In 1997, Brian was invited by the Ruskin Gallery in Sheffield, UK to submit work for an exhibition entitled Letter Forms and Letter Functions.

This highly successful show saw 9,000 visitors through the doors of the old gallery in Norfolk Street. This exhibition provided the opportunity to play with creative ideas and come up with some new and unusual images.

Much experimentation involved the repetition or rotation of single letters into organic arrangements. A variety of materials included sheepskin parchment, raised gold, a move away from two dimensions to calligraphy in relief, vellum covered cut-out letters, delicate natural objects such as: gilded dried leaves, snail shells, polished pebbles, even sealing wax and seals all invited the viewer to experience a changed point of view in the same way we sometimes like a change of air.

Those old ideas resurfaced years later to provide inspiration for new images, yet at the same time using quite old-fashioned and very underrated techniques and materials; detailed pencil drawing, tracing and delicate use of coloured pencil combined with ordinary lead pencils. Brian was fascinated by what magically happens when a single letter is repeated tile-like around four quadrants and how collectively the combination of line, shape and space start to create new and unexpected semi-abstract forms. Visual memories also played an important emotional role in the whole making process, thus calligraphy, fine art, nature and personal recollections all intertwine. There were no preconceived ideas apart from the notion that some letter forms would work better repeated than others, and Brian  explored this concept with various letters. As colour, light, shade, contrast, texture and pattern are patiently and delicately added, and as the construction takes form, a transformation begins to happen. This is the exciting bit. Whilst still recognisable as letters these small constructions and pen-made marks metamorphose into trees and tree roots. Rubber stamps become tumble down moss-covered stone walls. Letter forms freeze into winter. As if magically it would seem, combinations of single letters materialise into flowers, Celtic shields, butterflies, worn battle flags. Titles merely reflect that which came to mind as Brian worked. Hence the reason for calling this series of pieces, ‘Transformations’.

Artist, Paul Klee once stated, “Art does not reproduce the visible; it renders visible”. Brian believed that this was true of calligraphy as it is of painting or drawing though much of his Transformations was more about drawing than actual writing with a pen.

Transformation 1 – Branches (3.3 square)

Branches began life as three italic letter Ks written in Higggins Ink with a bagpipe reed (figure 1) and arranged around three of the four quadrants. To create the new image, the original pen sketch was scanned into the computer and cropped square thus severing the ascending strokes of the letters, parts of their ovals and the exit tails. This now semi-abstract black and white Photoshop image was then printed out (figure 2), the tail of each of the letters written back in with the same reed pen and the rest of the design left cropped and fragmented. Thin branch lines were later added using a pointed nib. A tracing (figure 3) was then finally made and transferred to Windsor & Newton HP Lana Aquarelle Grain Satine paper (sadly no longer available). With a limited palette of blue, purple and brown Caran d’ache watercolour pencils (used dry) each shape (think shape rather than letter) was painstakingly shaded a tiny area at a time using extremely light layers; colour overlapping colour.

Shading was applied in several directions to avoid that one-way scribbled look. The coloured pencil work was over-worked with ordinary 2H and 2B lead pencils not only to create the three dimensional light and shade (think Cubism), but also to tone down the colour and add the tree bark texture copied from observation. Much use of a plastic eraser, dabbed rather than rubbed, softened the pencil work and added subtlety. In fact, there was practically as much eraser work used as there was pencil. The whole piece taking four days of very patient work to complete.

Transformation 2 – Tree Roots and Old Stone Walls (10cm x 10.5cm)

This piece began as four uncial letter A’s again rotated around the four quadrants and this time written with a Berol B10 edged nib. The rubber stampings were not part of the original design. Brian just happened to be cleaning the rubber stamp on the same page of roughs! But then thought, ‘why not?’. The rough was scanned into the computer, cropped square, tidied up and enlarged. This new image was then printed out and traced. The left and bottom sides of the drawing were masked off and overlapping impressions made with the rubber stamp. The colouring process was exactly the same as Transformation 1, but with two greens added to the three-colour palette. This piece reminded Brian very much of decaying tree roots and moss covered stone walls seen in and around nearby country lanes.

Transformation 3 – Roundel One (3.5 in diameter)

This image began as a complete circular design of sixteen lower case letter gs written in black ink with a broad edged nib. But as the oval heads of the letters began to take on a pattern all of their own, Brian decided to abandon the tails of each letter g and focus entirely on this new and interesting arrangement. So what you actually see here are the oval bowls of each letter g minus their tails. The whole design was again carefully traced and transferred to W & N Lana paper, coloured and shaded. It’s very flower-like and has an organic feel. The unexpected star burst in the centre was a completely accidental bonus.

Transformation 4 – Blue Butterflies (3.5 square)

Based on four uncial Bs written freely using colour pencils. B is for butterfly. This piece began using double pencils first to create the letters. Additional lines and embellishments were then added and gradually the image began to feel butterfly-like so Brian then took the colours and marking from the outer wings of the large blue butterfly.  Just four (dry) Caran d’Ache watercolour pencils (firmer and less greasy than other makes) were used in this piece: blue, brown, orange and purple. Colour was applied in delicate layers overlaid in places with ordinary 2H and 2B graphite pencils. There was much use of a plastic eraser as a drawing tool, used not so much to rub out, but to dab, soften and blend colours together, lighten areas here and there and blend dark into light. Brian was a master of this technique. The blue butterfly is a rarity in Britain but numbers are now slowly being helped back into the environment through careful conservation management.

Transformation 5 – Altenmarkt (5.5 square)

Four Gothicised letter Hs also written with double pencils and then one might say, architecturally elaborated upon. As work progressed, Brian felt this piece began to take on the shape of the ornamental wrought iron crosses that formally decorate many graves in cemeteries all across Austria. The title is therefore appropriately named after the small town of Altenmarkt, south of Salzberg, where Brian visited whilst away on holiday.

Contact us

If you corresponded with or were mentored by Brian Walker, or if you would like to comment on his work or post a written tribute on the site, please get in touch. The Walker Family would love to hear from you.