Wednesday, December 23, 2009


We'd like to wish you a very happy and peaceful festive season. We'll be back in the New Year with more exciting interviews and calligraphic happenings from around the world.

(Peace card by Julie Williams)

Friday, September 18, 2009

coming soon...

Any time now our first guest blogger is about to arrive at calligraffia HQ - and we think you are going to just love what he is going to share.

As a hint you can check out his website

are you excited yet? - well you won't have to wait long.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Meet the Team - Rhonda Ayliffe

To all of us down under, Rhonda Ayliffe, affectionately known as Ronnie, hardly needs an introduction. Her many years of involvement, interest and achievements in the calligraphic, fine art and book art fields are mighty impressive.

A 5th generation country girl, Rhonda lives with her husband and two young children on a 360 acre farm "Sam's Creek" on the picturesque far south coast of NSW... a rural farming community from which she creates and practices her art, grows her own food, and tends to her beloved garden....

"I'm very, very, very, very attached to my little corner of the world - you know the saying "you can take the girl out of the country, but you can't take the country out of the girl"?...well you can't take this girl out of the country - at least not for very long! I'd miss the wombats and wallabies."

"Mixed Emotions"
assemblage - 1950's mixmaster, paper, gouache, wire (1995)

Perhaps becase of this, Ronnie has become an 'expert' at Distance Education; to add to her BA (Art History), Grad. Dip ED (Visual Art), and Diploma of Western Calligraphy (all completed via distance education), Ronnie is currently finishing her Master of Visual Arts. Whilst undertaking the course she had the honour of being admitted to the Golden Key International Honour Society.

Location hasn't stopped Rhonda from fully immersing herself in all things arty....she doesn't blink at travelling hundreds of kilometers to attend courses of interest...and....(drum roll please) she is the creator and instigator behind calligraffia.

'Weight of Words'
Acrylic, gouache, ink on canvas panels 150cm x 60cm (2007)

Rhonda has only occasionally worked as a commercial calligrapher since being awarded as ASC Guild level Membership in 1995, but uses her love of calligraphy for many other things, especially via her passion for book arts. She has had work published in Letter Arts Review around 1997, but it is her achievements in the book arts that make her stand out from the crowd.

'you are'
(poem by artist)
ink, gouache, collage on concertina booklet (2006)

Over a number of years, Rhonda's creative works have been included in Lark Books '500 Handmade Books', she has work regularly selected for national major book art exhibitions/awards....Books '05, Books '07, SCU Acquisitive Award....and as recently as a fortnight ago, received a Judges' commendation in the National Book Arts award at East Gippsland Art Gallery.... and has just had work shortlisted for the Meroogal Womens Art Award

carved reclaimed 2 volume dictionary (2009)

"Calligraphy and book arts go together like wine and cheese (yum!) They are natural and complementary partners. Within my arts practice, I enjoy taking these crafts on a journey, stretching their possibilities as far as I can before form, all traditions and discernable 'skill' are lost completely. Recently with my works, I've been exploring ideas of knowledge and theories of knowledge - and the changing role of books in a blogging world. With the seeming replacement of books by the internet, I think that books as objects, and particularly the traditional crafts associated with them, are more important than at any other stage in human history....but as a calligrapher and book artist, maybe my opinion is biased...."

Work in progress from burning books series (2009)
Ephemeral sculpture utilising discarded encyclopaedias - this is hot out of the studio!
(see /read more about the creation of this work here)

Besides attending to calligraffia, Ronnie regularly contributes to her own arty blog, Art & Etc. Her website is currently undergoing a major revamp, so we will just have to wait a little while to view her latest creations. In the meantime, a selection of her older works can be enjoyed on Cecilia Sharpley's website.

....and Ronnie tells me she is hoping to go on to complete a PhD course - perhaps as early as next year...

"Yes, sometime in the near future, I hope to be able to insist on being addressed as Doc Ronnie...hee hee hee"

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

calligraffia chats with David McGrail

For the next in our series of calligrapher’s interviews I’m thrilled to introduce our chat with the marvelous David McGrail. For the uninitiated, David is a designer 'with a passion for calligraphy’ (his words exactly), living and working in Dublin, Ireland. It’s no surprise to me then to learn that he is a long-time friend and colleague of Denis Brown, with whom he has co-designed and authored a number of issues of ‘The Edge’ - I’m equally unsurprised to learn that David was the first recipient of the CLAS Advanced Diploma of Calligraphy, is a CLAS fellow, and has received numerous awards and honours for his spectacular work.

Gemma Black, also a long-time friend and admirer of David eagerly suggested calligraffia highlight this fabulous calligrapher - so without any furt
her fawning from me I’ll hand over to Gemma and David… enjoy!

Two wolves –
Coloured pencil drawing of fighting wolves,
watercolour marks, mixed media with gold and silver powders

Gemma B: David, welcome to calligraffia!

David Mc:
Thank you for inviting me to do this interview for Calligraffia, Gemma – I’m honoured. Your website has an excellent reputation – it’s great to see so much enthusiasm and encouragement for the calligraphic arts. It covers a great deal and it’s especially good that you continually update it with new work and fresh information. Talking about myself doesn’t come easy. Having a tooth extracted comes to mind as a somewhat similar feeling!

GB: David, with Denis Brown you have co-authored three issues of 'the Edge', the Journal of the Calligraphy and Lettering Arts Society UK CLAS . An issue in 1997, 2005 and 2008. It appears that between the two of you, you made decisions to prepare different articles yet they seem to gel as an overall publication. How did you and Denis develop your plans for these now much sort after publications?

DMc: Being close friends, discussion and on occasion, argument, about calligraphy over a pint and a meal have been an enduring feature of our friendship over the past 20 years. Denis’s love of and mastery in calligraphy inspired me at my first class with him and that has strengthened over the years. We both enjoy dancing to different calligraphic tunes yet we always keep faith with the fundamentals of beauty and harmony. So when it came to the Edge (the CLAS publication), we each had a pretty well-developed sense of the other’s needs and priorities. While we talked a lot about the look and feel of it beforehand, we worked individually on our own articles and layout. But it was with a consciousness of the other’s work and in the context of the overall publication. As Denis has a design background and I work as a designer, this aspect of the Edge mostly fell into place.

Vibrant Lines
Design for the cover of the CLAS Festival of Calligraphy 2009 brochure

GB: Your students dubbed you the Holy McGrail, how did this come about and are you comfortable with the honorary title which obviously is a mark of respect (personally I love it and it is very clever)?

: Now I am delving into the past. Yes, my students at Dun Laoghaire College of Art did call me that alright. Students often begin to search for miracles around March and April in their final year. I couldn’t oblige with miracles, but I was passionate about opening their eyes/exposing them to possibilities/different ways of seeing that they could bring to their work. Trying to forge a creative identity in the context of a college project is not easy for students. They get bogged down in satisfying others’ often divergent criteria rather than enjoying the process and looking inside themselves for answers. Giving them space to reflect on their project and its meaning for them rekindles their self-belief and often reveals possibilities to them; ideas can surface that enable them to produce work that surprises themselves. Often too, the difference between a seemingly ordinary work and an extraordinary work is a small sideways step. Recognising that can only happen when people are able to tap into their own deep resources.

GB: David, your work has a spiritual presence, a good sense of self, obvious excellent design, sensuality and depth of meaning. What and or who have been your influences perhaps starting with your formative years?

My first job after graduating was as an illustrator at the Natural History Museum in London. There in the cavernous bowels of that beautiful building I spent my time drawing all manner of animal. That solitudinous time spent in the close-up company of dead creatures was a very curious and rich experience. I became fascinated with the structural form of even the tiniest insect. In time, the structural form of illustration deepened to a more artistic perception of form as substance. To this day, I find so many things interesting – whether it is in the beauty of rain storms or the grand vaulted roof of a medieval cathedral – they all enthral me. And cathedrals have other characteristics that I love – emptiness, space and quietude. They are testament to human endeavour and commitment. In a way, they are qualities that I would like to emulate in my work. Emptiness is the space for our imaginations. Finitude is for instructions and signage.
Moving on from illustration to design after five years was a natural progression for me. I could indulge my passion for white space in my role as art editor for the publishers, Dorling Kindersley. What was absent or left unsaid was as important as what was visible. The sheerer a design is, the more successful it is. To me, an ideal design is like a haiku: it conveys a story in a simple, lean way, through metaphor. It is pared to its essence – one stroke, a hint, an atmosphere. Indeed, I found the aesthetics in Japanese culture echoed my own idea of design: it embodies simplicity, mystery and suggestion.

Japanese concertina – Intangible,
concertina book double sided limited edition
inspired by Japanese aesthetic principles, mixed media. 20 pages


Some years later I was seduced by calligraphy and began the long haul journey. What I liked about calligraphy was its propensity to unruliness. The riskiness of it was a welcome counterfoil to the meticulous planning of book grids and type design. I wove its spontaneity, the unexpected accidents, into my design work.

Most calligraphic work that I do never sees the light of day. The pieces live for the moment. I like doing them but finishing them invariably eludes me. The pleasure is in the process. Assembling ideas or just thinking about possibilities; taking things apart and re-working them; discovering connections between things are very satisfying to me. I find inspiration in many different areas. My bookshelves reveal my eclectic sources. As well as my calligraphic books with work from many traditions – I love the mysterious qualities found in Oriental brush and Arabic pen work – I enjoy delving into architecture, philosophy, literary criticism, fine art. They all absorb me.
In the end, perhaps I’m a mirror to the world - always reflecting.
In a direct way, all the wonderful teachers at workshops over the years have given me great encouragement and inspired me and influenced my work in one way or another.

Arabic on black
Arabesque pen manipulations in gold watercolour on black paper

GB: In your business, Q Design, you work in partnership with your life-partner, the equally talented Hilary Wardrop. How much do the two of you draw from each other and how do you prepare your work, collaboratively or separately? Is it an easy task to draw the line between the relationship and the work?

DMc: I think the reason our design business is successful is because we brought totally different talents to it. Hilary studied law and had worked in systems analysis and computer sales – a world apart from my background. So our separate skills seemed to gel. For me, Q Design gave me the opportunity of producing work that I wanted to and Hilary enjoyed the challenge of breaking into a new business. For us both, it was a great freedom to wave goodbye to 9 to 5 commute jobs. Years later, many of our clients that gave us work when we started are still with us. We both share the responsibilities and still revel in it and, miraculously, we’re still together despite seeing each other 24/7.
Generally, Hilary discusses the project with the client and, depending on the requirements, one or other of us will work on it; then at a certain point, we’ll come together to discuss our thoughts and ideas. So we both have input into all our work and it has become an integral part of our life.

Concertina Neruda – If only you would.
Limited edition concertina book, mixed media. 14 pages (detail)

GB: One final question David - are you working on any calligraphic projects at present that you can share with us?

DMc: Yes indeed. Browsing in a secondhand bookshop, I came across a worn biography of Jeanne d’Arc which was fascinating for its detailed and erudite account of her life and trial. It provides a day-by-day account of the last two years of her life and a complete verbatim transcript of her trial.
One of the most puzzling and amazing things about Jeanne was her ability to answer her interrogators in such a direct and resolute way. Here was a young 19-year old girl from a rural peasant family, uneducated and unworldly, yet showing an agility of mind, an intuitive knowledge of military strategy and a maturity and wisdom that was inexplicable.
What I found intriguing were her replies to the ruthless questioning–often trick questions to catch her out. She answered with simple honest integrity, guided by her intuition. She showed an incredible sharpness of mind, a penetrating wisdom which at its heart was simply common sense. This went far beyond a normal intellectual response .
There was a simplicity to her profound, unshakeable faith that the combined might of the church and its political accomplices found impossible to subvert. In the end, they could only convict on a specious charge in order to sentence her to death.
I was greatly moved by the detailed accounts of her trial and my current work, a triptych, grew out of this. My reaction was not a religious one, but an intellectual curiosity in the way she thought.

Panel 1 - Visions
Here is the calmness of certainty.
Jeanne’s supreme confidence that came
from her convictions enabled her to take control
and lead fearlessly into battle.
She commands the respect and admiration of all.

I have for some time been interested in contemporary stained glass window design – there is a fractured quality that appeals to me. Using the shape and feel as a basic structure, I built on that in layers of watercolour, mixed media and calligraphy. Each panel follows a similar structure of a main image combined with a few stark and direct words. A reminder of Jeanne’s integrity. Some of the lines are in French to bring us back to her own language. At the bottom are personal quotes about her in varied coloured capitals that give a rich trembling effect – a hint of the unsettled life that Jeanne was to experience. In essence, her life represents the triumph of intuitive understanding over the power of the applied logic of the institutions.

Panel 2 - Justice
This panel represents the beginning of the conflicts and
a gradual deterioration of events.
Jeanne never understood the betrayals and the
political intrigues that were endemic in the world she had entered.

Panel 3 - Betrayed

This panel represents her final days –
her world has disintegrated; she has been betrayed
by those whom she had admired.
Her cruel death by fire, however,
is a final liberation where she becomes a role model
for all those who seek honesty and freedom.

(click on pics for larger view)

Thank you, Rhonda and Gemma, for giving me this opportunity to show my work. I hope your viewers find it interesting.

Thanks Gemma and David both - what FABULOUS work and words!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

more from "Line and Spirit"

Whilst preparing our recent post on Yves Leterme, he brought to our attention the great calligraphic work of Japanese calligraphers also exhibiting as part of “Line and Spirit' – and now we are thrilled to share with you some of the work that so impressed Yves (and others who have had the opportunity to catch “Line and Spirit” at BankART Studio NYK in Yokohama, Japan)

In her introduction to 'Line and Spirit”, J-LAF (Japan Letter Arts Forum) president Minako Sando wrote:

“Visitors to “Japan・Belgium Letter Arts Exhibition” will be introduced to a wide variety of letter expressions that exist in the range of letter arts from Belgium and Japan. This is the first exhibition to be held in Japan that exhibits works from genres considered as different but which share the same axis of letter arts... It is our great pleasure to have visitors enjoy the works by artists of Japan and Belgium exhibited together.”

(you can read the full introduction at the J-LAF website, which is in both English and Japanese)

I'm sure a cursory glance at the following works by Japanese calligraphers will confirm the diversity and excellence of the show....

(click on pics for a larger view)

Emiko Hashiguchi
“The Nightingale and the Rose”
(Book, 16 pages) 29 × 27 cm
Zerkall ,stick ink, gouache, gold paint

Yukimi Sasago Annand
“A Fool’s Life, Rain ・ She ・ Moon”
(Book, 22 pages) 33.2 × 13.6 × 1.3 cm
Sumi, watercolor, acrylic on Arches Text Wove and Hahnemühle Ingres Antique Paper

Akira Ouchi
14 × 18 cm
Acrylic, Oil, liquid iron on canvas

Sayaka Yoneya
“Woods Without Words”
66 × 35.5 ×55.5 cm
Cotman, acrylic, wood, newspaper

Yukie Hoshi
“my memories dissolve in the air”
59.4 × 84.1 cm
Mixed media, Kouzo paper

Noriko Okamoto
“Stone of Sisyphus”
49.5 × 57 cm
Color Ink, watercolor, gouache, Arches

If these examples have whet your appetite - a marvelous gallery of pics from the exhibition can be viewed at the following dedicated picasa album.

“Line and Spirit” will continue until 14th July at
BankART Studio NYK
3 - 9 Kaigan-dori, Bashamachi, Yokohama, Japan.

(calligraffia would like to thank Minako Sando and Hiroko Shimizu for their assistance and to all the Japanese calligraphers featured for kindly allowing us to reproduce their works)

Saturday, June 27, 2009

Wabi-sabi...Line and Spirit

Yves Leterme, "gestural genius" from Bruges, is exhibiting a series of new works in Yokohama, opening TODAY (July 2), which happily coincides with his current teaching tour of Japan.

"Line and Spirit" promises to be an exceptional exhibition with works from leading Japanese calligraphers (working in the Western calligraphic tradition) as well as 13 outstanding lettering artists from Belgium: Brody Neuenschwander, the 5 members of the Boudens family, Elmo Van Slingerland, Maud Bekaert, Veronique Vandevoorde, Jurgen Vercaemst, Veerle Missiaen, Lieve Cornil and of course Yves...who generously chats to Calligraffia and shares his thoughts about the exhibition and his new work.

The Power of Imagination

Julie: Yves, how did the "Line and Spirit" exhibition come to be?

Yves: Towards the end of 2007, Brody invited members of the Alphaclub in Japan to exhibit in the Art gallery Manna in Bruges, one of the very few galleries in Belgium to exhibit calligraphy on a regular basis. The Japanese calligraphers are very interested in Western calligraphy. They asked for some assistance and Denis Brown, Brody and I each gave advice to students, which was quite a daunting task for me, for I had to discuss and criticize works made by ladies I didn't know. Since then, things have changed: I've come to know some of them as they came over for the opening of the exhibition and took some workshops with me. It's incredible to see how quickly they make progress and how developed their sense for detail is.

Hiroko Shimizu and Minako Sando, two of their finest calligraphers, invited back some Belgian calligraphers for an exhibition in an enormous and wonderful gallery in Yokohama. We're thirteen in total, almost all of us living in Bruges or surroundings.

The Power of Imagination (detail)

J: I would imagine there were many considerations to be taken into account for this exhibition. Can you tell us what some of these might have been?

Y: Since the gallery is a very spacious room, we were asked to contribute some large works. A number of us usually work on a quite small scale, and I knew that this meant trouble for me as my work is more suited to a rather intimate interior. However, I decided to give it a try and to scale up. One immediately felt by looking at the interior that it was not meant for another calligraphy exhibition with the usual nicely framed work: we had to come up with some daring work, not necessarily avant-garde, but still....not the cute stuff. I knew Brody's work would fit in perfectly in that decor, but was at a loss as to what kind of work I would send in. It turned out that I'd be present at the opening of the exhibition, for it just happens to be at the start of my Japanese teaching tour. No possibility for hiding, I would have to face the crowd, so...I'd better come up with something decent!

The Three Fates

J: Yves, you are recognized and renown for your earthy gestural works...where did you draw inspiration from for this series?

Y: The exhibition's theme: Line and Spirit, may have been considered as a source for inspiration. I kept postponing these works, always being very happy if another commission came in, but it was always at the back of my mind. I suddenly came upon the Three Fates, the Moirai, who in ancient Greece spinned and cut the tread of Life. There I had it: Line and Spirit.

I made my first panel: the largest one (115 cm x 55 cm) on gessoed paper, using my beloved pigments and experimenting with poetic texts, photo-transfer, drawn lettering, gestural lettering and marks. It's the sort of work in which the eye can get lost as it wanders through the various parts.

The Three Fates (detail)

I have realized that I'm especially drawn towards things with patina, things which show they have lived (scratches, rust, old stones etc...) and that I spend a lot of time trying to get those things into my work.

Now there's a Japanese word for it: Wabi-sabi. I learned that word about a year ago and after further research, I found to my greatest joy that the description of that philosophy is exactly what I'm after. I couldn't say it any better than what has been written. (For those interested, read more about wabi-sabi here.)

Wabi-sabi 1

Wabi-sabi 1 (detail)

I decided to make some Wabi-sabi works, especially since they were meant for Japan. The words and sentences which are hidden in the work, mostly illegible, are drawn from the texts I read on Wabi-sabi. Like that, I tried to visualize immediately the content of the text.

Wabi-sabi 2

J: Your calligraphy and art in this series characterize the wabi-sabi aesthetics wonderfully - simplicity, effortlessness, quietness, familiarity and suggest a natural process of asperity...

Y: I realize it may not look that way, but I have spent a considerable amount of time in making these works, constantly judging if everything was in harmony with each other, re-framing things, adding things, erasing things, finding new ways of obtaining wabi-sabi effects....I spent hours looking at the works, worrying also if I was not carried away too much...straying away from good old decent calligraphy as we know it.

Wabi-sabi 2 (detail)

Yves, your works are inspirational, thank you for your time and generosity in sharing your thoughts and allowing us a glimpse of your latest series.

"Line and Spirit" is now showing at the
BankART Studio NYK

3 - 9 Kaigan-dori, Bashamachi, Yokohama, Japan

from 2nd - 14th July

And of course, if you would like to see more of Yve's stunning work, visit his website.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Black & White

Checking out Colleen Littles's magnificent page for Heroes and Champions reminded me that entries for the annual calligraphy exhibition presented by the Coffs Calligraphers is rapidly approaching....

This year's theme is 'Black and White' - that means work needs to be - well, black and white! (a little itty-bitty splash of colour will be tolerated I'm told - but work should essentially be... B&W)

Entries close June 1st (that's just around the corner folks) - entry forms and conditions can be accessed via Coffs Calligraphers website. Have a think about joining in - as I can speak from experience that the calligraphy group of Coffs Harbour are a terrific bunch and they put on a magnificent show - don't dare miss the exhibition if you are in the area 11th - 25th July!

Friday, May 8, 2009

Heroes and Champions

We all have heroes ... those who accomplish remarkable achievements with qualities we admire greatly. Judith Kilburn, a calligrapher with the Gold Coast Calligraphy Society, is once again the force behind the 2nd "Heroes and Champions" collaborative book with contributions from 25 Australian calligraphers.

"Heroes " by Ruth Venner, Macleay Is, Northern NSW

The first Heroes book was completed in May 2007, and was displayed at Art shows, Art galleries and Calligraphy Societies throughout Australia. Viewers were astounded and delighted at the various ways each artist/calligrapher chose to describe the people (and the one heroic horse!) they admired. It even inspired visiting English calligrapher and CLAS Honoured Fellow, Jan Pickett, to produce a UK version with her students!

"Judith Wright" by Linda Upfold, Sydney NSW

"Norman Lindsay" by Susan Bradshaw, Toowoomba, QLD

Vol.2 is now nearing completion, and like it's predecessor, celebrates those that inspire. We are fortunate to be able to have a sneak peek at some of the pages before the book is even completed. Each calligrapher was free to choose their own hero or heroes....the only guidelines being a landscape layout, uniformity of page size (560mm x 380mm) and permission to write about their chosen one/s.

"Eric Bogle" by Vanessa Crisp, Evans Head, NSW

"Vincent Lingiari" by Gemma Black, Canberra, ACT

All 3 team members here at calligraffia were amongst those who rose to the challenge, and Judith tells me she had challenges of her own...."Your's and Gemma's arrived on the same day - her's in a giant tube, your's in a box. I looked like I was walking down the main street with the crown jewels and a rocket launcher!!!!"

Well, they were rather large pages to package up and post!!

"Volunteer Firefighters of Australia" by Rhonda Ayliffe, Sam's Creek, NSW

"Edith Cowan" by Colleen Little, Coff's Harbour, NSW

Judith is currently designing the covers and binding the pages together. The enjoyment of participating in a project aimed at fostering enrichment between calligraphers, and providing opportunities for others to view, is something to be celebrated. Vol. 2 will tour around Australian societies and other venues to be announced throughout 2009 and 2010.

Photos by Bill Kilburn

Saturday, April 18, 2009

meet the team - Julie-Ann Williams

As promised – I’d like to introduce you to the first of the team members here at ‘calligraffia’ - the ever delightful Julie-ann Williams Here in our homeland Australia, and most particularly our state of New South Wales, Julie hardly needs an introduction – as a commercial calligrapher, teacher, exhibitor, and ASC stalwart, her distinctive and delicious work speaks volumes for her talent

“Simplicity” detail - experimental work (2007/8)

I first met Julie when she became a fellow Guild Member of the ASC back in 1998 - as we are separated by many many kilometres (approximately 400 of them actually), it took me some time to really get to know her work and character - and I’m very pleased and privileged to now call her a dear friend. Rather than have me prattle on about how much I admire ‘our’ Julie and try to tell her journey into all things calligraphic - I’ll let Julie tell her story in her own words…

“My earliest memories of an interest in lettering was when I was 7…I learnt how to do “running writing” - a simplified Copperplate - in my Grade 3 Queensland Copy Book with a very sharp pencil.

Copy Book (19

After finishing High School in Melbourne, I moved to Sydney, and enrolled in a TAFE Showcard and Ticketwriting certificate course. Half-way through the course I became employed as a fully fledged ticketwriter, still having much to learn. I freelanced after hours doing hand lettered storyboards for advertising agencies and promotional showcards for corporations and shopping centres which enabled me to save enough money to backpack around the UK, Europe, and Africa for 2 years. (In my next life I wouldn’t mind having a go as a travel writer!)

In 1985, back in Australia, married and with the first of my 3 children in my arms, I was offered a job by my previous tutor at TAFE to teach the Showcard & Ticketwriting course…and so my interest and love of teaching began. Teaching calligraphy classes soon followed, and continue today.

After completing a Teaching of Calligraphy Certificate in 1995 and a further 3 years of formal study for the Diploma in Western Calligraphy accredited course in 1998 (designed by the wonderful Margaret Layson), I was awarded Guild level membership of the Australian Society of Calligraphers. Around this time I was invited by Margaret to teach 4 of the Diploma modules, and for 5 years relished this time and interaction with students.

Redesign of the Marriage
Certificate for the Australian Maronite Church by Julie-Ann Williams
Colours and symbols are specific to the Maronite Church
Original completed at A3 size and reduced to A4 for printing.

As well as teaching, I love learning, and to that end I plan to be a “student of life” for the rest of my life. I have gone on to study various formal and informal fine arts subjects…printmaking and life drawing are amongst my favourites.

I have been actively involved in the Australian Society of Calligraphers for many years, serving as President and Exhibitions Co-ordinator a few years back. I’m fortunate that my work as a professional calligrapher is constant, and when I’m not being a Mum, wife, friend, cleaner, cook or taxi-driver, I try to take time to play with just about anything that can be found on an art shop shelf. I am also learning how to post on a blog, thanks to my friend, blog queen Ronnie!”

Ha ha ha – blog queen indeed! – did I mention she’s also quite funny?

Julie is rather modest about her achievements – so that means I’ll have to tell all – Julie has exhibited in almost every calligraphy event in NSW within the past decade, the NSW Parliament House, Australian Associated Press and top-end wedding & event stationers are amongst her commercial clients. Julie has judged the calligraphy section at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney on numerous occasions, and has distinguished herself within her studies and practice as a calligrapher and as a wonderful President of the ASC from 2004-2007

AND (drum roll please) is the creative force behind our distinctive calligraffia title (there – up on top of the blog – nice isn’t it!) Julie is presently working almost non-stop within her very busy calligraphy studio...

... but I know that she is also cooking up a couple of special items for Calligraffia – so watch this space!

Just “be” Yourself – acrylics on canvas (2007).
The two large symbols are calligraphic interpretations of “be”, the second letter of the Persian alphabet.
It has been symbolised as the letter of creating....
the beginning of our communication with the world...
which begins with being ourselves.
Acrylic paint and inks, charcoal, 24crt gold leaf

Sunday, March 29, 2009

coming up soon - meet the team

Over the next short while, amongst some other exciting tidbits, we will be introducing all the folk behind the scenes here at calligraffia – currently the 'we' consists of 3 Australians: Gemma Black of Canberra, Julie-Ann Williams of Sydney, and me – Rhonda Ayliffe (aka 'Ronnie'), from the glorious and well-known artistic centre of the universe.... Sams Creek.

We are separated from one another by many hundreds of kilometres and over the years have developed a (mostly) long distance, email-based friendship (I think we were last all in the same room together almost 3 years ago...).We are all Guild Members of the ASC (Australian Society of Calligraphers) and whilst we each have our own artistic predilections, we have a long-standing shared passion and commitment to all things calligraphic.

But you'll gather that as you get to know us better.... here's just a hint of who you'll learn about first with some Batarde....

..... by the lovely Julie-Ann Williams....

oh and this is probably the best time for me to say – don't forget to let us know of any 'news, views, reviews, or how-tos' to share here at calligraffia – perhaps you'd like to slide in a guest posting? just drop a line to our email (see it in the top left hand corner) and we'll see what magic we can weave...

hope to hear from you soon.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

How-to: Recycle a pointed nib

If you are into recycling, here's a handy little tip to make the most of a well-loved pointed nib. Rather than discarding your worn pointed nib once the sharpness and crispness of fine lines is a "thing-of-the-past", grab a small pair of metal cutting pliers, and gently cut a small portion from the end of the tines at the point. The cut can be made straight or on a slight angle ( is the perfect opportunity to cut an angle that suits you most!)

(pop the nib in a holder for greater stability when cutting)

Sharpen your newly fashioned chisel style nib with an Arkansas stone, crocus cloth or very fine wet/dry sandpaper, gently honing edges. Fit or fashion a reservoir to suit. When using, keep in mind that the flexibility of the pointed nib will a softer touch may be needed.

(sharpening using an Arkansas stone)

photos by Julie

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Happy Birthday Sheila Waters

March 13 is a special day for a special lady - and we feel it requires a special mention here at Calligraffia...

We know friends and colleagues all over the globe will be lifting a glass and sending personal greetings - and via this space we would like to send a very special greeting of our own...

To our Dear Sheila Waters
Happy 80th Birthday
and many Happy Returns
on your special day!

Thank you Sheila for your contributions to calligraphy through your teaching and your mentoring.

You have helped shape the creativity of so many calligraphers and continue to play a major role in the education of sound foundations of calligraphy the world over.

from the Calligraffia team
(Birthday greetings by Gemma Black)

Sunday, March 8, 2009

a wish come true...

To say that Denis Brown needs no introduction in the world of calligraphy is a tremendous understatement– if you have heard, seen, googled, or in any way accidentally stumbled over anything to do with the black art of writing, you will have encountered the wondrous works of Irish master calligrapher Denis Brown. Right now (and we mean literally - RIGHT NOW) his newest series of works is premiering at Gallery 13 in Hollywood (opening night is March 7 – yep, that's RIGHT NOW)... we are honoured that Denis is granting Calligraffia a privileged glimpse into the making of his newest works....

(Denis Brown - work from the '1000 wishes' series)

Ronnie: Your new '1000 wishes' series of work is extraordinary – where did the idea of a collaborative project come from?

Denis: Gallery 13 in West Hollywood Los Angeles have been showing some of my glass art pieces since last year. The current group exhibition has a theme: "Botanica: nature up close". Some of my earlier pieces had incidentally looked a bit like dandelion seed heads, so I decided to develop that image to fit the botanical theme. Of course dandelions are associated with the culture of blowing the seed heads to make a wish, so I thought to ask everybody to e-mail me their wish, and I'd write them all into my 3-D glass engraved images. It seemed a new and interactive way of sourcing text. Typically calligraphers reach for a quotation book and that can often result in work with facile levels of textual engagement on the part of the artist. Likewise, writing out work of the hallowed greats of poetry has become rather old. In this project I was excited by the idea to let my audience write texts which I promised to transcribe before really knowing what they would send me. I wanted to get people thinking about words and text and expressing their feelings- all simply through e-mail.

R: Tell us about some of the more 'interesting' wishes?.. were there any wishes that made you do a double take?.... just how many wishes have you had turn up in your inbox? (and have you used all of them in the works?).. yes I know that's more than one question!

D: I've titled the series 1000 wishes; so far I have received several hundred- difficult to know precisely how many, since many mails express more than one wish. I'm still seeking more wishes, towards that round 1000. The wishes are of all kinds- some related to personal and family desires, others of a more national or political or global nature. Some are religious and showed me that a wish and a prayer may be the same thing. Many are predictable enough even if sincere and important- world peace, and that kind of thing. Some are in languages I cannot even recognize, never mind understand. Some are very private and I should not reveal them.

In this project, I think the purpose of the text is more in the writing of it by the wisher than in the reading of it by the viewer. In my works almost all wishes are illegible, secret. I don't want to reveal too much. It is not important for others to read a person's wish, but I hope it is helpful for the wisher to release their wish, to express it, not hold it inside. To let it go. For the viewer all that is necessary is to know that many many sincere wishes are implicit in each work.

I will offer one interesting story where I helped make 2 out of three wishes come true for one lady in Finland. She had explained that her first wish was private so she wrote that one in Finnish. Her second had no explanation: she wished to see her friend Yukiko again. And for her third, she wished to take a workshop with me somewhere accessible to her in Europe. I have a course in Germany in March and knew that a Yukiko had booked to come from Japan and that this Yukiko had previously visited Finland for other workshops. I didn't know if it was the same Yukiko, but after I confirmed it, the wisher booked to attend the same workshop! Two out of three wishes will come true easily. Well that is just a coincidence, but I know her first wish, the private one, is the most heartfelt.

I sense that many of the wishes I received could possibly be made come true by the wisher's proaction. Take the wish out of your heart, write it down. Put it in your mind. That part has already been done by those who sent me a wish. Next, if you are serious about it, then what are you going to do about making it real? This applies to those who wished for world peace as well as those who wish to find their soulmate or whatever. Now you've made the wish, what will you do about it? So many wish for world peace but do nothing. If we all can make peace with someone, or between two people, then the world is a little more peaceful.

R: What a gorgeous thought! - I love the idea of the work potentially inspiring a move from wishes and dreams to actions and deeds.... so did you notice a certain common mood or theme emerging amongst the many wishes from around the globe?

D: I suspect most of my wishers are reasonably well off and are not left wanting too much. It has made me think that next, instead of emailing, I may go onto the streets of the cities I visit with pen and paper and ask the beggars and the homeless to write me their wishes. But I still like the idea of e-mail, since it brings that state of the art means of textual communication back to its scribal ancestry and interweaves manual and digital and shows that both may be expressive. But for the sake of a broader range of wishes, I think I need to address very different categories of people, including people without an e-mail address, or any address.

(Denis Brown - work from the '1000 wishes' series)

R: Rich and poor, digital and manual; those are interesting dynamic opposites – your idea of bringing them together in calligraphic work is certainly intriguing... but am I right in saying that has been an ongoing interest of yours?

D: Digital and manual, certainly. Rich and poor, this is not something I've thought about before I answered your last question! So that may be a new beginning. The word digital derives from 'digits' which originally meant fingers, and then later became associated with numbers through the signing of numerals with so many fingers (which is the origin of Roman numerals). Now of course digital is associated with the number crunching power of computers. Most calligraphers are unfortunately scared of technology, but manual and digital are etymologically as connected as fingers to a hand! (Latin: Manualis, manum= hand,; Digitalis, digitum= finger or toe). I have been inspired to take digital texts like e-mail, barcodes and SMS text messaging and relate them back to their scribal origins. On the broadest level, the integration of opposites seems a key to harmony. Artists have known this aesthetically, engaging with dynamics of dark against light, form against emptiness, big against small, motion against rest etc. And most of life's problems are due to inability or failure to integrate opposites. Some wishes I received aspire to such integration in varied contexts.

R: Like many people, I won't be able to get to see these wonders in the flesh; the computer screen will be my only viewing opportunity and I'm sure it doesn't capture the full impact of the work - Your pieces appear to have a certain dimensionality and physical depth that the screen can't adequately portray - could you tell us a bit more about the materials and creative processes in the series...

D: The works so far are all the same size of 12" by 12", and almost 2" deep. That depth comes from spacing 4 sheets of glass slightly apart over a background image on paper. I engrave the writing on the 8 glass surfaces (since each sheet has two sides) so as to approach a hemispherical appearance. I'd need much greater depth to actually achieve a full hemisphere, but there is a real three dimensional aspect towards a ball shape.

(Denis and the creative process - not your typical calligraphy pen!)

The lettering is simple enough and not like traditional glass engraving by calligraphers, which laboriously copies a drawn design onto glass. Mine is a direct process of writing with no pre-drawing, no roughwork. The letters are simple mono-line skeleton capitals written with quick strokes of a diamond tip spinning at 60,0000rpm. The tool holding the diamond burr is similar to a dentists drill, and is powered by a large air compressor kept in the adjoining room to my work room. Very careful inspection of the originals can facilitate reading of the wish engraved on the frontmost sheet of glass. But all others will remain concealed. One can catch a word here, read a word there; but these books will remain closed even though they are transparent.

R: I find it somewhat piquant that your series, which contains so many personal yet anonymous wishes and dreams, is premiering in Hollywood – where so many flock to fulfill their dreams of fame and fortune and to live their lives firmly in the spotlight....

D: Touché! Gallery 13 is in the heart of the film industry in Melrose, West Hollywood. My association with the gallery came in an interesting way. I e-mailed the gallery to introduce my work after an Irish friend then living in L.A. told me she'd been impressed by this gallery specializing in Irish art and suggested I should show there. By bizarre coincidence (or not), simultaneously gallery owner Linda Brunker e-mailed me, before reading my mail, but having had my work recommended to her by L.A. media promoter Barbara Ratner, who had also arranged workshops for me for the Society for Calligraphy. Linda later visited my home here in Dublin and we took it from there. The gallery are interested to have me do a one man exhibition plus associated live demonstrations, presentations, workshop etc. This may depend on funding and they are applying for grant aid.

(Denis Brown - work from the '1000 wishes' series)

R: Ahh behold the power of 'wishies'.... Do you have any plans to continue the series beyond this exhibition?

D: Absolutely. I've already mentioned above that it's still a long way to the 1000 wishes of my title and of how I may try to enlist a broader range of responses, eg by asking homeless and poor people to tell me their wish. Maybe also schools, old folks homes, hospitals. Even though wishes I've received to date are from 6 continents, I get the impression the social demographic of most of my wishers is middle to older aged people of middle or upper middle class. I'd like to broaden that, though I'm still asking for more wishes by e-mail also. Since my original request for wishes, your country (Australia) has faced a huge natural disaster with the fires in Victoria. I'd be interested to have some wishes after that, from anyone affected. But all kinds of wishes are still welcome and may be e-mailed to me.

R: Thanks Denis for your time and energy - it's always illuminating to gain a greater insight into that magical and mysterious creature: the creative process. I'm looking forward to witnessing the evolution of your series....

D: Thank you Ronnie, and I hope your blog attracts many new readers and stimulates a lot of discussion!

(Denis Brown - 9 works from the '1000 wishes' series)

'Botanica: nature up close' is now showing at
Gallery 13,
8302A Melrose Ave.
West Hollywood
CA 90069

more gorgeous images from the '1000 wishes' series can be seen at quillskill

and don't forget you can still send Denis your wishes for inclusion in his ongoing series

all works reproduced with permission - please see our copyright policy