Observations On The Process Of Making Letters

15" Q ruling pen & gouache

15″ Q ruling pen & gouache

I have been suffering a 2 month long excema bout that has left me in quite a bit of pain and unwilling/able to write or do much of anything. It appears to be on the wane, so I can return to more pleasurable pursuits like writing.

Letters, that is. 😉

Pointy A

Pointy A

I have been wanting to make a portrait letter series since the millenium – thirteen years is a long time for an idea as simple as this to come together.

At the beginning I wanted to make 26 parchment surfaces because I have made vellum and wanted to get back to it. Some people make their own paper for their art, I wanted to make my own parchment. That was the first hang-up, and a good one because it masked my fear.

And my fear was that I can’t make large letters all alone and have them look interesting.

15" O

Some of these letters are nothing more than sketches. But they show that I can make big letters.

I know, it doesn’t seem like much – making a big letter shouldn’t be any more difficult than making a small one. But changing the dimensions this much creates challenges. Challenges that I didn’t think I could overcome.

The S below is about 17″ tall. I did this last year but felt like it was a little rough – doing the color washes was not all that satisfying because so much area had to be covered and painted in while wet. Technical limitations aside, I  wasn’t happy with the image when seen on the wall.

Big Ol' S 17" on Bodleian hand made paper

Below is the B that I use as the thumbnail for this blog. It is about 2.5″ tall – maybe 3″ and was done quite easily with a brush.

2.5" B in Alphabet Book

2.5″ B in Alphabet Book

Ok, so that’s a little about technique but why make these letters instead of words?

I like to make words with my letters. Last night I did a word piece because it seemed like I should have an example of that.

Be Of Love - April 2013 21" X 26"

Be Of Love – April 2013 21″ X 26″

I’m not much for life drawing though I’ve done a bit of it. I decided to do a self-portrait in the style of Giacometti – but with my tools and colors.

Self Portrait April 2013

Self Portrait April 2013


I didn’t really capture my own visage, but I think I got a bit of feeling in it.

My quest is to portray each letter as if it had a personality of its own.

Painting these large letters are far more revealing than representational painting because I have been involved with letters in one form or another for about 40 years. I’ve done traditional calligraphy, typography, typesetting, graphic design, woodblock and letterpress printing. There’s always letters involved. Even if I do a woodblock image of something, there’s likely to be a letter or two in there.

This portrait series is an attempt to focus on the personality of my letters.

Or my personality through my letters.