The Road Not Taken – Robert Frost

robert frost the road not taken

This poem is timeless, thought-provoking and simple.

I’ve written it countless times, and it never fails to make me think. This is calligraphy at its best – writing out a poem is a slow process where you have to consider the shape and flow of every word. The slowness of calligraphy lettering also allows time to reflect on the meaning of each line.

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

I’ve been reading ‘Mindful Thoughts for Walkers: Footnotes on the Zen Path‘ by Adam Ford, a brilliant book for walkers which references Robert Frost’s poem – it’s interesting to see how often this piece is referenced elsewhere. I guess it means a lot to many people.

This poem is for sale in my Etsy shop for £49. Buy it here – https://www.etsy.com/uk/listing/607720572

 

The single most important trick you need to know to master modern calligraphy

Are you struggling to refine your modern calligraphy technique? Do you have all the kit, but you just can’t quite get the technique despite watching every insta and youtube video going?

There’s one tip which I teach at the very beginning of all of my calligraphy workshops. It will make or break your calligraphy.

Getting this single thing wrong is the cause of scratchy noises, of jagged lines, of ink spatters and more. Sound familiar? I know – everyone does it unless they’re taught not to. It’s not the most obvious thing to spot on online videos.

But it is crucial to your calligraphy technique.

It’s your pen angle.

Image credit: Jenny Jones Photography

Your calligraphy nib HAS TO point in exactly the right direction. If your writing style slants to the right, then your nib should point to one o’clock on the paper.

If your lettering is straight up, ie vertical on the paper, then your nib HAS TO point in the same direction.

Because of the way a calligraphy nib splits as you write, it’s essential to put equal pressure on both sides of the nib (the tines) as you go. If you press too hard on one side, if your nib twists or rolls to one side as you write, you get a kind of scissor effect with the tines of the nib. Imagine cutting with scissors – the ends cross: that’s how they cut. It’s the LAST thing you want your calligraphy nib to be doing.

Naturally most of us hold a normal writing pen (biro, fountain pen) pointing towards about 10 o’clock on the paper. Using a calligraphy pen at this angle will make smooth lettering impossible.

If you find it hard to adjust the angle of your hand / pen / nib to point towards 12 or 1 o’clock, turn your paper. Mine tends to be at 90 degrees on the table when I’m practising modern calligraphy.

Have another look at those insta and youtube clips you love. You’ll see the calligraphers are all pointing their nibs in the direction of their writing.

This is the secret to mastering modern calligraphy, and I spend the first fifteen minutes of my calligraphy classes making absolutely sure everyone has this nailed. From then on, it’s pretty plain sailing!

Join me for calligraphy summer school at Manchester’s Ziferblat Edge St on the 18th of August. It’s only £35 for 90 minutes of calligraphy learning, aimed at absolute beginners. I’ll show you exactly how pen angles work (and we’ll talk about how vertical they should be too!) – and share more tips for mastering modern calligraphy.

Tickets here: bymoonandtide.com/listing/619076399/calligraphy-summer-school-90-min


Header image by Zehra Jagani
Close ups by Jenny Jones Photography

From a Father – calligraphy poem commission for Fathers Day

This commission was a gift for Fathers Day – from a previous customer who I remember working with back in 2014!

Lovely Sarah had tracked me down through various website changes and a house (and telephone number) move – and had an idea for a poem commission for her husband for Fathers Day.

He’d written a really special poem for his daughter, which she had plans for… We had a brief email chat and Sarah was smitten with the idea of gold ink on a navy blue background.

The lettering style is modern and organic, and the words are beautiful – I can’t take any credit for that, I only hope I do them justice.

 

Something completely different! A memorial scholarship in calligraphy

Last week was a bizarre and wonderful mix of calligraphy commissions – if anyone imagines the life of a calligrapher to be all wedding invitations, it couldn’t be further from the truth!

It’s one of my favourite things about Etsy: the requests for bespoke calligraphy commissions which come from all over the world can be anything, and no two weeks are the same.

This memorial scholarship award certificate was almost 600 words in modern calligraphy lettering, so space was at a premium even on A2 paper. Planning the layout for a piece like this takes a while and has to be meticulous – after 10 hours of writing you simply can’t afford to run out of space!

I generally take a few goes to be happy with the lettering on an important commission like this – the flow and rhythm of the calligraphy has to look and feel right… on this occasion it meant my first two attempts at the opening paragraph went in the recycling. The third just flowed and felt right – and this is the version you see.

Tis a Fearful Thing – calligraphy poem

This poem almost had me in tears.

If you’ve ever lost someone close to you, these words will resonate.

Writing pieces like this in calligraphy is humbling. Every stroke of the pen has to be as perfect as I can possibly make it.

To somehow do justice to this beautiful piece of poetry is a challenge, and I do hope the new owner of this poem will find it brings some measure of solace.

The full wording, as it was sent to me:

‘Tis a Fearful Thing

Yehuda Halevi

‘Tis a fearful thing
to love what death can touch.
A fearful thing
to love, to hope, to dream, to be –
to be,
And oh, to lose.
A thing for fools, this,
And a holy thing,
a holy thing
to love.

For your life has lived in me,
your laugh once lifted me,
your word was gift to me.

To remember this brings painful joy.
‘Tis a human thing, love,
a holy thing, to love
what death has touched.

 

A brand new build your own calligraphy set

I’ve been selling my calligraphy starter set on Not On The High Street for a couple of years now. I love it – it includes the same ink and nib I use on a daily basis, along with my book and practice paper, which I also take along to calligraphy workshops. But it was time for a little revamp, and after a quick look at other calligraphy kits on offer around the web, I decided it was time to give people a little more choice and control over the supplies they were buying.

modern calligraphy set
This image by lovely Jenny Jones Photography

At Christmas time I sold more calligraphy kits than ever before, mainly through Not On The High Street. I had three returns, from people buying them as gifts, for reasons like there “weren’t enough pens” or it “just wasn’t quite what I wanted”. I get it – ‘traditional’ calligraphy sets in shops include no instructions, just a pen and 5 nibs. So the older generation expect something a little different to most modern calligraphy sets.

The solution I came up with is to give complete control over what goes in a calligraphy set to the buyer. So I now sell kits with a selection of pens and nibs to choose from, coloured inks and different grades of instructions – from the very basic alphabet sampler and instruction sheet to a black and white exercise book or full colour ‘how to learn calligraphy’ book with beautiful photos. The most important thing to me is that everyone receiving the kit as a gift gets at least some written instruction, unlike those traditional calligraphy sets in shops which only contain the tools of the trade!

The full contents of my ‘build your own’ calligraphy set are:

A4 presentation box

Oblique penholder

Straight penholder (optional)

Brush pen (optional)

Nikko G nib

Rose nib (optional)

Blue Pumpkin nib (optional)

Black ink

White ink (optional)

Rose gold ink (optional)

Personalised notebook (optional)

Set of 10 rustic gift tags (optional)

Pack of 5 quality black notelets and envelopes (optional)

Black & white calligraphy exercise book (optional)

Full colour calligraphy book (optional)

You can buy yours here!

Mindfulness and calligraphy

I lose myself in writing. Pen and paper is my happy place. Many of you will too – there is often a moment, halfway through a calligraphy workshop, where I’ll look around and see a calm has settled on the class.

Image credit: Jenny Jones Photography

Calligraphy kind of needs concentration and the ability to drift off in equal measure. A little focus is essential in those first hours of learning. But once you understand how your pen feels as it flexes in your hand and glides across the paper to make letters, you can relax a little and let instinct take over.

Your lettering will love you for it.

I don’t know if this is mindfulness – it almost seems contradictory to the notion of self-awareness, to lose oneself in lettering. But to allow your thoughts to drift as you write is a good – a wonderful – thing.

Consider: at first students try super hard to ‘master’ the calligraphy pen. It’s tricky at first to know just where to apply pressure, to add ink, to turn the corner in a letter. But in my workshops I encourage conversation. I comment on students’ work to build confidence. I ask questions; students ask me questions about my background and life, and conversations flow… and while we talk, we relax… that initial focus on every detail of a letter becomes more instinctive, more natural.

Image credit: Jenny Jones Photography

I really find it helps to think of other things when I practise calligraphy. My escape is a musical backdrop – soothing or thought-provoking as fits my mood.

A relaxed environment helps too – a glass of wine, an empty desk, a cosy jumper – because soft sleeves just glide across a tabletop! – and will help you to focus on our letter shapes or think of other things as you write in your little oasis of calligraphic calm.

Calligraphy has its very own kind of focus – and it’s a very natural, peaceful one. During my workshops students will often misspell words, even their own names. It’s a good thing! Following the movement and flow of a nib is kind of hypnotic: watching it flex and glide from one letter to another is distracting in the most wonderful way! And for me, focusing on that beautiful flow instead of the order of letters an achievement in itself.

Image credit: Jenny Jones Photography

The art of modern calligraphy isn’t all about precision – it’s about beauty, and relaxation, and the pure enjoyment of lettering.

Join me for a calligraphy workshop in Manchester: online booking & info – modern calligraphy workshops

Summer calligraphy workshop announcement! 18th August, Ziferblat

I’m happy to announce a new calligraphy workshop date for this summer – we’re heading to Ziferblat in Manchester on the 18th of August for a brand new kind of calligraphy class.

It’s for absolute beginners – come along if you’ve never held a calligraphy pen before!

It’s only £35 – you’ll get to keep your pen, nib and worksheets to take home.

It’s a 90 minute class (from 2 o’clock until half past three) – enough to cover all the basics without getting too intense!

It’s going to be brilliant. Tickets are here

Thank you to Zehra Jagani for the beautiful photos, and to lovely Mahwish for her #raok