When I was just beginning my career in letterforms I had the great good fortune to study with Bettye Lou Bennett at Haystack, Cannon Beach. She was a teacher of uncommon rigor and caring, and she continually inspired me to reach beyond what I thought were my limits. During a slideshow of contemporary calligraphy she made a comment that has never left my mind. After a long beat in which we regarded an example of calligraphy on the screen she said only, "This piece could have benefitted from some judicial retouching."
Ouf, I thought, scalding! What exactly is judicial retouching? And how can I avoid ever being held up as a similar example? At that point I was simply learning how to hold an edged pen, dip it in ink, and make a simple perfect italic letter in the tradition of Lloyd Reynolds and the long lineage of Arrighi. I had not yet moved into lettering design for reproduction. I knew nothing about typography, and operated on the assumption, common then, that "pure" calligraphy could only be made in one fell swoop and that if you fussed with it afterwards the Lords of the Pen would come down from that clear crystal inkwell in which they lived and smite you.
I went on to realize that lettering for reproduction must inevitably be a dialogue between the aesthetics of fonts and the airy and sometimes reckless dance of the pen. Recently, in organizing archives for a book jackets portfolio, I came across this project for Pocket Books, which illustrates beautifully the path from pure calligraphy to work for reproduction -- and calligraphy's connection to typography.
To write the name of Audrey Hepburn is a dream assignment. The title needed to express elegance, divadom, perfection, beauty, and reflect some history of her era by referencing the typefaces of her time. Here is the initial page exploring her name with various brushes and pens:
We went to final art on the second one and the publisher then decided to use only her last name.
The calligraphy shows that lovely lyrical "ribbon" that happens when a true edged pen turns in space--but the work would never survive reduction at small size in a catalog, or read from a distance. And if you look closely you see the roughness of the paper. It can be hair-raising to go into a piece like this, that is "pure" and walk that balance between calligraphic beauty and typographic strength. This was done long before bezier curves and Photoshop, and I used French Curves, a three ott rapidograph and photostat paper to ink this final version:
I would have loved to keep the original H, but it was decreed by marketing that it was "hard to read"-- three words that may be the least favorite in the English language to a calligrapher's ears. This was before the proliferation of script fonts, and my primary reference was the dreaded "Park Avenue," along with the more respectable "Coronet," "Ariston," "Amazone," and "Bernhard Cursive" from my much-loved and dog-eared Ryder Display book.
Audrey, wherever you are, I hope you like this. It was lovely to be you, and to wear your earrings for a day.