Quashing Calligraphy Myths

Do you ever get asked “What do you do for fun?” Depending on your situation you may give an extended or down-sized answer about the SCA and what we do. But what reaction do you get when you tell them the crafts you do includes calligraphy?

Barnes & Nobel’s notes.

I’m always surprised to get the response, “Oh, I could never do that, my handwriting is terrible.” That astounds me because my cursive sucks lemons. And it’s getting worse all the time.

Have a look at the notes I jotted down as I drank coffee at Barnes and Nobel’s. My cursive looks totally different than my calligraphy. The lines are up and down hill, some are even curved. In this short space I’ve scribbled the letter “p” two different ways. Nothing is consistent.

It’s a fallacy you need good handwriting to do calligraphy.

Calligraphy and casual cursive are two different things. Writing is a mindless process you do without focus. With calligraphy the motions you make are determined and intentional. You concentrate precisely on each letter and all its parts. Every ascender, descender and flourish.

You also use different tools and materials. I use a dip pen for calligraphy and a ballpoint pen for note writing. And I use special paper on an inclined surface for calligraphy not a dollar-store scrap-paper pad.

If you want to learn calligraphy your handwriting quality doesn’t matter. Here’s what’s important for learning it. You must be able to

  • hold your hand steady
  • hold a pen for extended periods.
  • draw both a short, straight line and a curved one.
  • have the deep drive to learn.

If you can do those four things you can learn calligraphy.

It’s a fallacy you must have patience to do calligraphy

My mother was a wonderful, skilled knitter. It’s a period craft and being in the SCA I’ve tried that several times. I even know from my youth how to do things like cast-on and yarn over. But I’m a lousy knitter. I have zero patience for it. I’m just not interested.

What I am is a determined perfectionist. If you see me repetitiously making stroke after deliberate pen stroke it may seem I’m patient. But I’m fueled by desire to do a scroll text well.

My Proto Gothic class example.

Your determination to learn calligraphy is what’s important. It takes time to learn the skill. Stroke repetitions and letter duplications teach your eyes and hands each script’s singular forms. Especially when starting out the more you practice the better your results.

Experienced scribes know the practice they’ll need and some receive enough just doing their scroll’s mock up. But it also takes uninterrupted time.

To complete any one calligraphy piece whether scroll, quotation or mantra you immerse yourself in your work. Planning the project, lining the page, learning the script, writing and spacing each letter and word. And that doesn’t include the extras like gilding and paint.

But any artist, athlete and many professions also need those traits to learn their skill. I bet it took your favorite performer years to get to the pinnacle they’re known for today.

It may be hard but with enough will it’s worth the time and repetitions. You’re creating the beautiful art you’ll have in the end. 

Remember, though, you never stop learning as long as you are creating projects. After 20+ years as a Calontir scribe I still am. That’s why I say, “Each scrolls and experiment.” Each project is a step to the next.

With conviction you can achieve the skills it takes to create beautiful letters and the works of art they’re on. So step outside your comfort zone where growth and fun happen. I know you can do it.

Thank you for reading! I would love to read your thoughts or your own learning experiences.

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