Over the past two and a half years, one of my favorite aspects of my job has been the opportunity to meet so many stellar calligraphers in person at the various conferences where we set up satellite stores. Often times, I’m able to walk around and briefly visit classes to see the amazing teaching and learning that occurs, and I never cease to be inspired and excited to be able to offer the supplies that help in the creation of such beautiful art. I’ve come to realize that many of our customers do not have the opportunity to attend conferences and classes, and I’ve been trying to think of ways that they, too, could be exposed to the instructors. Thus, the idea for this new blog series was born. Calligrapher’s Corner:Consulting with the Experts will consist of expert calligraphers’ answers to seven questions developed to give our blog readers insight into both their careers and themselves. You will get to know a bit more about them, see pictures of their work, and learn what tools they deem essential and what advice they have for those of you just starting out. I’ve been incredibly encouraged by the response I’ve already received, and I am truly delighted to share these interviews with you. I am certain you will find them entertaining and educational! With no further adieu, our first installment focuses on calligrapher Gemma Black. Enjoy!
Calligrapher’s Corner: Consulting with the Experts, Volume 1-Gemma Black
Describe how you began your love of lettering and how you started your career in calligraphy.
From a very early age I remember loving words, what they meant, how words were spelt and how and why words were built. I got very confused, a lot! I equally loved the technical side of writing and drawing and had many requests from my father to draw for him. I grew up in Sydney, Australia in a large family of nine children, many eels, tortoises, cats and a roving dog or two. I was taught by Brigidine nuns in Randwick where there was a strong emphasis on learning to write, presentation and fine lettering skills with a dip-in broad edged nib. We learnt italic and from about the age of ten, I had the finest copybooks in class and strangely I was good at maths.
What would you consider to be your area of greatest expertise?
With a very strong and formal lettering background my main areas of expertise are compound letterforms, versals, italic and all traditional formal and transitional broad-edged book-hands. My other main areas of interest are historical analysis of letterforms, lettering research and the future of writing by hand for the general global population.
With whom did you study, and who were/are your biggest influences?
Fast forward to Canberra 1983, I took on a series of calligraphy courses with F.W. (Ricky) Edmunds who was trained at the Royal College of Art in London. I worked with Ricky on many projects and he taught me calligraphy, traditional illumination, gilding, painting and drawing. In my formative calligraphic years, he was my personal tutor and mentor.
Later I met UK calligrapher and Queens’s Scribe Donald Jackson after a lecture he gave for the Canberra School of Art. This meeting was a pivotal point in my career as a calligrapher for my artistic confidences began to improve dramatically. I saved my pennies and undertook a two-year Calligraphy & Bookbinding postal course with English calligrapher Gaynor Goffe through the Roehampton Institute London in the 1980’s with further studies to follow in bookbinding, paper marbling, watercolour painting and printmaking in Canberra through the Canberra School of Art, the Crafts Council and printmaking studio Studio One.
In January 1986 I co-founded the Canberra Calligraphy Society, now a strong and wonderful group who share a common passion for the craft and art of letters. Two other major influences were the American calligrapher Thomas Ingmire, who I studied with for a year on his Graphos course, and Australian calligrapher Ethna Gallacher with whom I studied for a year in the early 1990’s. Both were tremendously important learning opportunities in developing my skills, letterforms and presentation.
A marvelous learning opportunity came my way in 1991 when I was awarded a Winston Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship to study calligraphy and the teaching of calligraphy in Europe- a part of which was further study with Thomas Ingmire at Donald Jackson’s studio in Wales. The Fellowship was an opportunity that I am forever grateful for.
Quite unconnected, yet quite a powerful influence on my work, was my study of classical piano through to the eighth grade AMEB – the highest grade. Studying and reading music taught me muscle memory, perseverance and discipline – my most enduring skills.
What products can you not live without?
What advice would you give a new calligrapher?
Study with as many good tutors as you can. Take advice from all. Ask lots of questions. Go away from class and within the coming days revisit what you have learnt and practice as much as you can. Most of all, enjoy what you are doing and do what you enjoy and strive for the pen’s excellence, after all: “words are so much more than ink on a page …”
What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I had a misspent youth and that I am trying to catch up!
When you are not lettering, what do you enjoy doing?
I enjoy reading and music. I take every opportunity to improve my mind, so, more often than not I have three books on the go at any one time; a biography, a text-book and a trashy who-done-it novel. I love classical music.
-Gemma Black April 2014
Special thanks to Gemma for taking the time to participate in our series! Be sure to visit her website for more information about her! Also, be sure to subscribe to our blog to be immediately notified when new articles are posted.