Vivien Jones, Writer
Rachel Yallop, Calligrapher
VJ: N. Naviculoid.
Has to be Wiki to start with.
Something scientific then?
Scientific Dictionary (i)‘The identity and typification of some naviculoid diatoms (Bacillariophyta) from freshwater or brackish habitats’
Referring to a diatom, boat-shaped’
RY: I must confess to never having heard of the word Naviculoid, but after some research I was pleased to learn that it had a definite shape. This was something that I could use as a starting point for the lettering piece.
That’s a start.
So what are the boat-shaped things, apart from boats ?
Sentry boxes, shopping baskets, bowls, bananas, boomerangs – three alliterative naviculoid structures – can’t really get worked up about ‘naviculoid diatoms’ though my water scientist friend
tells me they have their own peculiar charm.
A sudden crisis, almost instant provision of another calligrapher, Rachel Yallop. I linger on her website for a long time. Note we both love black and white and red, hand lettering with broad nibs and sweeping strokes – and cats.
RY: As I came in late to this, Vivien had already written some verses on the theme. I was more than happy to write whatever she had written. Having worked in a commercial way my entire career I am used to writing whatever I am asked. I loved her words. They were immediately evocative. I felt that I needed to produce a piece that was true to my design principles and lettering ethos. This is the first time I have created a piece of original work, as opposed to commercial, where some of the ideas came from another person.
VJ: To work – my writing tends to sprawl. I often counter this by starting work in Japanese short form poetry to get at the essence of my subjects, then allow myself a little license. So I go back to the naviculoid shapes and settle on a croissant (I’m peckish) being a pleasing boat-shaped object. Of short form disciplines, Haiku are a bit too short for all I want to say so I move to Tanka – which allows more syllables.
I wonder – can you run one Tanka verse into another – can you shift the time frame,
can you tilt the subject ? I want a title – can it have a title? I encounter a lot of hot debate online from traditionalists and innovators – more heat than light. Seems I may please myself.
RY: I also found this a challenge because I don’t normally do rough designs. I think about the piece I want to do, ‘see’ it in my mind and then do it. Where there is a lot of text involved, I write it out first to see how it sits and then start on the finished piece. Sometimes this one is the finished version, sometimes I do several until I am satisfied. I always use the tools and materials required for the finished design because to write it out in pencil first just does not help the process. It is a completely different tool. But, for this piece I needed to do pencil roughs to explain my ideas to Vivien. I liked the idea of using a wide flat brush for part of the design, and because of the size restrictions and amount of words to be written, this would have to be a ‘feature’ part with the rest of the text in a smaller, finer style for which I chose a pointed metal nib.
In this case it was appropriate to make a feature of the letter N. Some letters are so much easier to work with than others, but N has many possibilities for flow which tied in well with Vivien’s verses.
VJ: Rachel has said she likes my verse.
I explain about the strict form of Tankas. This may be an unwanted restriction on the flow of text for Rachel – I realise that for her, it’s a graphic shape rather than a container for meaning.
We exchange first drafts.
RY: The next stage was to do a piece using the chosen tools and materials. See how it looked, take some photographs and email them to Vivien. My cat, Foss, wandered into the studio and sat on them – this was a good sign as he only shows interest in ‘special’ pieces! I used a 1.5” flat brush and an old style Gillott 303 nib with Schmincke white and red gouache on black Canson paper with additional highlights of white pastel.
VJ: Rachel’s sketches dance across the page – little phrases dance in my head – my croissant is a sensuous object, an experience that summons up first-time memory. I want that dancing in there somewhere.
Rachel sends a second set of drawings – I’m amazed at the confidence of her lines. Once chance to make a beautiful letterform – white ink on black board, one sweep, no room for error – and those brave splashes of red.
RY: Although the design was worked out, there is always the moment when you actually have to do the finished piece. It can be nerve-wracking. With calligraphy, and particularly this type of calligraphy, there is only one chance to get it right. It is extremely risky! I hardly dare breathe at times and there is always that moment where nearing the end of the piece one cannot allow the thought that this just might be the finished one, for fear of breaking one’s concentration. I had a number of attempts at this piece, largely because I was unhappy with the text calligraphy: the gouache didn’t flow properly or letter shapes were wrong. I also found that it looked different the following morning. Take a step back, or a sleep, and the faults and strengths shout at you when viewed anew. I often describe this as creeping up on the piece unawares before it has a chance to rearrange itself!
VJ: So here it is – my double Tanka – dancing in sinuous lines out of the dark. I know how many attempts Rachel made to get this best yet version – I hope I work as diligently on my work. I love the plumes of the N and the delicacy of the verse forms especially.
RY: I did many versions in my attempt to get this right. And there are still things which are not right, but they are small, and I remember to listen to the inner voice which tells me to look at the whole, rather than obsess over the detail as I am wont to do. In all it was an amazing experience to work with a real living writer! I felt strongly that I must do Vivien’s words justice for she had thought and wrestled over them in the same way as I do when creating a piece.