Calligraphers of Kapiti Update

Versals are ornate styles of letters that are written, usually with a chisel shaped nib or quill. Calligraphy for Beginners

Working with Versals

By Pam Kessler

Olive Bull, Australian professional calligrapher, with her sample book of modern versals.

Recently versals have filled my thoughts.

Olive Bull, a renowned Australian calligrapher, spent three days with us, patiently talking us through and demonstrating the tricks and intricacies of Modern Versals.

Who knew that the construction of pen written versals was a task suitable only to those with a steady hand and a fierce determination to succeed!

Classical Roman proportions were originally used as a basis for these letters, in terms of letter width in relation to letter height.

The history and intricacies of versals

Versals were used in early manuscripts in France (AD 800-850).

A skeleton letter L. Olive demonstrated in a large format to illustrate what the class was to achieve with 23 mm size letters.

However, at that time they were generally only used for headings or initial letters and coloured red, blue, green or black, and sometimes they were rendered in raised and burnished gold.

Versals have changed over the years and different forms are now commonly used.

The capitals are tricky.

One could spend years constructing and perfecting this one hand, in fact many do spend years doing just that!

Olive shows the way!

Olive demonstrating the correct way to grind stick ink.

Olive introduced us to our three days of work by demonstrating the process we were to follow, to hopefully, achieve our goal.

On our pre-prepared A4 paper we had ruled lightly pencilled lines 23mm apart separated by 7mm gaps.

We were ready with our Mitchell size 4 nib in our pen-holder, and with our black gouache or stick ink mixed to the perfect consistency.

Our first task was to draw straight lines from the top to the bottom of the 23mm line. Slowly, slowly, holding the nib flat on the paper and with a steady hand.

Where did all those wobbly lines come from?

Progress under the expert guide

Olive’s Quiet Life quotation. Note how the lines of letters are knitted together and are perfectly balanced.

Thankfully we gradually progressed, and were soon drawing the skeletons of the versal letters and flooding the shapes with ink.

A glorious feeling when you have done at least one letter in a line well. I know I never achieved two correct versals in a row!

Olive is a patient, and experienced tutor, and we are always delighted when we can arrange for her to come to Kapiti for a calligraphy course.

Olive gives her time willingly and generously shares her knowledge and skills.

Of all the teachers I knew in my 33-year teaching career, Olive is surely the best. She works hard to make sure we all feel some measure of progress and success in our work.

Demonstrating by example

The versals in Olive’s quote Appreciate Me Now are angled on a 5 degree slope.

Olive shows examples of what she wants us to achieve, and then takes us through the steps to make it happen. I must add that some students in the class made it happen more easily than did others!

Although I do hasten to also add that Olive declared one of my letters, an S, to be the best that she had ever seen a student achieve after two days of tuition. Such jubilation!

Unfortunately, on reflection, I feel that perhaps Olive mistakenly mistook another student’s work for mine! No matter, I do know that my ‘S’ would not have been achieved without Olive’s positive encouragement, demonstrations and support!

Google Modern Versals, to see exciting and wonderful examples, you may be inspired!

2017 Calligraphy Exhibition

From 18 November to 8 December 2017 we will be holding an exhibition at the Roderick and Gillian Deane Community Art Space in the Paraparaumu Library.

It is very likely that versals will be on display as most local members will contribute a recent piece of work for this exhibition, as will many of our other members throughout New Zealand and Australia.

April Meeting

Our next club meeting will be

  • 20 April
  • 7.00 pm to 9.30 pm
  • Kapiti Uniting Church, Raumati Beach.

Our meetings are held on the third Thursday of each month, February to November.

If you would like to visit on a meeting night please ring me at 04 902 1806.

Bye for now,

Pam.