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My Favorite Lettering Artists: Denis Brown (Calligraphic Storyteller)

Denis Brown calligraphy with gold leaf quoting poem by Erica Jong: "We are ink and blood and all things that make stains"Since I began this sporadic series highlighting My Favorite Lettering Artists, there is one artist I’ve been eager to include but have found it difficult to do so because he eludes defining. Now seems an opportune time, for the sake of dramatic relief, since his work is so different from the personality and style of the last artist I profiled, Doyald Young.

Over the years as I've observed the art & lettering of Irish calligrapher, Denis Brown - I’ve gazed in wonder; I’ve salivated; I’ve laughed and been alarmed. Each view is a participatory experience engaging my mind and emotions in a manner not achieved though other forms of lettering.

Denis was traditionally trained, receiving a degree in advanced calligraphy at London’s Roehampton Institute. Thus the structure of formal lettering underpins all his endeavors. But while he remains tethered to that tradition, he continues to explore and push boundaries into every conceivable medium and art-form which can be remotely related to calligraphy.

His dynamic strokes pulsate through brush, pen, ink, gold leaf, glass, paper, snow, calf skin, milk, . . . Ancient methods combine with avant garde digital manipulation. Mediums mix, layer upon layer, a symphony of words via color, rhythm and form.

As teacher, philosopher & entertainer - he often combines his lettering experiments with film, music or energetic outbursts. Yet, lest we be tempted to think his work is strictly innate ability, he is the first to stress that his ongoing growth is propelled though continuous practice. The living and breathing beauty of his spontaneity would not be possible without years of practicing letter forms establishing muscle memory which enable every stroke to give rise, not to chaos, but to a disciplined fluid expression.

To give you a taste of what I'm referring to I've included a sampling of his work (displayed here by permission) with written descriptions below each slide. As you scroll through the images, you may click on any photo to get a larger view. 

How does this relate to my work as a sign artist? Needless to say his focus on letterforms, his work with glass and use of gold leaf are all disciplines about which I myself am passionate and which I employ on a daily basis. But the core of Denis' genius is that he's a storyteller. He masterfully portrays the essence of words in his graphic display of those words. And though the periodic illegibility of some of his pieces may seem somewhat removed from the realm of signage, the very act of studying and absorbing his art contributes to creative possibilities in my own commercial signage commissions. Playfulness with words and striving to marry graphic expression to the meaning behind those words is a large part of what effective signage is all about.

Like him, I draw on all the skills at my disposal, and a lifetime of influences to be a faithful graphic storyteller on behalf of my clients.

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