Creative Lettering Workshop

I have just completed a month’s kourse (sic) on Creative Lettering at Sketchbook Skool taught by Andrea Joseph.  It was enormous fun and I learned a lot of new skills, which I can now develop further through practice. Here is some of my work from the kourse. 

Fitting words into complex shapes. I used the nutrients found in apples and pears to create the form of the fruit. The words near the base of the pear need to follow a deeper curve to better indicate the contours of the fruit. 

Using stationary tools as stencils to create a word. Were I to repeat this exercise, I would  find a way to write a lower case “e” for better rhythm. 

Using different fonts to create a text.  I was surprised how quickly I got the “feel” of a font. The quotation is from an article by Jeannette Winterson entitled “Books, the Universe and Everything” published in a now defunct journal ” Books and Company” (Summer 2000).

Fitting a word / words into a template. This was an initial attempt at using a ballpoint for hatching. I intend to work on this…

Visual puns…

Lettering with highlighters and fluorescent pens.  I also used a metallic liner and black glitter.

We tried our hand at graffiti. There are probably hundreds of graffiti fonts out there.  I was not a fan of graffiti before the course but am much more appreciative of the skills involved now.  I just wish graffiti writers would confine their skills to legitimate surfaces…

We played around with letter stencils, which can be manipulated to create more individual lettering. I will look for some larger letter stencils to explore this further. 

We looked at some different ways to create outlines. Using a self-coloured outline creates a very clean line, as the black lettering below shows. 

We tried out some different ways to create embellishments on our lettering including twirls and lines. 

We used continuous writing to create an illustration.  Were I to draw this again, I would draw the spaghetti a little more fluidy / “loopily”.

And we used continuous / one line writing to create a text. 

I also had a page in my sketchbook on which I had used up some old paint and I used this for a ground for continuous writing.  This was my first attempt and the letters were not of a consistent size at first.  The quotations come from Eliot’s Four Quartets which I was re-reading at the time. 


Visit to the Max Ernst Museum, Brühl

During initial explorations into texture early on in the Drawing Skills course, I encountered frottage, a technique developed by Max Ernst (1891-1976).  I am ashamed to say that, even though I knew that the Max Ernst Museum was just “up the road” in Brühl (a 20 minute train ride away), I didn’t visit it and did all my research on the internet…There is something about having things on your doorstep and never making the effort to go and see them… I visited today, initially to see an exhibition of William Copley’s work.  The latter will be reviewed in a separate post.  After looking at the Copley, I went upstairs to view the permanent exhibition of Ernst’s work.

When you enter the first room, one of the first things you see is Im Garten der Nymphe Ancolie, a mural painted in 1934 for the Dancing Mascotte in the Corso theatre in Zürich.  After extensive restoration lasting over a year, the work has found its way to Brühl where it is on loan.  The work itself is striking – the delicacy of the underlying outlined image contrasting with the boldness of the surface hues which swim over the surface.  Ernst arrived at the image after leafing through a book of botanical plates. One of these he inverted through 180 degrees.  The image was then distorted by stretching it to form the basis o the mural.

There was too much to absorb in one visit and I chose to focus mainly on frottage, which is a technique I would like to use in my own work but since those early exercises have not done so.  Most of Ernst’s frottage in the museum is found in one room.  Unfortunately, the museum has a “no photography” policy so I could not make a visual record of my visit. I have found a few images on the Bridgeman Edcuation website, which OCA students are permitted to use in their learning logs. I cannot be certain that the originals are to be found in the museum.  However, the chosen images are good illustrative examples.

The first frottaged drawing that I saw today is a small image called Sonnenpassagiere (Sun Passengers).  I cannot track down an internet copy of it, probably because it is not one of the most striking of his works. However, it interested me to consider how the image had been created. Ernst appears to have used a frottage as a basis and then superimposed a geometric design on the surface.  Differences in pressure have been applied through the image, and in places it looks as if layers have been built up, which together produce a complex image despite its size.

However, this was just the start. When I turned around, I saw that the opposite wall was filled with Lichtdrücke (collotypes).  According to the Encyclopedia Britannica (1), this printing technique gives accurate reproduction because the image is not broken up into dots.  This makes it a useful technique for finely detailed images, such as are needed for book illustrations.  I have never tried to make a collotype so can only try to make sense of what I have read in a couple of reliable sources. It appears as if the image is imprinted onto a glass plate coated with gelatine by exposing the plate to a negative.  When the plate is washed, the gelatine absorbs water and swells.  The plate is inked while still damp and the gelatine that has not yet hardened repels the ink, creating highlights, while the hardened gelatine accepts it, creating areas of tone (2).  Parts of the gelatine create a fibrous network which creates mid-tones in the final image. From this, I assume that the gelatine absorbs water only where it has not taken up the image and it is this that accepts the ink. I am not sure how the artist controls what is to be highlight and what is mid-tone. It cannot be a random process (?).

This series of collotypes is called “Naturgeschichte” (Natural history) and was created in 1926. It is a wonderful series of monochrome images using a wide variety of frottage elements, often different woods.  It was interesting to see how a rubbing of a wood surface can be used to create not only an image of wood but also of leaves, hair, sand after the tide has retreated, the hide of a rhinoceros… Wood was used to draw leaves and leaves were used to draw trees!  Sometimes frottage covered most of a page, leaving negative space – a hole the size and shape of a leaf. There is one lovely image comprised of horse chestnut leaves and what appears to be a horse chestnut in its shell – but which must have been created with a somewhat less spiky surface. Together these have been used to create the image of something resembling a dragonfly (is the image called an Ernstbug?).  I have found a link to the image here but this does not do it justice.

Another image from the collotype series is linked here.  An excerpt from a documentary featuring the artist at work on the series can be seen on youtube.

Below are two frottaged images that are not collotypes and which are not, as far as I know, in the Museum’s collection but which illustrate well how frottaged textures can be integrated into semi-representational drawing.

“When the light spreads” (pencil rubbing, 1925)


“The Petrified Forest” (charcoal on paper, 1929)


The theme of this latter image had already been used in an oil painting of the same name (1927) that employs the technique of grattage (scratching into paint). This painting is in a private collection.  Max Ernst survived as a soldier in the First World War. These images echo those of devastated battlefields.


In the next room, a further stunning series of illustrations appear also to be frottage but these were then made into photograms by Man Ray for publication.  They appear to have been made with white chalk on black paper and I have made notes to this effect while in the museum.  I usually check such things but may have surmised that this is how they were made originally from their appearance – an alternative could be that these are negative images.  However, they were produced, they are beautiful.

“Illustrations from Mr Knife and Miss Fork by Rene Crevel, published by Black Sun Press, Paris, 1931”




Unrelated specifically to frottage but something I had not known about, are Max Ernst’s D-paintings (info in German only at this link).  Painted over more than 30 years, beginning in 1942, these paintings were annual gifts to Dorothea Tanning, who became his second wife in 1946. (His first brief marriage to Peggy Güggenheim seems to have been a marriage of convenience to allow him to immigrate into the US as he escaped internment in France in 1941). The paintings are in different styles and document his development as a painter over long period. They get their name from the letter D present in each one.  I am not known for my romanticism but I can appreciate this for a romantic gesture!

Prior to this visit, my knowledge of Max Ernst’s work had been limited to frottage and grattage, as well as some of his more famous paintings and sculptures.  What I had not appreciated was the extent to which he experimented with techniques and styles throughout his life, how he never stood still and but continuously invented and developed as an artist.  Another technique developed by Ernst but not mentioned above is decalcomania.  I found another youtube link that demonstrates how this is done.

Here is (yet another) youtube link as intro to the Max Ernst Museum –  a brief virtual tour.  Max Ernst left Brühl for Paris while still a relatively young man.  He never came back to live there.  When he returned to Europe from the US, it was to live in Paris again, where he eventually died. I wonder what he would make of the museum in Brühl?

Sources:    Accessed 17.10.12   George Eastman House: Notes on Photographs – Collotype.  Accessed 17.10.12

All images a courtesy of

A Visit to a Picturebook Museum

Das Bilderbücher Museum (Picture Book Museum) in Burg Wissem  in Troisdorf, 14 km NW of Bonn is a one of the loveliest museums I have visited.  Apart from regular exhibitions, there is a library of books for children there, as well as a little room at the top of the tower, full of books and rugs: the sort of room every reading child – and adult – dreams of.  This post refers to the work of several contemporary illustrators and, for copyright reasons, does not include their illustrations but has many links to their work.

Currently (until tomorrow, 10th June 2012) in Burg Wissem, there is an exhibition of the work of Axel Scheffler, a German artist from Hamburg, now living in London.  He is perhaps best known for his character, the Gruffalo. In addition to many original works, many of the books that he has illustrated for children were scattered through the exhibition.
An article from the Telegraph from 2007, provides some general background to Axel Scheffler’s work.  He is well-known for the Gruffalo; which he publishes with children’s author Julia Donaldson. A particular challenge for illustrators of children’s fiction is to pitch the level of excitement such that the children remain engaged but not fearful.  Obviously this will be different for different age groups, which emphasises the importance of illustration in supporting the imagination. Imagination must be allowed some rein but within safe boundaries that make it less likely that children will take themselves into difficult emotional situations before they are equipped to deal with these.  Characters, especially those aimed at young children, have to have a human aspect.  Animals are anthropomorphised such that children can engage with the human qualities of warmth, caring and humour even when a character is outwardly fearsome. The Gruffalo is a good example of a potentially frightening character with cuddly qualities.
The conception of the Gruffalo reminds me of “Where the Wild Things Are” by the late Maurice Sendak (1928-2012).  Sendak’s work, often controversially, addressed the emotional needs of children through stories that he both wrote and illustrated.  There is an assessment of his career at this link, and also an interview with his friend and Sendak scholar, John Cech, on the Australian ABC National programme, Books and Arts Daily.  John Cech is Professor of English and director of University of Florida’s Centre for the Study of Children’s Literature and Culture.
Other illustrators whose work caught my eye during the visit include those below.  This is not an exhaustive list: there are many, many more waiting to be discovered in later visits.
I looked at a copy of Aesop’s Fables illustrated by the English artist, Bernadette Watts (1942-) .  The openness of her drawings, which are full of light and space, is very appealing.  There is a sense of the scale of a child’s world in her work. In many of her drawings, she uses graphite as well as colour; monochrome, as well as the use of cooler colours in her drawings bring forth areas of illumination in her images.

The style of Hungarian illustrator, Gabriella Hajnal (1928-) is very different.  In “The Tree that Reached the Sky: Hungarian Folktales”, she illustrates the stories with a limited palette of vibrant colours that are instantly accessible.  She appears to use watercolour and the illustrations are frameless. I have found it difficult to track down information about this artist in English but here is a link to her book of Hungarian Folktales. Yet another link looks interesting also in the wider sense of the project of which it forms a part.

I bought a postcard of an illustration called “Return” by the Japanese illustrator, Osamu Komatsu.  The balance of colours and the overall warmth of a sea basking in the light of the setting sun.  The light in the window of one of the houses contrasts with the reflection of the last of the day’s light off the walls of the other. Doing some research later, I discovered that the man in a boat is a recurring theme in Komatsu’s work.  In “Departure from her Village” the theme is a sad one and the colour scheme correspondingly cooler… dark and misty.   The white house makes an appearance again but this time it is on top of a tower and somehow less accessible.  Perhaps “Return” was conceived to counterbalance the sadness of the image of departure. From the limited images that I have been able to track down in a Google search, I have noticed recurrent use of certain motifs: an unhappy or wistful man, white buildings, often tall, towers or lighthouses, and a misty half-light.  Together, these create atmospheric, appealing images but ones that conceal more than they reveal.  They work by suggesting a story which, like the best stories and images, is also open to the viewer’s interpretation.  I hope to hear more about this Japanese artist but have found no biographical information as yet.
Katharina Cranz is a German illustrator from Frankfurt, whose work appears on greetings cards. The image that caught my eye on the postcards in Burg Wissem can be seen here. I like the way in which she has used brighter blues, balanced with yellow detail to frame the pastel colours in the central image of a sleeping girl. The use of ink to create contours and a sense of volume in the bedclothes through hatching also serve to project the pillow and the girl forward towards the viewer.

Daniela Bunga is another contemporary German illustrator.  Some of her work (The Cherry Tree, The Scarves) have been translated into English. I like the simplicity of her illustrations, which incorporate sometimes accurate and sometimes intentionally distorted perspective, the interchange between which is common to childhood experience. Some of her work can be seen here.
Rudi Hurzlmeier. (1952-) is a self-trained artist and one of Germany’s most well known comic artists / caricaturists.  There is a biography here, in German.  Many examples of his work can be seen on Flickr.  The card that caught my eye in the museum can be found here.
I like the image of the serenading pig in “Rock you Baby” for the humorous way in which it ascribes very human behaviour to the animals.  It is a very contemporary image – the pig has an amplifier for his electric guitar and he is smoking – of a very ancient art!  The cigarette suggests that this is not an image intended for children!  I like the use of light – the dark foreground evoking nighttime and the lighter background reflecting the setting sun. The rosy tones of the distant walls and the deepening of the warm colours which spill into the middle ground, contrast with the darker foreground.  I also like that Hurzlmeier has situated the pigs according to the rule of thirds but maintained interest in the rest of the picture through the layers of buildings rising up a hill so that even a distant church is able to fill the sky.  The sky itself, which could be a large challenging negative space is filled with the interest of swirling clouds and carries the eye through the upper half of the picture. Some of his notecards in which he successfully conveys the personality of individual birds through caricature can be seen here.
Finally, here is the work of another illustrator, Mattias Adolfsson, from his blog.  His gentle humour makes me smile and is perhaps more for adults than children…

Other useful sources on the work of contemporary illustrators / illustration:
Here are some useful links for illustrating children’s books.
An agent for illustrators has pages of introduction to the work of many contemporary German illustrators.
And finally, finally….., I thoroughly recommend the Australian ABC National Books and Arts Daily programme, mentioned above, for their coverage of local and global arts.  I have been introduced to the work of many Australian artists (encompassing visual artists, composers, musicians, writers….) through subscribing to the podcast.

Fish on a Plate

For this exercise, I chose a trout and used a favourite plate with a fish design on its rim.

I placed the fish upside down so that I would be forced to focus on shapes rather than draw what I think a fish should look like. The course materials suggested using water-soluble pencils and I did use these. I outlined the design on the plate and then filled in the design in colour before drawing the fish. I am quite pleased with the overall design but the colour of the plate is too insipid (the photo exaggerates this) and I should probably deepen the colour, perhaps with Inktense pencils.

Fish on a plate

The colour of the fish is fairly accurate but the fish appears rather flat. I usually avoid using black but used it here for depth, to try to bring out the backbone of the fish and to enhance the sense of its three-dimensionality.

Although I enjoy the freedom and unpredictability of using a wash with water-soluble media, I find that it is easy to make a mess (as with the shadow in the charcoal and crayon drawing of a rabbit, in “Grabbing the chance”), and there are places on the fish, particularly where I aimed for more intense colour, that are bordering on messy rather than the delicate hatching I had intended!

The course materials suggested “cutting” the plate with the edge of the format but when I framed various possibilities, they appeared odd – half a plate and/or half a fish did not sit right somehow. To avoid overdoing the symmetry of a central plate, I shaded two corners of the format to situate it on a table. My original idea for this composition was to have a cat, perhaps just eyes and ears at a table’s edge but thought this might be appear a bit frivolous… Next time…

Update…. I have reinforced the colour on the plate rim, deepening and brightening it which gives the overall image a little more impact. However, the fish seems paler in this image, which brings home that I definitely need a scanner.

Reworked image: Fish on a Plate