I’d written a couple of weeks back about the enso, the zenga brush-drawn circles of the Zen masters, as a statement of satori and the enlightened condition.

There’s more, to the notion of the symbology of the circle, as a gesture of containment and perfection.

As a calligrapher and type designer, the notion of the circle is one half of the parts of the fundamental language of the alphabet. The detailing of the character of type design is all about that: the single stroke of the I, and the multiple stroke of the circled O.

In drawing each, as a type designer, you set the language of the design in motion. But the circle is the most challenging. In creating this character, you watch the stroke of the movement from the inside out — that is, in the contemplation of the rendering of this form, you are watching the curve of the white (the paper) the curve of the tool (the black) and how, moment to moment, they relate. You watch the dimensions of the entire curvature unfolding. Drawing them is a meditation – and, in a way, it’s an expression of your being and condition. As you are off kilter, so will your drawings. Been there, done that.

It is, in the contemplative nature of the gesture, the one that requires the greatest focus. Perfection is a challenging state of being — in the stroke and intuitive geometry of the gesture. But in adding the dimension of, say, the broad edged tool, any circle becomes a double ellipse. That is, the drawing with a tool like this creates a form that is bounded by a perfect circle, yet the interplay of the tool creates a staggered ellipse. Think of looking at that cup of tea in front you as a kind of allegory to the sight and motioned geometry — the cup is a circle; from an angle — even the slightest incidence — it’s an ellipse.

I think about this whenever I draw a circular form.

The concept of perfection in form is evidenced, as well, in a story. And you know how I like stories.

From Giorgio Vasari, the documentarian of italian, humanist and renaissance artistic figures: Giotto, a Florentine painter, sculptor and architect (13th century)

A courtier from Pope Benedict IX told Giotto that the Pope wanted to make use of his services and asked him for a drawing which he could send to his holiness.

At this Giotto took a sheet of paper and a brush dipped in red, closed his arm to his side, and with a twist of his hand drew such a perfect circle that it was a marvel to see. Then, with a smile, he said to the courtier: “There’s your drawing.”

As if he were being ridiculed, the courtier replied: “Is this the only drawing I’m to have?”
“It’s more than enough,” answered Giotto. “Send it along and you’ll see whether it’s understood or not.”

There’s more, of course, in seeing how others might apply this range of talent and skills to the notion of Giotto’s gesture: the perfect circle. I explored and found this: