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Calligraphy: in which I engage in fanart of a sort…

So, I am not an artist. Art class was always one of my favorites in school, but I’ve never had any talent at drawing or really in transferring either what I see or what I imagine onto paper. As the de facto art director for Circlet Press over the past 20 years, I’ve become a decent designer, though, and as a writer by trade, the one form of visual art that has continually drawn my interest since I was a teenager is calligraphy.

So, I’ve dabbled in it here and there. But when a creative pursuit (such as writing) is one’s livelihood, that often doesn’t leave a lot of time for other creative hobbies. Acting, playing music, and lettering have all taken back seats so far back they may as well be in a different bus from me. (Writing fanfic is by far my favorite hobby… and it’s indistinguishable from what I do for a living, except for the non-commercial part.)

But on February 20th I decided I wanted to spend about 15 minutes a day practicing my lettering and learning/inventing some alphabets. About five years ago I actually set up a calligraphy work desk and now, five years later, I’m finally USING it!! So, under the cut, picspam of the letterings I’ve been doing!

You know how coincidences happen, right? On February 20th I decided I was going to start calligraphing more. A few days later, out of the blue, a friend sent me a link to the Goulet Pen Company website, where they sell scented inks, including a line of not-so-subtly Harry Potter themed ones with names like “Magic Boarding School.” I posted then about it, and placed an order for a bunch of samples.

Well, the order arrived just a few days later, and I’ve spent the past few nights making some Potter-themed pages. After all, with names like “Magic Alchemist” how could I resist writing something Snapely? Oh and check out the nicely penned note on my order:

Penned note reads "I love Harry Potter" with a smiley face.


(I had put in my comments on the online order that “I recommended you to my Harry Potter fanfiction friends on Livejournal!” after seeing that one of the pull-down menu choices on the “How did you hear of Goulet Pen Co.?” question in the check-out process was “Harry Potter Fan Fiction.”)

First, a review of the inks. I opened each small bottle for a sniff first. All are pleasant in their way, though a bit strong for someone like me who doesn’t wear perfume or use perfumed soaps or detergents. However, no one is going to be smelling these right out of the bottle except curious letterers like me. These little sample bottles were $1.75 each from Goulet Pens.

The first one I opened was “Black Roses.” The rose scent is reminiscent of the rose soaps one used to be able to get at Crabtree & Evelyn. (Perhaps one still can; I don’t know having given up scents years ago because of allergies. I can’t even go into the store without breaking out in hives. Now that I think about it, shopping malls in general give me the willies also, so I haven’t frequented them much since my teen years in New Jersey which I ESCAPED THANK YOU VERY MUCH.)

Ahem. Anyway. Very nice rose scent.

I decided to take one of my Snape drabbles, pare it down to under 30 words, and letter that. So here it is, entitled “Severus Snake.”

The text reads:
The mark is new, the skin, sensitive.
It is raised, like the embossed title on a leatherbound book.
This is one skin he will not be shedding soon.

Then I decided to take an artier photo of it:

After the ink had dried, I could still smell the rose perfume. The next night, the scent was fainter, but still there. Now, a few nights later, I can still smell it. I wonder how it would be if sealed in an envelope and then opened by the recipient. Would it be detectable if they didn’t know to sniff the paper? Not sure, but I think it was nice, anyway.

The above was written with some no-name pen I got as a gift from a friend of a friend, who brought me a whole set of nibs and such in a bookstore-packaged gift set. (The brand is “The Writing Collection.” I believe one finds them in museum stores often, too. Thank you, Patricia!) So the pen is just a tooled wooden dowel piece with a place for the nibs to be slotted in. I have barely experimented with the nibs, I admit. Soon.

Next, I decided to do some “method” calligraphy for the next drabble-ish thing. “Advanced Potion Making” I though could stand in as if a page of young Severus’s notes. So I wanted a lettering style that was spidery and spikey. For this one I opened the bottle of “Magic Alchemist.”

“Magic Alchemist” was described on another website as “masculine, astringent, and mysterious.” Yes. It’s not flowery (“feminine”) at all, and very earthy. Rather reminiscent of leather dye, with a rich loam undernote.

I’m not happy yet with the spidery alphabet I’m trying to develop, but here’s a sample:

I used a quill with a metal nib, one of my oldest pens, which my best friend from high school, Bonnie, gave me ages and ages ago. Amazingly, she gave it to me in a set with a bottle of blue ink, which is still in use! That’s some good ink, man. I have several jars of much much more recent vintage where the ink has turned to: jelly, dust, stone, etc…

Now, back to our “Advanced Potions” story. The plot thickens when someone else (you imagine for yourself who…) crosses out “potion” and replaces it with “relationship.” That’s copper ink you see below. Whose hand is that? Hermione? Draco? Lily Evans?

The third of the scented inks I tried was Sandalwood. This one is a greenish blue, and the scent wasn’t really at all like sandalwood to me. It did smell basically like the white handsoap that comes out of lots of soap dispensers, the brand is Softsoap. Very pleasant to smell, if a bit perfume-y.

By the way, I was pleased to find none of the scented inks so far has set off my allergies. No sinus headache, no itching eyes. I can’t even set foot in a Yankee Candle Shoppe or burn a bit of incense without suffering, so these are very gentle in impact on me.

With the Sandalwood, I tried another spikey/spidery variation, with yet a different pen. I’m still not happy with it — mostly I think my hand needs to become more expressive and also settle a bit more on what letterforms I’m trying to use. This was another one where I tried to “channel” Severus. This one is a fountain pen I got for Christmas a few years back, a German refillable, brand name “Lamy.” Yes, another gift pen, and thank heaven for friends who not only support but outright foment artistic endeavors. (Including the friend who pointed me to Goulet Pens in the first place…!)

Anyway, this one is a wee bit of a joke, “Severus Snape’s To Do List:”

Finally, I set about trying the actual pen(s) I bought from Goulet along with the ink. I bought two Pilot Parallels, with the 3.8 mm nibs, for doing more gothic style lettering. The result is this, what I think is one of my better pieces to date, though the spacing still needs work, and some of my letters aren’t consistent. Anyone who knows calligraphy will pick out the amateur mistakes in here. But I am fairly happy with the general effect achieved on this piece.

One of the hallmarks of the Pilot Parallel Pen is the ability to change color while writing. Hence the mysterious slide from authoritative black into red at the end… why would the writer need to transfigure his blood into ink and why toward the end might that transfiguration begin to fail…?

Here’s a final shot of a portion of my work desk. Combining my interest in lettering with my Harry Potter habit probably bodes very well for this hobby.

4 Comments

  1. Nemanja says:

    Was searching for a Harry Potter wallpaper so I stumbled to your desk(not physically :) Dont know much about caligraphy but your desk is astounding. Would love to have one like that sometime in the future. Great for creative writing. Alll the best. Greetings from Serbia
    Nemanja

    1. ctan says:

      Thank you, Nemanja! The “desk” is actually a wooden table that one of my neighbors was throwing away a few years ago because of the edges being splintered and split. I sanded them and covered them up — it’s the middle of the desk that matters most, after all!

  2. Diana says:

    Your blog is amazing.. i was just wondering around in the internet and I found it… and this post about HP is awesome i’ll like to try those inks… i’m a potterhead and algo designer soo… this was pretty interesting to me… greetings from Mexico!! :D

    1. ctan says:

      So glad you found me, then! :-)

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