Friday, April 4, 2014

Molly Jacques Nashville Workshop

At the beginning of this year I was writing out a list of goals and dreams, and I just jotted down "learn calligraphy for real." I didn't have any plan or idea of how that would happen, but after dabbling in it for some time and following a lot of calligraphers and letterers, it's been a dream to really do it.

I sort of wrote it down as a fleeting dream, but through a crazy little string of events God totally opened a door (and literally a space) for me to go to Molly Jacques workshop here in Nashville. Molly is an incredible letterer, illustrator, and calligrapher based out of Detroit, Michigan. Not only is she an unbelievable designer, but she has a true gift for teaching and her passion is contagious.

My workstation: alphabet, copperplate grid, and a beautiful thank you.
Even though I have a background in typography and graphic design, I can't stress how much I learned. Day 1 was an intensive 6 hours of calligraphy--learning the tools, the copperplate alphabet, and different ways you can define your own voice. Calligraphy is all about mastering the tools, consistency in your letters, refining details, and practice, practice, practice.

Molly would come around to each of our tables and write out her alphabet. We would then trace over her sequence of letters, then freehand it ourselves. I love this method. In several of my English classes we were assigned to do an "imitatio"--taking the form and cadence of an author's particular piece and writing our own piece in that same style. It's amazing what you learn by imitating a master--the nuances, pace, and little details.

Higgins ink & lots of exciting nibs and an oblique pen
Molly writing out letter sequences for us to trace over 
Day 2 was all about handlettering. While calligraphy is really about mastering the tools, hand lettering is more about illustrating letters. The freedom of hand lettering surprisingly intimidated me since I don't have a strong background in illustration or drawing. Talking to Molly about her process for handlettering, everything starts with pencil. First a pencil gesture drawing, next refining that gesture and adding intentional elements, building up line weights, and, finally, finalizing the drawing in ink. Whether it's a brush pen or something else, the pencil drawing has to be perfect before any ink even touches the page.

One of my favorite things we did for handlettering was following this process for building script alphabets. We did several gesture drawings to experiment with and capture the movement of the letters. Then we chose the best pieces from those gesture drawings, combined, and refined them to build script alphabets. From there, we started writing words. I was really happy with how mine turned out--very lose and organic with long connecting strokes and a moving baseline, yet still feels consistent I think because of the angle.

Building my script alphabet
Practicing with the brush pen
The best encouragement I took away was: you don't have to have good handwriting to be a good calligrapher or letterer. Both calligraphy and lettering are more about drawing letterforms than anything else. And, of course, lot's of practice.

I can't say it enough: take Molly's workshop! It connected the little pieces I was missing to be able to really refine my hand lettering and calligraphy, and gave me the literal and figurative tools I needed to pursue it. I was amazed at how much I already knew, how much I didn't know, and how much a little two day workshop kickstarted my creativity and my craft.

You can check out some of the pictures from our workshop on Molly's blog and check out her upcoming workshops here.

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