Sunday, February 13, 2011

Calligraphy is cool?

One of the things that I have taken for granted with my calligraphy is that I do it, show it to various people who enjoy it in varying degrees, and then it disappears into my portfolio, and is largely never seen again. As a result it is a bit strange to suddenly have one's work appearing on international websites and exciting real interest. This is what has happened with the Marisco's Kings Series work. Now I hasten to add that I can't take all the credit. The concept and wonderful overall design is by Christopher Thompson, but the calligraphy itself is getting some of the mention. Most recently the work has featured at number seven on a site called the Coolist which highlights thirty top wine labels world wide.
Having managed to get past 50 without, to my knowledge, ever attracting the label 'cool' this one has me scratching my head a bit. But I have managed to figure it out. It isn't me that's cool, it's calligraphy. After the plethora of rough handdrawn lettering that has featured in design for the last few years, the more sophisticated but non-rigid quality of this lettering seems to have struck a chord. So I am sensing that the time is right for calligraphy to have its day in the sun. Is this a good thing? Possibly not. The one thing that can be guaranteed in the cycle of graphic coolness, is that whatever is cool today is uncool tomorrow. So I guess it is just a matter of enjoying the next couple of years, and then bunkering back down to the normality of trying to research the edges of marginal discipline. But for the moment calligraphers can perhaps allow themselves to enjoy the possibility of a moment centre stage. The main thing is not to blink.

Monday, January 04, 2010

On long r's and tall a's

The problem with setting up a blog is that sometimes life takes over and the blog gets left behind. Since starting this one I have begun work on a PhD relating to another of my interests - old postcards. As such the calligraphy has had to take a back seat. So this will now be a periodic update when I have things of calligraphic interest. For the time being let me show you a set of wine labels that I did earlier this year, as they were a lot of fun. The commission - and concept - came from Hook design, but I had a lot of freedom with the calligraphy. I have long been interested in the very early gothic scripts which have a number of quirky features. This is the first time I have been able to use the tall minuscule 'a' or the long 'r' in a real piece. As such the design for these letters started in the 12th century, but were heavily updated with elements of bastarda and italic to achieve a fluid gothic script - rather than the very rigid bookhand gothics that we are all used to.

Saturday, July 07, 2007

Creative Hiatus

This blog was founded on the idea of putting up work everyday. At the point when I started, my work seemed to be going in a clear direction, and the blog made sense. Taking a couple of workshops, however, has caused me to take a fairly lengthy creative pause. Not that this time has been unproductive. Its just that to assimilate these ideas, critique them and then come out the other end with something that is valid and not derivative takes time. I have had to do a lot of calligraphy that would make no sense to anyone else. Working through the ramifications of the things like the differences between drawing and writing - and the results really are not pretty. I am hoping to get to the point where it will make sense to post work again fairly soon, but I don't think it can be daily. Just too busy at present at work.
Nevertheless, I can recommend the idea of a creative hiatus. The point at which things seem to be ticking along nicely is maybe a point to be on guard. Is the work getting complaisant? Is it getting formulaic? Well, hopefully I'll be back with some new stuff soon. And hopefully it will have a good rationale behind it.

Saturday, January 06, 2007

Normal Transmission delayed some more

Apologies to Sam and others who are wondering what happened. The last few weeks have been completely given over to renovations, and we now have visitors staying. Hopefully will be back into blogging mode by the 20th.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

Normal transmission will be resumed as soon as possible

Owing to largescale home renovations, this reluctant handyman is not getting any calligraphy done. Sporadic postings only for the next couple of weeks. Apologies to loyal viewers.

Sunday, December 03, 2006


There are certain points in our lives which act as milestone moments – those rites of initiation that push us from one phase to another. They are moments we remember. Moments of moment. Every boy remembers buying his first razor, and the corresponding sense of importance as boyhood’s down is carefully scraped from the chin. Well, today I passed through another of life’s rites of passage. My first pair of reading glasses. I have been inclined to see this as a point to put off for as long as possible. The ultimate symbol that life is now one inevitable slide to the grave. However, there is one very big upside to this particular symbol. Just as my razor removed the fur of adolescence, so the glasses removed the film that has sat for some time between me and my calligraphy. I can see again! Those serifs which were previously done by touch are now crisp as a yachtie without sunblock. And this gives me the courage to look back at the past half century (nearly) and hope that the reckoning comes out on the right side of the ledger. Like this piece, I hope that by the end I am starting to know what I am doing – even if the start was hesitant and characterised by not knowing what the heck was coming next. So now all I can hope for is that there is no re-versal of form in the future, and that the letters get freer, stronger but less predictable. Every calligrapher has to live life on the edge of the pen. And now I can see it again!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Some Like it Hot

What is it about old movies? There is a sense of play, wit, humour and plot lines that appear straightforward but jump back and forth, in and out, with rollicking abandon. My daughters spent the evening rolling around watching “Some like it hot” and the over-the top burlesque obviously still holds its appeal. They still think that good old black and white is hot – which is more than the can be said for the weather currently. But anyway, I thought I would try and make a piece that did some of the above things – but still in black, white and the silver of the screen. So where’s the popcorn?

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Shock of the New

New Zealand has a new leader of the opposition National (conservative) Party. John Key did everything right in the first interview I saw him in. Conciliatory and clearly after the hearts and minds of those of us who occupy the political centre, I even found myself in the shocking position of agreeing with almost everything he said. The question is, will the new National Party be as watered down as this gouache, or will its true blue colours come back into sharp relief once in government? Are there new shocks hidden in the subtext?
Over the weekend, I attended Thomas Ingmire’s drawn letter workshop in Auckland. After twenty years of trying to emulate the master, I have recently been trying to concentrate on calligraphic lettering. So the workshop is partly a step back to an approach of my past, and partly a new wake-up call to look at the letter forms within the design as a unified whole.
So is what I am doing here a conservative journey to a calligraphic former life, or is it a radical step forward unlocking the key to a brave new lettered world? The jury is out on that one, however I am quite certain that whilst I will sleep well tonight in a land of balanced negative and positive spaces, Helen Clark (our Prime Minister), if she is in bed at all, will be lying awake worrying that come the next election her shocking new negative space will be the government benches.

Friday, November 24, 2006

Dotting t's and crossing i's

There are certain times of the year where things go mad. Where there is too much to do, and not enough hours in the day to do it in. These are the times that I call my Dotting T’s and Crossing Eyes times. Crossing eyes, because these are the times when focus is really hard. And that is when doing calligraphy comes into its own. Calligraphy requires a singular focus on the stroke in hand, but with a complete awareness of everything else that is happening on the page. It is the perfect metaphor for how to deal with the crossing eye times, and the perfect activity to bring one back into balance again. Now if only my eyes could actually focus…. Time for reading glasses I think.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

The Origin of the Serf

If the above title did not at least raise a smile, then either you didn’t read it properly, or you don’t know Father Catich’s splendid book “The Origin of the Serif” – required reading for everyone who loves Roman Capitals. Anyway, I have always enjoyed both the visual and verbal aspects of the Serif. It invites puns like “I shot the Serif” and evokes pictures of a Typographic Tyrant “The Serif of Nottingham” who oppresses his local villagers. Historically villagers could still come and go, using their feet to move on from the depredations of the Serif, but when individuality is stripped away, and the “I” is removed from a “Serif” then one is left with a poor “Serf” – someone whose feet are tied to the land.
Personally, I think we are currently developing a new class of serf – and I don’t mean all those people who serf the net. These serfs are tied to their jobs and cannot move because mortgages, commitments etc etc nail them to the spot. They may be materially richer than their medieval counterparts, but they are just as disempowered – slaves to consumerist expectations. So here is a piece of work that plays with that lost “I” and at least turns part of it into an exclamation mark.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Gerald Hadlow

It is strange how it is possible to be deeply affected by the death of someone one has met only once. However, in Gerry Hadlow’s case, whilst our paths crossed on one occasion, I have, over the years, corresponded with him and enjoyed his writings for our calligraphy magazine and on Cyberscribes. Gerry (or, officially, Canon Gerald Hadlow) was killed in a car accident on Wednesday, along with his wife and their pet dog. It is very hard to think of such a vital and energetic life being snuffed out in a second. Gerry exemplified everything you could want in a calligrapher – passion, enthusiasm, humility and a deep desire to learn. He had a huge impact in his community of Rotorua, both in his activities as priest and police chaplain, and as an advocate for calligraphy. He seemed to me to live life fully, and would, I hope, appreciate me taking big risks in terms of alphabet, ink and paper when writing his name. My sense of Gerry was that he did not believe in half measures. New Zealand calligraphy will miss him.

Definition of "Daily"

This is a short message to say that normal transmission of work will soon be reestablished. For the purposes of this blog, the term "daily" should forthwith be understood to mean "as near to daily as Peter's sanity can cope with". In the meantime, the major cause of this current creative pause can be viewed at where you can see a sample of work by students on my graphic design programme, and currently on exhibition at Auckland's Aotea Centre.

Monday, November 13, 2006


If I remember rightly, there is a saying that “a change is as good as a rest”. How you react to change, and how restful you find it, is a very good indicator of character. Do you seek change, embrace it and like it in large doses? Or do you, like me, prefer change that evolves? Actually I like it best when the evolution is so seamless you don’t notice the jumps. Not quite like this piece, but something along the same lines (a good calligrapher’s phrase). Unfortunately, sometimes there is no option but to accept change and make it your friend. George Bush would be well advised to do this right now. Of course, looking at the American situation gives us a clue as to why some of us resist change. If we instigate change, we call it 'innovation'. 'Change' is usually something that is done to us by a third party. So I guess our approach to change tells us something of how much we want to be in control of things. Me a control freak? Hmmmm.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Lest We Forget

Today I watched the incredibly moving coverage of the dedication of the new New Zealand War Memorial on Hyde Park corner in London. It brought back to me the hundreds of hours that I spent writing out names of fallen men in a Roll of Honour. Each name a life lost. Each death, a family shattered.
I am a third generation pacifist, however I have only the highest respect for people who lose their lives in pursuit of what they believe in, and hence find the memorial a very fitting reminder. One has, however, to hope that there will not be the need for additional such memorials. As the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq demonstrate, there has to be a better way than resorting to war.

Saturday, November 11, 2006


Whilst the concept of a weekend is not one that a daily blog can engage with, weekends as a whole are something one has a primal urge to enjoy. Sleep, relaxation, house maintenance, the lawn, the carwash, not to mention paying at that altar of consumerism – the mall – all call. In fact, two days is hardly enough to do all the things that society expects of one, so I am firmly of the opinion that we should work a 10 hour day, and then have a three day weekend. That would mean three solid days for the weekend, one of which might actually include sitting reading a book, or getting a solid period of time to follow through with a calligraphic idea. Sadly, I cannot see all those employers who routinely exact extra hours out of their employees allowing legislation that would enforce a 40 hour week, but wouldn’t it be nice if weekends could actually evoke the swing of this piece, instead of one arriving at Sunday evening in a breathless state and with a myriad of good intentions still unfulfilled.

Friday, November 10, 2006


It's always fascinating to see the levels of energy people put into things. President Bush clearly put huge energy into that handshake. There was enough energy in the jaw muscles alone to outdo a whole Michael Jackson music video or the NZ government’s sales pitch on Auckland’s new waterfront stadium.
What is also interesting about energy is just how interesting it becomes when you don’t have it. Since I am teetering on chronic fatigue right now, trying to keep some energy in my calligraphy is rather more riveting than President Bush’s body language. And I find that at the point where energy gives out, there is a little thing called will (you, know – it rhymes with quill). It is will that makes you choose a tough paper over a smooth one, and will that makes you do lots of versions of a word when one would do. And its will that might just make world politics work one day. Maybe.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

US Elections

Well, it has taken a while, but maybe now the world is going to head a little further towards sanity, with George Bush burnt by the US voters. Admittedly, swapping Republicans for Democrats is not exactly a sea change, any more than swapping National for Labour is in New Zealand but, for all that, some of us will sleep a bit safer tonight. Nevertheless, despite the joy, the political situation in the States is still just as porous and unstable as the paper I chose to write on for this piece, and the Americans are just as fickle as my lettering, which flits between different alphabetical imperatives. But even if there are plenty of possible political paradoxes ahead, at least one has to hand it to those American voters for finally coming to their senses.

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

The Melbourne Cup

Two days ago Kiwis went mad over a very old English tradition celebrating a person who spectacularly failed to blow up Parliament. Today, they went mad over an Australian horse race in which we can almost always guarantee that any New Zealand horse will get thrashed. Why exactly does New Zealand stop for an Australian race, when it never does for the New Zealand ones? And why, for that matter, do we never bet millions on which Opera Singer will win the Mobil Song Quest? Or which writer will win the Montana Book Awards? It is interesting to see what it is that will bind a country together, and in New Zealand’s case, what binds us is always sport and never art. Let alone calligraphy. Now wouldn’t it be wonderful to put money on who would win the Auckland Calligraphic Strokes. Or the Christchurch Quills. And don’t laugh. In the 1590’s, calligraphy had nationally recognised competitions in Holland and Britain and the top calligraphers were not far off being the equivalent of Rock Stars, or sporting heroes. Funnily enough, calligraphy back then was often taught in the same schools as fencing. Oh well…..

Monday, November 06, 2006

Work / Life Balance

Work / Life balance is an ideal. And let’s say here and now that it is something I don’t have right now. This piece tries to achieve balance, however there are lots of elements trying to throw the balance out. And the paper, in the end, is the give away – with fluid marbling that threatens to run away, just as the improvised flourishes undermine the attempts at regularity in the lettering.
The best way to get work/ life balance, for me, would be to have a four day week of 10 hour days. I do these already – just tends to be six of them rather than four. Trouble is that this leaves me stretched as thin as the ink on this surface. Not an uncommon state in a culture where the 40 hour week is fast moving into the realm of urban legend.

Guy Fawkes

Guy Fawkes tried to blow up Parliament several centuries ago. Ever since, his failed effort and subsequent execution have been celebrated on November 5th (in England and other Commonwealth countries) by a night of fireworks.

Here in New Zealand, the institution of Firework Night is likely to get blown up itself. The antics of a few mindless idiots are likely to see a ban on individual households letting off fireworks. So, in commemoration of this, I created this little piece. It is done with a single broad edged pen using gouache. The lettering is not historically correct for Guy Fawkes, but hopefully gets something of the sense of the event across.