Michael Clark and Rachel Yallop are two well-know names in the word of calligraphy. With uniquely individual styles, they have started to collaborate on pieces that showcase their combined talents. That collaboration has led them to develop their own book,Thinking Outside the Box. We had the chance to talk with them about how the book (soon to be available at Paper and Ink!) came to be, how they began in lettering and much more.
Before we start to talk about the book itself, tell us a bit about yourselves. How did you get started in calligraphy? Which style of lettering do you consider to be your greatest expertise?
R: I have been a calligrapher and lettering designer for 30 years doing mainly commercial work for print. My love of lettering stems from my passion for drawing which I have done my whole life. I have also taught in art schools, at workshops and conferences for most of that period. My feelings on a favourite lettering style are very much in line with Michael’s thoughts: less about styles and more about what one is trying to convey. It is that interpretation which leads to the choice of appropriate tools and styles. Though, I must say, I love doing copperplate just for the pleasure of its line and form!
M: I am a commercial lettering artist who does letter design for print, web and media. I also designed fonts for many years until piracy got too rampant. I think less in terms of particular styles and more in terms of what the word(s) must convey: sloped/upright, angular/rounded, capitals/lower case, smooth/notched etc. I think it is less about my best style and more about MY ABILITY to interpret (or add voice to the word[s]) and design.
With whom have you studied? What lettering artists do you most admire?
R: I started doing calligraphy at art college where I was introduced to the work of German calligraphers like Poppl, Schneider, Schmidt and Neugebauer. Some years later I met Hans-Joachim Burgert and have been greatly influenced by him and Werner Schneider. Their ideas and working methods were a revelation and inform me to this day. I learned copperplate from Jean Larcher whose unique approach helped me develop my particular style.
M: She is now retired, but Sherry Bringham gave me more than I can ever repay, especially empowerment. “Studied” implies a long term commitment and a weekend is not long enough to soak up enough material to be benificial for most people. I studied images. The Germans: Poppl, Zapf, Schneider, Kilian, Burgert, Schmidt and Neugebauer to name a few. Others include Jose Mendoza y Almeida, Villu Toots, Lothar Hoffman and I think that Rick Cusick is the best calli-GRAPHIC designer around. He is worth studying in depth.
Describe how you began collaborating on pieces.
Both: I saw some of Rachel’s work on Facebook… I admired the simplicity she employed, her color choice and the excellence of execution. (Although Michael had only just come across my work, I had seen one of his little books in the late 1990s and was bowled over by it. I was delighted to discover this new Facebook friend was indeed the same Michael Clark!) It struck me almost immediately that there was the potential for a collaboration, something new in my vocabulary. I had conceived a piece that I would have simply used the font Bickham or Zaner on as the supportive script; BUT I contacted (befriended her on Facebook which she now regrets!) Rachel and asked if she would execute the script/layout, she said yes; the rest is history. I can only think of one other contemporary duo that has co-“conspired” on a consistent basis. We have been at it for three years. We dropped our egos at the door and now produce, what we think is well designed and solid work, work that would be “lesser” done by only one of us… and made greater by the diversity and contrast that each of us brings to the table. As a team we are still capable of contrast and the unexpected, but we are familiar enough with one other that we ususally know the other design partner’s next move.
Walk us through the process of creating a piece. How do you decide the content? The style? Do you have the end piece fully conceptualized before you begin, or do you find a more organic approach to be easier?
Both: Sometimes it is resolute in our mind at the very beginning; on other occasions it evolves as we hone the elements and layout. A simple quote, or made up words to accommodate a style, as in “the Iron Gates.” Some, like DANCE, just design themselves; Rachel sent some “flowers” for the iron gate piece and one of the drawings looked like a dancer. It was obvious to us.
What do you find most rewarding about collaborating? Most difficult?
Both: Between two people who actually love letters there is a bond that precipitates discussion and a great deal of trust is born out of the honest exchange of likes and dislikes. It is also an opportunity to fully explore and maximize the differering talent palettes in the elements that we each bring to each piece. Finally, it is an opportunity to hone our design skills and talk, dissect them. We chew up the hours Facetiming about the smallest thing, like red dots. Most difficult: the time difference.
What are your favorite tools to use for lettering? Why?
R: I love all the tools in my small collection. My work tends to be tool, rather than script-based, and I employ whichever will give the effect I’m seeking.
M: All of them and the capabilities that they bring. I only have 20 tools. Making tools do what they should not be able to do has been my biggest thrill… like using a round Speedball to emulate pointed brush.
What might people be surprised to learn about you?
R: That I am a huge Elvis fan.
M: That I only have 20 tools.
What advice would you give to beginning lettering artists?
Both: Find excellent exemplars to study and emulate. Be analytical and concentrate on the quality of line, form and curve. Be prepared to spend a great deal of time practicing and exploring. Learn about good design. Think outside the box. PRACTICE what you don’t know!
When you are not lettering, what do you enjoy doing?
R:Walking in the beautiful Herefordshire countryside and looking after my horse, Harry.
M: Listening to music, years ago I got an Ipod and spent 3 months downloading my CD collection, song by song… I love it all, jazz, country, light rock, classical, Russian chorale, and “Spanish guitar.” I also like mucking out Harry’s field whenever I am in England.
To see more of Michael’s work, visit his webpage. Rachel’s work can be found on her website. They are currently working on a second book, and their first one will be available to purchase at Paper and Ink Arts soon!