Curated Member Showcase March 2020 - Susie Leiper

Mar 16th 2020

We are delighted to continue our Curated Member Showcase after a brief hiatus for the Annual Exhibition. Every month we will showcase three Visual Arts Scotland members, spotlighting their work & practice.

These showcased members will be chosen by a monthly guest curator. The invited curator will select makers & artists that interest them from our amazing membership. This will be based on a theme of their choice. 


March 2020

Curator: Sir Mark Jones 

Theme: energetic lines

Mark Jones was director of the Victoria and Albert Museum and before that of the National Museum of Scotland. He is now the owner of Golden Hare Books in Stockbridge, patron of VAS and chair of the National Trust for Scotland, Hospitalfield and the Pilgrim Trust. He is working on books about the nineteenth century medallist William Wyon and the twentieth century painter Algernon Newton.

Susie Leiper FSSI, FCLAS

''For Susie Leiper, a calligrapher by training, line is always present, even in her most abstracted meditations on the landscape of Scotland. Carefully composed, yet often modulated and subverted by the operations of chance, concealed or revealed by washes of colour, they subtly manipulate the emotions of the viewer.''


Susie's work as a calligrapher straddles the traditional and the exploratory, from quills and ink on vellum, to brushes and paint on Chinese paper, canvas and wood. Sometimes she combines lettering and painting, stimulated by poetry or prose that resonates with her. Sometimes she simply paints. Mountains lift her heart and inform my work, but she is also drawn to the more intimate environment of the book. In terms of scale, she is as happy painting on large canvases and walls as making smaller works and artist books, while carrying out regular commissioned calligraphic work.

Tell us a little bit about your artistic background/education

When the computer put paid to my editorial career I gradually turned to calligraphy and lettering. I was trained formally as a scribe on the vast Saint John’s Bible project, the first handwritten and illuminated bible for over 500 years. From scribing, I have gone on to combine lettering and painting, sometimes pursuing the two disciplines separately, and often working on prestigious projects that require lettering.

Could you describe your practice?

Unusual I think: I spend a lot of time on my own, just writing, which requires intense concentration. I suppose painting is a way of letting go, splashing around a bit, although I am not a very splashy painter. ‘Subtle’ was used recently to describe my work. Sometimes I am too tidy.

What are your art influences? Which contemporary artists/makers do you admire and why?

My early editorial career saw me looking at a lot at medieval art and manuscripts, and then a spell in Hong Kong nurtured a life-long interest in Chinese calligraphy and painting. As a calligrapher, the stimulus for a work is often words: Nan Shepherd’s The Living Mountain has provided so much material. For their inventiveness and skill, the contemporary calligraphers whose work I love include Brody Neuenschwander and Xu Bing. I also admire the work of Brazilian artist Mira Schendel which combines lettering and painting in interesting ways – I loved her exhibition at Tate Modern. I try not to be too influenced by contemporary artists – otherwise how can you be original?

What makes a good day in the studio for you?

If it’s a scary lettering job - ie a one-off that I can’t afford to mess up - then completing that to my satisfaction makes me cheerful. Sometimes there is only one piece of paper … Doing my own work is usually less stressful as I can always attempt to rectify the things that don’t work. It helps a lot if the sun shines.

In the studio – music, audiobook, podcast, Radio or silence?

Silence is essential when words are involved. Throughout the bible project the only programme I listened to was Desert Island Discs. Radio 4 seems to have gone down hill, so I have to admit to enjoying the cheerful prattle of Kay Adams and Janice Forsyth on Radio Scotland. Friday afternoon’s treat is Magic for some nostalgic pop.

What is coming up next for you and where can we see more of your work?

From 2 – 27 April I have my fifth solo show at the Open Eye Gallery in Edinburgh. It’s called Library, to encompass a body of work based on library shelves, books, page design and documents, many of the pieces on upcycled 19th-century vellum documents.

Currently I am part of Lines from Scotland (Dunfermline Carnegie Library & Galleries, to 10 May; then Gracefield Arts Centre, Dumfries, 16 May – 25 July 2020). This exhibition explores the many ways in which Scottish artists use drawing: my calligraphy in Scottish secretary hand on the RBS polymer notes is considered as a form of drawing, alongside exploratory work. The new £20 note has just come into circulation – the poetry on the reverse by Mark Alexander Boyd was written by me.

More permanently, my lettering features on the beams of the shop in the Museum of Edinburgh on the Royal Mile, and on the cornice of Springfield Church near Cupar in Fife. Pages of the Saint John’s Bible continue to tour in the US and the facsimile can usually be seen in St Martins in the Field in London. Several of my artist books are in the library of Edinburgh College of Art, National Library of Scotland and the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge.

Read more about Susie's works here:

and also here:


In principio erat verbum

Oil on upcycled 19th-century vellum document, on wood

20 x 15 cm