Paul Antonio is a calligrapher extraordinaire. He trained as a Scribe and Heraldic Artist (what wonderful job titles!) and went on to study Archaeological Illustration. He takes great pleasure in introducing others to the creative, relaxing art of calligraphy and recently collaborated with Rhodia on the creation of the PAScribe calligraphy pads. He very kindly took time out of his studio to 'talk' to us (virtually, of course, in these Strange Times) so we could find out more about him. Here we go…
How would you describe your work?
My work is principally influenced by historical study and generally has more of a formal feel to it. I was always fascinated with history; some of my earliest memories of writing was seeing Ancient Egyptian Hieroglyphs and that really stunned me. Others are of old maps and the writing on botanical and wildlife illustration and then later on illuminated manuscripts. These things proudly influenced not only what inspires me but what my work is like.
What got you into calligraphy?
When I was 9 years old, my brother and I used to trace typefaces when we were kids and one day he came home with a traced ‘Old English’ font which was magical for me. That led me to getting a Speedball Dip Pen set. I sat with booklet and worked diligently looking at the shapes and started to see the depth in the writing. Accuracy was something that fascinated me as an OCD child, and calligraphy was right up that street. The sheer variety of the scripts really excited me. I next moved to Italic and then Copperplate scripts, all in my mid-teens. Copperplate always fascinated me because it was the script I saw most on maps and botanical illustrations.
Where do you get your ideas or inspiration from?
I love nature and how the forms in nature can teach us so much. I find great inspiration in the colour combinations you see in plants and animals, especially the plumage of birds. Next up would be patterns in nature and how the Golden Ratio is tied to these patterns. Illuminated Manuscripts are a huge source of inspiration for me as well, as are other writing systems and their accompanying decoration.
What are you currently working on?
I have more projects on than I choose to admit, for fear of scaring myself! The most recent project has just came to fruition. After having to keep quiet for two years, I was finally able to announce that the PAScribe Rhodia Pads I had been developing with Rhodia were released. I wanted something that didn’t exist on the market: a black pad with super fine black lines, and a grey pad with delicate grey lines. I wanted these because I love writing letters and love light on dark. I worked closely with Rhodia on choosing the right papers and getting the lines the correct thickness and colour. I also wanted the paper to be a joyful experience to write on. The pads are now out, and they are magical. The next project is a tool I am working on which will augment the usability of the pads in ways which will shock people. I also have some online content to teach calligraphy and that is an ongoing project. I am also working on a subscription box and getting that content together is really exciting me. I'm also working on setting up the newsletter, and that is exciting but the technical side of it is challenging as I always tell people I struggle to see the chlorophyll from the trees!
How long does it normally take to complete a project?
That sort of depends on the project. If I am writing out text, it depends on if it is just text only or if there is illumination and painting needed. If it is one of the many ideas I have running around in my head where I am aiming to make a tool, then that takes more time. Currently I have about 60 ideas for products which would make writing simpler and more fun. I have a tonne of online content I am currently working on but because of how I break things down, it is taking longer than I had anticipated. For me it is really taking it back to a point where you never even consider, and it is those basic things which I really like to push practitioners to question. This is a wonderful approach and is always an eyeopener, but it inevitably ensures all the projects take longer to come to fruition.
What are your top 5 pens/pencils?
I feel this is a trick question! How does one narrow down the myriad of tools one uses? I guess calligraphically, I would start with some Hunt22B Nibs and Gillott 303 nibs, they are by far my favourite tools to work with as I do a lot of very fine Copperplate and Spencerian scripts, but also I love drawing with them because of the fineness of line you can get out of them. For a broad edged nib, I love William Mitchell Round Hand Nibs, for much the same reason: sharpness and fineness of nibs. Since my pads came out I have been loving the Sakura Gelly Rolls as they work exquisitely on the papers and I have been doing a mountain of correspondence. Zig Calligraphy 2 and Scroll and Brush Markers I love. Pentel Touch pens are a must. For pencils it's a toss-up between Blackwings and Derwent. I love my Derwent 8B pencils as well as the Inktense Pencils. For metallics, my go to is Coliro Pearlcolours. See, I can't do that in 5!
What work are you most proud of?
I love the fact that I still get to handwrite some of the laws for the United Kingdom, which the Queen signs. It always brings tears to my eyes that I have that opportunity to be a part of history. I was also blessed with the gift of being able to publish my own unique approach and theory in writing my book ‘Copperplate Script – A Yin & Yang Approach’. That book has led to all sorts of wonderful discoveries and helped me to push the boundaries of how I perceive writing.
What tips do you have for aspiring artists/designers?
Learn how your tools work. I mean really learn how they work. Learn how to make discrete shapes. Being able to make straight links will dramatically change the way you can do anything. Learn how to produce a circle. Really break it down. These two shapes, the straight line and the circle are the basis for how we see and execute lines. Practise daily, and that doesn’t have to all be physical it must also be cerebral. Think about the practise, look at what you did physically and think through the process. The thinking about the doing allows you to improve in leaps and bounds. Patience is a virtue; rushing to get something done will only ensure it is not done well. Take your time and breathe - so many people hold their breath when they are working! AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, smile when you are working. Such a small thing to do but it dramatically changes the way you interact with the work. It engenders peace and calm in the work. It pours happiness into the work, and others see that, feel it and will be drawn to your work because of it.