Where did you get this passion for calligraphy ? What is your background ?
It is at the Saint-Luc Arts School of Gand that I discovered calligraphy, and I studied graphics. We had a few hours of calligraphy, a course provided by Professor Jef Boudens, one of the very few calligraphists of Belgium by that time. His love and enthusiasm for this discipline raised my curiosity, but I quickly understood that his way of teaching was a little outdated, and that I had to find another solution if I wanted to really learn this job, or rather this kind of job, since there is no proper calligraphy school in Belgium, nor elsewhere. I was lucky to meet one of the greatest French calligraphists, Claude Mediavilla, during a first calligraphy course in Provence. This first training course was followed by many more, then, at the end of my studies, I settled in Paris and became Mediavilla’s assistant. Our collaboration lasted about 14 years.
The range and quality of your works displays the extent of your knowledge in graphic arts. Who are your customers ?
I work for a large range of customers. Among these, there are some editors for whom I make the graphic design of several art books and magazines. On the other hand, I design logotypes, writing papers or business cards; I make diplomas, family trees, … Private people also call in, I write calligraphies or poems on order. I draw botanic illustrations, too.
You’ve been working in Paris for several years, why did you leave this city to settle in Provincial France ?
To be frank, to breath better … With my husband Carlos Sanchez-Alamo, who is an art bookbinder, we had long planned to open a gallery-studio, but looking at the price of house rentals in Paris, we ended up renovating a shop in La Charité-sur-Loire, a major City of Books. We opened the place in December 2007, and I share the space with Carlos.
|Apart from calligraphies, you also exhibit abstract paintings; what led you to abstraction ?
In Asian cultures, painting and calligraphy are considered as complementary activities, sometimes even inseparable from each other. This is not the case in Occident, where calligraphy is often watched condescendingly by the universe of visual arts, and in one way I understand why. There are too many so called calligraphies, made by untrained people who mix calligraphy and handwriting. It is important to stress that handwriting, that must be legible before all and where we are more interested in content than in general form, has nothing to do with calligraphy, since the latter does not necessarily need to be read.
Calligraphy is the art of stroke. Calligraphy is a gathering of strokes, be it legible or not. The whole of it must be living and harmonious. The colours play an important role, but the shape takes precedence over colour. At the beginning of my training, I thought that calligraphy was limited to “nice handwriting”, but I quickly realized that a professional needs many years of practice to reach a fair level. I really regret that people who only attended one or two calligraphy training courses provided by what ever person immediately pretend that they are calligraphists, thus giving a bad image of this discipline. Since most of the people are not able to judge whether a work is good or bad, everything is possible. The calligraphy gesture is very accurate, and there can’t be any expression without a long apprenticeship of classic shapes. To master the strokes, you need at least ten years of practice with a good teacher. Therefore, you always have to question yourself and accept your mistakes. Without a severe critic, one can’t move forward, one end up repeating the same mistakes without realizing it. You sometimes have to forget about your pride.
If I hadn’t assimilated all of these classic shapes, I could not make abstract gestural calligraphy the way I do it today. Although the shapes are abstract, the movements I make are calligraphic gestures, somewhat the strokes that formed the letters are decomposed and recomposed in order to form an abstract image.
What tools and techniques do you use ?
It all depends on the type of work I have to realize. For a gothic, I use Brause large quills, or the Automatic Pens ones; for a chancery, I use Brause or Mitchell quills. For an English letter, very delicate, I use Zig-Zag or Hiro quills, or even some very tiny quills like some of the Brandauer’s make. Unfortunately, you don’t find these tools easily nowadays. Some quills can be found in France in a few shops or with collectors, others are only available with foreign traders in Germany, Belgium, the United-States …Then, of course, you have the goose quill, still the best existing tool. I also use the Chinese brush, or sometimes, a simple piece of wood or cardboard.
As for colours, I use watercolours, gouache, pigments, Chinese ink in stick, or a special soft ink for monotypes and engravings. You can also make your home made ink very easily. A good ink must somewhat “stick” to the nib, and not beiquid. It tends to too lharden with the passing of time, thus requesting some additional water from time to time.
As for paper, almost all papers can be used : watercolours paper, Bristol, various Moulins papers, and of course, parchment for the most prestigious works.
Can you realize calligraphy with a nib pen and traditional ink ?
I never use a nib pen; some makes have produced special nibs for calligraphy, but the results are quite disappointing, since the ink flows too quickly, and it is impossible to obtain proper upstrokes with this kind of tool. Not even mentioning the fact that the ink can obstruct the nib’s pipe if you don’t use the pen often enough.
Is it possible to live by calligraphy nowadays ?
I must admit that I don’t live exclusively by my art; a big part of my time is devoted to the making of booklets, books and other publications that are computer assisted, but I always try to bring in some living elements, I integrate my own creations in the layout, and give a particular attention to typography. You must know that the “professional” calligraphists are still a small minority; most of them do not live by their quill and have other activities, either as a graphic artist or a private teacher, since there is no specific regulation for this job : any one can say he is a calligraphist and start his own job.
Has your work been published yet ?
My work has been published several times, especially in art reviews like Arts & Métiers du Livre (Art & Book Works), Pixel Creation, Plumes (Quills). I also illustrated a text from Vercors, “Les Mots” (The Words), published by Editions Alternatives, Paris, 2004. In 2006, Carlos and I edited a selection of unpublished poems written by Lionel Ray, printed by a lead-typography workshop, la Zone Opaque, and illustrated with four of my engravings. A print run of 46 only, on hand-made paper from Moulins Capellades : this is a collector book. I also edited about forty Christmas cards, and some engravings with limited edition. I have a permanent exhibition in my studio, and take part to various exhibitions on a regular basis.
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Mots-clefs : Calligraphy, Els Baekelandt