with the Carolingian and Humanist scripts, to Edward Johnston’s study of his foundational hand with which we begin  today. Incidentally, Johnston’s book, Writing & Illuminating & Lettering is available, free, to download or read online.

Perhaps I should have used Jeffrey’s video to illustrate.


From Alpha to Omega, and A to Z and then a 30 foot roll of humanist minuscules with an x height of 12 inches spread before them the participants were invited to join in with their double pencils. Then, when I thought I had them on the ropes, I allowed a weary but cheery group to take a seat and with their 1 inch guidelines, begin the first lesson in earnest.

Update. This video was filmed at Luton Irish Forum Calligraphy Group on 1st October 2013 by Peter Moss.


Calligraphy workshop day 1.jpg.


First tracing from the guide sheet and then freehand using the 1 inch lines and referring to Calligradoodles 0002, cups of tea and lots of chat, time was flying and skills increasing. Roman Capitals (Lesson Two) will have to wait ’til  next time but has been set as “gentle” homework as our next meeting is two weeks from now.

A very quick look at what we shall be playing with over the next four sessions,

plus, at some point we are hoping to do a live filming of Old English Blackletter Caps and minuscules as they are demonstrated. It looks as if we are going to be kept very busy indeed.

I know that some of the class are unable, due to previous engagements, work etc to attend each session, but if you follow the blog and practise whenever you can, you should be able to keep up with events.

With Thanks to Luton Culture and the Museum staff for putting up with us, and  JEWELS for their generously discounted materials.

Don’t forget. If you have any questions or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to use the comments box.

More help and support at Calligraphy at Bill’s Space Mk II on Facebook.

Looking forward to next time.

Link to WEEK 2

Keep watching this space, and P,P,P.

Luton Calligraphy Workshops

Wardown Park Museum Luton. Calligraphy workshops. Img.jpg


If you have signed up for or are thinking of attending the Calligraphy Workshops at Wardown Park Museum, or would like to follow the progress of the group, this is the place to come for information and support.

These sessions will be very informal with the emphasis being on doing, rather than listening and taking copious notes.

I usually ask participants to bring with them the following articles if at all possible, but to start with, you can get by with 2 pencils and 2 elastic bands.

A drawing board, approximately 18” x 24”. MDF or something similar will do, Something to prop it up to make a writing slope, i.e., a piece of wood 4” x 4” or perhaps a brick wrapped in a carrier bag.

A ruler , preferably 2 foot, and a set square.

A set of roundhand nibs with penholder and reservoirs.

A calligraphy fountain pen is a handy addition for practice work. (Any left-handers will benefit by choosing left hand oblique nibs).

Calligraphy ink. NOT WATERPROOF. Avoid Indian ink whether waterproof or not

Gouache or watercolours. Coeruleum Blue, and Vermilion. Winsor & Newton Gold ink. (Optional but very handy.)

2 HB and I 2H pencil. A 00 paint brush. A cheap brush for mixing. A palette or saucer. A jar for water and a kitchen roll.

An A3 Layout pad or even a cheap sketch book. If you have some, a nice HP watercolour paper for your finished work.

Jewels Arts and Crafts Centre in H/Regis, (where I should be on Tuesday afternoons), have agreed to supply some of the above on a sale or return basis, at 10% discount. If you can visit Jewels, mention the workshop and you will get the same discount. I am sure you will be surprised at the diversity of the stock and the number of workshops and groups that happen there.

To get a head start it would be to your advantage to see Getting started in Calligraphy and then Lesson one  Roundhand.

At the end of week-one I shall post a resume of what has been covered so-far and links appertaining to the next session.

If you have any questions or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to use the comments box.

I look forward to meeting you all.

Cheers.   Bill

Luton Calligraphy Workshops Week 1