baybayin calligraphy

[A number of sketchbook sheets scattered on a wooden floor. Each sheet bears baybayin calligraphy in translucent black watercolor on its face: the characters pa, ga, a, sa, rendered with a flat-edged brush.]

Pagasa means hope, both act and object. Pagaasa means the act of hoping in/on someone or something; fixing one’s hopes on that someone or something.

It’s interesting, exploring baybayin calligraphy. Unlike with the Latin alphabet, there isn’t as much of an accessible, widely-known, established tradition to draw from, and because I hardly read or write baybayin as often as I read or write Latin letters, the forms aren’t as familiar. So every piece of baybayin calligraphy I do is an exploration: of line and curve and shape and how these can interact with each other in meaningful and beautiful ways. I’m no expert in calligraphy, but every time I come to it I’m rendered breathless by how the heart of it, really, is the purity and the grace and the confidence of the stroke, the bones of the letter forms.

I’m not one for rigid rules with regard to rendering baybayin. Part of this is because relatively little is known with any degree of definitive certainty, but also because in my experience as a Filipino educated in the Philippines and briefly in the USA, more often than not I’ve been stifled by linguistic conventions that do more to harm than to aid communication: having to prove I could speak English well, having to arm myself with unimpeachable grammar because teachers were all too willing to jump on any mistake, having to follow all these rules because otherwise I was an inauthentic Filipino- or English-speaker. Even now I have to consciously fight against this fear that tells me I’m doing it wrong with regard to my language, that my grammar is awful, that I should give up anyway because I’m not so much of a stickler that I’ll distinguish between “kwento” and “kuwento”, “nalang” and “na lang”. Some conventions are useful. Others push people to the margins.

That’s why I do baybayin freely: top to bottom, bottom to top; syllabically, etymologically, whichever way feels best to me to say what I want to say. Not because I don’t respect it, but because I do respect it enough to claim it at whatever cost and to take full responsibility for what I express through this system of writing. These letters are mine; I’ll learn to write them.

[Image: in broad-stroked red baybayin calligraphy, bottom to top and left to right - nasaan ka araw. Below, in narrow script handwriting, the symbol & and walang tigil ang ulan.]



(Obvious LSS: Nakapagtataka, and yes, I misquote lyrics all the time.)

[Image: in flowing black baybayin calligraphy: ‘panginoon’.]

I’m trying some things, experimenting with styles inspired by non-Western calligraphic traditions – there is so much to be learned from Islamic calligraphy, for instance. What it does to the letterforms is, I feel, much more suited to baybayin’s glyphs than a lot of traditional Western approaches are.

'Panginoon’ is 'lord’ in Filipino.

(And, um, hello again! I’m back @_@;;;;!)

[Image: in black calligraphy, intertwined letters for baybayin ‘halaman’, surrounded by stylized floral ink ornamentation.]

More experimentation with baybayin. This came after several failed attempts to do a sheet of italics, and went on to consume several hours of pretty intense pointed pen work.

Broad-edge and pointed pens, Moon Palace sumi and J Herbin Perle Noire ink. Halaman is Filipino for 'plant’. Actual size is approximately 2.5 x 2.5 inches.

[Image: on a tan background, black calligraphy in flowing baybayin: ‘malaya’, its English translation 'free’ written below it in brown Latin alphabet script.]

My first baybayin tattoo design! I know at least one person has used some of my (practice) calligraphy for a tattoo, but this is the first piece I designed specifically with a tattoo in mind. Digital calligraphy with Inkscape, background and assembly in Photoshop.

Usage guidelines for the curious: I’m going to release this design as one of the free tattoo designs on my site. If you’re interested in using this, I’d advise you to wait until the site release since this image isn’t at a very print-friendly resolution. Any questions, feel free to message me!

[Image: In rough-edged, flowing blue strokes, “umaga” in baybayin calligraphy, with gold accents.]

Umaga means morning. I got up quite early today to try out my folded pen – it’s such an interesting tool! And it goes beautifully with free-form calligraphy paintings. I’ve been gone quite a while because I’ve been unwell, but I think this is a good way to get back in the groove. Greeting the morning with calligraphy.

I was asked some time ago whether I’m selling the originals of the pieces I post here, and my reply is – yes, usually the pieces are for sale, except for the ones I do on scratch paper, since those are… not very sellable! Some are, though! This one, for instance, is done on thick paper and signed, so it’s definitely not scratch paper material and quite frame-able. You can also ask me to render something in a style I’ve used in any of the pieces posted here; that works, too!

And okay, work work work!

[Baybayin calligraphy in red ink on a white pad; at the edges of the image frame, a black nib holder, a crumpled piece of tissue paper, and a dark-capped bottle of red calligraphy ink.]

Practice calligraphy; working on a somewhat “scripty” style for baybayin. The words are tala and liwana[g], and the rows of symbols on the left corner of the pad stand for a, ba, ka, and… ta. (Yeah I still forget how to do some letters I don’t use often. Thus the need for more frequent practice.)

This was done with a steel nib in very bad condition, using red Winsor and Newton calligraphy ink on a Rhodia pad. First time to use calligraphy ink on Rhodia paper (and only second time to use Rhodia paper, haha) and I am in love. Love love love. After doing so much calligraphy on rough paper it’s such a joy to feel the nib glide over the paper.

[Image: split in two halves: the left side, showing repeated iterations of the word ‘malaya’ in baybayin; the right side, showing two variations on 'ad astra per aspera’ in connected script characters – both done with a black brush pen.]

lauraliest asked in zir reblog of my previous post about commissions and tattoos, and I do not know how to reply (ssshhh I’m not on Tumblr very often) so I am just making a post with a picture of some designs in progress. Hee.

I do commissions of all kinds – I stopped for quite a while, but I’ll start taking them again sometime next month – and my favorite ones are the ones that require me to do a lot of detail! I don’t have any shareable tattoo designs yet but I’m working on a few, like the ones shown there. (The right design is for a friend.) They’re still very rough, though; I’m just at the concept stage, nowhere near final rendering.

I’d like to have my art site up by next month (hahhhhh) and there I do want to offer some free tattoo designs, like a few baybayin ones and a few more… draw-y ones (I want to draw wings! flowers! birds!) for anyone who wants to snag them. I like freebies :3!

[Image: in magenta ink on white paper, the curved shape of the baybayin ‘a’, repeated in a tiling pattern in varying sizes.]

In calligraphy you’re taught to do strokes, because the letter shouldn’t be drawn but constructed from a harmony of strokes, one after the other. So if I’m to do baybayin calligraphy, it’s not enough for me to know what the letters look like and simply imitate that; rather, each basic stroke used to construct a letter has to be practiced to learn its rhythm and fundamental form. Again. And again. And again.

The first style I’m working on is I guess the equivalent of simple italic hands for Latin alphabets; broad-edged nib, more or less 45 degree angle. (The photo was taken at an angle, so 45 degrees looks… much less, haha, sorry!) The open-mouthed curve of the 'a’ is also present in some form in the 'ma’ and 'pa’ letters. As I did this exercise I tried to find some uniformity while keeping some distinction between the downstroke and the 45-degree upstroke, so that if the page is turned counter-clockwise it will still be clear which side is which; I don’t want the open mouth to be perfectly symmetrical.

The ink is J Herbin Larmes de Cassis, which has beautiful shading and a nice hue; Brause broad-edged nib.

[Image: in gold acrylic accented with black ink, gestural baybayin for ‘himagsikan’; placed in the center of the baybayin, Latin letters for 'revolution’ in deep blood-red ink, accented with rough splatters.]

I wanted to play with paint and color today. I like the effect enough that I might return to this someday and make a more polished version of it. (It might do well as a two-color shirt design, too!)

Brain fried, so not much commentary today, sorry. My in-progress illustrations are sucking all the life out of me.


[Curved calligraphy strokes in black baybayin ta and la dominate smaller letters that render in blackletter calligraphy: ang bituin at araw niya kailan pa ma'y di magdidilim. Calligraphy ink and acrylic on coldpress watercolor paper.]

Practice for a calligraphy painting (project? maybe it will turn into a project?) I’m thinking of doing. Lines from Lupang Hinirang. I used to… not need a lot of practice paintings for my previous calligraphy work, but these things I’m doing are more complicated composition- and technique-wise now.

Tala in this piece means star.

[Image: on a woven mat, two white sheets with calligraphy rendered in blue, purple, and gold acrylic with large, broad brushes– on the left, ‘maharlika’ in gestural baybayin and chunky Latin letters; on the right, a stylized wing/flame shape with 'yes we shall take flight on other wings’ in the same thick letters.]

I could say I was doing studies for a rather… complicated painting I’m working on for an exhibit – after almost two years of not doing any serious painting – but the truth is my fingers and wrists are giving me trouble and this was the easiest way I could play with color and stroke and paint.

Hah! …Hah.

So what did these studies teach me? That, erm, the kind of effect I want to achieve needs more precision than I thought…?

The painting needs to be finished in less than a week, I am so doomed.