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This work is by Leslie Winakur.

Ethics of the Fathers
The instant I saw Reggie’s offer for a class on lettering inspired by the St. John’s Bible I was in! I’ve admired the calligraphy and illuminations in that project for so long and was eager to learn more about them. And the class lives up to all my expectations!

Our first session was an exploration of the incipit lettering throughout the SJB, and although I liked it all, I especially love the variation used in the Song of Solomon. Reggie had talked about how some of the incipit lettering in the SJB appears to be somewhat inspired by the Hebrew lettering throughout. When they say “use it or lose it” they’re not kidding! I learned Hebrew as a child and could read and write it pretty well as a teen. But that was a very long time ago, so I got out Izzy Pludwinski’s book on Hebrew calligraphy and did some review.

These Romans of Donald Jackson’s especially appealed to me because of the very thick strokes where they’re least expected and the very thin strokes that contrast with them. The overall effect of a weaving made with heavy and fine threads is striking. And the blending of colors he used also appealed to me, since I also enjoy watercolor.

The text is from a commentary called Ethics of the Fathers and one I’ve always appreciated. I used a #2 Mitchell nib for both the Hebrew and the English, and here and there I touched up the thins with a Brause pumpkin pointed nib, because the corner of my Mitchell just didn’t always make the thins I wanted. Although I did practice a traditional “foundational” Hebrew hand, I then quickly abandoned the correct forms in favor of breaking the rules and making them match the English letters more. I wrote with watercolor, Payne’s gray for the Hebrew, and then ultramarine blue, cobalt turquoise, cerulean blue, and greens made by adding aureolin yellow to whatever blue was in the nib.

When I finished the lettering I felt I needed to do something to help my awkward spacing of the Hebrew, and decided to add something between the words. I remembered seeing how they used stencils and stamps in the SJB, and that seemed the perfect solution. I found a brass stencil that had a small 1/4” square on it and drew all the squares with that in order to keep them uniform. And I had some mandala-like stamps sitting on my desk from another project (my best inspiration comes from not cleaning up after myself), so I used those to make my tree of life. I used watercolor and Schmincke pan gold for the stamping. I used clear Instacoll to gild the squares, because I like the way gold is used throughout the SJB to indicate a divine presence. The overall size of the piece is about 13” x 18”.


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