Eva Driskell and Lynda Jordan, calligraphers, with Esther Kello
Esther Kello, née Inglis (1570/1-1624) by an unknown artist, dated 1595 © Scottish National Portrait Gallery, Edinburgh
Eva Driskell: I feel an affinity with Esther that has nothing to do with calligraphy (or her fabulous hat!). She was the daughter of Huguenot refugees from France and my mother was also a refugee at the end of the Second World War and claimed Huguenot heritage. This woman pictured on a gallery wall, who looks so much part of the establishment, was struggling to support her family in a new country and a language that was not her own (just as so many do today).
In Esther’s time the world was moving fast from illiteracy towards an education in reading and writing for many. We are also at a time of great change for writing – most adults use handwriting only for lists and greetings cards. So just as in Tudor times beautiful writing is an obscure, much-admired and sought-after skill.
Jobbing calligraphers today make a living through writing envelopes, certificates and placecards, none of which was an option in Esther’s day. However the sheer painstaking craft experience of accurately ruling up and repeating letterforms would be the same for both of us.
Esther would have used a quill and written on vellum (calfskin) and I have also recently been curing quills for family workshops. This involves soaking the goose feathers, drying them in a pan of hot sand and then trimming and cutting them with a very sharp knife. Thankfully my thumbs have survived unscathed this time.
Lynda Jordan: Esther Kello wrote around 59 manuscripts between 1586-1624, many for dignitaries and royalty. It is likely she did not work to commission, but rather wrote the manuscripts and presented them in the hope of getting paid. My role as a calligrapher is somewhat different to Kello’s in Elizabethan times. I generally do work to commission, with the client telling me what they would like, which script they prefer and when they would like the work to be finished. Rather than writing manuscripts made into little books like Esther, I usually do calligraphy for events, writing invitations, placecards and envelopes. I do the calligraphy at home or I work on site wherever the event is taking place, which is always fun! My work enables me to meet lots of interesting people, from my clients, to others in the calligraphy and lettering world.
I studied calligraphy with the University of Sunderland and am glad of the formal education I received. It was two well-spent years learning the fundamentals of letterforms. Esther’s mother was an accomplished calligrapher and Esther was taught by her. I very much admire the work of people like Esther and am grateful for the chance to study their manuscripts as we can learn so much from them.
Calligraphy is a traditional craft which is alive and well and is still very relevant in today’s world.