Interview Calligrapher - Rosella Garavaglia

The new year has arrived, we are hoping to bring more meaningful and inspiring article and information to TOOLS to LIVEYBY's customers and audiences.

To start with the beginning of 2018, we are very pleased to have the chance to chat with Rosella who is a Latin calligrapher based in London, UK. In this interview, she told us about how she became a professional calligrapher and her favourite calligraphy writing tool.

TTLB: Can you tell me a bit of your background before becoming a Calligrapher?

Rosella: I come from Cerro Maggiore, a small town near Milan in the north of Italy. From a very young age, I seemed to demonstrate an aptitude for drawing and painting, so I studied at art school for four years. After achieving my Diploma I worked as a textile artist for several years in one of the numerous textile design studios in Como, then the capital of the silk industry. In 1981, I came to London without speaking a word of English. I became very busy learning the language and started to adapt to my new way life. It was then I realised that I was not going to continue working in textiles; I wanted to do something more meaningful than painting ornamental patterns all day. I started a part-time course in graphic design and typographic design where I learnt how to make decisions about the use of space, contrast of textures and how to select the appropriate weight, size and style of a font according to a specific brief. During my time there I discovered a calligraphy evening class. At the time I had no idea this was going to be the first of a long series of part-time courses and workshops in calligraphy which would culminate to a full-time course in lettering four years later.

I felt that a calligraphy training would allow me to make use of my painting, design and calligraphic skills to produce original, more meaningful artistic work and also lively lettering for graphic design.

TTLB: When did you realise calligraphy has become a passion for you?

Rosella: My love for calligraphy and lettering started a long time ago when by chance I came across an SSI exhibition near Piccadilly Circus. In those rooms, I felt so moved by the perfect marriage of words, their meaning and their artistic expression. The variety of the writing styles and the skillful use of pens and brushes encouraged the viewer on so many levels. It inspired me to embark on the path which brought me here today. One step at a time, failing then failing better, struggling to strike a balance between the demands of family life and allocating the time to contribute as much as possible to the arts of lettering.

TTLB: Do you work on commissioned project? Could you describe the range of different kinds of commission you might do?

Rosella: The type of commissions I do ranges from calligraphy and design for wedding stationery to drawn lettering for etching on glass panels. Other projects range from lettering in wood, letter design for book headings, captions for greeting cards, logos and tattoos, packaging and advertisements. I write lots of poems for people as gifts to their loved ones,and sometimes memorials and certificates. For a long time, I’ve struggled to strike a balance between the time spent working on commissions and on my own personal work, which I think is an issue for most artists. Being self-employed is very demanding and it’s often difficult to be able to carve out the time and energy to dedicate to research, developing ideas, exploration and experimentation. There needs to be a balance between going to exhibitions and finding things which feed your creativity to develop your own projects, and having the time to complete the work you’ve committed to. But in my work, in general, there are strong links between the commercial and the artistic: they feed into each other.

TTLB: Are you often inspired by other artists or calligraphers’ work?

Rosella: Of course, I’ve been influenced and inspired by many lettering artists. When I look at other people’s work, I look for the questions and answers they may have dealt with while working.I find the process one goes through the most fascinating - sometimes more than the final piece itself. I’ll always remember the feeling of excitement and admiration I experienced at an exhibition by Denis Brown in Dublin in 1944 where I witnessed his courage and vision. He used his extraordinary calligraphic skills to express provocative concepts around religion and sexuality and the meaning of calligraphy itself. With an uncompromising attitude towards the use of media and materials, his work showed us what calligraphy can do beyond its traditional function and expression. From then on I’ve continued to admire artists who push the boundaries of their art with integrity and sincerity.

A good source of inspiration is also graffiti art because this is when writing as the image can acquire a monumental power of communication. Entire buildings become a canvas for a rich vocabulary of dynamic lettering styles and vibrant colours. No need for an exhibition space: lettering and images are part of a landscape that is accessible to everyone.

TTLB: What is your favourite tool for writing calligraphy? Could you show me some of them?

Rosella: I was working as a textile artist where the brush was almost an extension of my fingers - I have always loved writing with both the square-edged and the pointed brush. How lovely it was for me, after years of practising with the pen, to discover that I could also use the brush as a direct writing tool. I experienced a great sense of freedom.

The best thing about the brush is that you can write on any material, including fabric, stone, wood, glass or even walls, as well as paper of course. You can use a variety of media, from inks to gouache, watercolours and acrylics. Because the brush is sensitive to the slightest change of pressure, it offers enormous possibilities for writing the alphabet and to designing a wide variety of expressive styles. By gradually adding or releasing the pressure you can vary the weight and the size of letterforms using the same size brush.

In short, the brush is a tremendous writing tool: fast, direct, flexible and versatile. Perhaps the only drawback is that it is relative unsuitable for very small writing. It is much harder to control the soft, flexible bristles to make tiny shapes than it is, for example, with a number six Mitchell nib. The balance between control and freedom is a constant challenge, and a considerable amount of practice is necessary.

TTLB: Rosella, thank you for spent your time with us. We have learned a lot about calligraphy from you and it will definitely inspire those who want to pursue this as their career.