Sunday, 27 February 2011

The Cursiveness of the Pen

I write in longhand, John Barth proclaimed. He went on to proudly declare to George Plimpton of The Paris Review that Anne Tyler and he are perhaps the only two writers who actually write with a fountain pen. Tyler praised the muscular movement of putting down script on the paper as the actual force that gets her imagination going. Barth found that it is in fact the cursiveness of the pen that makes the plot come together - "my sentences in print, as in conversation, tend to go on a while before they stop," he says. The cursiveness of the pen connects one letter to another and one word to the other and there is no gap - it's a stream of consciousness almost this cursiveness of the pen. While typing leaves a space between that and the next character - a space, a paralyzing space that kills the plot.

 Do you think word processors will change the style of writers to come? 
They may very well. But I remember a colleague of mine at Johns Hopkins, Professor Hugh Kenner, remarking that literature changed when writers began to compose on the typewriter. I raised my hand and said, “Professor Kenner, I still write with a fountain pen.” And he said, “Never mind. You are breathing the air of literature that’s been written on the typewriter.” So I suppose that my fiction will be word-processed by association, though I myself will not become a green-screener.
John Barth, The Art of Fiction No. 86. Interviewed by George Plimpton, The Paris Review, no. 95, Spring 1985

Monday, 21 February 2011

Penwork that cramps my hand

Saturday night in the London Underground. A nondescript man is slumped in his seat sleeping. Above him a “Poems on the Underground” by :
Colmcille the Scribe from the Irish c. 11th century, translated by Seamus Heaney (Human Chain, 2010)

My hand is cramped from penwork
My quill has a tapered point
Its bird-mouth issues a blue-dark
Beetle-spark of ink

Wisdom keeps welling in streams
From my fine-drawn sallow hand
Riverrun on the vellum
of ink from green-skinned holly.

My small runny pen keeps going
Through books, through thick and thin
To enrich the scholar’s holdings
Penwork that cramps my hand.

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Caput Mortuum, Momie, Mommia, Mummy Brown – Gruesome Brown

And then there is gruesome brown. Palimpsest is fascinated by the process whereby ancient Egyptians found their way onto 18th and 19th-century paintings. Because this old brown - mommia, momie, mummy brown - was made by griding Ancient Egyptians into a paste.

Mommia was derived from mummified bodies and was used for medicinal purposes. “They gave noisome smell at all,” John Sanderson wrote in 1586 of the mummy remains he saw in an Egyptian mass grave in 1586: [they are] like pitch, beinge broken; for I broke of[f] all parts of the bodies to see howe the flesh was turned to drugge, and brought home divers heads, hands, arms, and feete for a shewe.” And should one run out of the “real thing”, Professor of Physick and quack-doctor William Salmon had just the recipe for “artificial mummy” in his Pharmacopoeia Londinensis (The New London Dispensatory) of 1691:

Take the carcase of a young man (some say red hair’d) not dying of a Disease but killed; let it lie 24 hours in clear water in the Air: cut the flesh in pieces, to which add Powder of Myrrh and a little Aloes, imbibe it 24 hours in the Spirit of Wine and Turpentine...

But Mommia was apparently excellent for shading and by the early 18th century it became a well-established colour. In her Colour, Victoria Finlay quotes an extract from the notebooks of George Field (1777-1854) a renowned colour manufacturer, who recorded a delivery of “Mummy” from English portrait painter, Sir William Beechey:
It arrived “in a mass, containing and permeating rib-bone etc – of a strong smell resembling Garlic and Ammonia – grinds easily – works rather pasty – unaffected by damp and foul air.” 
According to a story (probably an urban myth) having discovered the origin of the paint’s ingredients a 19th century artist gave his oil paints a Christian burial.

In 1897 Bernard Shaw wrote to Grant Richards: 
I propose to call the issue Plays Pleasant and Unpleasant... If I could get all six into one volume, I should have the unpleasant ones printed on a light-brown paper (Egyptian mummy colour) in an ugly style of printing, and the pleasant ones on a white paper (machine-hand-made) in the best Klemscott style. Nobody has ever done a piebald volume before, and the thing would make a sensation.

Today Caput Mortuum is an alternative name for “Mummy Brown” and there are, I’m sure, no dead bodies involved in its production. It is Latin for “dead head” and was used by alchemists and chemists to denote remains, decay, residue. On the hunt for Gruesome Brown, Palimpsest discovered Faber-Castell’s PITT artist pen with a brush nib; FC PITT Pastel and FC Polychromos and FC Pastel (stick) – all in Caput Mortuum.

But the piece de resistance must be Sennelier’s à l’écu soft pastel Momie. An earthy yellow-ochre-brown that looks like it comes from the “real thing” – ancient decay – metamorphosed into a vital force. Encased for protection and wrapped in the distinctive Sennelier wax paper, Momie No. 104 is animated by the Ka: Tutankhamen would have approved. It comes in 7 shades too.

Lots of pigment delights in Victoria Finlay, Colour, London: Sceptre 2002; R.F. Rattray, Bernard Shaw, a Chronicle, Leagrave Press 1951; John Sanderson quote from Travels, Hakluyt Society, 2nd s., LXVII, London, 1931, 44-5  

Friday, 11 February 2011

Vandyke Brown

Give me some mud off a city crossing, some ochre out of a gravel pit  and a little whitening and some coal dust and I will paint you a luminous picture if you give me time to gradate my mud and subdue my dust.
John Ruskin 

Today's brown is mud brown. Vandyke brown: a transparent brown natural earth containing usually over 90% of organic matter. It comes from soil and peat and was used by the old masters since the 17th century. Rubens in particular mixed it with gold ochre as a warm, transparent brown - the wonderful Pigments through the Ages in the WebExhibits online museum informs. Vandyke brown was also known as Cassel earth or Cologne earth. Mud brown. I can taste the earth.

ZIG Art & Graphic Twin made by Japanese Kuretake carries water-based blendable ink that comes out of its flexible brush like a dream producing excellent hues and gradations of colour. Even the common brown has a special quality to it - dull and dreary it ain't. And then there is mahogany, dark beige, burnt sienna, bistre, fawn, dark sand, warm sepia and there is Vandyke brown. I feel like a mud bath tonight.

More pens in shades of brown in Art Brown Pens by Faber-Castell and Zig

Monday, 7 February 2011

Brown as in Brown Pens

Brown is peculiar in that it conjures contradictory images. From chocolate cake to human waste products. From autumn leaves to dowdy 1960s carpets. From earth and clay to Nazi Brownshirts. From terracotta pots to mummies. Brown is conflicting like that. It is appropriate that brown follows Palimpsest’s pink posts for (like pink) brown has no place in the colour spectrum. But no need to convince the men to pick up a brown pen. Brown is the colour of beer after all. And it was a man – Joseph Lovibond of Greenwich, London – who invented the world’s first colorimeter to measure the quality of his (brown) beer.

Brown is intriguing in that it contains blue and yellow and green and red and varying hues in between and so I wonder how is it that all these vibrant colours combine to give something as drab as brown. Because brown, let’s face it, has got a bad reputation. Its association with decay has been well documented and indeed there is something earthy and primeval about brown. I do not know why Palimpsest finds itself attracted to brown. It is not even autumn.

The bunch of pens I bought from Cult Pens are all brown (of course) but also have delectable names. The ZIG Art and Graphic Twin for instance has got a flexible brush on one side and a bullet tip on the other and dispenses a wonderful blendable colour: it comes also in gold ochre, mahogany, dark beige, warm sepia, bistre, vandyke brown and dark sand.

Stabilo Pen 68 comes in umber, brown, sienna, light and dark ochre and the Tombow ABT Dual Brush Pen in saddle brown, sand, chocolate, redwood, light and dark ochre, light sand and brown. The brown Uni Ball Signo Scents emits a Coconut scent, while the brown Zebra Sniff Itz smells of Vanilla. PILOT G-2, the G-TEC-C4 and the Fineliner deliver brown results in dependable lines as usual, while the Faber-Castell PITT Artist pen is a wonderful sepia. The PITT comes in a pack of four (S, F, M, Brush nibs) - I got mine from Paperchase.

For everyday use I shall go with the ZEBRA antique Hyper Gel 0.7. I like the sepia/brown/almost black line and the aged appearance of the clear plastic barrel. Brown rules.

Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Inklinks Now Open

A quote posted by fellow blogger friend sums up the new venture of Palimpsest:
"Making things, the production of meaningful artefacts, representation among them, is our reward for loss." And thus, while Palimpsest puts pen to paper, Inklinks makes. 

Inklinks is hosted on Etsy. The ware is vintage desk supplies, writing implements and instruments found in markets (open-air and digital) - from pencil pots to writing boxes and from drawing pins to pencils and nibs. Inklinks will also be making paperweights made out of pebbles and decoupage with old pen adverts. Have a look and let me know what you would like to see there. Inklinks dot Etsy dot Com