Calligraphy & Illumination for the Compleat Beginner

(Images to be added later – MCB)

Many people become all dithery / knotted up to think of doing ART themselves.

Don’t be.  ANYone can ease their way in by one route or another, and C&I is one of the easiest / fastest / rewarding paths I know.

As long as you know how to hand-write characters on a surface, you can easily convert your written words to calligraphy.  Basic supplies:

  1. PATIENCE – calligraphy requires you to slow your writing pace
  2. WRITING IMPLEMENT – any pen, brush, or pencil, but a chisel-point or a brush may be needed for some strokes / effects
  3. WRITING SURFACE – paper, parchment, wood, whatever.  If using a thin medium such as ink, you do need to balance porosity / wicking effects against desired legibility
  4. WRITING MEDIUM – ink, paint, dye, etc.
  5. (opt.) EXEMPLAR / GUIDE – an example of the style of characters you are trying to create (a printing font may give you enough to start – fonts came AFTER exemplars: stylebooks {collections of exemplars} predate the movable type printing press by several centuries)

The single most important thing to remember about calligraphy is that EVERY stroke of the pen / brush is separate and distinct.  It is the accumulation of separate strokes that form a character.  A good calligraphy exemplar often shows an “exploded” view of each character that will detail the individual strokes that go into making up the finished letter, number, or symbol.  For this reason, I maintain that anyone who has learned to print their characters by hand can upgrade to calligraphy with very little additional effort.  The first admonition in doing so is to slow down and THINK about the lines on the page.

The second extremely important thing to remember in creating your own calligraphy is that without notable exception every stroke of the letter is formed by pulling the pen / brush across the writing surface.  Do Not Push The Pen.

Using a square / flat pen point (“nib”), different effects are created by changing the angle of the nib as compared to the direction of the stroke.  Many common calligraphy alphabets use 45 degrees; most use no less than 30 or more than 60.  Curved elements are created when the nib “slides” to one side or the other within the stroke.

For sake of neatness / future legibility, guidelines are a great help.  I differ from most teachers of calligraphy in saying that they are not [B]required[/B], but am well aware that I am in the minority there.  There are special tools that use only optics to give the illusion of guidelines, but for most reasonably “hard” surfaces a very light pencilled set of lines will do just fine (and can be removed completely after the ink/paint completely dries with an art eraser, although they may also be left in place for artistic reasons). 

A good exemplar will show the character heights, and the extent of normal ascenders and descenders, by reference to the width of the normal pen or brush stroke.  If using a narrower writing tool, such as a common sharpened pencil or ballpoint pen, you can adjust accordingly.  (“Thin-line” calligraphy often straddles the line into Spencerian or Copperplate hand-writing.)

Illumination of a manuscript is, in the simplest form, simply adding flourishes or color to the calligraphy on the page.  Advanced techniques (such as “diapering”, the fancy background added to an oversized, usually colored, first character on a page / paragraph) builds up over time and with increasing practice / skill. In very advanced instances, illumination of a manuscript may include small landscape paintings or even miniature portraits.

Pen in hand?  Begin enjoying the process of placing characters on a page.  (Update to WORDS and you are [re]entering the world of being a WRITER…)


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