article by Yolande Lessard translated by Barbara Gapmann
John Stevens, who began his career as a lettering artist, is an internationally renowned calligrapher. He possesses exceptional dexterity, as demonstrated, for example, in the way he manipulates the flat brush. His pared-down style and the high quality of his work make John one of the calligraphers I admire most.
The Roman Capital workshop organized by La société des calligraphes de Montréal consisted of five weekly two-hour Zoom sessions. A private Facebook group was set up so that we could exchange ideas and take the learning process a little further. Each participant could post his exercises on the site and get John’s comments on the work completed during the week. A vote of thanks goes to Erin Neilson for managing the Zoom sessions.
We began our studies with Neuland script, using the flat brush. This script features bold sans-serif strokes, often using a minimal interline in order to create a good dense texture. We then practised sans-serif block letters, using a narrower flat brush. We also worked on monoline, using lead pencils; this style has uniform strokes, without thicks and thins. The forms and proportions of these letters are the basis of Roman capitals. We wrote a long monoline text, using a fine-point marker, in order to familiarize ourselves with interletter, interword and interlinear spacing, and learn how to avoid rivers.
By the third meeting we were well prepared to get into the meat of the subject of the Roman capital, which dates back to the 1st century B.C., when it was used in stone inscription. One of the most beautiful examples of this classic alphabet can be found at the base of Trajan’s column. This elegant script, executed with a flat
brush one-half inch wide, features serifs as well as thicks and thins. We started by making large-module letters (five inches tall), a method used for acquiring muscle memory. A good quality flat brush is indispensable for a really clean line in producing Roman capitals. Most of the strokes are pulled; the letters are constructed by varying the angle, pressure, stroke thickness, rhythm and manipulation of the brush. It all seems so easy when you watch John forming a letter—but make no mistake, it’s not easy at all! It takes careful study of the forms of the letters, knowledge of proportions and hours of practice. John provided us with a manual (Capitals / John Stevens), as well as videos he produced on preparing the flat brush and how to execute every stroke used in Roman capitals. All these things were of great help in the learning process.
John has a great deal of experience in the fields of publishing (magazines, books), packaging, advertising, television and film. He enjoys speaking about aesthetics and design, which form an important part of a calligrapher’s work. He invited us to create a book title, explaining the rule that the work as a whole should make a lockup. He emphasized the importance of the relationship among design elements, diversity in unity, and the balance between form and counter form.
As the fourth week approached, we moved to the study of a more informal writing style, a variation of Roman. I felt that this part of the program was too short; there was enough material for another workshop. John discussed rhythm, fluidity, movement and the ability to express the spirit of a text through our calligraphy. We explored a number of alternative approaches, combining writing, drawing, and the use of such tools as the bevelled nib, pointed nib, pointed brush and long-hair brush.
I’d like to thank John Stevens for sharing his knowledge and experience with us. He is a teacher who knows how to inspire his students and open up new avenues for us to explore.
On October 5, 2021, Gilles Champagne, our friend and dear calligraphy colleague, bid us farewell.
This man of endearing simplicity and so accessible, shared his passion for calligraphy with generosity and humor.
However, the past year was particularly difficult for him. With all the appointments with numerous specialists of different hospitals and CLSCs, he lived many difficult moments, both physically and mentally, yet despite everything, he never complained. Throughout these challenges, Gilles continued to produce a monthly contribution for our virtual Calli group, except for September, the month he no longer had the energy to begin. He was so totally invested in calligraphy that he was always very happy to always be the first to send his calligraphy work to our colleague Louise Rousseau, who assembled everyone’s works for the virtual sharing.
Gilles, who has taught me calligraphy since 2015, was a godsend to me and I am very proud to cherish the memory of everything he has shared with me. There are so many happy moments filled with great humor and laughter and simply seeing his splendid greeting cards. On top of that, imagine all the envelopes he personally calligraphed and sent to each member… yes you read that right, to each member of the Société des calligraphes de Montréal for the publications of our magazine Arabesque. He did this during so many years with his boundless resilience, but what he loved most of all, was receiving cards from his students. So much so, that every year he jokingly informed us that his birthday was September 8, just to be sure to receive some. And, even if the card he received was rather modest, he always came up with magic words that was soothing to my heart; …”it’s far out beautiful!” How I miss his soft words of encouragement!
Gilles turned 80 on September 8 and his important wishes came true: to celebrate his 80th birthday with family and to receive many greeting cards.
Every time that you will think of Gilles, his memory will live on again. When you share an anecdote about him, when you put to practice the advice he gave you, when you remember the good times spent together… With each of these occasions, the spirit of his presence will live on.
Thank you, Gilles, for all the wonderful calligraphic moments shared with you.
By Marie Pierre Robert Translation by Carole Scheffer
Spring 2020. Newly retired and in confinement, Louise misses the Saturday calligraphy activities where with a dozen other members she could work on a collective theme. She proposes to Mathieu, our president, to organize a virtual calligraphy activity every three weeks: “Since it is no longer possible to do so in person, we can exchange in this other way. There are people I have known for a long time and when I look at what they have produced, I think they have allowed themselves a lot of liberty! There is something personal that is taking hold in many of them.” This activity started in the spring of 2020 and has continued ever since. It has about twenty participants, an absolute success!
Discovering calligraphy and Yannick Durand
In 1995, Louise was looking for an artistic activity to reenergize herself. She tries the stained-glass making, then turns to calligraphy, remembering the beautiful Copperplate style letters her father wrote using a fine pen. She meets Yannick Durand, who was then teaching at the Saidye-Bronfman Centre. She encourages her to work with her left hand: “You are left-handed, take your left hand and find the position which is comfortable for you!” Louise does more research on her own and studies left-handed calligraphers like Lieve Cornil: “In grade school, when I was writing with fine pens, I realized that I had to turn my sheets of paper, but for calligraphy, I turn them in the other direction.”
Her left hand gives her a certain distinction that she finds somewhat pleasing: “You structure the page differently, turning the page, what’s horizontal becomes vertical, it brings to me something different.” This desire to distinguish herself can also be traced from her family: “I come from a family of four and we are very close in age. Keeping my individuality is something that has always been important. »
Developing a personal calligraphy
With Yannick Durand, Louise becomes interested in the message conveyed by her calligraphy: “Beyond words, so much else can be conveyed in our communications. The words Love and Rain are simply not written in the same way! With Yannick, a lot of thinking went into that idea. There is so much in the non-verbal that can be expressed, and it is surely due in part because of my training in psychiatry that is helpful to me in perceiving it. Emotions are transmitted. They are the reflection of the words that are expressed. »
She then explores more gestural writing that approaches a “calligraphic image” at the frontier of abstraction and legibility. After Yannick’s sudden death, Louise became a member of the Montreal Calligraphy Society and continued her training with Denise Lach in Percé: “You worked with a particular letter and explored how far you could transform it. I had chosen a G, for five days! It teaches you what it is that makes for legibility!” Two years later in Percé, Louise took part in a workshop with Laurent Rébéna: “We worked on a letter’s form and its negative space. You build from the letter and develop a harmonious script, keeping a certain legibility, while exaggerating certain traits. »
The desire to exhibit
The tradition of exhibiting her work goes back to the days of the courses with Yannick Durand, but also to her participation with a group of calligraphers, Les Calmars: “We had known each other for more than ten years after taking courses with Yannick. We had all become friends and calligraphy became family. Together, we always organized exhibitions, it was important. We would start a piece and finish it sufficiently to frame it and put it up on the wall. Otherwise, you were just not finished!”
The adventure of the Calmars continues for ten years with annual exhibitions. In 2018, as the group disbanded, Louise and Paulette Dufresne, a calligrapher friend, co-organize an exhibition in Paris with the poems of a Franco-Quebecoise friend, Marie Gagnon: “I offered a personal interpretation of her poems. I was going to look for the passages that interested me. I did not want to be a scribe! This collaboration was quite interesting because the author is a contemporary, and she was surprised to see what I did with her text. That is when all the fun started! When she saw the exhibition, she understood my approach, how calligraphy conveys an idea! »
The introduction of the monotype in her calligraphy
While preparing her exhibition in Paris, Louise feels the need to enhance her calligraphy with monotype, which brings a visual richness and depth to her work: “I wanted to add something while I was part of Calmars. There was a Calmars way of thinking. I went on a free visit to the Atelier circulaire (a print arts centre) and I liked the presentation of a engraver artist, Jacinthe Tétrault. She has a mentoring soul. She makes you think, and makes you explore. She is most rigorous in her technique. »
After the Paris exhibition, two more took place in Montreal at Galerie Espace, Boulevard Saint-Laurent, with Paulette. At the very last one in December 2020, their friend Romane’s haikus inspired them: “When we went to make our monotypes, we already had our poems. It is good for the soul because you deep-dive into your bubble. I made a notebook with my preferences. I added the ideas or images that came to me. »
Louise enjoys working on textured paper with her monotypes. She loves the tools that allow her to create various effects: “When I took classes with Yannick, she had her Automatic Pens with her. She let me to use them, and I really liked them! I now have several of those! Then I have Folded Pens (Cola Pen), Automatic Pens, and ruling pens of different sizes. I also tinker with the pointed pen. With these tools, I can take the mediums I prefer, like sumi, pigments, acrylic, with the consistencies of my choice. »
Louise enrolled in a workshop on poetic imagination in July in the region of Percé (Coin-du-Banc). She will be reunited with the multidisciplinary artist Lino, with whom she had completed a creative workshop in 2019. Then in April 2022, she and Paulette will again be exhibiting at the Galerie Espace, with Romane’s haikus: “You must give yourself projects, some challenges. We are taking risks. If you only make plans when you are sure about things, there just won’t be any projects! »
In closing this portrait, I wanted to mention that this meeting with Louise Rousseau was not only about calligraphy; there was a much broader human dimension that emerged because her words are real bearers of hope: “When you have worked 40 years in psychiatry, it’s not some governmental measure that confines your imagination. Only you can do that, and it happens quite easily so you must deal with it. This was my leitmotif during my first months of retirement. It’s up to me to nurture my imagination! »
Do you find it hard to get quality pictures that show the life and vibrance of your work?
Our goal in this article is to give you some simple tips for taking amazing pictures of your work.
We’ll start with the most important consideration…
Have you ever noticed that the quality of your photos is always worse at night or in a dark environment? They’re often grainy, not sharp, and the colors and contrast are less clear and vivid.
Think of your camera (whether it’s a phone or an expensive DSLR) as a “light-collecting,” rather than a picture-making, device. It will consistently take pictures in areas with plenty of light – especially soft, diffuse light like on a cloudy day.
The idea that your camera works best on a cloudy day rather than a bright, sunny one may surprise you, but cameras don’t perform as well when there’s a big difference in the brightness of a scene (like in the afternoon on a sunny, cloudless day).
So, the first recommendation is to find the best light you can to take your photo.
Photograph your art in a well-lit area with diffuse light, if possible. Slide a table close to a window or group of windows in your home and capture the shot there.
You can still get good photos on a bright, sunny day by taking pictures outside in the shade or using curtains to diffuse the light.
If you have a budget, there are many great artificial lighting options available such as large soft boxes.
Another vital element to getting crisp, quality images is keeping your camera stable. If you have to hold your camera by hand, try leaning against a wall or rest your arm on a nearby surface.
Also, when you tap the shutter button, hold for a moment while the camera takes the photo rather than moving it away instantly.
Mounting the camera on a tripod or a similar device is the best way to stabilize.
Pro Tip: If you use a tripod, use a timer or shutter delay to prevent movement when you touch or press the button.
Always consider the end use of the photo when taking it. Are you taking a picture to make art prints, for social media, publishing, etc.? Set up your photo with the end use in mind.
For example, if you plan to create art prints, the goal is to capture the highest quality image of the art itself. If you’re planning to share the photos online or on social media, it may be beneficial to include other elements – like art supplies or unique objects that add interest.
Editing can dramatically enhance and stylize images. There are some great mobile apps like VSCO and Snapseed or professional tools like Adobe Lightroom that allow you to apply manual adjustments and filter effects to improve your images.
Pro Tip: Boosting brightness, contrast, and saturation can give your images a bold and colorful look. Decreasing these settings will produce a more faded, moody appearance.
Tamer Ghoneim is a professional calligraphy artist and instructor, specializing in blackletter/gothic calligraphy styles, including modern interpretations and abstract designs. Based in Houston, Texas, his goal is to encourage people of all ages and skill levels to learn the rewarding art of blackletter calligraphy.
On December 5th 2020, Sister Noëlla Doyon celebrated her 101st anniversary. With the pandemic, celebrations were toned down from last year’s big 100th hurrah with her extended family.
To remedy this absence of festivities, a calligraphic challenge was proposed by Claire Bourassa and took the form of birthday greeting cards. You will find some examples of cards sent by our members below.
Sister Noëlla, may your 101st year be filled with joy, love and the blessings of friendship. Happiest of birthdays to you on behalf of the Société!
A virtual activity initiated during the pandemic for members of the Society who are looking for opportunities to share and explore calligraphy.
This new activity, free, and open to all members was offered to promote sharing through the internet. The participants receive a guideline which they must follow in order to create one or more pieces of calligraphy. We suggested a period of 3 weeks to send the pieces back.
The activity centered around the theme of the Society’s Member’s Exhibit scheduled for November, Amoureux des lettres. A letter of the alphabet is part of the guidelines offered every three weeks. Participants can choose to make a drop cap, words, sentences containing this letter, etc. We started with C for Calligraphy, or COVID, depending on the mood, then the P for landscape (paysage) or papa, then an M. Taking the alphabet out of order keeps us on our toes!
Every three weeks, the pieces submitted are put together as a composition and shared with the participants.
The response from the members so far has been enthusiastic, with each member creating a personal, inspired, varied piece and yet everyone is subjected to the same theme and letter. This virtual sharing is inspirational, with everyone’s personal touch. The publication of this work is voluntary, the sharing can be limited to the small group, and everyone can send their trials that will only be broadcast on social media if the participant wishes.
Calligraphy: Yolande Lessard Text: Yolande Lessard April 22nd, 2020
This poem was written on April 22nd, 2020 in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic which swept through the world with Montréal being severely affected. The entire city and its population was suddenly confined. I was grieving the loss of my husband, Félix Doudou Boicel, who passed away on March 10th, 2020 from a pulmonary fibrosis. Gatherings and funerals were illegal.
Last fall, I answered the call from our president Mathieu Doucette to send a birthday card incorporating calligraphy to our centenary member, Sister Noëlla Doyon. She invited me to come and visit her at Les Jardins d’Aurélie Seniors Residence in St-Hyacinthe, which houses the communities of the Sisters of Saint Joseph and the Precious Blood. From our first contact in February, I realized that I was in the presence of an exceptional centenarian! Sister Noëlla is a very petite woman who moves at a brisk pace with a simple cane. She has a keen eye and is quick to speak and has a wonderful sense of humour.
“Calligraphy brings me life!”
An interest in calligraphy was always present in her life, especially as a teacher where she perfected her writing on classroom chalkboards.
“At school, you had to make beautiful pictures on the chalkboard, write beautiful sentences with an author’s eye that you embellished with flowers. We would run with it for four to five months, then at Christmas we would switch it up. I always said that every time I entered the class, I looked at the board! I had a teaching colleague in Granby who was a model for me. By slowly inclining my hand, I eventually entered the realm of the italic, and that was definitely my best work!”
The chance meeting of Yannick Durand
In the fall of 1995, at 74 years old with more than 35 years working as a teacher and 18 years as a librarian, Sister Noëlla was finally on sabbatical and ready to take up a new challenge.
“During an activity at the YMCA, I heard about the work of Yannick Durand. The same day, I made an appointment with her at the Essence du papier boutique on rue St-Denis in Montreal, where she worked. “
Sister Noëlla quickly started her lessons with Yannick at the Saidye-Bronfman Centre, then went to her Calligrafia workshop on blvd St-Laurent.
“A real Frenchwoman! She corrected every single letter we wrote, and sometimes she granted us a hand-drawn star. It was Yannick who introduced me to calligraphy. She was the one who wowed me the most by encouraging me. She didn’t have to repeat herself, I could spot that as a former teacher. Some teachers repeat, but not Yannick! We could feel that we were making progress with her there, but we had to practice! “
During her early years in calligraphy, Sister Noëlla experienced more difficult times.
“One evening, I arrived back at the Residence completely discouraged. It was taking me too long to get it right. I felt completely blocked! I went back to Yannick’s class and asked her to show me the letters that I had the most difficulty with, the ones that are more elongated, so that I could memorize them properly. I did a tremendous amount of those afterwards!”
This beautiful master-student relationship lasted 10 years and ended with the death of Yannick in January 2006. In the special autumn-winter 2006 issue of L’Arabesque devoted to Yannick Durand, Sister Noëlla paid tribute to her: “Yannick, an expert in the pen… All her works amazed me… I thank God for the luck of having crossed her on my life’s path […] I hope that her God in heaven will fulfill her. Goodbye to my dear calligraphy friend.”
Continuation of calligraphy and exploration of other writing styles
After the loss of Yannick, Sister Noëlla continued her training in calligraphy. In Longueuil, she met calligraphers Roger Beaudouin and Nicole Morin, a former student of Yannick.
“[Nicole] told me to go see Mr. Beaudoin. He will prepare a beautiful duck feather quill for you! Nicole also taught me, but the writing style did not have enough of an angle to really entice me. She did help me in the creation of a calligraphic landscape.”
She also followed courses to embellish her Italic, especially capital letters, with Luc Saucier and Gilles Champagne, among others. A little later, she enrolled in an illumination class with Brigitte Papineau.
“I did the letter E, but I found it too long. I am not patient enough with the gilding process.”
For someone who dedicated so much of her practice to the Italic hand, trying Copperplate felt completely natural.
“Joy Deneen gave me Copperplate lessons. I wanted to learn it because I had worked on a similar technique throughout my teaching years with cursive writing. But I did not master those majuscules! “
Participation in members’ exhibitions
From 2005 to 2010, Sister Noëlla participated in several exhibitions of the Societé. To illustrate this active period, she showed us a small album of photos, exclaiming: “It was great fun! I tried several new things! “
She is particularly proud of her work in 2011, as part of the exhibition: Urban Dialogue. She wrote a sentence which testifies to her great openness towards the Other: Maintaining the quality of dialogue in Montreal shows great fraternity. From a visual aspect, it was her first time integrating cartography with calligraphy.
Calligrapher in her community
For several years, Sister Noëlla was an active calligrapher in her religious community, particularly in addressing numerous envelopes. On nuns’ anniversaries, she prepared tribute pieces on white backgrounds using felt-tip pens.
“It was a slippery surface! I put a few flowers at the bottom, sometimes even artificial flowers. The sisters still tell me about it because they loved my paintings. “
In 2015, the last year of her active practice, she designed panels with the names of nuns celebrating jubilee anniversaries, such as sixtieths and fiftieths.
“I wrote all the names on a big card. Nowadays, everything is computerized!”
Hassan Massoudy, her latest favorite
Before departing, she confided in us her crush on the Iraqi calligrapher Hassan Massoudy, established in France since 1969. She discovered him due to his many lectures on calligraphy and, to this day, keeps a photo of the artist at work.
She also wants to give this advice to novice calligraphers: “Continue to be tenacious! If you don’t like it, drop it. If you like it, you have to work for it to be presentable and for you to have some recognition.”
Au revoir, Sister Noëlla. Thank you for your joie de vivre, your love of calligraphy and this wonderful encounter!
Sister Noëlla’s life in a few dates
December 5, 1919 Born in St-Guillaume, a village near Drummondville. She is the second in a family of 11 children, five girls and six boys. Her sister Jeannine, who is 10 years her junior, is part of the same religious congregation.
1934 – 1937 Boarding school in St-Hyacinthe at the Sisters of Saint-Joseph
1937 – 1939 Teacher in the village of St-Guillaume
1939 Summer trip to Albany, NY
1939 – 1943 Entrance and novitiate with the Sisters of Saint-Joseph community
1943 – 1975 Teacher in Montérégie and in the Eastern Townships
1975 – 1977 Library studies training at Ste-Thérèse college in Blainville and Collège Maisonneuve in Montreal
1977 – 2002 Librarian at St-Joseph High School, St-Hyacinthe
1978 Trip to Israel after obtaining a certificate in Theology at the Université de Sherbrooke
1991 Trip to France, a community gift for her jubilee as a religious professional (50 years)
1994 Bachelors in Science (B.Sc) at l’Université de Montréal
1995 Sabbatical in Montréal and discovery of calligraphy with Yannick Durand. Became a member of the Société des calligraphes de Montréal
2002 – 2015 Librarian at Résidence Notre-Dame, St-Hyacinthe
2005 – 2010 Participated in the annual members exhibits of the Société
2015 End of the practice of calligraphy. Sister Noëlla continues her membership because of her interest in calligraphy and the members of the Société.
With all the turbulence that spring 2020 has brought, it was also a period of creation for some of our members. Here is a gallery of calligraphy created during this confinement period, as well as pieces that can serve as inspiration during these difficult times. Thank you to everyone for their contribution. If you would like to submit a piece for publication, please contact Mathieu Doucette
Last year marked the 30th anniversary of the Canadian Heraldic Authority, founded on June 4, 1988, by Jeanne Sauvé in the Office of the Secretary to the Governor General. Luc Saucier, a member of La Société des calligraphes de Montréal, has been associated with this institution since 2005.
1) What is the Canadian Heraldic Authority?
From the twelfth century, European knights adopted the practice of decorating their shields in order to be recognized when they were clad in armor. The primitive coats of arms, often very simplistic, were useful in clearly identifying the person sporting them. Over time, monarchs assumed control of the granting and official use of coats of arms, which allowed them to pay tribute to individuals and groups. A coat of arms thus came to be perceived as a mark of honor awarded by a sovereign. Heralds of arms – officers of the court who also acted as diplomats – were charged with the task of conducting a census to collect the various coats of arms held by the sovereign’s subjects.