Friday, October 21, 2022


What the Sun Said by Martha Slavin

Circles have deep meanings in many cultures. A circle can represent life, eternity, and unity, ideas that seem almost out of reach right now. Those deeper meanings draw me to include circles in my designs.

Trying to get letters around a circle is a mathematical challenge so I took a class recently from Debbie Reelitz, a calligrapher, who showed us the mathematical principles to arrange letters in a circle using measurements of the circumference, radius, and pi to figure out the exact size that the circle needed to be. We used protractors and compasses to measure accurately. 

The tools we used

Two minutes after she explained the process (luckily she gave us detailed written instructions too), I started to follow her lead and found that I had forgotten most of what she said. My long-time math anxiety intervened. My humble hand-lettering abilities raised their heads too. I began to doubt that I could finish putting letters around a circle. Then Reelitz showed us a shortcut that fit my capabilities.

Though I still had to measure, I was able to fit the words I had chosen around a circle. I wrote out the phrase I planned to use, measured the length of the line, cut the phrase out, and folded it in half and then into quarters.

Using a compass, I placed the two compass points at two adjacent quarter marks, which gave me the radius of the circle I needed. I drew the circle and divided it into quarters and filled each quarter with the corresponding letters on the straight strip of paper. (Take Debbie Reelitz's class to learn the complete instructions.)

As a left-hander, I find calligraphic writing to be a challenge. I've practiced a lot, but I don't have the beautiful flow that true calligraphers show in their work. For this project, I decided to use a monoline alphabet, the easiest one for me to draw and one I knew I could have success with. 

All of these examples are my rough drafts waiting to be put on a light table, adjusted for line length and spacing between letters and words, and enhanced with illustrations. Maybe then I will try to use Italic or Copperplate in a circle.

Possible illustration for "and your smile grows wide..." quote

Two other takeaways from Debbie Reelitz's class: I need to remember to turn the page as I draw each letter to keep each letter upright and let the ink dry as I go around a circle or I will smear the letters.

Check out Debbie Reelitz's calligraphy here or take a workshop:

I'm planning to read Math Without Numbers by Milo Beckman in hopes of gaining a new understanding of math. Find the book here:


  1. I watched Debbie Reelitz painting words on the church wall and was fascinated by the way she rehearsed the movement needed several times before painting. It is almost as though she is writing it into her body before actually doing the same movements with paint.
    I struggled through a math degree in my youth but was never able to become so comfortable with what the numbers, well actually letters, in the formulae implied. Others in my class could envision what ight come next, but I never could. Now, of course students cam depict formulae visually using computers I have reserved the book at the library to see if that will help me understand the meaning of what I was being taught.
    As usual you have inspired me to further exploration. Thank you.

    1. Sometimes painting, drawing or writing letterforms is like doing a dance. To find the flow needed, you include your whole body in the process. It is fascinating to watch Debbie Reelitz do this. And thank you PatK for reading my blog post and going further to explore!

  2. From Cheryl by email: I don’t know how you come up with so much for each Friday’s Blog. Perhaps your recent class with Debbie helped.

    I love the phrase, “Sometimes the longest journey is the distance between two people”. WOW! It says so much. Politics and family.

    Keep doing what you are doing for your eye as you continue to heal and Happy Friday.

    1. Thank you, Cheryl. I liked that quote too. I don't know who said it so I can't give them acknowledgement for their brilliance!

  3. From Meta by email: Once again I am fascinated by your commitment to learning, your fascination with new ideas and your humility.

    1. Thank you, Meta. There's always something that gets my interest!

  4. From Mary by email: Very interesting lesson in writing in circles. I love that look, but I use a shortcut in my software to achieve a less pretty result. I think your handwritten effort is far superior.

    1. I also wondered about making circles for quilting as well as your card-making.


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