The alphabetical series of prints that I’ve been doing since 2007 had reached the letter K, and it seemed appropriate for me to reserve this one for myself alone, rather than team with another creator, as I had for the previous ten prints in the series (letters A to J). While thinking about that, I also realized this year was the twentieth anniversary of my very first signed print, “A Lettering Sampler,” created in 1993. I decided I would try to come up with a new print about lettering to become a companion piece to that one. I went through lists of words beginning with K, and settled on KNOWLEDGE as the one that would be prominent in the title. I thought Klein should also be in there, and settled on the complete title, “Klein’s Compendium of Calligraphic Knowledge.” Yes, I could have spelled Compendium and Calligraphic with initial letters K, but that was too cute for my taste. Reading it aloud, it has a nice alliteration anyway.
At first I wasn’t sure what would make up the body of the print, though I began making notes for that, but the title was set, so I drew that up on a large sheet of one-ply plate (or smooth) finish Bristol Board drawing paper left over from my staff days at DC Comics. I decided to work larger than printed size again, as I had for the J print, and the paper used is 13.5 by 20.5 inches. Above is the title penciled. I then gradually filled in the rest, working out what I wanted to say as I went along, an unusual way of working for me. “Compendium” means a concise summary of a body of knowledge, but in this case it’s more like “as much as I could get onto one piece of paper,” so take that with a grain of salt!
Here are the final pencils after over a week of working on it last March, when I had time between regular jobs. At the top I added PRESENTING, and in doing that settled on some decorative design elements that I used throughout the piece: circles and thin lines with arrowhead pointers. You’ll see them more clearly below.
Here are the first ink lines on the G of PRESENTING, made with an 0.20mm Castell Technical drawing pen, circle template and triangle for the vertical lines. That’s a thinner point on the tech pen than I usually use, but I wanted very thin lines here. The style of the letters in PRESENTING is Victorian, inspired by some of my old lettering sample books like THESE. The decorative elements are also Victorian in style. Not sure why, it just seemed like a good way to go this time.
Here’s more ink at the top. I decided to add circles around each letter in PRESENTING, and this was an afterthought, so I had to shorten some of the letters in CALLIGRAPHIC to keep them from touching the circles. This is the sort of adjustment I make as I go along, and I know I can always move things or adjust them further on the final scan before printing. For KNOWLEDGE, as you can see, I added a bevel around the edges of each letter and shaded one side to give it more depth.
Vertical lines on KNOWLEDGE were inked with the help of my t-square and a small triangle. For the angled lines I just followed the drawing, and for the curved sections I used a large ship’s curve, or on the small curves, a circle template. It was fun working on these large block letters, something I haven’t done much of in recent years.
As I worked my way down the page, there were some paragraphs I wanted to do in the style of very old typography. I have fonts for these, and I set the paragraphs in Adobe Illustrator, then printed them at the size I wanted for the print.
Laying that printout on my light box, I positioned the hand-lettered paper over it, and traced the type as best I could see it through the paper using my thin-pointed tech pen.
Here’s the same thing with the lights of the light box turned off, so you can see what I’ve already hand-lettered. I could have just pasted the type onto the image digitally, but this way the type has a looser, more organic feel that fits in well with the rest of the print.
Below that I had planned another row of circles filled with a few of the most common comics lettering styles and punctuation, but as I began inking it, I wasn’t happy with the way it was turning out. First, it seemed the circles were too large for what was in them, second, I thought I could get more items in the space by staggering smaller circles instead.
So I cut another strip of the paper and made a patch over that area, redoing the entire section and, I think, making it much better.
It took me about another two weeks to finish inking the lettering. I left a space at lower right for my signature inside the frame of the print this time. Since I was the only one signing, it would give a more balanced look to the final product.
Next I scanned the lettering and began the very lengthy and laborious process of touching up the hand-lettering in Photoshop and getting everything centered and positioned just as I wanted it. Above is a “before and after” of one small section. Many of the tiny imperfections I fix wouldn’t be obvious on the finished print, but I can’t help myself, once I start fixing things I can’t stop! Of course I still want it to look hand-lettered, and it does, but after retouching it looks like hand-lettering where the paper, pen, ink and my own hand were all cooperating perfectly throughout, not the way it actually happened. This process took me through April and into May, which is always a busy month for me. Finally in early June I had my final image and was ready to print it on my Xerox printer, which handles 11 by 17-inch paper.
I decided to print two versions this time. Above is the one printed on white card stock with the art at a smaller size, matching the dimensions and surrounding white space of my first print, “A Lettering Sampler.” I thought some folks might want to hang the two of them side by side, and this way the sizes match. The paper color on the old print may have been white originally, it’s now darkened to off-white, so it’s not a perfect match, but close enough. I only printed 50 of those, and will offer some in a special deal, more on that later. The rest I printed larger, with margins to match my other prints, on cream-colored card stock. I made 300 of those.
Next I needed to decide on a spot color to be hand-painted on each print. After some thought I decided to add color to the open sides of the letters in KNOWLEDGE, further enhancing the three-dimensional look of the bevels.
This was straightforward filling except for the curved areas of the O and G, where I would mimic the gradation of the black fills in color. I chose Indian Red from my set of Dr. Ph. Martin’s Hydrus liquid watercolors for three reasons. First, it’s a color I haven’t used. Second, Victorians favored earth tones, so that fit with the design style. Third, I have a wedge-tipped marker I wanted to use to sign my name that is purportedly “red,” but actually closer to this color.
After a few samples to make sure I had the color I wanted, I started work on the white copies first. The painting went slowly because I’d given myself areas with very thin outlines to fill, and that took time. Most of the prints will have one or more small paint spots overlapping the lines, but that just makes it look more hand-made, right? I got the white ones painted in June, but then other things needed my attention and I had to put the painting aside for a while. First, I was writing and researching a lengthy series of blog articles on DC Comics history, second, the San Diego Comicon was looming, and I always seem to have a work crunch before and after that. Finally, in early August I was able to get back to painting prints and finished the rest.
Just one thing remained to work out: signatures and numbering. In the space inside the art that I left, I signed my name in “red” on all the prints. None of my alphabetical prints were numbered, but I did number my first print, “A Lettering Sampler,” and saved the first ten. I decided, for the white copies, I would number them in a similar style (but there are only 50, of course), and sign them again in black below the art border to match the style of the older print.
I’m keeping the first five for myself, but I’ll be offering prints numbered 6 through 10 in matching sets, as seen above: the new print on white and the old print from 1993 on off-white paper, matching numbers. The other white prints will be offered individually on a first-come first-served basis, and of course the regular edition on cream paper will also be available. You can order them on my BUY STUFF page, along with all my other prints. Sorry, these sets are now sold out.
This print took a very long time to produce, and I have no one to blame but myself! Hope you find it worth the wait, and I look forward to hearing from you and filling orders. Posts about the creation of my other prints can be found on my SIGNED PRINTS page.
Good call on using c’s instead of k’s for “Compendium” and “Calligraphic”; that would have been way too cutesy.
I want one for our Montreal Studio!
I Just Ordered.
You got all my admiration as always Todd.
Thank you for sharing the process. Rumble young man, rumble!