A look at lettering artist Joan Quirós
Meeting at The Book Club near Old St, I am ready to talk and do some serious lettering and calligraphy with Joan Quiros. We’d chatted many months ago via email when I first started looking into promoting the work of UK-based artists. Here we are, finally getting together in person, kind of accidentally in the midst of a sign painting exhibition, no less.
We settle in at the end of a long, shared cafeteria-style table at The Book Club, just entering its evening phase shift from workspace to after-work drinks space, with a cold drink each and an excited rattle (well, my excited rattle: Joan is much more relaxed about the whole thing than me) of our calligraphy-equipment satchels.
We talk for the best part of an hour about Joan — his work and inspiration — before moving into a more practical mode of him showing me his calligraphy gear and styling. The lights progressively dim to set the mood for the usual evening guests, but we plough on through trying out the assorted nibs and brush pens that he has to hand. He shows me his hand made sumi and walnut inks, stored in gorgeous little jam jars, and I’m in awe. “Make your own ink?” What a brilliant idea. For Joan, it’s part of his ritual:
"When I start the day, or when I start a practice session, I make my own ink and try to meditate. One of my calligraphy teachers in Spain was doing this, and I find it special because you’re writing with your own ink — this thing you have done with your own hands — okay, it’s not made with your hands from scratch, but you are deciding and creating how intense it is."
I would describe Joan’s style as organic, and, learning of this more raw and stripped back approach, I see now why. After years working as a graphic designer, Joan longed to be more tactile with his creativity — to step away from the computer screen and use his hands, taking it back to his graffiti roots in Spain where he could first stretch his creativity and connect socially with other artists. As he puts those hands to work showing me the paper and tools he uses, with graceful long fingers and a stayed patience, I watch and understand exactly how much effort goes into perfecting these techniques.
"All the stuff that I post takes me many more times than one go to get it right. It took me three, five, 10 times to make that piece. I try to push myself to the next level. It could be done better; let’s do it better. I encourage people to only upload their best. That’s your work. It’s who you are. Sometimes when people ask me for advice, I tell them 'publish only your best work', and 'be careful where you are taking your references from'.
"Recently, Oriol Miro told me the best thing you can do is to study and copy manuscripts. These are the roots, and you have to study them to improve; to look at how the ancients were doing it. I love doing this. I see a lot of people taking their references from the internet, and a lot of people doing the same things. They start breaking the rules, but they are breaking rules that they don’t know. And to break the rules, you have to know all the rules very well.
“Take Luca Barcellona, for example. You can see those roots from his work. He has studied calligraphy first — all the structures, and now he is developing his own style. He didn’t start with expressive calligraphy. He started studying calligraphy: the most academic form, and then developed his own style.”
Joan acknowledges he is lucky to have outstanding teaching influences who, with their purist approach to lettering, have given him a solid foundation and continued critical eye upon which to build his own style. He credits Ivan Castro, his first teacher, Oriol Miro, and Keith and Amanda Adams for finding his groove to continue learning, when he originally threw it in.
"When I started calligraphy, I started on my own, but I got frustrated the first time. It was very chaotic because I was just attempting individual letters — an ‘a’ or an ‘o’ — and I didn’t see any progress.
"I started classes, and my teachers have taught me that you have to be disciplined; you have to be a little bit purist. I think it’s important to have that teacher figure.
"You can learn on your own; you can be self taught, but I think you need someone in your life who tells you, ‘that’s okay; that’s not okay — you’re doing it wrong’. I’m pretty lucky that two of my teachers watch what I upload and give critical feedback telling me when I can do it better."
Joan Quiros’ lettering tools of choice
Joan brought with him three rolls full of calligraphy and lettering implements, and selection of his favourite papers to show me. I’ve included some links, but you can also do some research to source the best supplier for you. Before we launch into that, check out Joan in action in his very awesome logo video.
- Greyboard cover cartridge paper (110 gsm) from Atlantis Art Materials
- Daler & Rowney Sketching paper (95 gsm) from Jackson’s Art Supplies
- Daler & Rowney 20pp A5 sketch (160 gsm)from Cornelissen & Son
Nibs and pens
- DIY Cola pen (made from coke can) - works best on watercolour
- Baionette Baignol & Farjon
- Blanzy Poure Zig Zag
- Gillot 907 (one of Joan’s faves: so fine and flexible)
- Zebra G
- Brause Bandzug - makes you hold it right for gothic and italic 45 degree angle (max 5mm and min ½ min)
- William Mitchell Round Hand Square Cut (for Gothic and Italics — more flexible)
- Ruling Pen
- Folded pen
- Carpenter’s pencil (great for sketching Roman. Sharpen with a blade and sand paper).
- Automatic pen (for gothic and italic) although Joan doesn’t like as much. Same system as the Pilot Parallel Pen
- Joan buys his walnut crystals (Van Dyke crystals) from Cornellisen’s and mixes with ironing water.
- Ecoline ink (great saturated colour) from Paint Works on Kingsland St
Bushes and brush pens
- Daler Rowney — short flat ½” and ¼”
- Da Vinci 6 374
- Speedball steel brush from Scribblers
- Kuratake flat brush
- Pentel aqua brush
- Pentel pocket brush (carries easily with separate cartridges)
- Kuratake Waterbrush – 2 Way – Flat head (great for small font: more control/rubber nib)
- Muji brush pen (shorter tip and can do smaller things)
- Tombow Fudenosuke Brush Pen from Jetpens