Module 2, Chapter 2


ruth issett

When I was planning Chapter 2 my aim was to be more adventurous and introduce more colours and patterns into my backgrounds/decorated papers, to make them brighter and more interesting. I’m a bit scared of bolder designs and colours, and didn’t quite know where to start, so I bought an old copy of Ruth Issett’s ‘Colour on Paper and Fabric’, which is tremendously exciting and inspiring for someone like me.

And I had this idea of runing with a theme. Since this chapter is about handwriting, I wanted to decorate my pages using things that create shapes which  look like forms of writing – patterns in landscapes and buildings, ripples on the water, bark on trees,. ploughed fields, castle turrets, brickwork. It hasn’t quite panned out as I hoped, and proved more difficult than I expected, because I used plain, loose papers for a lot of the writing samples I did while I was with Mum, and when I started decorating them (back home) I discovered there’s a fine line between decoration and obliteration, so some of the writing is not very clear, and a lot of the pages are still undecorated. Anyway, I’ll put them up in a separate post.

For this chapter I wanted to work on a different shape, so I opted for a square, and my husband helped me cut  strip off an A4 spiral-bound sketchbook, so I have the square (ish) book I wanted (there is a bit that needs trimming), and a narrow one that will come in useful for something else. I may have to cover them. Or bind the edges. Or both.

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I started work on this bit (researching artists etc) after I got home, but it makes more sense to keep the posts in their correct sequence if I can. And I got a bit sidetracked along the way, but I had fun trying things. I’ve tried to build on what I was doing towards the end of Module 1, to break the pages up to make them look more interesting, and I’ve tried extending some of the pages. A lot of my notes were added in (I used medical micro-pore tape to stick extra sheets in, because it’s got a matte surface, and is fairly clear, and you can write on it, though you have to press hard. We always have some in the house because my younger daughter is allergic to normal sticky plasters, but she’s had a place of her own for years now, so I thought I’d try it in the sketchbook. Fingers crossed that she doesn’t cut herself when she comes a-visiting!

And I’ve added in lots of notes, because I kept forgetting to leave space on the pages, and anyway,I liked some of them so much I didn’t want want to spoil them!

First up is a kind of mind map, looking at the things we use handwriting for (though many have been superseded by computers and other electronic devices). This was really to focus my thoughts and get back into routine, because I felt I’d rather lost my way. I used a Berol italic felt tip for the word ‘Handwriting’and Stabilo fine point felt tips for everything else. The background was drawn with Inktense sticks and smudged with my fingers – it was inspired by the Norman herringbone wall at Tamworth Castle and I didn’t use water with them because I wanted the pattern of lines from the stonework to show. So here is the page:

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And here are pictures of the Norman wall, which provided inspiration for the background. What do you think?

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And my page of notes:

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And here’s a not very legible page about my own handwriting. Background was supposed to be a close-up of section of the wall, chopped up and re-arranged, then copied, in bolder colours, but it’s all way too dark, and the pattern is too dominant.However, it’s given me ideas ideas for the future. In case you can’t read it, the page more or less says: “My Handwriting: I’ve always enjoyed writing things by hand, and like to use an italic fountain pen. However I am the first to admit my writing is a bit peculiar, because it’s such a mix of styles. I like to think of it as a hybrid, like a rose that’s had all its bad qualities bred out of it but, sadly, I suspect scruffy mongrel is nearer the mark! My mother taught me to write, before I went to school, using a pencil to create simple letters. At primary school I progressed to ‘joined-up’ writing, in a traditional, loopy, upright, cursive script, with a dip pen and ink (which shows how old I am!). Biros were available, but were very new-fangled, and considered to be very bad for our writing.”

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My notes in the sketchbook sum up my feelings about this page, and briefly describe the next page:

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And the second half of ‘My Handwriting’ (p3), an even bigger close-up of the wall, with the pattern all going in the same direction, and a little lighter! Much, better I think: (Se above for notes on background).

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Then a brief note (using decorated paper from Module 1) outlining my plans to look at artists using text in their work – Susan Shie and Leon Ferrari, as suggested in the Distant Stitch Workbook for Module 2. But I also want to try and find some others – maybe Tracey Emin and Grayson Perry. And I’d look to look at a couple of calligraphers as well – Denise Lach, because she uses lettering (or lettering shapes and marks) to make wonderful abstract patterns, and Peter Holliday, whose work is beautiful, but much more traditional.

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But at this point I got totally side-tracked by Lichfield Cathedral (which is one of my favourite places – it is such a fantastic building, and has so much history) and while I was there I took a look at the Lichfield Gospels and items from the Staffordshire Hoard, and that was it. How could anyone not want to try and do something! I could have tried to be more imaginative with my writing – something more Anglo Saxon looking perhaps… but the pages, which speak for themselves, are very colourful, and I’ve tried very hard to break the pages up, and get away from my ‘school essay’ approach. I think the pages speak for themselves.

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It’s not easy to photograph the Lichfield Gospels, because the book is in a glass case, but I cut it out, to get rid of the glass and reflections, and stuff you could see through the glass, and it’s not too bad. I’ve got a close-up a bit further down.

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Below is a page using writing on a scrap from an enlargement of my photo of a page from the Gospel – I was trying to see how big it would go before it distorted, and how well it printed. And the other half of the page is painted backing paper from Bondaweb,

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And I tried to extend the page by taping another one to the side:

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This page uses some more of the painted Bondaweb backing, and some fancy tissue paper.

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It folds closed, and on the other side I stuck an enlargement of one page from my photo of the book, and cropped it, because I wanted to try and use it as background for some writing.

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And some notes that I stuck in afterwards, because I forgot to leave a spare page… Front:

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And back:

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Another rather illegible page (I keep reminding myself that if I want text to be legible I need paler, plainer backgrounds). This says: “One of the fascinating things about the Lichfield Gospels is that there are three pages with something called ‘dry-point glosses’ where names have been scratched into the vellum using a quill but no ink. There appears to be three names on each of the the three pages. They are only visible from certain angles, and are very hard to see, and very hard to decipher. You can see them in pictures on a website which uses specialised digital light reflectance transformation imaging (pat of a project to record the pages and chart any deterioration.I tried downloading and printing an image, but couldn’t a clear print. But I like the idea of hidden writing, and this module is all about lettering, so I thought why not have a play!

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The notes on the next page could be clearer as well, so I’ve keyed them in too: “I gathered various writing tools and used each of them to scratch my name. I was surprised at some of the results – I thought the dip pen and the nail would work well, but they didn’t. And on the other hand, a crochet hook and a knitting needle were brilliant.I couldn’t get them to scan or photo clearly, so I used macro to show what it looked like – oddly the print seems to have a textural, 3D quality – it looks raised rather than incised.”

I like the background – I enjoy covering lettering with other letters, but perhaps the colours were a bot strong. Have said that, it’s more legible in reality than it is in the scanned version:

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Experimenting to find the best colour cover for scratch marks:

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And a record of my findings – not very legible (again) I’m afraid. I was trying to  use letter shapes, rather than actual letters, and I like the effect, but paler colours would be better.

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A transcript of the page above in silver ink, on the back of black paper … I used the other side for another scratch mark experiment, and it seemed a shame to waste the paper, so I wrote on this side as well, then taped it into the sketchbook.

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And how cool is this! A quote about secret ‘moon-letters’ from The Hobbit, scratched on black paper with the wooden knitting needle, and rubbed over with a silver metallic pen and silver metallic wax crayon. I just LOVE scratches… I could do patterns, the write over that… Think I’m getting a bit carried away here…

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Using the macro on the camera enabled me to get a close-up of one of my original samples, and I got a better image by holding the paper in the shadow. It should be with the early ‘scratching’ pages, but it got mislaid, so I’ve stuck it in here, and added some other scratch marks on the sketchbook page, then rubbed over it with Inktense sticks, which picked up the texture of a layer of blotting paper I put under the page when I was doing the scratch marks. I  really like the effect.

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OK, I’ve enjoyed messing around with scratch marks enormously, and the other Lichfield inspired pages, though I think I could have tried to do some proper calligraphy on one of them. But you can always at things and think how you might have done them differently, and I’m quite pleased with these. I’ve used brighter colours, and different techniques, and have kept notes as I went along, even if some of them are a bit messy and had to be inserted on scraps of paper!

Anyway, no more wandering for the moment… And to prove it, here’s a page to show I’m thinking about t Artists Using Text in their work. I tried to decorate the paper with all sorts of alphabets, in all sorts of directions. It’s not too bad. Quite effective really. In fact, I quite like it. I like the way you can build up areas of light and dark by  altering lettering and spacing – it’s like building up a blackwork embroidery. Probably you need to think about a bit more carefully – this was a bit random, but I like random. And for each artist I looked at, I’ve tried to do something of my own, in similar style.

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And here are pages showing what I found about Leon Ferrari, with samples of some of his work, much of which I absolutely hated, but I can’t like everything, and they weren’t relevant to handwriting, so I didn’t include them here.

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And here’s my Leon Ferrari look-alike. It’s written on used blotting paper, where the words are smudged, and back-to-front, and they go across the page, and up down, and I thought it all looked suitably distressed and distorted – even the blots are part of it. I I used a fine-liner felt-tip, because I wanted my writing to be a bit thin and spidery, with lines contrasting with the more solid-looking pattern on the blotting paper. This was one of those happenstance things – I looked at the blotting paper (sometimes I use it with my fountain pen, but you definitely need it with a dip pen and ink) – and I thought ‘I could do something with that…

There are actual words here – they’re from World Turned Upside Down (generally known as The Diggers’ Song) by Leon Rosselson, taken from the writings of Gerrard Winstanley, leader of the Diggers in the middle of the 17th century. The Diggers were Protestant radicals, best described as kind of early Communists and environmentalists, with religion thrown in as well – their lifestyle was based on their faith. They set up communes, and believed (among other things) in common ownership of land, and working together on the land for the good of the community. Consequently they were viewed as being  incredibly subversive and dangerous. I’ve always been rather fond them, because they so idealistic, and the folk band my husband was with when I first met him (during the Thatcher era) used to sing this, so it’s got lost of memories, and it seemed very apt for Leon Ferrari – I thought since his own work was so much of a political statement my version should also be inspired by protest (though I’m not sure he would have liked their religion).

Anyway, I loved working on this, and I’m pleased with it, although I don’t think the words in capitals quite hit the mark – they’re a bit unbalanced.

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And here’s the first page of the notes I made: (2)

And the second page. (2)

For the pages on Susan Shie I wanted to try something different, so I used black paper and a white pen, and I stuck a photocopy of her at work on one piece of paper, and wrote on the picture. Then I taped my handwritten text about her on four sheets of paper around the central picture, and put photocopies of some of her work on the back of each sheet. The sheets of paper all fold over flat, and open out like a collapsed box, so the hidden information is revealed.

liked her work, and I enjoyed doing this – I just wanted to try and find a different way of displaying my work, and I seem to have become interested in the idea of secret, or hidden, messages and how they can be seen.

But the whole thing would be better if it were neater. I should have measured and cut the pages more carefully – accuracy matters on something like this.


So I have four pages of text, which aren’t necessarily in the right order, but it dosn’t matter because they do stand alone.

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And I’ve got four images of her work:


I’ve also had a go at doing something in her style. I should have had a go at painting, but it will take too long, so  I ironed a piece of white cotton on to freezer paper, so I could run it through the printer.  This is the first time I have ever done this, and you need a VERY hot iron, and plenty of baking parchment to protect the iron and the ironing board. It enabled me to print off a photo of my husband and I with our elder daughter at her wedding earlier in the year (this is the first time I have ever done this, but I thought I would give it a go, because ordering special printer fabric takes time, and I read about this somewhere, and I had freezer paper in a kitchen cupboard. It works quite well, but you need a fairly firm fabric – anything with a loose weave is no good and doesn’t stick properly. You have to handle it gently, or it starts peeling off before you’ve got it through the printer. And if you leave the freezer paper attached to the fabric while you are working it provides a firmer, more stable surface to write on. Once it’s finished the freezer paper peels off really easily and can (allegedly) be used again… l’ll report back on that at some stage.

Since Shie’s work is intensely personal, I wanted this to be s0mething personal to me, with my thoughts and feelings, and a picture that meant something, which is why I chose the wedding photo – and I had to take a very deep breath before I wrote all over it! In the end I  left the faces, but the more I look at it, the odder it seems… it makes us look as if we are peering through the holes in one of those ‘funny’ boards you find at the fairground or seaside, where there are pictures of headless people, and that’s certainly not the image I want. If I can find a decent pen with a very fine point I will buy it, and go back and write over our faces, in teeny tint writing.

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They got married in an old fort, built in the early 19thC as part of the defences against the French, and it was a lovely building, perched on top of a cliff, with a fabulous view, a private beach and lots of walks nearby. The venue was a very up-market self-catering place, and our daughter and her boyfriend (or should I say husband?) had booked it for five days, so we stayed there with friends and family. The pair of them had made all the decorations for the little ‘chapel-y’ bit where the ceremony took place and the big room where we ate and danced – everything was in lavender and purple, which has always been her favourite colour. They also made little gifts for the guests, they asked me to make heart-shaped embroidered lavender bags, and Lucy painted goody bags for everyone.

His mother and I both read poems at the ceremony – I just about managed to keep my voice steady, but she was so weepy she had to get her husband to take over! And my husband played his guitar and sang for everyone. Our elder daughter, as befits the bride, looked stunning, and our younger daughter was a bridesmaid in a dairy-tale lilac dress. We all ate too much (a sumptuous vegetarian feast) and drank too much, and my husband and I both cried because our daughter was so happy, and looked so stunning, and because she and her sister have grown up into such amazing people. It was the only time I have been professionally made-up (my daughter booked someone for her and the bridesmaids, so they did me as well) and I wrecked it by crying!!! How silly is that!

As you can probably tell, it was all very emotional, not just the wedding day, but the whole week really, so this picture means a lot to me, and the words (which you can’t really read properly) are all about our incredible time.


It was actually quite scary writing on this – it must take a lot of courage to write on a painting, or something you’ve created fabrics and threads. Once you get going it’s quite soothing in an odd sort of way, and it’s a very personal and individual way of recording an occasion or a moment in time. It  really is an expanded photo, with descriptions of what happened, and what people wore, and how I felt, and odd bits and pieces. I can see why Shie describes her quilts as ‘personal diary work’.

However, it’s probably easier to do something like this on a larger scale.Even cushion size would have been better since it’s tricky to write very small on something that’s roughly eight-inches square, so the writing tends to dominate when it should be in the background. Better pens might help – the ones my father used (he was a draughtsman) would been have perfect but we gave them to a friend after he died.

And on reflection, I should have given more consideration to the direction of my text, and tried to have a bit more variation in size perhaps, and one or two places I went completely adrift – poor Lucy’s arm got included with her body, which looks a bit peculiar. But on the whole I am pleased with it. I had an idea, and I ran with it as a memento of a very special day, and thought about it, and tried different things (again) and if it hasn’t quite worked out as it should it doesn’t matter.

Next up is Mira Schindel, and it’s all there on the pages:

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Below is my effort at producing something in similar style. I used deli paper (no rice paper hand, and this is transparent!), and dropped letters from my box of oddments on to a sheet of paper, then tried to copy them. There are those lovely little alphabet sweets like solid blocks of sherbet (just think of the calories!), and rubbers, and plastic stick-on shapes, and foam shapes, and a card shape, and beads, and other bits and pieces.

But somehow, even though I like her work, this didn’t gel. I didn’t have a clear idea of what I was trying to do – in fact, I don’t think I had any idea, and I didn’t find a personal connection to kick start me. It’s just letters on the page, but some are written on the back, because it is transparent. Anyway, here’s the front:

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And here’s the back:

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Let’s write that one off and turn to Denise Lach, whose work I like very much indeed – I find her very inspirational. And excuse the backgrounds – I scribbled over the pages to try and take the edge off all that white… I need to go back and try a colour wash (as long as it doesn’t wash out the words!).

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This was my effort. I went back to my photos of Tamworth Castle, and chose another shot of the wall, from a slightly different angle, because I wanted to try something slightly different (again), rather than doing it face-on as it were. These were really working notes, a kind of sample, on scrap paper, because I wasn’t sure if I could do it. I didn’t get the angle and perspective quite right, but the general impression is there, and I’ve tried a thinner end of the pen, and the thicker end, and I just wrote letters, trying to elongate them and make them into angular shapes, so they echoed the shape of the bricks in the wall. The pen is a double-ended calligraphy felt-tip, so the ‘nib’ bits have nice, straight edges, which is perfect for something like this.

I was going to do a neater copy, or finished version, but I quite like this as a work in progress, recording the development of an idea, and that’s what this kind of sketchbook is all about. On the whole I tend to forget that. I loved doing this, even if it’s not quite right, but things don’t have to be perfect, and sometimes the journey is important rather than the destination, so I have a note here of something I like, that I could explore further in the future.

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I also got inspired by some of the scripts in Journeys in Calligraphy, like this one, which reminded me of Pitman’s shorthamd. And I thought, well shorthand is a form of writing and communication, and it’s kind of secret (unless someone else can read it),  so I must be able to do something…

Again, these are more notes, thoughts and scribbles that I can go back to. I know we weren’t asked to try producing work in the style of other artists, but I’ve enjoyed messing around, and it’s made me step a bit further away from the ‘school notebook/essay’ approach and realise it’s fine to make mistakes, and to show early ‘workings’ and experiments, and to have unfinished things that can be developed at a later stage (the final page definitely needs taking a stage further – .I was experimenting with ink and a bamboo pen).

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