A holiday afternoon project: a dinner of herbs and love.

"Better a dinner of herbs where love is than a stalled ox and hatred therewith."

I stayed with my family in Brisbane for a few days this month, and had an afternoon free; and my mum had some lovely watercolour paper that really needed some attention.

Close-up on BWe had had a conversation or two earlier in which this bible verse came up, so it was kicking about in the back of my mind. Did you know a “stalled ox” is a fairly rough equivalent to, say, wagyu or kobe beef? Kept in the stall and fattened specifically to be delicious.

I looked up a few different translations to see which version I liked best. I quite liked the International Standard version:

“A vegetarian meal served with love is better than a big, thick steak with a plateful of animosity.”

Very straightforward! But you just can’t go past a bit of hatred and a therewith.

I used to take as many types of ink as I could possibly justify with me when I travelled (what if I had a CALLIGRAPHY EMERGENCY, you guys? what if I NEEDED seventy-four different shades of red? ANYTHING COULD HAPPEN) but bottles of ink and aeroplanes do not, as it turns out, mix very well. Nor tubes of gouache. I haven’t had any serious incidents, yet, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time …

Now I mostly avoid the risk by travelling with dry inks only – walnut crystals and a stick of Korean sumi (that I bought in Kansas, of all places).

Close-up on leavesWalnut ink gives that lovely dappled effect. You can make it more consistent by, for example, dipping your pen at the start of every letter, or even every stroke; I dipped only every few letters, because I like that light-and-dark effect. I used a Speedball C-series for the uncials and an Esterbrook 358, I think, for the small capitals.

The trailing ivy leaves are done with four or five shades of watercolour pencils, borrowed from my very tolerant mother. I used an 00 watercolour brush and treated the pencil tips as a palette rather than use the pencils directly, because I needed a very fine line that I couldn’t get with pencil.

Finally, the gold (and, although you can’t see much of it, the silver and metallic red highlights) are Finetec pigments, which I love and will use whenever I can find an excuse because they’re just fun.

I can take no credit for the ox; that is my mum’s work. She’s very talented with watercolour pencils! I love its little eyelashes and the innocent way it’s peeking out. Poor ox. It looks so happy. I hope nobody tells it what’s about to happen to it.

Of course, looking at this piece a month later, I can see many things I would have done differently and better, but also quite a few that I like and will repeat. I guess that’s how it goes – everything is a learning experience. And the kind of learning experience that means I spend a sunny afternoon playing with inks on a beautiful balcony in Queensland – that’s the best kind of all.

A clean desk is the sign of an empty mind.

I don’t make a mess of everything on purpose … it just happens.

(That’s secretly why I like calligraphy, too.)


5 thoughts on “A holiday afternoon project: a dinner of herbs and love.

  1. It’s very true, every piece is a learning experience… I think that’s what makes me carry on because I always want to improve on the work I’ve done before.
    Thank you for explaining the quote… I’m a daft wotsit… I was thinking ‘stall’ as in a car stalling… and not an animal enclosure!


    1. You know I’d never sat down to think about it until I was in the planning stages of this piece? I’d heard the expression but I’d just never thought about it. Calligraphy: expands the mind!
      (or something ;) )


  2. I absolutely LOVE this picture. You did a wonderful job. I have known this verse for years, but recently it really came to life when we sat to eat with someone who hated someone else at the table. We couldn’t wait for the meal to be over.


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