Articles – Tools
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Originally published in L’Arabesque, Spring 2005. These are notes from a workshop by Randall Hasson that was held in Sutton, Québec, from October 9-11, 2004.
I took “Text & Texture” workshop because I like to produce large works. Canvas also has the advantage of not having to be under glass (no reflection, lighter).
You need un-stretched canvas in order to facilitate writing. Un-stretched canvas is purchased by the yard, in widths from 36 inches up to 6 feet wide. When your project is completed, you can staple your canvas on “stretchers” available in any art store or have the art store or framer do it for you.
You can use two types of canvas: un-primed or primed canvas.
1. Un-primed canvas has a neutral color and has a more textured, natural appearance. Clear acrylic matte medium can render parts or the whole of the canvas smooth enough for writing by sanding in between layers with a 200-grade sandpaper. If you paint with loose strokes, you can create a “dry brush” effect. The raw canvas can also be dry-brushed with white, coloured or black gesso to create texture and color variations. Remember to sand the surface before starting the actual calligraphy. You can also make a paper-smooth white finish with evenly applied gesso (vertical and horizontal strokes), sanded between coats.
2. Primed Canvas can be “washed” with diluted color as background. A very light neutral wash in sienna, raw or burnt umber is best. Then use sponge, saran wrap, paper towels, wood grain rollers, splatters, stamps, etc, to create texture. You can use masking fluid on primed canvas to white out certain areas. You cannot use masking fluid on un-primed canvas.
Now you can now begin layering and lettering.
Transparent or watered down pigments can be splattered with toothbrushes, applied with dry or wet brush, stamps, etc…
A glazing medium mixed with acrylic paint creates transparent layers. Diluted acrylics can be used in the same way as watercolour on paper.
Undiluted acrylic paint is used to create opaque elements. Gold Leaf can also be used.
To incorporate an image, you can use a projector to draw it onto the canvas, or use tracing paper and graphite paper. If your image is scanned, there is often a Poster Option feature on printer (and photocopier) software; this way you can enlarge a single sheet image onto 4, 9 or 16 sheets. Or, you can incorporate an actual photograph using the photo transfer method.
Photo Transfer Method
Print the photo on glossy paper using an inkjet printer, or use a color photocopy or photo.
Coat the photo side with 5-7 thin layers of clear acrylic matte medium, letting each layer dry completely.
Soak photo in warm water.
Remove paper backing from the photo, then let the acrylic film with the image dry.
Glue the acrylic film onto primed canvas with more clear matte medium or with acrylic paint.
Let it dry, then sand the edges of the glued photo.
When very dry (8 hours) you can also peel off the acrylic film from the canvas.
Randy also shared his extensive artistic training and research in a fabulous discourse on good art, with a special attention to elements that are important for calligraphy on canvas: theme, subject, composition, sacred geometry, background and foreground. He used two of his works as examples of his discourse.
Man in the Arena
At least three distinct layers of depth provide interest in this painting. The subject is placed in the center of three columns of text. Roman capitals, with a suggestion of dark openings, continues the theme and image of the Colisseum.
Notice how the smaller, less contrasted writing recedes. The darker and larger writing creates the foreground. White space gives the eye a place to rest.
Inviting the Presence
Notice how the “d” of the word “God”, the head of man, and the horn are in a diagonal line and all point to the phrase “Glory of God”. The white space and contrast accentuate the center of interest (the man) and the theme “Glory of God”.
Notice also the movement created by the white lettering, which was written backward from the word “everlasting” to ensure the phrase would fit on the canvas.
The variety of scripts, the variation of thick and thin, and the use of color all provide many layers of interest and whisper secret messages throughout the canvas, the better to beguile and inspire the viewer for many years.
And now you’re on your way! All you need are the supplies listed below and some imagination!
Raw or primed canvas (available at all art stores)
FW Acrylic inks, Acrylic Gesso, Acrylic Matte Medium, Brushes. All calligraphy pens can be used (yes, even copperplate), but be sure to wash them thoroughly right after use. Have fun!
Useful tips, excerpted from a workshop summary published in L’Arabesque, in January 1983.
On November 20th and 21st, a small group gathered for a workshop with Robert Lépine on “Tricks and Tools of the Trade”. Robert had on display a large colour chart, several graphic arts textbooks, catalogues from art supply stores and. a large board displaying the equipment a graphic artist uses: technical pens, pencils, ruling pens, brushes, eraser, rubber heel, compass, artist’s spatula, marking wheel (for perforating paper), engineer’s ruler, an adjustable triangle as well as some other gadgets he has devised and adapted to calligraphy.
One of the recommended pieces of equipment for use with a ruling pen is a triangle with raised dots. You can easily adapt a flat triangle. Stick together 5 to 8 layers of masking tape, cut them into small squares, and stick them around the triangle. This will give approximately the same thickness as the raised dots so the ink won’t run under the edge of the angle and smear.
Robert demonstrated how to sharpen a Mitchell nib by tempering the nib, then finishing the job with an Arkansas stone and a crocus cloth (cloth saturated with jeweller’s rouge).
By Robert JC Lépine
This article was first published in L’Arabesque – April 1982. At the time, Mister Lépine had given names of stores that no longer exist or no longer carry the same material. We omitted these outdated references for ease of reading.
In calligraphy you will often need a brush, whether for touch-ups or for illumination. Here are a few tips for choosing a good brush.
You will want a quality brush, a brush that will keep its shape and elasticity (its spring) over the years. Although there are reasonable synthetic brushes (and less expensive, like the “Gold Sable” series 700 – I can’t remember the manufacturer’s name; it has a blue handle with a white tip), only the fur from the red sable (a Siberia otter) offers the required qualities.
SHAPE: Brushes made with sable hairs have different shapes depending on the use they’re meant for. A medium-sized pointed brush is the most useful. You will notice on bigger sizes (no. 8 or greater) that the hairs make a double curve when wet (fig. 1), a sign of quality. Brushes from Windsor & Newton Series 7 and Handover Series 66 are, in my opinion, the best available. However, if you find them too expensive, follow this guide to find a good brush. (Sable brushes are all expensive, so you might as well buy the best quality.)
LOOK for the mention “100% pure red Kolinsky sable”, for a jointless ferrule, and a nice shape when the hairs are wet. (fig. 1 & 2) The first two items are easy to verify, but the shape of the point can only be tested with water. You will need to wet the hairs, and smooth them between the index finger and thumb (fig. 3) to prepare the point for testing. (It is better, each time before using a brush, to let it soak in water for 15-30 minutes.) When you feel that the hairs are completely wet, dip it again in water to gorge the hairs, and flick your wrist (fig. 4). You should obtain a perfect point (or almost, this will improve with use). As they dry, the hair will spread; don’t worry about this. Some brands of brushes will have a water-soluble glue covering the hairs, to protect them during shipping. This is not necessarily a sign of quality.
USE : If you use the brush intermittently during a session, it’s better to suspend it in water between each use (fig. 5), first to keep it wet, and secondly, the brush will lose its shape if it touches the sides of the container.
CARE: You have to clean your brush after EACH use. This will ensure its longevity. Use bar soap or dishwashing liquid. Rinse the brush thoroughly to remove excess colour, then work the soap into the hairs by pulling the brush back and forth down the palm of your hand (fig. 6). Rinse completely, pulling the brush again down the palm of your hand. Hairs close to the ferrule are hard to clean, and you will need to repeat this operation several times to obtain good results. When the brush is clean, shape the hairs into a point and stand it up to dry.