For as long as I can remember, I have loved words. As I child I lapped up books and was, apparently, desperate to learnt to write once I had mastered reading. My mother taught me the basics but what I really wanted was to emulate her pretty, old fashioned hand.
I loved the writing classes in my first years of primary school, in which we were taught joined-up writing from the word go, first in pencil and soon thereafter in fountain pen. (I went to a very old fashioned school!) Over the years my hand improved only to deteriorate rapidly when I went to university and then on to work. Madly scribbling down what people said, whether whilst interviewing them or negotiating contracts, eroded my previously elegant handwriting. However, I still like to get out a bottle of ink and pen a note in a more careful hand. And it would seem, I am not alone.
For all our addiction to the digital world, with messages exchanged by email and SMS, many of us still long for beautiful, tangible forms of words. Much in the same way that vinyl records and analogue photography have been rediscovered, so have more traditional ways of committing words to paper, like the elegant art of calligraphy.
A couple of weeks ago my bookish friend D and I attended a workshop organised by Quill* to learn the basics of this art. In the back room of the wonderfully named pub, The Blacksmith and The Toffeemaker, our tutor Imogen Owen guided us with a mixture of enthusiasm and calm reassurance into the world of modern calligraphy.
This style of is a far cry from the austere Gothic script of the late Middle Ages, painstakingly written with a square nib, and a lot easier than the rule heavy elegance of Copperplate. It embraces the ‘swirliness’ of traditional Copperplate but is much more free with scope to vary the slant and size of letters to suit personal preference and style.
We spent the first twenty minutes or so practicing lines, U shapes and circles, dipping our old school nibs in indelible ink and trying to relax the hand whilst simultaneously varying the pressure. Then we moved on to writing out the alphabet in upper and lower case, which definitely triggered flash backs to those first days of primary school.
As the afternoon light faded, we turned our attention to joining up letters into words, titles and short phrases. As the shapes of many letters in modern calligraphy closely resemble those of my handwriting, the trickiest part was to avoid just producing my normal script with a calligraphy pen. Instead, I had to slow myself down to emphasise the thick and thin strokes so typical of this stylised decorative writing.
As with any skill, it will take practice to achieve a relaxed, even style but within three days of the workshop I had worked my way through the stash of practice paper contained in our starter kit and had ordered some more. I am completely hooked by this slower, more considered way of writing. Family and friends can definitely expect future gifts and cards to come with more elegant labels and notes!
* If you are in London and fancy trying this workshop, do regularly check out Quill’s website as it often offers an early bird discount.
What a nice thing to learn to do! I used to do calligraphy, too, but have found lately that my 50-something-year-old hands are a bit too achy and creaky to enjoy it anymore. Have fun while you can!