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Gurney Journey

This daily weblog by Dinotopia creator James Gurney is for illustrators, plein-air painters, sketchers, comic artists, animators, art students, and writers. You'll find practical studio tips, insights into the making of the Dinotopia books, and first-hand reports from art schools and museums.

gurneyjourney.blogspot.com

J.C. Ryan, The Handless Penman

At age 22, J.C. Ryan lost both of his hands in a Dakota blizzard, leaving him with stumps for arms.
J.C. Ryan, The Handless Penman
For several years he was sad and dejected, reduced to traveling with a novelty show. He tried writing by holding a pen with one of his feet, but that wasn't convenient.

So he tried pressing the pen between what was left of his arms.

J.C. Ryan, The Handless Penman
He met Warner C. Brownfield, a master penman who taught him the movements he would need for roundhand writing: precise directional slants, sweeping curves, and heavier strokes achieved by sensitive changes of pressure.

The idea may have seemed hopeless at first, but Ryan stuck with it.


J.C. Ryan, The Handless Penman


Brownfield observed: "The movement he uses is mainly body motion flowing out through both arms, though his left arm does most of the propelling. The resting of his arms and rolling on the muscles with precision gives him much the same control gotten by the best professional penmen through aid of the fingers."

J.C. Ryan, The Handless Penman

He earned his living signing postcards, and was able to make as much as $30 per day. In 1917 he said, "I am doing the biggest business in my life... I am getting 35 cents per dozen cards, 50 cents with address, so that is a good price."

The Business Educator said, "Think of a man without hands, tying his shoes, buttoning his shirt and collar, putting on his tie and taking care of himself in every way without aid from others, to say nothing of mastering penmanship, going on the road as an enthusiastic card writer, doing well, taking care of his money, and best of all being happy and enjoying life—that is J. C. Ryan."

Brownfield said, "His life is an example of courage and should be an inspiration to those who have hands and don't train them." 
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J. C. Ryan, The Handless Penman at Zanerian website

Using Speedball's Dip Pens


I use dip pens when I create illustrations and lettering because they deliver a look that evokes the style of the Golden Age of Ornamental Penmanship, which lasted from about 1850 to 1925.


Some of the most reliable dip pen nibs are the Hunt 102 and the Speedball C-series of nibs, which I'm using here for a map of Chandara. Some of these pens have a heritage that goes back in an unbroken line for more than 100 years.


The manufacturer, The Speedball Company still makes nibs, penholders, and many art products in their factory in North Carolina. (Link to video tour of their factory)



They just redid their website, creating Pro Pages that spotlight letterers, illustrators, and printmakers who use their products. When they realized that I've used their products since I was a teenager, they asked to feature my work, too.

No money changes hands, but it’s a nice way for a group of artists to appreciate a the work of a company and for a company to appreciate the work of artists.
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Speedball Pro Pages: Drawing and Lettering
Lecture about the Golden Age of Ornamental Penmanship
The map appears on the inside of the dust jacket of the hardcover edition of Dinotopia: Journey to Chandara, which you can get signed from my website.
Speedball textbook for pen & brush lettering

Seb Lester's Lettering Tools

The video begins: "My name is Seb Lester. I'm a designer and artist based in the U.K. The focus of all of my work is letterforms." (Link to video)

 

Seb Lester's calligraphy is best known from a series of videos showing a wide range of calligraphy styles.


A freehand demo of some familiar corporate logos recently went viral. (Link to Video)
On his Facebook page, Mr. Lester has generously shared a detailed description of his lettering tools:

"In terms of broad edge tools, necessary for Gothic and Italic styles of calligraphy, Pilot Parallel Pens are good tools for beginners. These are the pens I have been using for the clips that have recently gone viral on social media and websites like Design Taxi and Buzzfeed. ‘Manuscript’ brand calligraphy fountain pens are widely available and practical beginners tools. As you advance you will probably want to start using traditional metal calligraphy nibs made by established manufacturers like Brause and Mitchell and also Automatic Pens. They can be a bit more difficult to handle but can help achieve finer, crisper results."
'How To Get Started in Calligraphy   Many hundreds of people have been asking me questions about what pens I use and how to get started in Calligraphy over the last few days. This seems like the perfect time and place to help promote the practice and appreciation of this beautiful, ancient art form. Calligraphy has been created with a wide variety of tools over the past 2,000 years or so in the West. This article describes some of them.  In terms of broad edge tools, necessary for Gothic and Italic styles of calligraphy, Pilot Parallel Pens are good tools for beginners. These are the pens I have been using for the clips that have recently gone viral on social media and websites like Design Taxi and Buzzfeed. ‘Manuscript’ brand calligraphy fountain pens are widely available and practical beginners tools. As you advance you will probably want to start using traditional metal calligraphy nibs made by established manufacturers like Brause and Mitchell and also Automatic Pens. They can be a bit more difficult to handle but can help achieve finer, crisper results.  For pointed pen calligraphy, characterised by graceful curves and strong contrasts in line width, I would recommend trying Nikko G nibs. You can use these in either a traditional or an oblique pen holder, it is a matter of personal preference. Iron Gall ink is best for this type of calligraphy. Walker’s Copperplate Ink and McCaffrey’s Ink get good results for me.  Paper is always an important consideration. The paper I often use with Pilot Parallel Pens is Daler Rowney Smooth Cartridge Paper, but any smooth cartridge paper should be fine. When I’m working on roughs for any type of calligraphy I often use layout paper and marker pads. In terms of sketch pads a lot of calligraphers like the Rhodia and Claire Fontaine brands as the paper doesn’t bleed very easily. As with everything the key is to experiment, paper with more texture can produce interesting results too.  In terms of books for inspiration I can recommend ‘Scribe: Artist of the Written Word’ by John Stevens, a true modern master. For instruction I would also suggest ‘Foundations of Calligraphy’ by the brilliant Sheila Waters. ‘Calligraphy’ by Gaye Godfrey-Nicholls was published last year, a good book for beginners. Any of ‘The Speedball Textbook’ series are also inexpensive sources of instruction and inspiration.  The key to producing beautiful calligraphy is perseverance. Progress comes through focused and sustained study and practice. You will only persevere if you enjoy what you’re doing. For this reason I’d personally suggest starting with a calligraphy style you particularly like the look of. When you have a reasonable grasp of that style you will notice many of the skills are transferable to other styles.  I feel so lucky to have found what Hermann Zapf described as “this peaceful and noble art”. My working process as a designer and artist has evolved into a hybrid style blending my knowledge of both traditional and digital tools. There are some things that computers can't do and vice versa, so I think this is a great way to work. I have a broader palette of tools at my disposal than ever before and I find this very beneficial. I feel I am becoming a better artist and designer every day, which makes me very happy. So if you want to try calligraphy just have fun. Don’t be discouraged by early failures, there will be many of those. However, I can say with lots of personal experience that success is built on failure.  Some recommended tools from the attached image. These tools reflect my personal taste and are not a definitive list. Other calligraphers would most likely recommend other tools. From top to bottom: Pilot Parallel Pen, Pentel Colour Brush, Kuretake No. 13 Fountain Brush Pen, Manuscript Italic Fountain Pen, Nikko G Nib with oblique pen holder, Automatic Pen, Copic Wide Marker, Ruling Pen.'
Top to bottom: Pilot Parallel PenPentel Colour BrushKuretake Fountain Brush PenManuscript Italic Fountain PenNikko G-Pen with oblique pen holder, Automatic PensCopic Wide MarkerRuling Pen.
"For pointed pen calligraphy, characterised by graceful curves and strong contrasts in line width, I would recommend trying Nikko G-Pen nibs. You can use these in either a traditional or an oblique pen holder, it is a matter of personal preference. Iron Gall ink is best for this type of calligraphy. Walker’s Copperplate Ink and McCaffrey’s Ink get good results for me."

"Paper is always an important consideration. The paper I often use with Pilot Parallel Pens is Daler Rowney Smooth Cartridge Paper, but any smooth cartridge paper should be fine. When I’m working on roughs for any type of calligraphy I often use layout paper and marker pads. In terms of sketch pads a lot of calligraphers like the Rhodia and Clairefontaine brands as the paper doesn’t bleed very easily. As with everything the key is to experiment, paper with more texture can produce interesting results too."

"In terms of books for inspiration I can recommend ‘Scribe: Artist of the Written Word’ by John Stevens, a true modern master. For instruction I would also suggest ‘Foundations of Calligraphy’ by the brilliant Sheila Waters. ‘Calligraphy’ by Gaye Godfrey-Nicholls was published last year, a good book for beginners. Any of ‘Speedball Textbook’ series are also inexpensive sources of instruction and inspiration."

"The key to producing beautiful calligraphy is perseverance. Progress comes through focused and sustained study and practice. You will only persevere if you enjoy what you’re doing. For this reason I’d personally suggest starting with a calligraphy style you particularly like the look of. When you have a reasonable grasp of that style you will notice many of the skills are transferable to other styles."
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Logo Animation from Mud and Cardboard


If you ever need to animate your logo for video, you have two choices: spend thousands of dollars on a high-tech digital motion graphics that will look fake and dated in five years, or make it yourself for next to nothing out of cardboard, wire, and mud. (Direct link to video)


Here's me and Jeanette behind the scenes during filming.

With a lot of filmmakers looking for practical, in-camera effects, this is the best way to get logo animations grounded in reality.

This analog technique is also a good way for artists using CGI to quickly and cheaply generate reference of real effects little nuances of wind vortices in smoke, cast shadows, etc, which would be hard to imagine in purely digital simulations.

What I plan to do with this re-usable frame is to shoot it in a few different environments, such as in front of a roaring bonfire or in the middle of a fern garden.


Here are some of the real animated logos for inspiration (link to video).

Other news
For those of you following the "How I Paint Dinosaurs" video— we've now got the digital download also at Sellfy that accepts Paypal. You can access it directly at this link. It's also available via credit card at Gumroad and as a DVD at Kunaki

Show Card Writing, Part 3

Before leaving the topic of show card writing, let's take a look at some alphabets. These were created by the show card writer William Hugh Gordon for his classic 1918 book Lettering for Commercial Purposes.


Each alphabet takes on the character of the tool that constructed it. These calligraphic letterforms were made with a broad, flat tipped tool held at a 45 degree angle. Such letters have been made by a reed pen, a quill pen, or a steel nib. But in this case he's using a rigger brush held at a 45 degrees.

Gordon classifies such an alphabet under the broad category "text" by which he means the old-style or thick-and-thin letters made through the centuries by normal writing instruments.

By rotating the rigger brush in the fingers, a writer can achieve a constant-width or "gothic" alphabet using single strokes. Note the fully open counters on the "o's," the high and low crossbars on the "F" and "A," and the narrow vertical letters, such as "H" and "N." These eccentricities were popular throughout the teens and '20s.

It takes multiple strokes of the brush to construct blocky letters, but in Gordon's hands, it's fast and even.

With a blunt-tipped brush or one of the Speedball oval nibs, you can get this fun poster style. This look is often associated with commercial graphics of the 1920s, such as that of F.G. Cooper.

Finally, I would like to thank blog readers Rise of the Molecule and John Berkeley for letting me know about the following related videos.


(Direct link to video) Factory tour of the Speedball pen nibs.

..and John told me about this video about the traditional fairground lettering and decoration of Joby Carter.

Related links
Amazon book:The Lettering and Graphic Design of F.G. Cooper (Thanks, Bill P.)
Free book: Lettering for Commercial Purposes, William Hugh Gordon, 1918

Read the whole series:
Show Card Writing, Part 1
Show Card Writing, Part 2 
Show Card Writing, Part 3

Show Card Writing: Part 2

Show Card Writing: Part 2
Show card writing can be done with pens. In fact the Speedball line of pens was invented for show card work.

Show Card Writing: Part 2
If you're not familiar with them, Speedball pen nibs are still being made. They are detachable nibs made with a variety of flat, square, round, and oval tips of various sizes for lettering. They fit into a pen holder and dip into black or colored ink. In high school, I lettered a lot of wedding invitations and menus for print shops, so I practically had these nibs attached to my fingertips.

Show Card Writing: Part 2
But most of the professional show card writers of the golden age used rigger brushes. These are long sable brushes with round ferrules. Their tips can be flattened out to make a stroke of even width in the pull direction, and a thin stroke when moved sideways. Used properly, this tool can make most of the letterforms with a single stroke. As far as I'm aware, modern rigger brushes aren't the same as the old show card riggers; most of the modern riggers are intended more for painting thin lines.

In show card work, the letters were not outlined and filled in. That would be too slow. Even a hundred years ago, a writer had to produce a lot of work at very low pay rates. "Quantity first," said William Hugh Gordon (though his quality was the best, too).

Show Card Writing: Part 2
A rigger is held between the thumb and first finger in such a way that the brush could be rotated during a stroke. That turn of the brush is necessary to make the "Gothic" and "Block" letterforms shown earlier. You can wrap the ferrule with waxed string to improve the grip. The fingertips should be held far down the ferrule—some held it even closer to the brush tip than the example above.

The brush is pulled toward the writer with a movement of the fingers, as Charles Strong demonstrated above in his book. Strong uses a bridge, but other writers balanced their hand on their last two fingers and did away with the hand rest.

Show Card Writing: Part 2
Here's a student setup, from Blair.

The paint was water-based and often prepared from dry pigments by the artist. The best white came by grinding white lead—a potentially toxic practice. The binder was mucilage, a plant glue also used as a wallpaper paste, a paper glue, and a gum for envelopes. You can still get that too, but I haven't experimented with it as a paint binder. You can substitute tube gouache and get good results.

Show Card Writing: Part 2
There are many vintage books on the subject, and you can get downloads for free from Google Books and Archive.org. Here are some of the titles and authors I would recommend:

Lettering for Commercial Purposes, William Hugh Gordon, 1918
A Show at Sho' Cards, by Atkinson, 1879
Principles and Practice of Show-Card Writing by Blair, 1922.
Druggists' and Dispensers' Practical Show Card Instructor, by W. A. Thompson, 1909
Effective Show-Cards by August Reupke, 1898.
100 Alphabets for the Show Card Writer, 1909.
Sign & Show Card Writing, Chas. Butterworth, 1899.
Modern Show Card Lettering and Design, by Thompson, 1903.
The Art of Show Card Writing by Charles Strong, 1907.
Instructions on Modern Show Card Writing, by J.G. Bissell, 1913
The Practical Phrases of Show Card Writing, St. Louis, 1922.
Fairchild's Rapid Letterer and Show Card Maker, Sidney Hackes, 1910.
How to Write Show CardsA by DeWild, 1922.
A Textbook on Show-Card Writing, International Correspondence

Tomorrow I'll finish up with a little introduction to some of the alphabets
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Resources on Amazon:
Speedball 10 Pen Nib Assorted Set
Speedball pen holder
Wallpaper mucilage

Show Card Writing, Part 1

If you were to walk into any store, pharmacy, or theater lobby 100 years ago, you would be see handmade advertising signs everywhere. These were called "show cards" and they were big business for commercial artists.
Show Card Writing, Part 1
Shop window, Waterford, Ireland, 1926
Just as every town had work for a cobbler and a blacksmith, it also had a show card writer, sometimes many. 

Show card writers would tell you that theirs was a different profession from sign painting, engrossing, or calligraphy, with different tools, techniques, and workflow. They called themselves "writers" instead of "letterers" or "sign painters." William Hugh Gordon, one of the masters of this art, said that the lettering "is really written, so called because [it was] produced by the rapid single stroke method, much the same as writing, regardless of whether a brush, pen, or other device is used." 

Show Card Writing, Part 1
The golden age of the show card was between about 1890 and 1920. Show card artists employed by the larger stores often had drawing and painting skills to add to the lettering.

Show Card Writing, Part 1
Price tags, or "price tickets," as they were called then, were surrounded with border devices, which went in and out of favor. 

Show Card Writing, Part 1
Although show cards were were ubiquitous, they were also ephemeral and disposable. Painted on cardboard, few of them survive today.

Happily, there has been a solid revival in show card writing. Upscale cafés and sandwich shops use hand lettering for their menus and specials; boutique grocers like Trader Joe's often have excellent hand lettered signs. Some of the great artistic cultures, such as Ireland, never lost the art. For the rest of us, rediscovering it, hand-made signage is becoming again what it once was: a mark of quality and distinction.  

Tomorrow we'll take a look at the tools and techniques of the show card writer.
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Previously on GurneyJourney:
Read the whole series:
Show Card Writing, Part 1
Show Card Writing, Part 2 
Hand-Painted Signs (mostly North African).
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There are several Flickr groups devoted to hand painted signage:
“Hand-Painted Signs of the World.”
“Folk Typography”
“Signpaintr,” dedicated to the lost art of hand-lettering
“Hand-Painted Signs of Cambodia.”

J.C. Ryan, The Handless PenmanUsing Speedball's Dip PensLove gets realMaster Penman Jake WeidmannSeb Lester's Lettering ToolsLogo Animation from Mud and CardboardShow Card Writing, Part 3Show Card Writing: Part 2Show Card Writing, Part 1

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