From her home studio in rural Gordonton Marian Riddell produces beautiful, eye-catching calligraphy. She takes time out of a busy life to talk about her Art. Or is it Science? Possibly both, with a hint of magic…
How did it all start?
My interest in calligraphy started in high school. I had taken a short course and at the end won a prize for my piece of lettering. After leaving school I attended a night class on calligraphy and at the end was asked if I would like to teach the class, as the tutor was moving on. I took on the challenge but felt I needed more help to teach, so wrote to various calligraphy organisations around the world for advice.
One of the groups I contacted was the University of Roehampton in England and I took their correspondence calligraphy course. It took quite a few years to complete but I did get married, have two children and various other adventures in-between! The Roehampton course went on to be run by the Society of Scribes and Illuminators in England, which is still running today. So I have a Certificate in Calligraphy from the Society of Scribes and Illuminators in England.
Is it all based from home? What tools do you need?
My calligraphy studio is based from home in Gordonton. I work four days a week in town doing admin and Fridays have become my ‘Calligraphy day’, but I also do commission work in the evenings and weekends when needed.
I love paper and art shops, especially the ones overseas. I get quite a few of my supplies from overseas – so the internet is great for sourcing these specialised tools and supplies. I mainly use metal dip pens with ink, gouache or watercolour. I can mix my own colours or even add gold or silver in my nibs. My paper of choice is usually high quality art paper.
Where do you sell your work?
I have been doing commission work for many years and have also sold work at the Gordonton Country Market and the Tamahere Market. At the Gordonton market I did names on Christmas baubles with the help of my two daughters Monique and Petra. This was done as a bit of a fundraiser for their school events. They would get the orders and I would calligraphy names onto the baubles at the back of the marquee. It was great for my girls to learn how to interact with the public and I enjoyed some great banter with the locals.
What is your background?
My parents Eric and Jetty Neuman emigrated from Holland in the 1950s and arrived in New Zealand not knowing anyone. My father was an electrical engineer and worked on the various hydro dams in the North Island.
I was born in Taumaranui, but only lived there a short while as our family, comprising myself and two older brothers and parents, moved to Hamilton where dad went on to work at the Hamilton City Council. So Dinsdale became the part of town that I grew up in before meeting a rather nice boy from Gordonton. We dated for some years (seven years really isn’t that long), and got married.
After a short time living in Matangi and Chartwell, we settled down in Gordonton, had two beautiful girls and now live on the daffodil farm known as Clandon Daffodils.
What drew you to calligraphy?
I have always had a fascination with lettering and would doodle for hours and make marks on paper as a child. Then it was fuelled at high school and by doing the calligraphy correspondence course.
My father had a very neat tidy lettering style and I always admired it. I found out in later years after visiting a relation in Holland that my great-grandfather was a calligrapher and he lived in Curacao*. He did beautiful lettering of poems in English and Dutch into a large bound book. I was given this book in 2012 – a very overwhelming experience. It is a much cherished item.
My grandfather’s name was Johannes Philippus Evertsz Neuman (1867) – also known as Papa Bieeuw. So maybe calligraphy is in my genes. My family have been in the shipping industry for years. Both my parents were born in Indonesia (on neighbouring islands). But they did not meet until they got to Holland.
*Curaçao (/ˈkʊrəsaʊ/ KUR-ə-sow or /ˈkjʊərəsaʊ/ KEWR-ə-sow; Dutch: Curaçao, pronounced [kyːraːˈsʌu̯]; Papiamento: Kòrsou) is a Lesser Antilles island in the southern Caribbean Sea and the Dutch Caribbean region, about 65 km (40 mi) north of the Venezuelan coast. It is a constituent country (Dutch: land) of the Kingdom of the Netherlands.
Do you attend workshops or hold any?
I have attended workshops taken by some of the world’s best calligraphers like Susan Hufton (one of the calligraphers of the St Johns Bible**), Luca Barcellona, Brody Neuenschwander, Laurent Pflughupt, Yukimi Annand and Dennis Brown. Plus input from New Zealand calligraphers.
Once a year there is a Melbourne event called Summer School in Winter (SSiW). International tutors attend and usually about 90 students, mainly from Australia and about 10-15 from N Z. I have been six times and intend to go again this July.
**The Saint John’s Bible is the first completely handwritten and illuminated Bible commissioned by a Benedictine Abbey since the invention of the printing press.
How big is the calligraphy community in NZ?
There are not a lot of calligraphers in this country. Many are simply dying off. Hand lettering is not encouraged in schools and the art and crafts are taking a back seat. But thankfully there are three calligraphy groups. There is the New Zealand Calligraphers mainly run from Auckland. The New Zealand Calligraphers has been around since the early 1990s. There is also the Kapiti Calligraphers and Hutt Calligraphers.
There is also a smaller group of Hamilton calligraphers who meet once a month, having workshops at the Gordonton hall and from members’ homes. These groups consist of beginners through to advanced calligraphers.
Do you feel sad at all the computer generated signage around us?
No, I don’t think I feel sad….
If you want a quick sign made then a computer cut lettering sign is sufficient. Sign writing is a whole art in itself and sometimes gets blurred in the calligraphy world. I have seen people try and use different fonts to achieve a ‘calligraphy’ look, and that can make my toes curl!
The computer has offered us different options for lettering. I can use an app on my iPad Pro to do quick layouts and then transform these into calligraphy pieces. I also use my Apple Pencil to do lettering directly onto my computer. It allows me to use different tools and pressures. I am so looking forward to what is coming in the future for lettering. We have a lot to thank Steve Jobs for – he dropped into a calligraphy class at Reed College in his early years and this influenced the fonts he put onto the Apple computer.
Are young people learning calligraphy?
It is great to see in the Kapiti group that they are attracting young members. This is probably helped by the fact that one of the members is Daniel Reeve, who was pivotal in the lettering of The Lord of the Rings. I have been to Kapiti to take a workshop and loved how they are all so welcoming. Calligraphy people are just so nice!
What advice for folk starting out?
If you really want to learn calligraphy and are willing to put in the practice time –it is easily attainable. But practice is the key. I have spent many hours writing the abc’s. Probably once you have mastered a basic style like Italic, then start doing jobs for people. Offer to do envelopes for a friend’s wedding, labels for your aunt’s preserving jars, or even a nice hand-lettered Christmas card. People love the handmade look, and lettering is really popular at the moment… just look on Pinterest! But don’t try to do the ‘fake’ calligraphy, take the time to learn a real skill that can be used in so many different situations.
I have really enjoyed meeting all sorts of people through having a calligraphy business. From happy/stressful wedding couples, a husband wanting a personal poem hand-lettered for his wife, farmers who are organising the Dairy Industry Awards, business people, a rugby museum enthusiast, to the lovely folk at the Hamilton Park Cemetery where I do the Old English lettering in the Book of Remembrance.
What do you love about Gordonton?
Gordonton is great, it’s nice to live in the country and be surrounded by wonderful people. I enjoy being part of the community by being involved in school when my girls were younger, and being part of the Oaks church. So many nice people live in Gordonton. Of course some great daffodils are grown by my husband Ian!