Home > Craft Topics > Craft Introductions > Calligraphy
Calligraphy, the art of fine writing, has been practised for many centuries. It is a highly decorative art which also has many practical uses and has become popular once again as people rediscover the calligrapher’s scope for artistic expression.
Calligraphy means simply ‘beautiful writing’, but is usually understood to mean writing as an art form. Before the advent of printing processes, all books were hand written by calligraphers. While the development of printed type almost killed calligraphy after the 15th century, the introduction of new colour reproduction methods and printing processes actually revived the idea of the book as a work of art. William Morris and John Ruskin became particularly interested in creating illustrated manuscripts which could be reproduced as part of the revival of interests in arts and crafts in Britain at the end of the 19th century. Their work inspired Edward Johnstone, who produced the book which is now widely known as the calligraphers bible. ‘Writing and Illuminating Letters’, published in 1906.
Basic techniques of Calligraphy
today is used in various ways; graphic shapes for poetry, wall hangings,
rustic woodcuts, greetings cards, hand drawn illustrations, family trees,
town maps, posters and certificates.
Many calligraphers like to experiment, developing new and
exciting techniques with colour, another idea is to use a piece of
calligraphy as a guide for cutting out a stencil, which can then be used
to make repeated patterns on fabric or paper.
The main tools of the calligrapher are pens, inks and paper.
Other equipment used includes; a drawing board or adjustable desk top
which can be tipped up to a convenient angle to save bending, a smooth
cutting surface, craft knife and steel rule for trimming sheets of paper
accurately and cutting mounts; good lighting; a ruler and set square;
scissors and tape; and masses of A3 layout paper (a translucent light
weight paper) for planning out the designs.
Pens – most calligraphers use penholders with
interchangeable steel nibs, which are available from good art shops. Other
professionals prefer to cut their own nibs from quills, using a special
knife. Pens can also be cut, as ancient calligraphers used to, from bamboo
cane or reed; and for Japanese
calligraphy, special brushes have to be
used to create the sweeping strokes.
Most amateurs, however, start with ready bought pens and nibs.
Paints and inks – The pen is used to apply the inks, or
colours, as professionals call them, to the paper.
In fact, most calligraphers do not use ordinary inks, since they contain shellac to make them waterproof, and this tends to clog the nib. Tubes of water colour, designer’s gouache or cakes of water colour paint, mixed with water to an ink like consistency, give better results. Every artist has his or her own preference.
Paper – the selection of paper will affect the final
results. Ordinary writing paper, which is now available in a marvelous range of colours, can be used, or larger sheets of cartridge and other
types of paper available from art shops.
Different pens and different thicknesses of colour, combined
with the texture of the paper, all affect the result.
Traditionally, parchment (from sheepskin) and vellum (from calf skin) were used, but these are rather expensive and require special preparation.
The art of calligraphy involves an appreciation of the
direction and thickness of writing
strokes, the proportion of the letters,
the significance of serif and sans serif styles, the spacing of letters
and words, and the arrangement of the lines of writing.
There are a great many formalized styles of handwriting used
by calligraphers, but the styles do not have to be strictly adhered to.
Skilled calligraphers will invariably introduce characteristic personal
touches to their lettering.
decorative element can be added to calligraphic work through the use of borders; simple rules, alternating dots and waves, and so on. Many
calligraphers illuminate letters – usually the first letter of a poem or
a chapter of a book – in much the same way as medieval manuscripts were
decorated. These letters are known as versals.
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