Article about Calligraphy and Lettering Artist
Ieuan Rees
Extracts reprinted from an article by David Fielding in Carmarthenshire Life.

It is over 40 years since Ieuan Rees first picked up a pen and a chisel and started on his long and illustrious career as a calligrapher, letter designer and hand carver of lettering in stone.
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Wales is too modest about its achievements - and its achievers. That modesty probably stems from the natural rough and ready democratic attitude the Welsh adopt in sizing up people. You are judged as the man you are seen to be. The 'been there, done that, got the T-shirt' attitude counts for nothing, though in leuan's case if he were to wear the T-shirt you can bet it would be beautifully lettered.
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It was artist Julian Brown who suggested leuan as a fitting subject for a profile for this magazine. The two had worked together for a short time at Carmarthen School of Art. Normally Julian is very critical of art and artists in Wales. This time there was a note of respect, even awe, in his voice.
"One of the best in the world."
For whilst leuan Rees may not be known to many people in the outside world, within his own craft he is respected world-wide as among the very best calligraphers and carvers of slate and stone now working.
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Examples of his work are to be found in Westminster Abbey in floor plaques for Sir Laurence Olivier, Lewis Carroll and Stanley Baldwin; in front of Dyfed Powys police head-quarters; at the Millennium Centre in Cardiff; on the credits of the tv comedy series the Vicar of Dibley; on a Royal Mail stamp; as civic plaques all over Wales, England , Scotland and Ireland; as a semi-circular backdrop to the Peace Fountain carved in York stone at the Peace Garden in Sheffield; at Dylife north of Machynlleth on a memorial to the late Wyndford Vaughan Thomas; on banners flying above Cardiff Castle during the biennial Singer of the World competition and many more.
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He is a born teacher, explaining the nature of his craft throughout the two and a half hours I am with him. He is a generous man both with his time and with the hard-won insights and knowledge of his work. Never at a loss for words, never pedantic, he explains his craft in a way that opens up not just the manual skills, but the artistic background and the practical reasons which determine just why what he's explaining should be so. Five minutes into our meeting he picks up a chisel and dummy and demonstrates how letters are carved. He works at a quite remarkable pace considering the nature of the raw material - in this case polished slate. With no guide lines to help him, no preliminary sketch, he produces a perfect freehand 'H', a letter which turns out to be far more precise than anything I could have done with pen on paper.
Then in answer to my question he gives a brief exposition on the relative merits for a stone carver of serif and sans serif type faces; the difference, for example, between H (palatino-serif ) and H (helvetica-sans serif ). Typically leuan's explanation starts, not with the shape of the letters, but with the anatomy of the human body. The carver's motors - shoulder and wrist -work best on curves. Curves also make it easier for the chisel to get into the stone. Serif is, therefore, the stone carver's preferred medium. Serifs in fact have a practical use. they lead your eyes onto the next letter and helps with the flow of reading.
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San serif letters can be carved but for leuan they take longer to carve and are physically harder to do as the wrist can't slide into the action. "Sans serif can't be human," is leuan's aphorism, an observation so striking it will now stay with me till I too am scattered ashes under a serif memorial plaque - if I'm lucky.
He has many of these little sayings, phrases that stop you in your tracks and stick in the mind. Such things are the mark of the born teacher, challenging the novice to stop and think.
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So where did he pick up his own education?
leuan is a product of the Gwendraeth Grammer School. He was born in Pontyberem and brought up in Tumble where he went to primary school. Later he went on to the Gwendraeth Grammar School. He went on to Carmarthen School of Art where despite having no tutor capable of teaching lettering he took lettering as his craft and and taught himself, though he emphasises that the help he had with drawing and design was a huge help to him. Matriculating successfully he went on to the Camberwell School of Art in London to study lettering, writing and illumination. It was here that he was introduced to letter carving.
He loved his time at Camberwell as everything was based on drawing . He was not taught calligraphy or lettering formally but was encouraged to think and to work things out for himself. He believes that this approach to teaching, free from rigid rules, and based on self analysis and being encoraged to have faith in his own judgement, is the main reason he is regarded as one of Britain’s most versatile lettering and calligraphy artist craftsman.
From Camberwell he spent three years at The Royal College of Art in London studying graphic design. After college he stayed on in London freelancing in calligraphy, stone carving and graphic design. He also taught one day a week back at Camberwell, a commitment to passing on his skills he was to keep for the next 27 years, going on to work part time at colleges of art in Wimbledon, Newport, Swansea and finally Carmarthen. Unfortunately due to the demand for his commissioned work he was forced to give up regular part-time teaching.
But as his teaching methods has gained him world wide respect he conducts master classes in his studio just outside Ammanford in calligraphy, stone carving and drawing, and pupils - many already practicing calligraphers and stone carvers themselves - travel from across the Atlantic and from Australasia and Europe for individual or small group tuition.
He has held workshops all over America, In Sydney, Australia and at the School of Art in Basle, Switzerland. For his services to Calligraphy and lettering he has been made an Honorary Member of The Washington Calligrapherd Guild and the Colleagues of Calligraphy in Minneapolis.
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Several times during our talk he tells of the uncomfortable conditions he has had to work under on different commissions. Not all the carving is done in his studios. Sometimes he works outside in all weathers. Precision under pressure - hour after hour. The carving of the semi-circular stone seat backing of the fountain in the award winning Peace Garden in Sheeld - a piece of work 120 feet long and three feet high, incorporating some 250 letters - was done, "in situ, in the rain and the cold and the sludge. It took two of us a week." That ability to work under the worst of conditions is probably in the blood, for his father, Owen Rees, was a miner. His mother, Lilian, despite having next to no formal education, had a gift for poetry. leuan's first experience of lettering came at the age of 12 as a result of his mother’s love of books. She, with the help of Ieuan and his brother and sisters wrapped the hundreds of the Hymn Books at their methodist chapel with brown craf paper. He wrote “LLYFR EMYNAU” (Hymn Book) on all of them himself by hand employing the type face used by the Daily Herald Newspaper (probably’”Times”).
It was his first exercise in lettering,
In the same year his Latin teacher at the Gwendraeth Grammar School gave him back his homework with the comment, "Are you interested in art Ieuan? When Ieuan said “yes” he continued - “Your handwriting is beautiful but it’s illegible, do something about it” Buoyed by this back-handed compliment leuan vowed to keep the his unique handwriting style but wondered how he was going to make it readable. It became his quest and he is still working at it to this day. But the course of his life was decided at the age of fifteen when his uncle Hywel Harries, a cartoonist, illustrator, painter and teacher, having noticed his nephew's interest in writing, gave him a set of calligraphy nibs and a twenty minute demonstration on how to use them.
"I was hooked."
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While in London he married Barbara, a talented water colourist and illustrator and after eight years moved to Wales with their one year old daughter Victoria. They found a derelict woollen mill on the river Loughor in the Ammanford-Llandybie area. "It is absolutely beautiful and peaceful” he says. After six years in Wales their second daughter Angharad was born.
The family went through a trauma in 1988 for when Victoria was 13 and Angharad 6, Barbara died suddenly after a very short illness at the young age of 44. Ieuan looked after his daughters on his own for over 7 years and somehow managed to keep on with his free lance work. Since then Ieuan has married again to Margaret, also a talented watercolourist and illustrator.
A few years ago his life and work were honoured when he was invited to become a member of the Gorsedd as a white robed bard (The highest honour in Wales). It’s an honour he cherishes and a public acknowledgement of his continuing role as an ambassador for Wales.
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A side of his work which has increased enormously in the last ten years is that of headstones. He puts the increased demand partly down to a glut of cheap foreign granite which has flooded the monumental masonry business and partly to the decrease in the amount of hand carving done by masons - now almost a thing of the past. All of the headstones Ieuan has hand carved are individually designed to meet the requirements of the families.
Although the quality of the craftsmanship is extremely important to him, he believes that the design of the work is more important.
He is a strong believer in the virtue of planning. "The more laboured a finished work looks the less effort has been put into the designs. The more effort which goes into the designs , the more effortless the results appears."
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He is full of advice to would-be artists.
"Irrespective of their field, everything should be based on drawing. I have always based everything on drawing. Drawing a letter is no different than drawing the leaf of a tree . Nowadays there is not enough drawing of things. "Drawing educates the eye to look and observe. It disciplines the eye, the mind and the hand”.
He states "You shouldn't worry too much about the end result while working on a piece. “That's fatal. If you do justice to the purpose and to the subject and client and to yourself and you have regard and respect for your materials and tools, you will probably achieve beauty as a by-product”.
He loves the quote "Life and expression, difficult as they both are to achieve are surely better than a mechanical but dull perfection. The best people, like the best work, sometimes have grave faults."
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