Thursday, February 25, 2010

Painting Roman Caps on Fabric - Susan Hufton workshop

I had the best weekend! I went to a calligraphy workshop - Painted Roman Caps on Fabric. Susan Hufton, an amazing, calligrapher and lettering artist from London is a great instructor. The class began promptly at 9:00 and we learned and worked from the minute the class started until it ended each day at 5:00p. We covered an amazing amount of material and I learned *so* much.

I have very little experience with a brush, no experience painting on fabric, and no experience with Roman Caps. So this was a great way to introduce all three! I purchased Sue's book, Step by Step Calligraphy many years ago. (You can find it used on Amazon.) It features the techniques we used in class.

The class started with a brief introduction to Roman Caps and we practiced doing skeleton letters and drawing Roman Caps with pencil. We spent the afternoon getting acquainted with the brush and painting the letters onto different textures of paper. Then all day Sunday we spent playing with different paints, inks, and fabrics.

This was a great process for me because I normally work *very* fast. My pointed pen and flourishing are quick movements from the shoulder. It was refreshing to slow down and draw the letter and slowly paint it. Clearly I have a lot of work to do on the letter forms, but I really enjoyed it.

This was FW Acrylic on linen (an old tablecloth).

This is cheap watercolor paint on the same linen:

This is schmenke pan silver on dupoini silk:

This is the silver on polyster nylon. This was surprisingly easy.

And this was a little monochromatic experiment on cotton broadcloth. This was also the FW Acrylic.

If you ever have the opportunity to take a class with Sue, I highly recommend it.

There are so many applications for this. It will come in handy for gifts, I'm sure. Now I'm off to practice Roman Caps! And P.S. The "baby" is practicing for a friend. :-)

Friday, February 19, 2010

Belated Valentine's Day Zentangle

Kept wanting to post this but didn't want to interrupt the letterpress flow... I had so much fun trying to design the Valentine heart that when I was practicing with a marker, I decided to do this:

You may recognize some of the patterns from one of my favorite Zentangle artists, Sandy Bartholomew at Beez in the Belfry. A few were featured in her Tangle of the Week posts. I bought the Studios magazine which features her zentangle studio (wow!). I also purchased her AlphaTangle Book. Both are a worthy purchase for the zentangle enthusiast. WARNING: For some reason zentangles are extremely addicting! :-)

Saturday, February 13, 2010

Can't wait for Valentine's Day! :-) My first L Letterpress card!

Happy Valentine's Day! [spoiler alert] ... As promised ... my first L Letterpress printed card:

Hopefully, Valentine cards arrived today so it won't spoil the surprise but since there is no postal mail tomorrow, I'm going to post online today. :-)

I had a lot of fun trying out my new QuicKutz L Letterpress machine. At first it was a little frustrating but once I got the hang of it, I was printing on every paper I could find!

Let me back up and start at the beginning. I ordered a custom plate of my calligraphy design from Elûm Designs. The folks over at Elûm were SO helpful! (sorry about the accent, couldn't find the straight line over the u.) Although I am somewhat of a Photoshop guru, I have limited Illustrator experience. The friendly folks at Elûm walked me through preparing the file. The nice thing is there is no minimum order, so I could order just my valentine plate. If I had to wait to gang up additional plates, I may never order! Here is a snapshot of the plate:

Here is a pic of my L Letterpress:

I took the advice of Harold at Boxcar Press and purchased a new brayer. It was $24 at Michael's Crafts and I used my 40% off coupon. [Sidenote: a very special thank you to Harold if you ever read this as if I had not seen your post, I probably would have given up thinking a good print wasn't possible.] Boxcar Press also makes custom plates for the L Letterpress.

I'm glad I did as the brayer made a huge difference. I tried the brayer from the kit and it worked but wasn't so great. It was just too small to ink the plate well.

I didn't know that the plate comes with its own self-adhesive back so I tried to use one of the adhesive sheets I purchased with the press. Doh! It wouldn't stick! Then I figured out the blue paper was to be peeled off. This is great as it eliminates the cost of having to purchase the adhesive sheets. I was able to print two different times, clean off the plate, and then peel it off twice and it still was sticky on the back.

On to the fun part. Inking the plate was clearly one of the most important factors in getting a good print. My first prints were horrible! I was more than a little disappointed. But, I would soon find out, the paper used made a huge difference as well. I'm not sure what QuicKutz was thinking, but the paper sold as an accessory to the letterpress machine made for terrible prints! It cracked and the impressions were not crisp at all. It felt soft and thick, but the results were not good. It wasn't cheap either. Had I not tried a back up paper, I would have written off the whole press as useless. But alas, the good part is coming!

I will say however, without ink, the paper made a beautiful debossed impression. For some weird reason in the photos it sometimes looks embossed, but it is definitely debossed into the paper.

A closeup:

So, after wasting about 25 pieces of the expensive cardstock, I decided to give another paper a try. I am so glad I did! The difference was dramatic. The prints were much crisper and more even. I was very pleased with the results. I also tried a metallic ink and it printed much better than the light pink I had started with. The metallic was just a little smoother.

The trick for me was using the brayer to smooth out the ink before I applied it to the plate. Since I had never used a brayer before, this took a little bit to figure out. But once I did, it only took a few strokes to get the ink smoothed out on the glass. A very small amount of ink is needed (about the size of a peanut) to print about 25 pieces. 


For some reason, my kit did not include the cushion sheet that is supposed to go under the paper when you run it through the machine. I substituted a piece of the soft cardstock at first which proved a little too thick for a good crisp print. So I ended up using a piece of regular scrapbook cardstock but doubled it. This worked perfectly. Also, after just lightly running the brayer over the plate twice, I needed to wipe around the edges of the plate bed with a papertowel to make sure I didn't have ink smudges that would mess up a print.

Prints on L Letterpress cardstock:

Good print on alternate paper:


As you can see, the difference is dramatic. I went back to try the L Letterpress paper again after making some beautiful prints on alternate paper and they still did not print great. Better but not as crisp. It is like it just absorbed too much ink. So for those of you trying this ... have several different kinds of paper to try.

When I finally got on a roll, I was loving it and printing every last scrap I could find! The impression was gorgeous and the metallic ink was just beautiful. When I was doing wedding invitations, I had a fabulous, and very talented printer do my letterpress invites. Mark at the Dunstan Press in Scarborough, Maine was a real artist. I can honestly say the prints I made on the L Letterpress were comparable. (Sorry Mark!). But truth be told, I held up an invite printed with a traditional letterpress and my printed card and I would doubt anyone could tell the difference. But let me say, I would not purchase this gadget thinking you could run a full service letterpress business with it. It is a fine home crafter kit but would probably not hold up to every day wear and tear.

The press itself did seem sturdy. I didn't have any problems with cranking the plates through. It glided right through with no cracking noises or skipping of the handle. Even my 4 year old and 8 year old cranked some through. I do think the plate bed that goes through the press will need to be replaced eventually. It accepted the wear and tear OK but somehow it created a black streak on the plastic going through the metal rollers. And it definitely seemed looser after just two print sessions. 

I did not purchase the cleaning cloths that were sold along with the press which I was initially bummed about because the ink did not just wash right off. But mineral spirits wiped it off no problem. Also, for anyone who thought of this, Gocco printer inks *do not* work. I gave it a go when the first prints were cruddy and the Gocco ink really isn't the right consistency.

There are some quirks to the press ... paper selection may be limited and metallic inks certainly printed better than the colors. But with some practice, this may be able to be overcome. Bottom line ... I am thrilled with my letterpressed cards. I'm really happy I made this purchase and I know I will have fun printing more custom calligraphy cards in the future.  Overall, a definite cool tool for the home studio!

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Will you be my Valentine?

Guess what came in the mail today?! My first custom letterpress plate! I blogged a few months back I had purchased the QuicKutz L Letterpress  machine. I finally finished my first design and sent it off to Elum to have a plate made for my Valentine's Day cards. I can't wait!

I am so glad I ran out the day I saw the announcement the printers were available because I went back to AC Moore and the entire display was gone... not sure why. I didn't bother to ask as they didn't even know they carried the thing back when I bought it (in November).

The plate itself is rather beautiful (if I do say so!). The price was very reasonable - it was only $11.78 for the plate and then $9.84 for shipping. So $21.62 total. Of course, I will blog all the details once I print the cards.

Did I mention I can't wait to print my Valentines?! :-) I don't want to give it away so I'm posting a different design just to tide you over until I get them done. Calligraphy and Valentines go hand-in-hand - so they are one of my favorite things to do. This image below is a heart flourish I did for a Papyrus Valentine's Day card a few years ago. I added the "love" today.

Stay tuned...

Oopsie ... I almost forgot the most important part ... I will mail one of the Valentines to the first 5 readers to email me their mailing address before midnight, Friday, February 5, 2010. I can't guarantee it will arrive before the 14th, but I'll try!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

A Book Review (or two) of Sorts ...

I just spent an hour writing this and then blogger dumped it so this will be much more brief! I've been working on a few Birthday cards for friends and family which is always difficult when you are a greeting card designer. The pressure is on so to speak! But I like to keep it simple. Otherwise, they would never make it into the mail. As I frequently do when designing cards, I browse through my calligraphy books and look for interesting hands I would like to try or experiment with.

I recently purchased two books by Ruth Booth that every lettering artist will want as part of their collection (if they don't already have them). Intended for scrapbookers, these books are full of great alphabets and are very popular with calligraphers. Scrapbooker's Alphabets (search for it at Paper & Ink Arts - it's on sale!) has a huge range of both fun and elegant alphabets. One of my favorites is Romeo which are built up Roman caps done with pencil. I've always wanted to do these but couldn't find a good source.

Celebration Calligraphy (about halfway down this page at John Neal Booksellers) features more great alphabets like Jargon capitals which are thin versals. This is another hand I was not able to find a good examplar for until now. I used this alphabet to do my birthday cards and thank you card below.  The colored pencil didn't scan well but you get the idea. I will say the cover of this book does not do it justice. It is full of wonderful ideas and even a small gallery of calligrapher's work at the back.

I am sure these two books are ones calligraphers will turn to again and again for great lettering ideas.