The Calligrapher's Life

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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?

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Calligrapher Appreciation

Why would anyone spend money on calligraphy when computers can do it? Recently, a friend asked me this question which caught me off guard until I realized that others probably had the same idea.

Instead of responding with a less than friendly comment, I shared a few lettering stories and invited her to try a few pen strokes.

Although my friend struck a nerve, I couldn’t blame her misunderstanding about calligraphy and how it works. At one time, I might have asked a similar question since I’m known to look out for a discount or two. But, when it comes to calligraphy for special events, I’ve learned it’s not about letters on paper; it’s about appreciation for your guest.

Today, nearly every font or letter style easily prints from advanced computer technology. Printing envelopes and letters has become so commonplace that no one finds it special anymore. Unfortunately, the newer generation fails to realize a well-practiced calligrapher created the letters first before they were added to the computer program.

Living in the 21st century, we’ve become accustomed to receiving fast “everything”.  We love fast food, fast service, fast delivery, or anything associated with fast. Fast equals better, right? In an age, where most societies spend more time on their daily commute, I guess fast should be better, but that’s another topic in itself.

If more people took time to sit down and write, they’d realize addressing one envelope doesn’t take much time if a writer uses a fountain pen. On the other hand, imagine using a dip pen and ink. This practice takes enormous patience.

First, the writer should set up a comfortable area for writing. This allows ample space for an ink bottle, nib with pen holder and envelope or paper. Next, the pen must be applied in ink to “warm up” with a few practice strokes while making sure the nib works fine. Once the writer feels comfortable with the pen nib and ink, they’re ready to address the envelope. Throughout the addressing process, it’s necessary to continue dipping the pen in ink until the addressing is complete.

For one who lacks patience, this procedure sounds daunting, but once it’s complete, the finished piece offers an added touch and shows the recipient you cared enough to spend your time, or money to hand write an addressed envelope.  

So, now that my friend gained hands-on experience with calligraphy, she now has a greater respect for a calligrapher’s fees.

Paper Planning

Today, computers help limit the need for paper, so we avoid waste while cutting costs. It’s also the best solution for saving our environment, but I’m an avid paper lover and living life without it would be unfathomable. My fascination with paper started as a child because it delights the senses and offers tons of inspiration.  From decorative greeting cards to adorable stationery, the artist in me lights up with dozens of possibilities swirling in my head.

So, it’s not surprising I became fascinated with calligraphy. 

In the early practice phase, I grabbed inexpensive copy paper to test my new-found skills. What a disaster! Ink bled throughout the paper, and you couldn’t read any lettering. On top of that, the nib and runny ink easily ripped the paper with every stroke.  Of course, frustration set in and I almost thought my chances for creating beautiful lettering were over until I purchased calligraphy practice paper.

Calligraphy practice paper resembles a graph paper with slant lines and it’s sturdy enough to handle most inks while avoiding unnecessary bleeding and smearing. After purchasing the paper, I gained more confidence in my lettering skills and used it religiously. 

During my novice period, I had no clue why someone would choose one paper over another except for obvious color or texture differences. So, I continued to buy the “official” calligraphy practice paper until I discovered the best types of paper to use for my lettering projects. Oh, what a big difference it made! 

I’ve learned valuable information from classmates and instructors, which might have taken me months or years to learn on my own.

Calligraphy is no different from any art form that uses paper. Certain papers help enhance an artist’s work without ruining the paper or the overall piece. Depending on the project, artists generally work with a heavier standard bond paper (for practice) and they use stronger papers with weights up to 100 lb. or more for specialty pieces.

The stronger papers hold light grade inks much better than standard bond papers because they contain a greater pulp content, which makes them less susceptible to bleeding and smearing. If an artist must work with a lightweight paper, it’s better to use inks with heavy carbon content, such as Sumi ink. Acrylics and watercolors also hold well for standard bond papers.

Earlier this year, I discovered a fantastic method to save paper and time in the future. Before working with your favorite papers, turn them into reference pieces.

First, choose your entire medium, like watercolor, paint, inks and markers. Next, cut out a piece of paper large enough to include a description of each medium. For example, write out the name of each substance directly onto the paper. You’ll receive an instant example of how the paper responds to the marker, ink or paint. It might seem time-consuming at first, but you’ll reap the benefits when you’re ready to start your next calligraphic project.

 Have you ever endured problems using the wrong paper for your art project?

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