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October 24, 2006

denis brown: flourishing

by gl. at 11:59 pm

on sunday i attended denis brown's flourishing workshop. i sat next to one of the david douglas high school calligraphy instructors, maria, who seems very sweet.

in many ways, this was the "dangerous lines" content, not the speech at aocc the day before. denis exhorted us to think of flourishing like "spilling the ink onto the page into the shape of a flourish rathering than drawing a little twiddly bits." he wants us to pour ink from the pen like cream from a jug. he also crusades against the holy 45-degree standard pen angle recommended for most italics: because our eyes are steroscopic, they read horizontal lines thicker than vertical ones. so lines made at 45 degrees are geometrically equal, but visually, the horizontal lines look too thick. italic is a major monorhythmic hand and needs the vertical lines to be its strongest feature, so he recommends bringing the pen angle to 40 degrees, or even less depending on the context.

he noted that if a flourish isn't flourishing, you should check...

  1. is the ink diluted enough? to the shock and amazement of all, denis would often double the water in an ink bottle to get it thin enough to flourish at high speeds and yet remain opaque & black.

  2. is there enough ink? denis would load his reservoir so full it would blot immediately upon bringing it vertical. he'd counter that by bringing it onto its tip, which allowed the ink to come out at one controlled point.

  3. is there enough pressure? this was my foggiest point, because if i used more pressure my hairlines would go thick, but with less pressure the pen just skipped.

later in the afternoon denis performed casual surgery on my poor black zig marker because it was so dull. using only a scalpel and his iron will, he shaved off the edges of the marker until they were suitable writing instruments again. i tried not to panic.

unfortunately, denis subscribes to the "if you can't flourish, don't prove it" school of thought, which, as a creative advocate, i always find enormously discouraging. lots of blocked artists have heard something similar to "if you can't dance/paint/write, don't prove it," which keeps them from doing anything at all. i subscribe to the "if you fail faster, you will succeed sooner" newsletter. if you can't flourish, then flourish something! in fact, flourish lots of somethings! that's the only way you'll get better.

the one suggestion i have for denis as a teacher is that he needs to watch people actually write, not just analyze the letterforms and demonstrate them. he told us several times to tip the pen onto its edge for the flicks, but after he had come around a couple of times and noted i wasn't flicking right, i asked him to watch me, and it was immediately clear to him how i was holding the pen wrong for the flicks. when he showed me how to hold the pen, ink came out exactly as it was supposed to! knowing that earlier in the day would have been great.

posted by gl. | October 24, 2006 11:59 PM | categories: calligraphy