Calligraphy Smelligraphy

My adventures in artistic self-discovery continue and this time I’ve tried calligraphy – and I hated it! I don’t particularly like following rules and being precise and neat, so go figure that a technical art form is not for me.

The workshop was held at the Stanley & Audrey Burton Gallery at Leeds University and was led by Sara Mack. Sarah was keen to share with us her long and illustrious career working with a very wide range of individuals and organisations. She stressed how long it would take to be any good with calligraphy and was very supportive of newbies and the worried left-handers amongst us. although overall her teaching style didn’t match my learning style so much.

The lesson reminded me of the typography classes at college, with the focus being on the form of each letter – the size, shape, sweeps, serifs, spacing, etc. (and Graham complaining about how quiet and non-responsive we are). We talked about how upper and lower case got their names, and were shown how to create a writing space Β by drawing out a baseline and an x height four pen-widths from each other, a leaving two pen widths top and bottom for the ascenders and descenders.

We practiced each letter from the two styles of lettering at leastΒ six times each, making thoughtful and deliberate actions. Instructions were to keep the pad of your writing hand on the paper while you write and use the other hand to hold your sheets. The pen needed holding at different angles to make different styles of lettering – angles of 15, 30, 45 and 90 degrees was used and the direction of the pen nib needed regularly checking against a master chart.

We started off with a calligraphy felt tip, something I’ve not come across before, and was a good tool to gently ease us in. We then progressed to dip pen, nib, and ink – a scary prospect for the self-confessed clumsy end of the table. I liked both and both gave quite different results. Sara also passed around a whole host of different types of writing tools for calligraphy, from feather quills to reed pens, automatic lettering pens to copperplate nibs, the weird and the wonderful both new and antique were in her tool box.

As much as I enjoy attending workshops, unfortunately calligraphy workshops are not for me and I doubt I’ll be practising the skill any time soon. I like my lettering to be natural, scruffy and with a sense of personality.


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