NGV's Art of Dining - and a glimpse into my world

So last week, NGV Women’s Association held their Art of Dining - Best of the Best event, in which 44 of Australia’s top designers each created a table setting. And oh man, looking at those photos makes me think maybe I should put more effort into dinner than eating spaghetti in my pyjamas watching Netflix … 😅

Giannarelli International’s Art of Dining table

Giannarelli International’s Art of Dining table

Talk about spectacular! Giannarelli have been the artists behind a lot of stunning events and I’m honoured every time they ask me to contribute. This time, as well as the beautiful snake placecards above, I also hand wrote 10 menus for the table (plus a couple of extras) on gorgeous Bernard Maison stationery.

Like with every detail of something so spectacular, a lot of thought goes into each piece I create. And a lot of questions come up. I thought of doing a voice-over for the video, but I think it’s probably easier if I just put the notes in writing!

So, here’s how it all works.

  • Before you get to the point of “the good copy,” or the final draft, hours of work goes in! I wrote several drafts and went back and forth with Giannarelli regarding colour, style, even details like interline spacing, letter height, and the degree of flourishing. I tested several ink colours on the stationery - we thought of purple to match the table’s glassware, or royal blue, but ultimately gold was really the only choice!

  • Once we had decided on the layout, I used my Cricut machine to cut a precise template for the lines: 3mm x-height for the items, 4mm for the headers, precise space between. This means that not only is it faster for me to rule lines, but also that I can guarantee each menu is the same. It also means that I don’t risk making measurement mistakes on the final pieces.

  • When ruling lines on good card, I use a soft pencil (2B) and I put no weight on the pencil at all - hold it very loosely and let only the weight of the pencil itself put pressure on the paper. This prevents the narrow tip of the pencil from making indentations in the card - you can erase pencil lines but you can’t erase indentations!

  • I use washi tape to hold the template to the card - it has very low stick and won’t rip off the surface of the stationery. The reason I measure it out is that after the writing, I would be trimming the card down to fit the table design. And the reason I write first and then trim second is that it gives me more room - if I miscalculate the spacing on one or two lines, even millimetres can matter, and having the option to trim one or two menus slightly larger is better than having the calligraphy crashing into the edge of the card.

  • I wear a half-glove to avoid having any contact with the surface of the stationery. Any time you let bare skin touch paper, the natural oil of your skin transfers to the surface. That not only changes the way ink sits on the paper, but also risks changing the way the paper looks or reflects light - especially important when working with metallic inks, but not worth the risk at any time. If you aren’t paying attention to all the little details, why bother? 😅

  • I use Coliro Colors Finetec (now called Pearlcolors) - a very pigmented mica watercolour paint/ink. Finetec is almost always my go-to for gold. It’s more difficult to work with than a liquid ink, since you need to keep painting it on to the nib, but it also gives me much tighter control over fine lines. I also prefer to be in control of the ink thickness - sometimes you need more or less pigment concentration for a flourish or a smaller letter, and with a pan watercolour like Finetec that’s easy.

  • I know someone will ask, so: the nib I used for these pieces is a vintage French Baignol & Farjon. It has enough flex to work well at the size I was working with, but a very slightly rounded tip which interacts with the toothy surface of the stationery well and doesn’t snag.

  • I use a gum eraser to remove the pencil lines when I’m done - it doesn’t leave dust and doesn’t remove the ink. I feel like I could write an entire blog post on choosing the right eraser for any given piece!

I think that’s about it … I hope these tips were helpful! Do you have any more questions?