Fall 2009: Brush Lettering with Carl Rohrs

Posted on: 30 Sep 2009

This was a great workshop… I am still trying to get myself back into the “real world” after 2 days of being in a roomful of like minded artists and friends studying brush lettering Carl Rohrs of Santa Cruz, California. It was a time of reconnecting with old calligraphy friends and making new ones.

Saturday morning we began by working with the flat brush and the Italic hand. Calligraphy has its roots in the flat brush as this is what the Romans used to write their letters on stone before they carved them. Carl says the biggest hurdle with a flat brush is that you cannot “push up” a stroke with control as you can with a pen or pointed brush. So in order to “control” your strokes you must “pull down” all the strokes. Carl stressed the importance of keeping your brush angle consistent so your strokes line up seamlessly. He recommends using a brush with as little water as possible – just enough to make it flow. The more traction you have when writing the more control you have.

rohrs1Carl likes to use gouaches that have lots of “pigment power” such as indigo, Prussian blue, scarlet lake, primary red and jet black.

Sunday we moved on to the pointed brush. Carl shared that lively informal pointed brush lettering comes from 2 basic types of strokes – perpendicular and parallel. The perpendicular stroke is when the brush tip is pointed perpendicular to the stroke direction. This is the pointed pen technique that is predominant and that we are most familiar with. The parallel stroke is made when the tip of the brush is going along the stroke direction. When using the parallel stroke you must be sure to keep in mind your path or where you are going as well as how much pressure to apply. You “lead” the brush around. Pressure and release give the thicks and thins or weight variations in both types of strokes.

The class booklet of lettering samples was worth the price of admission alone. Carl gave each participant a 117 page spiral bound booklet chock full of his lettering samples of edged pen, flat and pointed brush. Enough inspiration to last a lifetime! The inside cover was personalized with each of our names done in a cool raised sign making material.

The booklet was outstanding, but Carl’s true gift is his ability to work with his students. He was able to put clearly into words exactly what he was doing with his letters. He made sure he spent as much time as he could with each individual and met every student at whatever level they were at. He left each one feeling positive about their work as well as armed with more tips to try to make it better.

— edited NB article, by Ann Franke