Sabine Pick • Pick Me
I have featured the talented Sabine Pick of Pick Me Handlettering & Letterpress before, but I hadn’t had the pleasure previously of an interview. I just knew it was going to be good one as Sabine in our correspondence has always been very open, honest and passionate about her life and craft. I love Sabine’s unique hand, so loose and effortless (looking) but it has that perfect amount of needed polish so as to not look too naive (just love it!). Trust me as someone that admires this style, it is not easy to create! I learned a ton of new tricks from Sabine from her interview (hopefully you will too) and was so happy to find out she found a resource from little ol’ me. As always, feel free to ask questions in the comments and either Sabine or myself will try to answer them and also please show Sabine your love so we can continue getting more artists to take time out of their busy schedules to answer these questions for us!
here are you located?
Byron Bay, a beautiful tiny seaside town on the most Easterly point of Australia.
How did you get started in lettering?
I have always loved lettering and using pen and ink. My tools, however, were very crude for some years. And still sometimes! When I was 18 I did a week long course with Donald Jackson, who is the Queens scribe, U.K. He taught how to cut a goose quill and how to ‘set it’ in hot sand. For many years I didn’t promote myself as a letterer or calligrapher. My former full-time occupation was as a graphic design/art director in magazine publishing. I often used my hand lettering in my page designs and layouts. Often other designers or art directors would ask me if I could do some lettering for them. I did some work I really loved, whilst living in London, England. For example some gold lettering to mimic a patterned dress that Naomi Campbell was wearing on a Harper’s & Queen cover and some lettering for a Harrods perfume catalogue. Recently I realised that lettering is what I do truly love more than anything else artistic, and why not do what I love! So now, I only do calligraphy and lettering – no more graphic design! This year I had decided to learn more about calligraphy and its tools. So I am re-educating myself so that I can understand more about the tools of lettering and calligraphy.
What are some of your favourite supplies?
Some of my most favourite supplies are some of the most recent finds. I have found a couple from you. Until recently I have never used an oblique pen holder. Now I use it all the time. I scour through John Neal Books catalogue and I read up on products and sometimes I order them to try out. They also have on their website links to supply lists from calligraphy instructors. I scroll through these and feel I learn a lot more about what other supplies are around. I’ve recently also started using gouache a lot more. Instead of dipping into the ink, I fill the pen with a brush. This slows the process down which suits me well as I can tend to rush. I also use pipettes to fill my pen nib. I like using tracing paper to write on, as I can get great scratchy marks without putting holes into it. For fine artwork I like using smooth finish Hahnemühle fine art paper. There is so much about paper I don’t know yet. I don’t normally like paper that has a lot of texture. My handwriting tends to be messy and this doesn’t really suit textured papers. Choosing the right side of the paper is sometimes tricky. For just practicing, a smooth Bond paper is fine. I like to use a Mitchells Pedigree 0622 M gold nib (try Ebay). It is a very firm nib. John Heath Birmingham, The Grand Pen 44 are great for fine line work (I’m not sure they produce these any more). I also love the Nikko G nib. I am hoping to find a glass nib one day as I have been told that the line work is very fine. My favourite ink is Sumi ink. I really like walnut ink when doing experimental work for its tonal value. I have tried many other calligraphy inks as well, but Sumi ink is the one I come back to all the time.
Can you name some of your inspirations?
Lettering and modern calligraphy from other artists really inspire me. It makes my heart skip a beat to see what wonderful swirls or curls they create! Calligrapher Brody Neuenschwander is my lettering hero. When I first saw his work in the film ‘The Pillow Book” (directed by Peter Greenaway in 1996) I felt I had found a lettering soul mate. It made me realise that I was on the right path to do lettering that had personality. I still find his work so inspiring.I am always attracted to forms that are imperfect. I find my work is like that. Subtle colours of greys or watered down ink, shadows, smudges, scratchy lettering and mistakes. The not perfect! I love second hand book stores and finding monographs from artists or old architecture books with pages of tracing paper. I like old, light coloured, linen book covers, books with a modern vintage aesthetic. I like Swedish clean lines and books and magazine covers from the 1960s. I have a great book on “French Artists and their books”. This has drawings from posters from the 1930s to the 1960s. So many of the artists they feature use lettering in their work, Picasso being one of them. I adore tracing paper – Glassine envelopes and mismatched envelopes. I am very lucky that I have my own studio space that isn’t also at home so my daily space inspires me. I few years ago I lived for a short period in Munich, Germany, I found in a local flea market, dozens of hand written letters from 1880s to 1930s. They were mostly formal letters from lawyers and some even have seals stamped on them. I would have paid anything for them! They still make my heart sing when I look at them. Surprisingly there are many with written errors!
Can you go a little into your process of how you work on a project?
I always use tracing paper. I will write the individual words out over and over again until I have the lettering just how I want it to look. Then I scan into a computer, each individual word and build it together. I don’t often retouch the letters, as I love the bits that are a bit askew, but that often depends on the client. Once I have built it, I will see if it all works well with each other and then perhaps redo small elements or letters.
Any tips for newbies on how to develop their own style?
I have tried to emulate other lettering artists but have never managed to get my lettering to look as good as theirs! So now I don’t even try. I love nothing more than to get ink on my pen and just doodling and trying strokes. I think that lettering is such an expression of the body and I try to make my lettering have feeling. I would suggest going to calligraphy classes to get knowledge of some of the tools that can be used and learn letter formation. You need to train your arm and hand to hold the pen and how to use your whole arm instead of just your hand. So the lettering comes from your whole body. By being comfortable making letters you can then change them. I have always learnt something from taking a class. From there you can begin to work out how you want your lettering to look. Then just practice!
Any recommendations of books or classes for lettering enthusiasts to further their studies?
This year I joined several calligraphy societies in Australia. Even though they offer more formal training, there are often courses available on less formal and gestural calligraphy. If you sign up to John Neal Books’ newsletter they have a section at the very end where they have links on courses around the whole world. It’s a great resource and provides links to something near you or perhaps a class that would further your interest. I have a few books, but one I really love is ‘Three classics of Italian calligraphy‘. I also watch “Youtube” for calligraphy videos. I am doing a course with calligrapher Monica Dengo later this year, she runs modern writing workshops and is based in Italy. Three months ago, I did a 3 day workshop with Netherland calligrapher, Elmo van Slingerland – it was very challenging.
Do you have some favourite projects you would like me to mention?
I have, these last few years, collected a couple of letterpress printers (C&P and Vendercook), which are quite hard to come by in Australia, and now combine hand lettering and letterpress. This is such a divine combination! I find there is nothing more beautiful than the sensual texture of imperfect handwriting and debossing. It exudes such emotion and feeling!
Any advice on what ‘not’ to do?
I don’t like taking on rush jobs. I have made too many mistakes trying to create lettering on limited time. I get stressed and the pen doesn’t work how I want it to. Also my first envelope job was a nightmare! I was asked to use gold ink and had never used it before. I didn’t understand how difficult it was to use. I should also have clarified to the client that my lines weren’t going to be straight. Now I take an image with my mobile phone and send a message to them. This clears up unspoken issues quickly. I also need to keep my work space tidier. I lose things and drive myself crazy!
Name one random talent you have that people may not know?
I can juggle. I can’t do it very well now, but I actually used to teach people in England at markets! If I can juggle, anyone can juggle!