You, Too, Can Learn Calligraphy!
IN Asia, calligraphy is considered a major art form. In Western culture it is an art for everyone. But just what is calligraphy? Derived from the Greek words for “beautiful” (ka·losʹ) and “writing” (gra·pheʹ), calligraphy is the art of fine handwriting.
In times past, those skilled in calligraphy held formal rank and were even allowed to propose laws. Killing a scribe carried the same penalty as killing the king or a bishop. That’s quite a position in society!
However, in this electronic age of typesetting, word processing, and typewriters, what value does calligraphy have?
A handwritten letter has a personal touch that no machine can give. But what is the use if the handwriting is illegible or difficult to decipher?
That is why, while very young, most of us were taught our first style of calligraphy with the letters separated. Based on roman capitals, its simplicity is ideal for the coordination of the young arm, hand, and eye. This first-learned style makes few demands, and it is easy to read. About a year or two later, we were introduced to cursive (flowing) handwriting when we were taught to join the letters.
From there we developed our own style of handwriting. Although we, perhaps, were taught well, how many of us feel that our handwriting qualifies as calligraphy, or fine handwriting? Our modern hustle and bustle may not give us the time or the circumstances to produce handwriting that we could consider a piece of art.
However, just as with any other craft, with a little know-how, time, and practice we can produce handwritten work that is beautiful and that brings us much satisfaction. Perhaps more importantly, it brings pleasure to the reader.
What Materials Do You Need?
One advantage of calligraphy as a hobby is its low cost. Basically, you need a pen, a pencil, an eraser, ink, paper, and a ruler. Of course, expensive pens can be purchased, but calligraphy does not need to be expensive.
The Pen: The calligraphy pen is specially designed with a broad tip that, depending on the angle at which it is held, can produce a thick or a thin line. Pens come in all sizes and styles. You can purchase nibs that fit into a penholder and that have a reservoir that holds the ink and controls the flow. However, these pens need to be dipped into ink. Fountain pens hold the ink inside the pen by means of a rubber capsule. Cartridge pens use disposable ink cartridges.
The Ink: A black, waterproof ink is best, although inks come in a variety of colors. Because of its clogging nature, waterproof ink should not be used in fountain pens. Thus when using washable ink, a fixative needs to be applied to protect the finished work from moisture.
The Paper: The secret here is to have smooth paper of good quality. Also, be sure to use the correct side of the paper—the smoother side. The paper should be thin enough so that guidelines will show through when lined paper is placed underneath. Parchment-finish paper, which has a mottled surface, adds a nice touch.
The Eraser: This is used to remove pencil guidelines drawn for alignment. A soft eraser, such as an art gum eraser, will clean the paper without destroying the paper finish.
Learning the Technique
Almost time to get started! But first make sure that you are comfortably seated at a solid work surface with good lighting. Pick up the pen. Do you notice that the tip is flat at the end? Now turn the pen so that the flat part of the tip is at a 45-degree angle to the guideline. Hold the pen firmly, but at the same time keep your hand relaxed. Draw a vertical stroke downward.
Next, with the pen still at 45 degrees, draw a diagonal stroke downward. Do you see the difference in the thickness of the lines? By holding the pen consistently at this angle, any stroke will achieve the thin and the thick lines that produce the beauty of calligraphy.
After holding the pen at 45 degrees is mastered, it is a matter of reproducing the individual letters according to their correct height. A rule of thumb is: Each lowercase letter should be the height of five widths of the tip of the pen; capital letters are seven and a half pen widths.
To start drawing the letters, place a sheet of lined paper under your semitransparent writing paper. You will now be able to see the lines through the paper. This will enable you to draw a straight line. First, following the example given here, carefully practice the alphabet, noticing the direction of each stroke. Then put the letters together to produce words.
Once you have achieved fluency, you will find the uses of calligraphy to be endless: wedding invitations, announcements, public notices, greeting cards, labels, and poems. Even your name will have added beauty when written in calligraphy.
As you practice your newfound art, you will appreciate that the beautiful hand of calligraphy is indeed for everyone.
[Box on page 26]
Egyptian scribes were intelligent, well educated, but considered of lower class.
Babylonian scribes were professional people. They were a necessity of life, since the law required all business transactions to be in writing. In addition to legal documents, scribes were responsible for temple records.
Hebrew scribes were public notaries, recording various transactions, even divorce documents. Their price was open for bargain.
Copyists of the Bible were meticulous about their work. They counted not only the words but also the letters. To write a word from memory was considered a gross sin.
The handiwork of copyists fell into two categories:
(1) Functional—practical, legible, although not necessarily beautiful.
(2) Decorative—orderly formed letters, sometimes ornately decorated with embossed gold, at times inlaid with precious gems.
[Diagram on page 26]
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