Color Techniques For Caligraphy

by Linda Renc

A beautiful calligraphy script can be rendered many different ways. A calligrapher may develop skills in broad-pen lettering, brush writing, pointed pen lettering, or letters drawn in pencil, brush or pen & ink.
Though there is nothing more elegant than rich black ink on white paper, there are also multiple possibilities in the world of color. Each time I start a new calligraphy piece, I begin by lettering the text in black & white, to get a sense of the weight or style of script, how the lines break and how the words sit on the paper. If I decide to use color, I then choose colors that are appropriate to the quotation. Color lettering is achieved with thinned gouache (opaque watercolor), transparent watercolor, opaque white writing fluid, gold or silver gouache, walnut inks, black sumi inks, and occasionally gold leaf. Calligraphy pens will accept all these fluids.
I also choose a special piece of paper for writing the text. It can simply be smooth white paper. Or it can have background color or textured surface. Often I start with a painted sheet of paper and get ideas just from that. Usually there is a suggested color or concept before painting. Here are several art techniques I use to create an interesting surface on which to inscribe words.

  • WATERCOLOR WASH - painted transparent layers of color.
  • PASTE PAPER - using a base of transparent paste with artist's pigment added, one or more layers of color are applied creating textures & subtle blending of colors. Raw artist's canvas can also be paste-painted.
  • MARBLING - random or controlled patterns of color which are transferred to paper from floating pigments on the water's surface.
  • HANDMADE PAPERS - in which the papermaker has created sheets with surface texture, color, embedded fibers and interesting deckled edges. These can be made into handmade books, cards or one-off art pieces.
  • MIXED MEDIA - This is the "everything else" category: collaged papers, rusted papers, printmaking, cut-outs, shadowbox-framed pieces with natural materials like sticks, stones, shells, leaves, etc.

The border on this page is a sheet of paste paper made with rubbings of leaves during the paste paper process, with drawing in colored pencil. It was the beginning of "Autumn", a large original calligraphy piece which is part of an ongoing series of 20"x20" artworks with a touch of Celtic design.

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