Creating a classic book from start to end
is a monumental task. Perhaps done only once in a lifetime, or so I
think right now, having spent almost 300 hours and not yet entirely
done. It still needs to be bound, and it needs a jacket.
idea started out as a requirement for a certain calligraphic
accomplishment I once pursued briefly. All my choices for the book
came as part of a generous tutelage and advice of my longtime mentor
Sheila Waters. She is a genius in handmade books, kind expert, firm
teacher, one of a kind. She watched over every preparatory step,
while I was attending her masterclass. Then my life changed, and I
abandoned my brief goal. With that, I also abandoned the unfinished
book project, while it was still in a mock up, paper trial phase.
But I also sadly almost left unused all the knowledge I had already
Two years later, last year, creating a handmade
book was Reggie's homework assignment. I became determined to turn
back to my abandoned baby. I pulled out my rough and decided to
finish it. After all, I had ordered and paid for the skins. At that
point the poems and rough spread of pages were picked with Sheila’s
help, but I had no idea how to illustrate it. Or how I should
actually cut vellum.
Two books that were essential to me in
final layout and vellum were Edward Johnston’s “Writing and
Illuminating and Lettering” and Heather Child’s “The Calligraphers
Handbook”. And the primary classic rules Sheila had conveyed
throughout the planning. For me it had to be a classic, traditional
book, or no book at all.
So I learned all about proper
alignment throughout, classic margins, vellum cutting, etc. Yet
using poetry made it all more difficult. Not all classic rules apply
to writing out poetry, which Edward Johnston calls “fine writing”.
You cannot change freely where to break lines, so you cannot follow
the rules of margins quite exactly. You have to decide on your own
margins according to the longest and shortest lines. Actually it was
used split manuscript quality sheepskin from Pergamena for the book.
I placed the order on the phone with one of the owners, explaining
that all my skins needed to be similar to each other. Yet some came
smaller than others, as nature had made them. Measuring them over
and over actually determined the exact size of my book. I decided I
would fold pages at the spine of the book only along the spine of
the animal. I cut the skin alone at home, saying a prayer first. In
vellum manuscript, the flesh side always faces the flesh, and the
hair side faces the hair side, in the finished book, so you have to
plan that as well. It further complicates the whole process.
Even though your page one may be attached to page 12, you still
cannot letter one whole spread at a time, skipping pages that will
fall in between in final bind. You have to letter according to how
text flows. Your hand changes throughout lettering the book
slightly, as it is a long task. So the reader should always view two
pages lettered very similarly, one after the other, together.
Now, I can go on and on about this. It was an endless task. Each
moment knowing that you cannot easily redo things when mistakes
happen, as your skins were ordered four years ago, and you only have
one spare extra spread. You cannot reorder the whole batch as it
cost $500.00 And if you redo something, you possibly have to redo
four pages, not just one. So much is up to luck and you hope for the
best. You cannot expect perfection in every single detail.
know some of you are curious about illustrations and gilding in my
book. These were done after all of the lettering was finished. I got
into different thinking mode than was needed for writing. I decided
to use nudes as I wanted not to bother with period clothing for my
figures, which are from Byron times supposedly. I felt that
abandoning any garments gave the illustrations, and therefore to the
whole book somewhat fresh and also eternal quality, both at the same
time. Nudes on vellum are certainly rare creatures, so I put them
into mysterious, Eden like atmosphere, with certain Art Deco feel.
The illustrations involve watercolors, colored pencils, pointed pen,
gilding, and metallic paint.
As for the lettering, italic
was from the beginning my only, and even the only obvious choice,
though it is not my “first and basic” hand. Classically, italic is
the best fit for romantic era poetry, in my true belief.
book was lettered in hand ground black Japanese stick ink. The book
measures 9”x7” when closed.