Somewhere beyond the steely borders of her mechanical engineering degree and the self-expression in classic calligraphy, Mercy Kendagor has found a place where these two disciplines mesh. A place where science and art collide. That place is in a modern form of calligraphy called hand lettering. Mercy is one of the few local creatives exploring hand lettering on wooden boards. She opens up to FLORENCE BETT-KINYATTI.
“I’m a self-taught calligrapher and the main calligrapher at Blue Anchor Creative. We deal with handmade cards and calligraphy on different surfaces and items, from books, paper, mirrors and any surface, really. Most of my business has come from weddings signage.
"I’ve always been an artsy and crafty person. I’ve tried many crafts before, like origami, greeting cards and paper cuts. Calligraphy is the one that picked up.
"Many of the skills I gained from engineering drawing help me with my calligraphy, skills such as symmetry and using lines instead of your own perception; lines make your work look way more polished because it’s all aligned. Even these tools I use to draw with — setsquares, T-squares and the different types of pencils — are from engineering drawing.
"I used to follow several crafting shows and tutorials online, there was this particular calligrapher on Instagram called Cellar Designs, I loved her work. I was still in school then, so all I had were pencils and biros. I copied what I was seeing in pictures on the Internet. I was doing some very basic-looking fonts that were more free and didn’t have a strict way of doing them. I was soon drawn to hand lettering. It was very advanced in the West.
"I made some quotes for my friends’ birthday cards and one of my calligraphy colleagues saw what I’d done, he’s one of the more accomplished calligraphers I know. He was very impressed. I was honestly surprised. But because he’d said it was good then I knew there must be something. I became more adventurous after and went for more advanced quotes.
"He introduced me to a client who wanted him to write something on a mirror, but he didn’t know how to do it, he’d never tried to write on a mirror, neither had I. But I tried anyway. This client was a wedding planning company and they really loved what we did. It’s from here that I got confidence to keep trying this craft.
"What I do on these handmade wooden boards is called hand lettering. Think of hand lettering as modern calligraphy. The fonts I use are modern fonts, they don’t have any names yet. Classic fonts for traditional calligraphy are fonts like Copperplate, Gothic and Spencerian. It’s what you see on certificates and such like.
"The thing about hand lettering on these handmade boards is that it should be neat but it shouldn’t be perfect or look like it was bought in a supermarket. It must also have visual symmetry and balance.
"I get all my art supplies from Science Scope, a shop on Kimathi Street (CBD). I use oil-based acrylic paint or paint markers. I prefer to use a paint marker because it’s a pen, a pen is a tool my hands are already used to. The pen I use for paper calligraphy is a pilot parallel plate pen. It was a gift from a friend.
"The custom-size wooden boards are from my regular carpenter here in South C, sometimes from one in Ngumo. The boards are mostly from the wood of pine trees. Pine trees have a better grain than other commonly used trees like cypress trees; this grain in the pinewood adds texture to the board and enhances its rustic appeal.
"Once the dried wood has been cut to my dimensions, the carpenter sands it down to the stain I’ve asked for and layers it with a coat of varnish. Staining gives the board texture and the aged look. The varnish prevents the paint from soaking into the wood and running. The varnish also protects the board from the elements of weather and from insects.”