Gemma Black headshot

Gemma Black

When was the first time you picked up a calligraphy pen?

I started my formative writing with a tiny broad-nib pen in Italic when I was a child at school. There was an inkwell on the side of the sloped drawing table and I got to fill these wells as class ink monitor with bottled ink we made from powdered sachets. My formal calligraphy training started when I left school as I was eager to explore more of the lettering arts.

What is the best advice you ever received (lettering or otherwise)?

Otherwise: save all your pennies and study through Rohampton Institute postal course in London. I did this and had Gaynor Goffe as my tutor for two years.

Lettering: you will always learn something from each of your tutors. Listen to all advice and work with what suits the outcomes you strive for.

Why do you letter? What keeps you coming back every day?

Lettering and calligraphy are more than just “beautiful or fine writing”. Lettering offers pure joy in the doing, relieves personal stress & tension, acts as a wonderful therapy and offers a way of problem-solving that spills over into everyday life. What I do on a daily basis requires discipline & humility and leads me on a journey of personal achievement.

What is your dream project?

Any project where I get to use my heart, my mind and my hands is a dream job. Waking every day and being able to walk into a studio and enjoy time, IS my life’s dream project. But if you are talking about an actual calligraphic project as I know you are, then this is it: I would like to work more in a responsive way with words. A little like word association but rather with word and visual association combined. Building on the first mark made without planning and making educated decisions, responding to the growing word picture. That’s my dream project which is already underway with many a marquette already completed.

What research do you do when learning or starting something new? ie. a new style or new project.

I listen. I listen and pencil my thoughts by sketching and annotating. I follow the historical evolution of what I am learning so I have a full understanding of where I am to take the “new style/project” on my own road of discovery.

Name 3 non-lettering artists who inspire you.

  • Indigenous artists collectively
  • Paul Klee
  • Joan Miro

What do you aim to say with your work?

Tell the story of my own time.

Why do you teach? What is your teaching ethos/style?

I find joy in what I do and sharing that joy by guiding people to achieve a personal satisfaction and feel good about themselves is my reward. I like to guide people through historical styles to keep our craft alive and moving forward.

What is your favorite pastime when not in your studio?

Reading and walking

What jobs have you done besides being an artist?

I have taken a couple of really interesting part time jobs in the University Library and in the cultural, social sciences & humanities area. Those particular jobs have been very pleasurable and a beaut learning environment for me.

Have you ever written with an oboe reed?

Of course, many times … and the bassoon reed and the clarinet reed! The reeds for the musical instruments are honed so finely they are superseded only by the quill. The pure nature of the reed when coupled with ink & watercolour gives the most visually pleasing stressed-like strokes that excites the senses.

How do you think living on a small island-state has affected your work?

Fortunately, it protects us from the full thrust of pandemic interference. I have worked in a number of places in my life so far, the middle of a major city, a quiet bushland city, a quiet highland country town and now a quiet little island at the bottom of the world. Every place where my studio has been set has been the same as the next. You adapt. Each place has the power and influence of its surroundings and I like to enjoy the best each has had to offer me personally. My work ebbs and flows accordingly.