Thursday, August 13

My History With Calligraphy

When I first began practicing calligraphy, I was in 5th grade. There was a special school day for the art classes in which instructors were brought in to lead us in various projects. I barely remember this day, but apparently I contributed to a large mural with some friends. What I do remember is a stout, middle-aged woman dressed in medieval peasant's garb teaching us calligraphy. We practiced it for one day, a certain blocky German Gothic font (I hadn't heard of Gothic; I thought "calligraphy" was the font) that I tried to replicate at home. Then I forgot all about it.

The second time I practiced calligraphy, I was in high school. I was looking for something interesting by which to distinguish myself. Bagpipes, accordion, and martial arts were my first choices, but the first two were completely outside of my realm and the third took too much work. As it happened I found my mom's Fred Eager book on italic calligraphy. It looked like the wrong calligraphy to me, since it wasn't Gothic with its sideways diamonds and extra decorative thin lines, so my mind expanded to allow that there were two types of calligraphy: one that looked like the script of ancient Bibles, and this more modern style that looked like the cover of a church newsletter. I thought I could only stand to benefit from neater handwriting, anyway, so I started to try it. It, too, was too hard and I abandoned it immediately.

Finally, well into my 30s, sitting at my desk for weeks on end at a thankless and soul-sucking corporate job, I decided to make some use of my time. I pulled out that Fred Eager book, dug out a beginner's calligraphic pen set (three nibs that fit into three fountain pens and a rainbow array of ink cartridges) that also came with its own calligraphy instruction guide--finally I realized that "calligraphy" was the discipline of handwriting and it could manifest in hundreds of different fonts and languages. And where ordinarily I would sit at that corporate desk day after day and stare at the grey fabric of the cubicle wall, now I was salvaging discarded paper notepads from the trash (honestly, these people would write on five pages and throw the entire pad away) and practicing writing evenly spaced "O" shapes, practicing letter angles for hours and hours.

As well, I practiced a few different, simple forms of calligraphy and wrote letters to my friends in these experimental fonts. Sometimes it was the pen that made all the difference, the nib dragging across the page that dictated which font I would use. The sample font (right) was one I designed myself but it is clearly borrowed from several varieties. In no way is it original, but it is the end result of practicing one font and, over the course of time, as my style relaxed, watching that font shape and morph into the related fonts that came before and after it in the continuum of handwriting. The size of the letters are sloppy but the style at least was consistent and I scanned in a page of a letter I was writing, that I might pick it up again and develop it with better discipline.

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