Testing of nibs, paper, colour and ink
An early sketch

The Nobel Prizes are all handed out in Sweden, except one: The Nobel Peace Prize. It is awarded by the The Norwegian Nobel Committee in Oslo, Norway. My hometown.


I inquired about the prize when I came home from England in 1990. The work was being done by another calligrapher. And so I waited. And waited. For 25 years.


Formal work of this nature doesn’t grow on trees. Norway, as opposed to Sweden, has no nobility, despite the fact that we are a monarchy. So pedigrees and other formal documents of that nature are scarce. True, there are several awards and diplomas being handed out, but our lack of tradition in calligraphy has meant that these are mostly made by design or advertising agencies.


Nevertheless I have made several over the years, and always enjoyed the work. The Winnie the Pooh Prize, The Photography Prize, The Defence Department Equality Prize, Anders Jahres Cultural Prize and many others. Formal work is challenging, but it poses some interesting lay out and design problems, as well as keeping me on my feet as far as the actual writing goes: Calligraphy is, in a sense, also a performing art, although mostly without a live audience.


Also, the work of making these diplomas or prizes were a great relief from my other work, which was mostly working for reproduction, making book covers, logos and heading for designers and publishers. It is hard to explain to those outside of the calligraphy profession the tactile and sensory thrill of making original pieces, unica. The pen and the paper speak their very own language through the ink, and there is, at best, a sense of directness in the process that is incomparable to working for reproduction. Think of live music compared to recorded music, if you need an analogy.


One day I received a mail from the Nobel Comite asking me if I was willing to take on the job of writing out the Nobel Peace Prize, as the other calligrapher had passed away.


It needed to be related in colour and writing styles, but I was given enough freedom to do the adjustments I thought were necessary. This involved adjusting the scale of the letters, changing some writing styles around etc. But most adjustments were made to the spacing. The spaces between the letters, words and lines, between the text and the edge of the paper, is a much overlooked part of a successful piece of calligraphy, it is about more than the writing itself.


A lot of tests were done before the execution of the final one. Including testing out five different brands of nibs, some no longer being manufactured. Color adjustments, ink type and researching whether colours were lightproof, and whether the paper, ink / gouache and pen could produce sharp letters. Rejecting versions where spacing of capitals failed to produce the correct optical spacing.


The letterforms are very formal, classical ones; Roman capitals that stem from 2000 year old inscriptions, and italic (cancelleresca) that originated in the Renaissance some 500 years ago. Letters that are seemingly very simple. Yet difficult enough to write, even after more than 30 years of experience. It is a feeling of starting fresh each year, slightly worried that I will not be up to the task. And with the corresponding feeling of relief when it gets done.


Christopher Haanes writing out the Nobel Peace Prize in 2018, using a Brause nib and Chinese Stick ink on Rives BFK paper.