When was the first time you picked up a calligraphy pen?
My high school art teacher was an old commercial artist, and introduced many of us to the broad edged pen. I was able to continue on that path a bit through college while working in the “art department” which basically was a place that instructors came for signs. The head of that department also was an old sign guy, and my fascination with letters continued. He introduced us to the Speedball D pen with the oval tip to do quite a bit of lettering.
What is the best advice you ever received (lettering or otherwise)?
Under-promise and over-deliver.
Why do you letter? What keeps you coming back every day?
Lettering itself is a rewarding experience, however for me, it has always been an element of a composition or a part of a greater whole; therefore lettering, for me, is a tool to be used and not necessarily and end unto itself. This is not to say I don’t spend time on lettering – with respect to working on lettering, my favorite saying is “It’s not the time, it’s the miles”
My approach is usually to solve a problem, and that problem is usually to find a style of lettering that expresses the text. The other, outlying goal is to keep a variety of lettering in the arsenal so that when I am layering or lettering one text over another, that each can be readable to the viewer. This is not to say that all elements are always legible, but that the text, in total can be discerned even if a few words are obscured. I don’t mind asking the viewer to work a little to “earn” or “apprehend” the meaning.
What research do you do when learning or starting something new? i.e. a new style or new project.
I am a researcher by nature, and love to know the “why” of things. Figuring out the puzzle of a painting, putting together the elements of writing an article, piecing together stories to fit into a book, experimenting with painting effects and formal artwork in Journals, creating and editing a teaching video, or taking elements of a letter apart to put them back together in a personalized way, all keep me interested and out of a creative rut.
My most recent project resulted in a lettering style I called Romitalic. That project began with a lettering style that intrigued me, and ended up combining a more traditional Roman form with a forward slant. After I had created the form, I decided to create a class about that process. Because I was going to teach that class, I went back to “do my homework” on historical forms in an attempt to see the history and make connections to my contemporary form. That background resulted in a 45-page book that is a “handout” for this online course, which is typical of my process in lettering and teaching.
Name 3 non-lettering artists who inspire you.
The artists of the Italian Renaissance always intrigued me; I grew up looking at the Leonardo and Michelangelo books my parents owned. Later I became enchanted with Vermeer. I have used elements and influences from each of those named artists in my paintings.
What do you aim to say with your work?
The sentence I have used to describe my artwork is “Paintings that Inspire Conversation”. I came to this after a project which involved polling clients who owned paintings; many of them talked about how visitors would walk over to the painting on the wall and a conversation would begin as they viewed the work. The main aim is for the words on the paintings to be inspirational; I see no reason to infuse the work with negative energy, so I try to have a positive outward affect for the viewer.
Why do you teach? What is your teaching ethos/style?
Teaching is a part of my personality and a natural outgrowth of that desire to know “why”. As far as my style goes, I believe that students have a lot to bring to the table, and from that perspective my classes or workshops are very participatory. I am more concerned with the journey of discovery than “here is how you paint like this” or “This is the proper way to do this lettering style”. Because of that underlying trust in the individual, I believe that many students will have creative ideas that wouldn’t occur to me and therefore I love to see them follow their own path of discovery. Their ideas can also have significant contributions to other participants. This kind of participation leads to a sort-of bond within the class, and is something that is usually allowed to more fully develop and mature in a week-long class rather than a weekend workshop, which is why I prefer the longer format at conference time.
What jobs have you done besides being an artist?
I was an insurance agent for about 25 years.
Spreads from Randall Hasson’s Non-Latin Journal
Your fine art incorporates many different layers. Are you a vigorous planner, or is there a lot of intuition that goes into creating the pieces?
Mostly, the large format, complex paintings are themed, so that whatever the subject is, I do a lot of research and choose quotes or text that support that theme. Themes such as Artists on Art, Musicians on Music, The Discoverers and the Inventors, religious themes and the writings of C.S. Lewis are all examples of projects that have occupied a 3 to 6 month painting process. So, from that aspect, there is quite a lot of planning that goes into the content, and I will have an answer on why each selection of text or image is included.
However, in the larger sense, the best paintings are extremely intuitive. If I am working on a commission, I usually have to collaborate with someone or have the client approve elements. This is not the case when I work on my own. I am free to change direction, alter elements, and go back into research as the painting reveals itself. Or as I wake up with a new idea. Or as something someone says sparks a new solution to a problem I was puzzling out.
I often say I spend more time staring at the canvas than actually painting. This is because I am trying to think three or four moves ahead. I have found that the difference between my painting style and a graphically oriented style is that the artist with the graphic style is reacting to the visual or textual elements they see on the page, while I am looking at what is going to be on the canvas a week or two from now.
People ask about that process, and they will ask from different perspectives. I can only describe the painting process for me as being one of communication with the canvas. There is a “tuning in” process. A communication in spirit. Because of that, I usually wait until I have an “answer” on what my next move is before I commit paint to canvas. Perhaps you could call it a direction. I have interviewed quite a few artists, both calligraphically and otherwise, and for those that work with deep meaning or complex subject matter, this does not seem to be uncommon.
We have a couple of Speedball textbook editors in our teaching line-up. How did editing the 24th edition influence your own work?
The 24th edition created a desire for historic research in me. Because it was the 100th anniversary of the book, I was able to cull not only the specific lettering history of the Speedball inventors, but also place them into a larger historical context of American History. That project has led to a major series of classes called Writing with a Bent Nib, and those classes provide instruction on how to use the nibs, context for the lettering styles that led to the Speedball Pen invention, styles that we can create with this nib design, and how that nib helped change lettering history. In addition, I have written a comprehensive history of the Speedball Story that is, at present, waiting to be published.
Because of all that, the influence on my work has come in the form of a broadened understanding of a more specific lettering history, and has also led me to explore wider avenues outside of historical and contemporary calligraphy, including the emergence of commercial lettering in the 20th century, consultation with traditional sign painters, and some study into the principals of digital font design.
I was also pleased and gratified to see the spectacular job that Carl did on designing the 25th edition, and that Sachin and Suzanne did with their influence and contributions as well.