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General Categories => Open Flourish | General Discussion => Topic started by: Ken Fraser on October 30, 2014, 06:47:24 PM

Title: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: Ken Fraser on October 30, 2014, 06:47:24 PM


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. 

Ken
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: AnasaziWrites on October 30, 2014, 06:55:17 PM
I see nothing wrong with retouching work. I would be surprised to learn that any of the old masters did not do so.
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: joi on October 30, 2014, 07:02:42 PM
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.
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: JanisTX on October 30, 2014, 07:32:54 PM
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!

Janis
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: Linda Y. on October 31, 2014, 12:47:51 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.

Completely agree. People who do not use guildelines are, for lack of a better word, lazy. ::)
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: elsa.d on October 31, 2014, 04:56:25 PM
 

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

So true in my case! I almost never use guidelines and it is pure laziness! However, now that I am in the habit of writing without them I find that having them there generally interrupts my flow. My writing is more consistent when using guidelines but lacks the same unique personality.

Loved reading about your methods Ken!
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: joi on November 02, 2014, 08:52:32 AM

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

So true in my case! I almost never use guidelines and it is pure laziness! However, now that I am in the habit of writing without them I find that having them there generally interrupts my flow. My writing is more consistent when using guidelines but lacks the same unique personality.


elsa - in your case guidelines do not work for your style, which is lovely!  your bounce and rhythm is something that i admire!!!
my issue (and maybe miscommunicated above) is when people criticize others for their choice to use or not use guidelines.  the assumption sometimes that i cannot write in a straight line, hence why i used guidelines, and somehow means i am lacking in some area of skill, is what bothers me.  and completely incorrect.  i letter in Copperplate, and using at a minimum x-height lines keeps my letter height consistent, which is a quality that I like in my style. 

everyone has their own style and methods to produce that style.  whatever tools, tricks, or methods to get that style is your own choosing and should be free from judgement and critique by others.
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: Nickkih on November 02, 2014, 09:40:35 AM
I love this thread. Thanks Ken for sharing. I had a conversation via email with Paul Antonio a while back and I made a comment to him about using guidelines. I believed at the time that eventually I should graduate from using them. And he corrected me saying that there was no shame in using guidelines because they are there for a reason and he uses them too. So people who criticize the use of guidelines should look to the masters. The masters became masters for a reason. But in regards to modern the use of guidelines are a choice. Molly Thorpe doesn't use them either and I do love her style. Here's what I say: write beautifully and share your experience but don't criticize others.
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: Nickkih on November 02, 2014, 09:55:14 AM
Btw I'm not friends with Paul Antonio or anything. Wasn't trying to name drop just wanted to share one of the few conversations I had with him. Like Ken, Paul Antonio and many of the other masters are very humble and approachable and are always gracious in helping us newbies.
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: Brad franklin on November 02, 2014, 03:13:06 PM
Speaking of Paul Antonio he taught a class in NYC on Saturday. I wish it was closer to me so I could have gone.  I use guidelines and love them. Past and current masters used them. If your doing modern calligraphy I could see no use for them but for traditional I think is something different.
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: Ken Fraser on November 02, 2014, 05:01:55 PM
In 15th century Europe, it was fairly common practice to write between the guidelines. This is actually just as easy to do as writing on the lines, and has the advantage of being less intrusive in the actual letters. Often, the lines were left in place, as in this example, as an attractive, integral part of the design. Try it....you may surprise yourself, and it's good fun  ;)
This example is from the Netherlands, c1490.

It works best if you are writing with short ascenders and descenders, but it works almost as well if your lettering has longer ascenders and descenders.....just place the lines a little further apart.
 
There is another advantage. If your writing tends to be a little bit wayward it will appear straighter, because the eye will be led by the lines.

When I worked at the Court of the Lord Lyon, in Edinburgh, all my calligraphy was on vellum, and I occasionally left my guidelines in place.


Ken

(https://theflourishforum.com/forum/proxy.php?request=http%3A%2F%2Fi226.photobucket.com%2Falbums%2Fdd289%2Fcaliken_2007%2FIMG601.jpg&hash=7da743cb1638a682190f975f98790e8d)

Here's an example of my own. As you can see, although it's freely handwritten, when it occasionally goes off the straight, the eye follows the lines and it appears much more even.

(https://theflourishforum.com/forum/proxy.php?request=http%3A%2F%2Fi226.photobucket.com%2Falbums%2Fdd289%2Fcaliken_2007%2Flinedwriting6002.jpg&hash=f689bfee52012ed8428f130bb52d79b5)
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: Brad franklin on November 02, 2014, 06:08:54 PM
Everytime you speak (type) I learn something. Thanks Ken.
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: Erica McPhee on November 02, 2014, 06:25:08 PM
Great post Ken! And great conversation as well. If I am doing anything but contemporary lettering, I MUST use guidelines. I am one of those people that can't write in a straight line! However, I am oblivious because I didn't know using guidelines was looked down upon by some people! (Ignorance is bliss!)  ;D

I did have weird feelings about touching up my work in Photoshop when I started preparing my work for reproduction. Initially, I felt like it was cheating somehow or perhaps not "authentic" as hand done calligraphy. But I no longer feel that way. Work for reproduction is very different than a one off piece. (Which, by the way, I don't enjoy doing at all.) I once did a huge family tree (twice) because I screwed up a name near to the end and I couldn't bear the thought of having a "fix up" on an original. I also didn't enjoy doing seating charts for the same reason.
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: JanisTX on November 02, 2014, 06:34:15 PM
Everytime you speak (type) I learn something. Thanks Ken.

Ain't that the truth, Brad?!  Me, too!!  One of my favorite fantasies is getting to sit at Ken's workstation, to watch him work & 'soak up' his brilliant lettering by osmosis!  We're really luck to have him at the Forum!

Janis
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: patweecia on November 02, 2014, 09:23:11 PM
I love all your input :)

For me, I never used any guidelines before because my mind tend to be restricted, and hypnotize me to make sure all of the lines reach and are within those lines.  When I tried using guidelines before I felt like my mother was hovering on my back and making snarky remarks every time my strokes goes beyond or under the guidelines.  yes, I'm a weirdo like that.

But eventually, I got tired of seeing my work not aligned.  It's so frustrating.  Especially when doing a piece for someone.  So I pushed myself to use guidelines, and I've actually come to love them.  Even if it's just to make sure I'm writing on a straight line :) 
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: Roseann on November 03, 2014, 02:12:30 AM
Wonderful, and helpful thread Ken.

Thank you for sharing.
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: Joel on November 03, 2014, 04:08:15 AM
Everytime you speak (type) I learn something. Thanks Ken.

I agree with Brad. Thank you very much for sharing.
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: Ken Fraser on November 03, 2014, 04:19:44 AM
Work for reproduction is very different than a one off piece. (Which, by the way, I don't enjoy doing at all.) I once did a huge family tree (twice) because I screwed up a name near to the end and I couldn't bear the thought of having a "fix up" on an original. I also didn't enjoy doing seating charts for the same reason.

In the past, I've done quite a number of one-off documents such as family trees and large ceremonial scrolls. I agree that this type of work causes a lot of tension which is counter-productive at the very time when you should be at your most relaxed to produce your best work.

Out of necessity, I've developed a few little techniques which help me....they may help others.

With large bodies of text, I use the computer to speed up and aid the layout. I write a  line of text and scan it in. I then type the same letters below my writing, and with a computer font of similar letter proportions, I adjust the  point size, inter-letter spacing etc., until it matches, more or less. I keep a note of this example for future reference. I then type all of the text and check it very carefully for any errors. When I come to write, I print off this block of text and cut it into line strips as a guide for my writing. I then lay each line in turn in position and copy down the word shapes with confidence. There is little chance of error, as I've already checked the wording for position, spacing and the text content itself.

I always do this work late at night when the phone won't ring and nobody will come to the door - in other words, no interruptions. I switch off the TV and often work in silence but I sometimes find that music has a relaxing effect. However, I avoid songs as the words can be disastrous. For example, If I'm writing the word 'for' and it coincides with the word 'from' in a song, it's very easy for me to write what I hear. I use soothing, instrumental music such as by Delius, Debussy or Ravel.

Coming fresh to a work session, I never start a large paragraph at the top. Using my lettering guide, I start at about 1/3 of the way down - say at line six for example. After a few lines of writing, I then go to the top and write in the first section.
The reason for this is simple. When the work is important, most of us experience some tension when starting to write, and this uncertainty is most obvious at the start of a body of work. By burying this uncertainty in the body of text, it is far less noticeable. I cannot claim credit for this tip, as it's been around for longer than I have.

Having to start over with a large writing project, and losing hours of work because of a relatively small error is depressing out of all proportion! Erica described it, and we've all been there! My routine helps me to mitigate against this unthinkable possibility. Above all, don't try to rush and don't cut corners!

Ken
 


Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: Scarlet Blue on November 03, 2014, 09:05:47 AM
I wouldn't do a seating chart and definitely never a family tree... I would drive myself insane with the tension... I would mess up the last word.... I know it.... knowing it probably makes me do it  ;)
And I even use 'vague' guidelines for modern calligraphy. I am, perhaps, a little bit over cautious  :)
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: AnasaziWrites on November 03, 2014, 09:48:34 AM
Out of necessity, I've developed a few little techniques which help me....they may help others.

Ken
These tips are solid gold. Thanks very much, Ken.

Mike
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: Blotbot on November 03, 2014, 10:11:47 AM
Ken,

How long are  your work sessions?  I ask because I find that after work for about 30-45 minutes, I find myself losing focus a bit a make (more) stupid mistakes.  Do you take breaks to rest the mind a bit?
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: Roseann on November 03, 2014, 11:17:15 AM
Thank you Ken.
Your advice is truly invaluable.  I've book marked this topic.
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: thistledesignstudio on November 03, 2014, 03:51:41 PM
Ken, you are a wealth of information & I feel like I learn so much from your genius insights.  Thank you, as always, for sharing.
Title: Re: The practice of retouching and editing lettering
Post by: Ken Fraser on November 03, 2014, 06:55:40 PM
Ken,

How long are  your work sessions?  I ask because I find that after work for about 30-45 minutes, I find myself losing focus a bit a make (more) stupid mistakes.  Do you take breaks to rest the mind a bit?

My evening/night sessions are usually from 9pm to about 12.30am. I don't time it exactly but I find that I benefit from a brief break every hour or so - just to stretch my legs and clear my head. I have a light touch, so fortunately I don't suffer from cramp after long periods of writing. If I find myself losing focus - I go to bed!

Ken