Click the pics for a clearer image
I first encountered calligraphy in Foyles Bookstore in Charing Cross Road, London in 1955 (yes, I am incredibly ancient). I was 17 at the time on my first solo trip into London. I stopped outside Foyles and marvelled at the display of books about Arts and Crafts in the window.
I just browsing around, not looking for anything in particular when I saw a poster advertising “Poster Work for Everyone” by somebody whose name I have forgotten. The poster was lettered in such a beautiful script that I thought “I would love to be able to do that”. So I went to the counter and asked the assistant if he could recommend a good cheap book to start me off.
A man standing nearby, dressed in an effeminate manner with a large floppy hat and an enormous cravat sidled up to me, and putting his hand on my shoulder, said in a posh voice “Darling, you simply must buy a copy of my book. There’s one in the rack, I’ll fetch it for you”.
He returned with a slim green volume called “Lettering for Brush and Pen”, a bit tatty because it was pre-owned as they say. “Here you are, Sonny-Jim, ” he said “I will give you this, and I hope you will learn a lot from it”. With that he paid the assistant half-a-crown (2s : 6d) and flounced out of the shop with a wave of his hand.
I said to the assistant “He’s a queer one isn’t he?” He replied “Oh, he’s always in here. That’s Quentin Crisp you know”. I looked at the book and sure enough it was written by him. After I learned from that book I moved over to “proper” Calligraphy. That man, who I had never heard of and never saw again, put me on the right road to fame and fortune!
The photo on the right shows inside the green book, there are also fine examples of the Chancery and Round hand scripts.
The following week I returned and bought the other book (1/-) which is bursting with some fine examples from Roman times to the present day, then 1910.
The picture on the left shows a random page in the “Alphabets Old and New” book.
My next port of call was the pen shop in Soho, I’ve forgotten the name, to buy a proper pen for the job. I settled for a Mabie Todd Swan Leverless Calligraph pen, after I was assured that it was the best pen one could buy. It cost me 17/11d in old money. I still have it, but rarely use it now. I found that the modern Lamy Joy with a 1.1mm nib is a far better pen nowadays.
I was called up for National Service in January 1956, so I had to put my calligraphy on hold for two years. Hobbies were frowned upon in the Army, we had to spend all our “spare” time pressing uniforms, cleaning our webbing and the barracks, going on manoeuvres, doing fatigues. All in all our time was not our own.
At last the day of my demob dawned, and I could get back to being a normal human being again! The first thing I did was to do a course at
Winchester Cathedral Workshops to learn how to paint and fire glass, make stained glass windows and how to fit them. Then I was ready to face the world, or so I thought. I met the woman who was to became my wife. I kept up the calligraphy in spite of that! I suppose you could say I am self taught.
At that time, I worked as a sheet metal worker (as my friends said, a Weak Metal Shirker!) but I found the job, although interesting, was a bit too heavy for me so I left and worked at MIRA, the Motor Industry Research Association for 22 years in the Instrumentation Lab where I learned everything about computers and programming them. They were in their infancy at that time (no Bill Gates or Windows when I started) and there were no domestic computers about until the ZX80 came on the market.
In 1991 I started my business, Angel Stained Glass, at a craft centre in Nuneaton where I designed and made stained glass panels for windows and doors in churches, pubs, and private houses. I also made sun-catchers and tiffany style lamps for local craft fairs. When business was slack I turned to writing out wedding stationery, posters, in fact anything where “posh” lettering was required.
Sadly I had to close down after only three years due to lack of trade. It was at a time when the fashion to have stained glass was on the decline. I moved my workshop to an outhouse at home, and set up my calligraphy workshop in the spare bedroom; now my studio!
In the last year I have developed rheumatoid arthritis in my hands and now have difficulty in holding pens and pencils, even my normal handwriting isn’t what it used to be, but I won’t give up until I have to!
The photo above right shows the pens that I normally use these days. They are, left to right, two Lamy Joy pens, one with a 1.1mm nib and the other with a 1.5mm nib. These are my everyday pens for letter writing and shopping lists. The four Pilot Parallel Pens are for formal work. Next is a dip pen I borrowed from my old school’s open day when nobody was looking and the angled nib pen is for copperplate lettering, the nib is a flexible Gilliot 303. Second from the right is one of my Blackwing pencils used for lining and layouts, and last is a Parker 45 given to me by a friend who is skilled in grinding, shaping and polishing nibs to order. It is a beautiful pen to write with.
That’s enough for now, but I will be adding more soon. If you have any suggestions (polite ones!) or ideas please use the comment box below.
My old studio, now kept as a museum by art lovers.