An overview of calligraphy
The art of decorative handwriting. The word calligraphy comes from ancient Greek and means beautiful writing. A calligrapher, is often known as a scribe or a letters artist.
A history of calligraphy
Calligraphy is as old as writing itself. Familiar styles such as the writing in old bibles using Uncial script (all capitals) are examples of writing before the invention of the printing press. Although, hand writing continued it was at a much smaller level than before. This gave rise to a lull in calligraphy until it was revived in the twentieth century.
The revival of calligraphy started with Edward Johnston. He is considered the father of modern calligraphy and writing with a broad tip. He created scripts like Foundation Hand, which is used today by people new to calligraphy. Foundation Hand is both easy to read and less complicated to learn. He wrote books and took classes in penmanship to help the art back into popularity.
Another notable person in the revival of calligraphy also in the twentieth century, was Graily Hewitt.
The invention of computers, word processing and graphics programs with thousands of fonts has most definitely changed the landscape again but the art of hand written calligraphy lives on because of it has a unique and intrinsically beautiful appeal.
Tools of the calligraphy trade
Getting ready to start
Pull together all the tools you will need to complete the work before you start. Masking tape is good for holding your paper in place. Give yourself enough space to work, if everything has a designated place then you will find it quickly.
Clean and tidy
Keep the area clean and tidy, so that you do not transfer anything onto your work. Ink pots can spill, so stick them down with masking tape or put them in sponge. Put blotting or newspaper on your table in case of dripping and spills. The pens you are using will have ink or paint on then, corrugated paper is great for keeping them on the table top whilst you are working.
Use a sloping board, so you do not need to learn as far over whilst writing. Make sure you light your paper well and that it is positioned to reduce shadows from your hand.
Pencils come in various levels of hardness. Soft pencils are easier to erase, harder pencils stay sharp longer and can give a thinner line. You will be using pencils to mark up your paper with ruled lines and drawings. A gentle touch will help you erase later.
You will need a couple of different rulers. A clear plastic ruler for marking lines is best, so that you can see through to the lines already drawn. You can also use compass for circles and checking widths. A plastic transparent T-square is a quick way to get your guide lines drawn.
You have a choose of two types of pen either fountain or dip.
To get started with dip pens, you will need at least one handle and a selection of nibs. The shape of the nib is what affects your writing shapes. For a project where you need to use multiple nibs, getting more handle will save you time.
With fountain pens, you have the advantage of less potential for mess. However, cleaning out a fountain pen to change colours can be difficult, so you may need more than one pen for multiple colours.
Painting and paints
Try to get yourself a china palette that will not stain and a selection of brushes to mix, write and cover larger areas. You will need to get good quality brushes for the writing.
Erasing and cutting
Use softer erasers for rubbing out lines, so that you do not damage the paper too much. When cropping a piece of work a metal ruler, cutting mat and hobby knife would be needed.
You may also want to get a protractor to help you set the angle of the nib before you start writing. For example with pointed italic, you would hold your pen at 45 degrees and the letters slope about 10 degrees.
Materials used in calligraphy
Your two main materials are the inks you use and the papers or other materials you are writing on.
Inks can be waterproof or non waterproof and even liquid metal. You can get different inks for use with dipping or fountain pens.
You can buy your specialist calligraphy papers in a multitude of colours and weights, often called cartridge papers. When choosing your paper try to make sure that it is, sized - meaning that the ink will not bleed and acid free - so that it will not discolour over time (e.g. cotton or rag paper rather than wood pulp). For finished work with a lot of text try to get heavy weight paper around 300gsm, for lighter works you could start at around 200gsm and for practise pieces 120gsm.
You may want to get pen cleaning solutions and sealing wax.
Techniques of calligraphy
Using a nice clear flat surface, with your tools laid out, select the pen you would like to use.
In order to write evenly, you will need to create a series of five parallel lines on the paper with a sharp pencil. These lines are the baseline, waistline, ascender, descender and the cap height line.
Firstly, draw your base line with a ruler. This should be parallel to the top of the piece of paper you have cut to size.
To get the height between the base line and the waist line, you will need to draw a nib ladder, using the pen you will be writing with. A nib ladder is a series of square strokes of your pen, each one above and to the right of the proceeding one (looking like a set of stairs). Start at the base line and draw the nib ladder about six or seven squares high.
If you wanted to write italics for example, you may draw your waist line at five nib widths high. Draw a mark on another piece of paper placed between the top of the fifth nib ladder square and the baseline. Use this mark to create the waist line, then use the same marked paper to create a parallel line below the baseline (the descender) and one above the waist line (the ascender).
To create the cap height line between the waist and ascender lines, pencil mark about half way between the two. Place a piece of paper and mark to help you create the parallel line.
This is the basic principle for creating all calligraphic text. You can play with the heights as you wish and practice with lots of different font styles. Enjoy.
PS. If you have a light board you can put pre-marked paper behind the paper you are writing on, to give you the guide without the need for pencil marks and erasing. Writing on a board on angle can be easier than on a flat table top.
The actual writing is all about pressure, pace, the inclining of the pen to create thicker or thinner lines. The flow of the artists hand, creates a unique piece of work with an individual feel.
Tips and tricks of calligraphy
If you are thinking about becoming a scribe and would like to make a living from calligraphy, then here are a few ideas for you.
Firstly, practice and get really good at your writing and develop your style. Choose quality materials and tools to get a professional finish.
Start off creating letting for your friends and family. They will appreciate it and will hopefully give you some honest feedback.
You could create original pieces that are then reprinted as limited editions or as part of larger print runs. You could create textual illustrations for books and magazines or frame poems and other letters as wall hangings.
You could create calligraphy for events like weddings, private parties and corporations, including invitations, place names etc. People love monograms and other very personalised works. You could also do signage for businesses, certificates and the list goes on.
Once you are recognised as a professional, you could also run calligraphy courses to pass on your knowledge and skills to future generations.
Ideas and inspiration for calligraphy
Calligraphy is a beautiful art form that unlike many other works can directly tell the story. In addition to the numerous alphabets and potentially your own take on them, you also have pen patterns and your own sketches to incorporate into your work.
Lettering is everywhere and it is used in many styles to convey messages that can inspire, impress and sell to us. Spend time looking around and thinking about why that script may have been chosen and what it conveys to you. Think about how it has been written, the angle of the pen and the additional embellishments. Analysing scripts from the past is a really good way to get ideas, whether it is the very popular Roman Capitals, old fashioned Uncial, Gothic or Italics they all give the reader a different feeling.
As a scribe you may be asked to create works based on familiar and or unfamiliar alphabets. You may also be asked to complete or add to a work in the same style. Being able to analyse the scripts, will help you complete this type of work.