The Write Stuff

Deborah Grace talks to artist and calligrapher Rosana Ibarrola about her career in television – and letters from a serial killer!

Rosana has just finished her latest commission: a bespoke table plan for a wedding, painstakingly written in beautiful letters on a huge, ornate mirror. “130 names and 10 tables! It was a challenge, but a lovely thing to do,” she smiles. “People like to have something that’s different and custom-made for such a special event.”

Having studied calligraphy – the art of decorative writing – at school in her native Argentina, a chance meeting, five years ago, with fellow ex-pat and designer, Alejandra Gonaldi, revealed a shared passion, and so Love Calligraphy was born.

Now the friends (pictured above, Rosana in blue) are committed to sharing the beauty of the handwritten word with the good folk of South Manchester. For two years they have run classes all over Didsbury, Sale and Altrincham and – a sign of their increasing success – recently opened their own studio in Warburton Street, Didsbury.

Joining them for a workshop, I’m immediately struck by the clean, bright space and the beauty of Rosana’s painted, female nudes, staring soulfully from the walls. Equally impressive is the dedication of the eight students present.

For much of the two-hour session, there is absolute hush and even the noise of the traffic outside fails to break the spell of concentration within.“It’s so relaxing and enjoyable – a great way of practising mindfulness,” says Caron Romney, attending the class for her thirteenth week.

Away from teaching, Rosana is also well known in the world of film and TV, having applied her expertise to a number of successful period pieces. She created props – handwritten letters and documents – for BBC2’s Banished, as well as teaching actors to produce authentic handwriting on screen. Cinema-goers will soon see her work in a new British horror film, The Limehouse Golem, starring Bill Nighy.

A commission for an ITV drama, Dark Angel, last year, turned out to be unexpectedly unnerving. Rosana’s job was to reproduce a series of key letters written by the serial killer, Mary Ann Cotton (played by Downton actress,Joanne Froggatt). Given access to Cotton’s original archived letters, Rosana studied alone at her kitchen table, often late into the night.

“The writing was most peculiar: very erratic and elongated. The subject matter was disturbing too; in one letter, written from jail, Cotton was asking someone to help prevent her execution.

“It was a fascinating project, but bizarre. In a way, I had to impersonate this character; studying her handwriting gave me a proximity to her, which was quite scary!”

© Deborah Grace