The Calligrapher's Life

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Ditch Those Boring ABC’s: 4 Simple Tips to Practice a New Style


Whenever I sit down to my art desk to practice calligraphy, I’m never sure where I’ll start first. I go into it knowing that I want to practice a letter I haven’t tried in a while. Unfortunately, the same nagging questions run through my mind. What letters will I practice tonight? Should I practice the alphabet again? If so, should I try the lower case, upper case or both?

I usually fidget around with my iPod, looking for a good playlist, sorting through pen holders and nibs, and doting over the right paper to use until inspiration strikes.

Occasionally, I choose from a list of quotes provided by my calligraphy class to change things up. It helps to write in the upper and lower case in regular sentence form. But, I’ve grown tired of the same quote lists and discovered different ways to practice a new letter without passing out from sheer boredom.

Of course, as artists, we shouldn’t agonize over reinforcing our skill. Calligraphy is fun and relaxing. So, let’s drop those ABC’s for awhile and expand calligraphy practice with these following tips:

  • Check your address book with names of family members and friends and practice writing the names with formally, like Mr. and Mrs. Robert Brown, instead of Robert and Michelle Brown.
  • Grab your favorite song lyrics from a CD or check Google and enter lyrics for “Girls Just Wanna Have Fun”. It brings up the title and song, so you can practice your favorite verse or the entire song.
  • Purchase a book of quotes. You’ll have an endless resource for practice and possibly for a future project. If you have favorite quotes, keep them readily available to pull out for a practice session, so you’ll void using the alphabet. The quotes help you use both upper and lower case letters.
  • Use your favorite bible verse. The book of Psalms offers inspirational verses that make great lines for cards and keepsakes.

Next time you prepare to practice calligraphy, you’ll have no excuse to simply turn to your ABC’s. Break up the monotony and try the suggested ideas. Happy lettering!

What form do you use for warming up or learning a new hand?


Spencerian – Fancy Pointed Pen for Beginners

Thinking about trying a flourished and fancy writing style to challenge your inner calligrapher? Have you tried any of the pointed pen styles? Well, there’s no need to freeze and panic like I did when I first started. If you’re excited about trying a formal style, like Spencerian or Copperplate, I’d suggest Spencerian. Once you begin this hand, you’ll discover Spencerian is not the easiest pointed pen style to learn, but if you’re a beginner looking for something fancy, I recommend it.

Before calligraphy class, I assumed Copperplate and Spencerian were the same, but they are very different. While writing in the Spencerian hand, the calligrapher must write gracefully holding the pointed pen light enough to show ink on the page. A heavy pen stroke throughout the word could confuse the style with Copperplate. The lowercase letters flow easy with a light touch, but the uppercase letters are a different matter. They demand more concentration with thin and thick lines similar to Copperplate, but with very different styling to characterize the hand.

The Spencerian hand originated in America in 1848 by Platt Rogers Spencer. He created a writing style that would be easier to use, faster to write, and more legible for business and education. Before the invention of typewriters in the early 20th century, students learned Spencerian as normal handwriting similar to the cursive writing that our school children learn today.

With the invention of the word processor, it seems like words are created at nearly the speed of light, so handwriting with a pen to paper shows care for its recipient. This is possibly why calligraphy has experienced a rise in popularity for formal occasions, like weddings and other exclusive engagements.

At first sight, the Spencerian hand looks intimidating with swirls and curls delicately surrounded with soft handwritten words. But, believe me; it’s easier to write than you think. If you practice the basics first, you’ll get the chance to improve your skill and dress up words with wildly ornate flourishes.

Spencerian is a beautiful hand to write, but I had a tough time trying to complete the uppercase letters. Uppercase lettering is important to learn because it provides the starting point to creating fabulous flourishes, but they require the most practice time compared to lowercase letters.

In my opinion, Spencerian is not a hand you want to learn alone. Of course, the lowercase letters are a snap to grasp, if cursive writing came easy as a child. But, the uppercase letters alone are worth spending time and money. In class, you receive instructor assistance and classmate encouragement, which helped me tremendously during my first practice hours.

For calligraphers who’ve practiced other pointed pen styles, working solo with an instructional video or book on how to write in Spencerian hand should be simple.

Now, stop reading, grab your pen and ink and give the Spencerian hand a try. If you’ve tried before, start practicing. You’ll fall in love with it all over again. And, for the beginner, once you’ve practiced for a week, you’ll see exactly what I mean.

Have you tried this hand before or one similar? Feel free to share your work. I’d like to see it.

Thinking About Italics?

With the end of my calligraphy class, I’ve started the summer with a chance to take on new projects and learn new styles. After reviewing a few hands from another calligraphy book, I’ve taken the joy in learning three styles that favor the italic hand. At first, I practiced all three in one weekend and then practiced each one every week. Right now, my art desk is covered with paper and a variety of pens in multiple-sized nibs.

The semi-casual italic styles I’m working with resembles the italic hand with a fun yet fancy flair and I’m sure they’d look great for addressing envelopes or even offer visual appeal in an art project. But, the entire process got me thinking about traditional italics. I wondered if I could actually still write this letter well.

Lately, I’ve tried traditional italics with my broad edge Parallel Pens and, I’m happy to report, I haven’t lost my touch.

During my calligraphy journey, the italic style was the first style I tried to see if I’d really enjoy writing the alphabet with a weird pen. But, during the 12-month period, I discovered my love/hate relationship with italics and by then, I was already hooked. A special bond developed with this style until I dropped it completely to focus on learning uncial, Copperplate and Spencerian during my calligraphy class.

Italic handwriting is possibly the best hand for any new calligrapher to learn. Obviously, most people think about italics when they think about calligraphy. It’s possible they’re envisioning a beautifully flourished italic word with its delicate slopes and broad edge lines.

Though modern–age technology replaced handwriting significantly in the early 20th century, italics is one hand that’s survived since the 15th century. This style developed in Italy and emerged in manuscripts and scrolls. Today, italic handwriting also graces scrolls, but it’s also found on certificates, invitations, signs, envelopes, as well as, art projects.

In my opinion, any novice calligrapher would enjoy learning italics. Compared to other hands, its broad edge lines are forgiving when it comes to those unavoidable mistakes. And, if you’re too nervous to invest in dip pens and nibs, a fountain pen set already complete with broad edge nibs and interchangeable color cartridges make it fun and easy to learn whether you’re 9 or 90.

You’ll enjoy the challenge and benefits italics bring if you join a class, or even if you learn solo. Believe me, with time and patience, you’ll see results.

When did you first learn calligraphy? Did you try italics or another lettering style?

Calligraphers Must Be the Best Recyclers

According to the EPA, Americans use over 85 million tons of paper products per year and we’re only recycling half that much annually. If you know anyone involved in the arts, it’s no doubt they’re using their fair share of paper for sketching, writing, or painting. In my opinion, they should be avid recyclers.

With the amount of paper calligraphers use for practice, we should be number one at recycling. Sketch artists and painters usually sketch lightly on a page, but normally keep it for the final project. On the other hand, calligraphers hone their skill by practicing several hours in an effort to maintain mastery of a lettering style; otherwise, they’ll lose the ability to create flawless lettering. When you think about it…that takes up a lot of paper!

During the school year, I compared my paper use with my children and wondered who uses more paper…them or me? While they’re using paper for homework, tests, art projects and plain old doodling, it’s not uncommon for me to use practice paper and sketch pads every week to perfect a certain letter styles or plan out an art project. While sitting at my art desk, I’ll pull sheet after sheet practicing and sketching layouts consuming more paper than I realize. It’s fun, but the paper’s piling up.

In an effort to save on costs and unnecessary paper consumption, I’ve tried writing on both sides of the paper. If you haven’t tried this before-take my advice-it’s not a good idea. Unfortunately, writing on the back poses problems depending on the prior ink used. When the ink dries, indents and bumps from lettering on the other side causes the nib to skip or rip up the paper. At best, it’s aggravating.

So, if I’m strictly using the paper for practicing styles, I’ll cover every inch of blank space with lettering, excluding the normal area for ascenders and descenders. As stacks pile up each week, I find this practice reduces excess paper use, though it’s still necessary to make room for new paper.

Over the years, I’ve managed to develop a large collection of practice sheets, so it’s time to organize and recycle them. Looking back, it’s not easy to let go of the hard work I put into those pages. It impresses me to see how much I’ve accomplished in my ability to create polished calligraphy letters, but now I’m prepared to let go.

As a compromise, I’ll keep the first two practice sheets from a new letter style, plus any doodling sheets for future inspiration. Everything else gets recycled. I promise.

Do you save your practice sheets or recycle them?

Lettering All Around

Scott's Garden Roses
Next time you’re driving around town, look at the billboards and store signs. As you drive to work, passing building signs, advertisements, and drinking a cup of coffee from the nearest drive-thru, take a look around-you’re surrounded by calligraphy.

With the popularity of computers and word processing, calligraphy is ignored and taken for granted. Today’s technology generates graphic designs at the speed of light with cost-effective production compared to using several artists for the same job. Unfortunately, calligraphy’s losing the battle with respect from newer generations.

Although calligraphy is defined as “the art of beautiful handwriting”, computer-generated lettering didn’t magically appear…it originated from hands designing with a pen and ink.

As I recall, beautiful lettering on certificates and greeting cards impressed me, but I didn’t give much thought to their creation. I lacked any knowledge of present-day artists using calligraphy and I assumed computers printed the stunning designs wihtout any credit given to its original designer. In my ignorance, I thought calligraphy started and stopped with early Americans dipping the feather in ink.

We may not realize it, but we’ve been influenced by decades of beautiful hand lettering through product brand names. For example, historical corporations, like Coca-Cola, General Electric and Ford use Copperplate and Spencerian hands in their logos. No wonder those hands are still popular today!

While a friend planned her wedding, I discovered calligraphy continues today through artists’ handwriting invitations, place cards, and addressing envelopes. In addition to wedding calligraphy, I also learned that lettering artists sell their work to businesses, ad agencies and special event planners.

Now, as a lettering artist and enthusiast, I understand how much this art affects our daily lives. It’s not just the basic alphabet… it’s communication that’s easy on the eyes. I just wish it didn’t take me so long to discover this.

In my opinion, children should learn the value of this art early on. Schools teach cursive handwriting in third grade; they should also offer an introduction to calligraphy in middle school or high school art classes.

Even if we’re young at heart and never took an art class, it only takes a few seconds to appreciate a fine work of art. Go ahead and enjoy your next drive. Scope out signs, check the packaging or menu at lunchtime, and ask yourself, “I wonder how much time the calligrapher put into this?'”

Give Brush Lettering A Try


If you’ve never tried brush lettering, it’s actually easier than you think.

Artisans accustomed to using a paint brush might have an easier time with it, but don’t let it chase you away if you’ve never picked up a paint brush before.

Brush lettering is a form of calligraphy used by artists and writers from all over the world for communicating visual arts. It’s simply creating letters or characters with a small paint brush and acrylic or oil paints.

Although this freehand lettering remained popular for sign writing and other paraphernalia in early American history, it’s lost prominence due to the rise in computer technology. Fortunately, artists and calligraphers keep it alive through arts and crafts projects across the country.

For instance, I recently used a casual style brush lettering for hand-crafted invitations with impressive results. Even without prior professional instruction, I received several compliments, which boosted my confidence and inspired me to learn more.

The Calligrapher’s Bible by David Harris and Brush Lettering Step-By Step by Jim Gray and Bobbie Gray were two good sources of instruction. The former provides simple tips on creating modern brush lettering in a variety of styles and the latter demonstrates brush lettering basics for artists or beginners who need guidance through each step. It also provides ways to practice with minimal investment by using tools and supplies you might already have.

If you’re a calligrapher who prefers writing with pen and ink, grasping the concept of this lettering only takes patience and enthusiasm. And, it should be a breeze to learn solo along with a lettering guide since it requires similar strokes with a slightly different approach.

So, give it try and practice until you’re comfortable and pleased with your progress. When you’re ready, move onto adding charm to your favorite item with a name or quote on glass, wood or canvas.

The audacious calligraphers who’ve practiced brush lettering understand the balance of joy and challenges that accompany this art form. From monograms to quotes, brush lettering gives artists infinite fun and creative possibilities as soon as they pick up a paint brush.

Have you tried brush lettering? What projects have you worked on?

Beginners…It’s Time to Try Something New

Like many artists and crafters, there’s nothing better than learning new techniques to pique creative ideas for exciting new art projects. Mixing varieties of medium for added textures and visual interests are so much fun that it’s not hard to lose track of time.

From drawing to sculpture to web design, there’s endless information ready to absorb at our fingertips. Unfortunately, we get so caught up with creating that it’s easy to neglect expanding our horizons into new medium.

In recent years, I attempted watercolors and scrapbooking and didn’t realize calligraphy provided an enhanced and customized look for my projects. Skimming books and practicing solo, failed to impress the idea of mixed media for projects.

Using pencil for sketching and paint for color was the closest I’ve ever come to mixing more than one medium. It wasn’t until I attended the calligraphy class that I discovered calligraphy offers more than addressing envelopes. I learned the benefits of changing things up, so all this time, I really missed out on creating some nice stuff.

But, if you’re a fairly new artist or crafter, I have news for you.

Calligraphy beginners and enthusiasts are in for a real treat. Next month, one of Southern California’s popular lettering artists, Barbara Close, will instruct a two-part course at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana. You’ll have an opportunity to try hand lettering while getting a dose of its history.

Whether you desire to learn the origin of calligraphy or test the waters before taking a full length course, I recommend for beginners and artists looking for a new medium to try. Although it’s a two-part workshop, you have the option to take it one day or both days. Plus, Ms. Close provides materials for the course, so . All you need to bring is patience, creativity and a love for calligraphy. She’ll do the rest. Go ahead and explore a new skill.

Please note: The workshops start on July 13 and 20 at the Bowers Museum in Santa Ana, CA. Visit for fees and additional details.

The Self-Published Calligrapher

Being a fairly new calligrapher keeps me humble in the presence of those who have invested tremendous time and effort into the art. So, naturally, I respect seasoned calligraphers for their dedication, patience and creativity  that continue to inspire me on a regular basis.  And, if a calligrapher takes the next step to write or publish work in a book or two, I’m in absolute awe. Published work conveys the artist as an authority on a subject that even professionals can’t help but admire.

For example, a classmate told an impressive story about a Society member she met at the Society for Calligraphy annual meeting, who published a calligraphy book but she’d never heard of him or seen his work. During the meeting, she introduced herself and inquired about his enthusiasm for calligraphy.

The self-published writer and calligrapher of Korean descent created the book specifically for calligraphy enthusiasts in Koreantown and claimed it’s popular within his community. Apparently, Koreans enjoy the look of American lettering and his passion for it led him to produce a book.

His story provides amazing inspiration because this “fifty-something” man learned calligraphy without any outside direction or classes. He practiced regularly by copying calligraphy samples from a few books until he decided to take on the publishing of his own. During class, I had an opportunity to review the book and the pages were filled with calligraphy samples written in English, then translated into Korean. It also contains entertaining jokes and interesting quotes, particularly for his targeted audience, and it’s such an inspiration for artists with a dream and desire to publish their work in the future.

Summertime, Kids, and Calligraphy

Summer’s drawing near and I’m already looking forward to fun with the kids. Lately, I’ve wondered exactly what will keep them occupied with constant activity and challenges aside from sitting in front of the television or playing video games.

For the past few days, my husband and I have been brainstorming ideas and struggling to find a variety of activities to stave off boredom.

Luckily, I discovered an idea last week during class when our instructor mentioned calligraphy for a new generation. She explained that if we expose our kids or grandkids to this art at an early age, then the art form will thrive. Classmates agreed and stated that encouraging children to visit calligraphy workshops or an occasional meeting exposes them to hands-on experience, which creates more enthusiasm for hand-lettering.

Suddenly, I experienced an “a-ha” moment. I realized this season offers the perfect opportunity for me and the girls to spend quality time while they learn the basics of calligraphy.

A 30-minute mini-workshop will allow the girls to explore their artistic talents and learn a new skill. Each session will give them the chance to build on their new-found skills and incorporate it into art and daily life.

Although I haven’t experimented with this approach yet, I thought I’d share a few ideas for parents looking for a different summer project to try with kids. And, don’t worry if you’ve got boys. The industry includes highly successful male calligraphers who create magnificent lettering.

Consider inviting children ages 6-17 for a mini-workshop. They should enjoy this new activity since children are normally exposed to art throughout school. If you have a third grader, it’s possible they’ve been exposed to cursive writing recently, so this workshop should be easy for them.

In case you’d like to try the workshop with your kids, I’ve indicated a few tips to get started:

  1. Start with tracing paper and calligraphy markers (found at craft and art stores). If you’d rather not invest in the markers, try using a ballpoint pen.
  2. Gather calligraphy letters to trace. Copy letters from your calligraphy book or print letter examples from (found in “art studio” section under “art lessons”). You’ll find lettering techniques for the kids to trace.
  3. Practice tracing with pencil. Once the child feels more comfortable with the pencil, he should feel more confident writing or tracing with the calligraphy marker.
  4. Try an easy project with cardstock. Have the child write his name in calligraphy on plain, colorful cardstock. Then, offer embellishments, like stamps, stickers, and glitter to decorate the paper. Add the finished piece to a scrapbook or hang it in the child’s bedroom.

I’d suggest doing this project about once a day for a half hour to an hour or break it down to once a week and place any unfinished work to the side for your next session. Finishing a project will encourage your child’s inner artist and teach them a new skill for the summer.

What new projects have you lined up for your child’s summer?

What’s In A Book?

Think about the month of June and the subject of weddings and graduations pop up in conversation. The lucky “June” brides and hopeful graduates often look forward to a new future, so celebrations are definitely in order.

Although I don’t know a single bride –to-be, nor do I personally know of a 2010 graduate, thoughts of this season and an ending semester, sparked an interest in a wedding calligraphy book I stumbled upon at the Cerritos Library last year.

At the time, I didn’t feel confident enough in my skill to check out the book, but I flipped through it gazing at the colorful wedding paraphernalia on nearly every page. For at least a minute, I wished for the skill to duplicate the images I witnessed. Without hesitation, I promised myself that I’d be back for the book the moment my lettering improved.

Well, that day finally arrived and I felt comfortable checking out the book to demonstrate my new and improved skills. While visiting the local library last week, I located the book and checked it out immediately.

Weddings, Invitations, Announcements, Place Cards, and More, written by Bette Matthews includes gorgeous calligraphy from several talented calligraphers and it’s filled with valuable information for the bride-to-be, as well as, calligraphy students and enthusiasts.

The book guides novice calligraphers and do-it-yourself brides through a gratifying journey with calligraphy sectioned into the classic, elegant, romantic, modern and artistic.

Various calligraphers contributed their detailed work demonstrating creative ideas and examples of wedding invitations, envelopes, announcements, favors, menu cards, place cards and other memorabilia. The inviting and vibrant photos would stir up the imagination of any lettering artist seeking new ideas. Unfortunately, a bride with limited artistic ability might find its contents intimidating.

Even though the lettering offers some challenges for brides, it does provide practical advice, such as wedding etiquette, tips for working with calligraphers and over 10 lettering styles to choose from.

On the other hand, this book shares instruction and examples for calligraphers looking to try new letter styles or learn layout techniques for a wide variety of projects.

If you enjoy calligraphy and plan to use it for weddings or special occasions, this book is a great starting point. But, if you’re planning to tackle some calligraphy ideas on your own, do yourself a favor…start six months in advance.

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