At the end of July I had the opportunity to assist John with the set up and running of a 5 day lettering workshop at a small farm in rural Wales.
The students ranged from relative beginners to fully fledged stone/letter carvers, all with their own projects and focusses for the week. To say that I learnt a lot from this experience is an understatement. There is something about teaching that forces you to analyse and think about why you do things in a certain way. Its true when they say that ‘In learning you will teach and in teaching you will learn’.
The preparation for a course like this takes a long time and I was glad to help John for the final few days beforehand, setting up the easels, clearing the barns and preparing the stones for the students to work on. John has used this venue a number of times before and it really is a great set up! The students have the option of staying in a lovely bunkhouse on site and the lunch is provided by a local woman who bakes the best cakes! The course started with a short intro from John and then the students were encouraged to get straight into carving, all carving a letter T in slate that John had drawn up before hand. This helped to warm up and allowed John to see what stage each student was at in their letter carving.
After a session of carving the class divided and sat down to either study the the classical proportions of Roman capitals with me or took part in some experimental exercises with John in order to create a freer lettering style. These exercises included listening to an eclectic range of music whilst drawing, allowing the music to influence the feel of the letters…this ranged from heavy metal music to cats wailing!! The week before the class I was used as a test dummy for this and will be writing another post about the results!!
During the week John also organised a trip to the local churchyard to look at the historical letterforms and a few of his carved headstones. This was a really interesting opportunity to see and discuss all the little details with each other, everyone picking up and seeing different things.
Once back everyone started on their individual projects. John had also invited Tom Perkins down for a couple of days to speak about his work and current projects and to give some extra tuition to the students.
These types of workshops and courses are so valuable for everyone, from beginner to professional letter carver for so many reasons. For beginners its great for building confidence and to get an idea of what is achievable with a little practice and knowledge. And for the more experienced its so good for and picking up on and ironing out any bad habits that have developed in your practice. But most of all I feel its so beneficial to network and socialise with fellow carvers, to share ideas and stories and to support each other.