A beautiful handwritten letter to a loved one, or a letter to a dear friend that is stylized with ornamental lettering is a missing art these days. Computers, the internet and mobile communications are effectively pushing not only written communications but also an art form that had hitherto survived the tests of time. Calligraphy, or the art of writing beautified letters and numbers, have been passed down from one generation to another from time immemorial. It is unfortunate that in the age of communication, this art form has been reduced to only perform the role of hand-written invitation and greeting cards. There are, however, dedicated calligraphy masters toiling away on their tables, conjuring magic using their nimble fingers and the deft touch of their writing tools. It is due to these people, that the art of calligraphy seems destined to see through this time of indifference.
Before one delves deeper into the art of writing calligraphy it is pertinent to first give an introduction of this form of writing. Yes, it is a form of writing, but unlike you have ever likely to have used yourself. The word is derived from the Greek words ‘kallos’ which means beauty and ‘graphe’ which means writing. This means calligraphy denotes beautiful writing, literally. Look around there are tens of thousands of beautiful examples of calligraphy from all around the globe. From the beautiful mosques of Persia depicting Arabic calligraphy to hand-written bibles in Christianity showcasing western calligraphy style. There are, however, some misconceptions about calligraphy, as to its correct meaning. Some of those misconceptions will be cleared in this article.
Incorrect Notions about Calligraphy
Calligraphy is not only about fancy penmanship. Some people refer to calligraphy as a way to write ornamented letters, characters and words. Though calligraphy is all about designing and writing letters in an ornamented way, the point of focus is the hand-written characters and not the ornamentation itself.
Choosing the Correct Writing Tool
Just as the right pen can do wonders to your handwriting skills, the right writing tool, in calligraphy, is imperative to get a good start. There are different varieties of writing tools available in the market. Some eastern calligraphy teachers prefer that their students opt for a brush, the traditional way. On the other hand, western calligraphy is often taught using a staff and replaceable nibs or specially designed calligraphy pens. There are many different shapes of nibs available in the market. From the very fine, such as a needle point tip nib (Gillot 303) to broader ones that give the same output as a brush, there are options galore. The best option would but to go for a nib that is about 1/8” width.
It is possible to find a nib that is suitable for the style of writing that you wish to do. Say, e.g., you wish to write in the Copperplate style. You could choose for the Hunt 22 nib, as it is ideally suited for that writing style. Want to know more on the best nibs for beginner calligraphers? There are some great resources online.
Hand pressure plays a big part on the type of nib that you should buy. If your writing style exerts a lot of pressure on the paper, you should opt for a stiff nib. These are the nibs that normally require a lot of pressure in order to bend. If your writing style is normal, exerting a reasonable amount of pressure on the paper, then you should opt for a normal or elastic nib. Most standard nibs are elastic, meaning they bend when a normal amount of pressure is applied. The last category of calligraphers are those who have a really light hand. Such people should opt for a high elastic nib. These nibs are very responsive, bending easily with even the minimum amount of force.
Know Your Nib
A standard nib will have four main parts. First is the shank. This is the part that is inserted into the nib holder or the staff. Second is the tip, which is the writing part and thus is the most important part of the nib. This is the part through which ink flows on to the writing medium. The third part is the Tines. This is the part that constitutes either side of the split. The Split runs from the tip to the shank and divides the Tines. The last important segment of the nib is the Vent. This is also known as the air-hole because that’s what it is.
Pen/Brush Holding Styles: Calligraphy Vs Traditional Writing
Calligraphy from different parts of the globe have a different holding style for the pen / brush. In western calligraphy, the pen which is the preferred writing tool, is held at an angle. This is similar to the normal writing style. Chinese calligraphy, on the other hand, is mostly done using brush. There are five major scripts in Chinese calligraphy. They are – Seal script, the Clerical script, the Standard script, the Semi cursive script and the Cursive script. Chinese calligraphy is essentially all about the wrists. The writing tool is held almost perpendicular to the medium on which you write. Even the holding style is different. The wrist of your writing hand will not touch the writing medium. One continuous stroke of a broad brush or pen would sometimes create the number or letter (cursive script). In this article, however, whenever calligraphy is referred, western calligraphy styles are meant.
The Use of Your Fingers in Holding the Pen, Brush, and Staff
Just as in normal writing, calligraphy warrants that you understand and practice the correct way to hold the writing tool. Irrespective of the tool of preference, your thumb, index and middle fingers are going to be the major fingers to hold it (come to think of it that’s true of writing as well). The thumb and the index fingers are known as the gripping fingers. The middle finger on which your writing tool will rest is known as the resting finger. In some styles of calligraphy the position of the wrists are also important.
Making Your First Mark
The basic way to start learning how to write calligraphy is to make a straight vertical and a straight horizontal line. This way you get a feel of the writing tool as well as get some necessary confidence before working your way up. Mastering the correct technique to hold the pen will not only allow you to make the strokes correctly, but will help you to learn how to exert the right amount of pressure when writing calligraphy without creating impressions on the back of the page or tearing up the page with the corners of the nib.
You will need some practice sheets. These are available online and there are a number of sources where you can get them. If you can’t find any or want to try how it works before investing in expensive stationary, a simple exercise book will do. Just draw a set of three parallel lines with the middle one dashed. This is similar to the exercise books one would use in junior grades for practicing handwriting.
Holding the pen, brush, staff in the manner as described above and the broad side of the nib horizontal to you, draw a straight vertical line. Next make a straight horizontal line that is at a right angle to the vertical line you just made. When you make the straight horizontal line you will notice that it is a lot thinner than the one that is vertical. This happened because the nib is parallel to the horizontal strokes, thus the vertical strokes are flatter. On the other hand if you hold the nib at a right angle to yourself (in other words parallel to the vertical lines) then the horizontal lines will be flatter compared to the vertical lines. If you are using a brush, this effect can be seen more clearly.
Coming back to the basic vertical and horizontal lines. You can also allow your vertical lines to slant slightly towards the left. This will result in slight elongated top and bottom.
The basic curve is the third most important figure to draw as a beginner. If you have a practice sheet start at the tip of the dashed line. Curve and end it at the line below.
There are two ways to write any alphabet – print or recursive. For starters, print writing style is easier to manage because it allows you to take the tip of the nib off the page between each letters and between each stroke forming the letters. The three strokes you have learned above will be enough for you to create all the English alphabets. Here of course, only the lower case letters are referred. At first, you practiced the vertical stroke. This stroke is necessary to create alphabets such as b, f, h, I, j etc. The curved stroke that you practiced will make up the first stroke for creating alphabets like a, c, d, e, g and so on. Some of the first strokes will not touch all the three lines of the practice sheet, while some will. As you keep working on the vertical, horizontal and curved strokes, the movement of the nib will become more fluidic and the letters will have more character. Soon you will have the confidence to start learning how to develop your very own type.
Just as in freelance writing, where one would need to practice more to get perfect, the best way to get better at writing calligraphy is to practice. Buy some practice papers and fill them out with horizontal, vertical and basic curves. Initially, you may also want to try out the nib. Write characters in single strokes so that you get a feel of the nib. As you progress, it’s exciting to see how your writing improves in leaps and bounds! Calligraphy also has a profound positive impact on your normal writing skills.