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The practice of retouching and editing lettering

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Ken Fraser:

From time to time, views are expessed giving the impression that using guidelines and retouching or editing one’s work
is somehow underhand and, as a dubious practice, should be declared up front.

As a full-time calligrapher, I have always retouched and edited my work when necessary. Most artwork intended for
reproduction will be retouched as required. It’s never occurred to me that this might need an explanation as it seems
such an obvious thing to do, simply as a matter of course.

As clarification has been requested with regard to my working methods, perhaps it might be useful for me to be as
transparent and detailed as possible in my descriptions.

I use pen, scalpel, eraser, white gouache, black ink and anything else which may do the job. I admit that I did dabble for
a time with computer retouching, and if anyone cares to dig deep enough, there will be evidence of this on some of my
previous posts. I stopped using this practice for several reasons. I was always uneasy about attempting to use an
artificial means of retouching my work as I feel strongly that as much as possible should be done by hand; otherwise we
may as well just use computer fonts and be done with it. This episode was an aberration in my attempt to write with purity
by hand, in the time-honoured manner, and I prefer to forget that I strayed from the ‘straight and narrow’, albeit for a short
period. Even without this objection, I found retouching by computer to be too slow (in my ignorance) difficult to do with
sufficient accuracy (for me) and most importantly, too divorced from handwork and too mechanical for my taste. I soon
abandoned the practice and returned to traditional methods. I prefer my work to be all hand-produced which includes
retouching, and almost all of my many posts on this forum and elsewhere, have been retouched to a greater or lesser
extent. I also frequently edit my work by moving elements around, by physically cutting and pasting with scissors and paste.

Such is my obsession in getting it right, that the subsequent retouching can often take considerably longer than the writing!

Obviously, one-off work such as scrolls cannot be retouched and I am capable of writing without retouching, when
necessary. For example, on commission, I produced the Bowes-Lyon family tree of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother.
It hangs on prominent display in Glamis Castle. Work of this nature requires considerable concentration and the process
isn’t always the most enjoyable as a result. Writing for reproduction is much more relaxing as I know that I can always
tidy-up and tittivate it as much as I please by retouching and/or editing it, later.   

Having abandoned my abortive computer-retouching attempts, my work is hand-produced and that is how I describe it.
When I say “hand-produced” I also mean as opposed to production by using a computer font. I use guide lines in all my
work and  I also use a light box, occasionally. 


I see nothing wrong with retouching work. I would be surprised to learn that any of the old masters did not do so.

thank you for sharing your thoughts and practice.  a very good read.  i have never understood why some people abhor using guidelines.  they are guides, not crutches, and there for a reason.  i see so many masters using guidelines, and I feel no shame in using them all the time.

Ken, thanks for your thoughts on this important subject!  I agree 100% with what you said!  I am getting better at retouching, mainly thanks to your own exemplars & description. My hardest problem is waiting for the ink to really dry before tackling revisions!  I am so impatient to learn whether or not I can "save" my work, or will instead have to start over!  I'm getting better at that, but it's still hard for me!  Anyway, as usual, your advice & analysis is spot-on!


Linda Y.:

--- Quote from: joi on October 30, 2014, 07:02:42 PM ---i have never understood why some people abhor using guidelines.  they are guides, not crutches, and there for a reason.  i see so many masters using guidelines, and I feel no shame in using them all the time.

--- End quote ---

Completely agree. People who do not use guildelines are, for lack of a better word, lazy. ::)


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