In Life Illuminated Poem


Calligraphy is one of those professions where people ask for unusual things. This seems to be true across the centuries and across cultures.
In the year 2000 I heard a lecture at the Society of Scribes. The presenter, an art historian, spoke about a famous 12th century Chinese calligrapher who was asked to write surprising things on surprising surfaces.

As she listed the things that she found surprising, all the calligraphers in the room nodded recognition. It was a universal experience. We had all been there- we'd written on special plates to commemorate a wedding or birth. Writing the text of a proposal, designing a tatoo. After 30 plus years, The "atypical" request is so common that it causes me to stop when my mind flags something as new.An illuminated e-mail. If that is not a nonsequeter then what is? That is what the client wanted. It was not a poem, not a quote, and not prose... an illuminated e-mail.

A kind mentor had written a note of encouragement and support when something had gone amiss. The words were not taken lightly. In fact they were so on target they were to be beautifully written, illuminated and framed. They were to be reread and remembered lest they be forgotten.

Calligraphy and illumination bring a presence to a meaningful text. The choice of calligraphic hand gives the text its tone of voice. It is like an actor preparing for a part, finding the right voice.

In this case, I chose a pressure manipulated italic calligraphy. As Shakespeare called italic, that sweet Italian hand. The extra detail in pressure manipulation brings more gravity to the text. Is says, These Words not to be rushed. The eye lingers longer, savoring each word, giving the mind time to chew and digest the meaning.

The next challenge, designing a decorative motif fit to be hung in an office that Also works with italic. Since italic is a renaissance calligraphic hand, I looked to examples of renaissance and tudor illumination for inspiration.

The trick was to enhance the text and not bury it in overly heavy decoration. It needed balance. The short text afforded ample space for decoration. This is a blessing and a curse.

The extra room for decoration could be given to bars of interlinear decoration. That would emphasize the text. Inspired by Mira Calligraphica Monumenta, in the permanent collection of The Getty Museum, I chose repeated arabesques. I created a few patterns to be repeated by hand. Each bar was composed of repeated units. The patterns' thin lines and light blue color kept the decoration light enough so that the italic text catches the attention first.

The patterns were designed so that each repeated pattern has the same weight, movement, and the same feel- like all are of a whole cloth and not pieced together like a patchwork quilt. And, of course, it would be silly to make something that looks like it was a repeated rubber stamped design. Look closely for the repeat and variations within each repeat. All interlinear bar decorations need to be alive with the human touch and not just mindlessly rubber stamped.

How a design melds together is a sign of good design. In design, what is most important is that the designer choses where the attention starts and where it wanders on a page. The eye movement needs to flow naturally- gently resting on one area and then the next. A bad design tires the eyes. It has eyes darting from place to place, never resting. A good design helps the reader to know what to read first and in what order to read the rest. It also helps the reader put the text into an emotional context.

I think this piece achieves these goals. And It has a certain gentle gravitas.