Calligraphy, the art of beautiful writing. Not often thought about, sometimes considered out of date and stuffy but is this fine art having a resurgence?
I remember being bought a Calligraphy set for my 11th birthday, I can’t say it was my favourite present but I think it may have been a result of my parent’s desperation over the state of my handwriting. Maybe they hoped if I could find some creativity my penmanship would improve. Alas no, there is often not much to separate my handwriting with that of my four year old.
So what’s it all about? The word Calligraphy is thought to derive from Greek words for beauty (kallos) and to write (graphein). Confusingly, whilst the skill is all about ensuring the correct form of the letters, apparently ‘Calligraphic work, as art, need not be legible in the usual sense of the word’ (Encyclopaedia Britannica). Calligraphy wants to produce a reaction, whereby a deeper meaning is communicated from artist to spectator, by contrast, the purpose of handwriting is to be read.
Calligraphy varies across the world and has developed over millennia, each culture having their own nuances and creativities. Clearly with different alphabets the look of the art changes considerably. Western Calligraphy generally involves a ‘thick and thin’ effect with a regular pattern, this is achieved with the broad, flat nibbed pen that you are likely to have seen. Calligraphy has strong roots in Arabic cultures and can still be seen widely in these countries, in architecture and design as well as text. The style of the calligraphy used in Islamic texts has been useful in determining the geographical and likely time period they were composed, the tools used tend to be more traditional too, made of reed.
There are key skills which any Calligrapher must master, the three most basic of which are:
- keep the pen-angle constant;
- lead the nib, don’t push it;
- make parallel lines and even curves.
Those passionate about this art talk of harmony (the relationship between the elements), rhythm (of the Calligraphers repetition) and ancestry (the heritage of the letters shapes)
So, what place does this ancient, protracted art have in the hectic and disposable age we now inhabit? Well, maybe that’s just the point, it’s the perfect antidote! Anything which can slow us down, which we can stop to appreciate has to be good. It is also, stunningly beautiful when looked at closely. In an era of mass production, the demand for bespoke and handmade is going through the roof and the addition of such a personally crafted art form is surely a winner. Major fashion and luxury brands are now using Calligraphy to set their products apart.
Nicolas Ouchenir, the self-taught French Calligrapher is in high demand, counting Channel, Cartier and Marc Jacobs amongst his clients. Ouchenir works with his clients to learn about what they hope to say through the lettering, developing a new unique alphabet just for them. He uses a variety of tools from bamboo shoots, fountain pens and brushes to create his masterpieces. Like any skill, he believes it takes continuous training and he can spend eight hours creating a new letter, such is the detail of his art.
Back in the U.K. after a hugely successful inaugural celebration last year, the 15th August sees the second annual World Calligraphy Day held at the Birmingham Pen Museum and organised by Manuscript Pens. So, this Calligraphy Day why not give it a go? Of course, you’ll need something to write in. At Woodblock we recommend the Leuchturrm 1917 hardback notebook, it comes is a dotted format, ideal for practicing your letters, the paper doesn’t bleed and the stunning range of colours is sure to inspire your artistic side.
For a long time calligraphy has been side lined as a stuffy art form and reserved for invitations and place cards, but we might now get to enjoy it more widely if the new pioneering artists of this long honed skill continue to forge ahead.