Saturday, August 4, 2007

Thomas Hoyer

This is Jae, back from the international calligraphy conference which was held on Vancouver Island this year. The conference is usually divided into two study sessions, with a break in the middle. The participants have the choice of several dozen teachers, and can spend both sessions with one teacher, or divide their week between two different teachers, in a the huge variety of subjects. It was my thirteenth conference, over last fifteen years or so.

Vancouver Island is one of the best places I've ever been to: nearly as beautiful as Skye, but with excellent mild weather. The campus at Shawnigan Lake this year was pretty good -- a posh prep school that was the most handicapped-inaccessible institution I have ever seen, although the landscaping was lovely, the new dorms comfortable, staff enthusiastic hosts, and the food excellent.

This year I first had three days with Thomas Hoyer, studying a Fraktur hand. This is descended from medieval blackletter but has been elaborated into many typefaces, particularly in Germany, where books are traditionally printed in the style. A thick blackletter falls naturally from the broad-edge pen, and was the first thing I tried when I bought my first Speedball nib. I've spent a bit of time over the last mumble-mumble years practicing a primitive version of it, but this was something entirely new. I mean every stroke was different from the alphabets I've learned to write before. You're only fooling yourself to think you can learn a new alphabet in three days, but the first day we got through the entire lower-case, which was grueling. I had no muscle memory for this, and would frequently get lost in the middle of a letter, or even the middle of a stroke. It's not that often I get such a bad case of beginner's mind. Since beginner's mind is a much sought-after state in zen buddhism, this was not entirely a bad thing.

At the end of the third day, I was beginning to feel as though there were expressive details in this family of alphabets that Thomas could see, because he is native to that print culture, that I was entirely blind to, as though it were made of Japanese kanji characters in which I am an illiterate barbarian.

Thomas is an extraordinarily creative young man, as you can see from his website. I found the "callitype objects" in his virtual gallery particularly interesting. He is known in the calligraphic community more for his colorful ruling-pen demonstrations. His two-day class -- not a continuation of the Fraktur, but that ruling-pen technique -- was filled, although our Fraktur class only had half as many, eight people in it. Below, so you can see what I'm talking about, a sample from one of my practice sheets.
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