Body Movement and Musical Lettering

Hand lettering was on my mind when the e-newsletter from Castle in the Air arrived listing calligraphy classes with James Fazz Farrell. I was immediately intrigued by the pictures of his work. Some of the classes sounded like more straightforward methodology, others sounded as if they ventured further afield.

The description for Body Movement and Musical Lettering (which I didn’t save and now isn’t up anymore since the class is over, so the following is my paraphrase/interpretation – but how could you not be grabbed by that title?) piqued my interest with the multidisciplinary aspect of working with/to music – finding inspiration in other media – as well as pushing the kinesthetic aspects of the process, being aware of and utilizing the physicality of mark making. And it was open to all levels. I have done some calligraphy before, but more with brush than pen, I realized at the class.

The classroom is a sweet upstairs space, and a variety of papers and inks were made available for our use. Also provided was an oblique pen holder. New to me thing! Most of the other students seemed to have previous experience with pointed pen calligraphy, but James gave some basic technique instruction and an overview of the development of the form.

Then we had at it, starting with the bread and butter/foundation of strokes and pen manipulation techniques. The structure of the nib facilitates wider or shaded down strokes and hairline up strokes, but as the day progressed James encouraged experimentation – pushing the tool to shaded up strokes, and seeing what we could get going left or right. From basic strokes we moved to letter forms and then the addition of color. For compositions James encouraged contrast, and that the letters didn’t necessarily all have to be going the same direction or immediately readable, among other ideas.

Throughout the class James did a number of demonstrations, then circled amongst the students giving individual feedback. It was a nice balance of getting to see things and then try them out right away. I enjoyed his respect for established technique and mastering the fundamentals combined with a willigness to push the media and let it do its thing – being open to pen skips, for example – “It’s not a mistake, see what it suggests, fill in gestures around it.”

With a finite number of hours in the day and so many other things on my plate at the moment I’m certainly not going to become a master calligrapher in the near future, but it was great fun to try my hand at this and play with letterforms in a very different way than letterpress. Even if I don’t use the exact technique, it all goes in the hopper. Who knows when or how it might come out. It’s always neat to see and hear about another artist’s processes and see their work. Ohand *BONUS* getting to hear “capillary” pronounced the British way. Lovely way to spend a day!

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