Handwriting can take a variety of forms, from a hastily scrawled grocery list to an elegant wedding invitation. While your grocery list isn’t likely to be admired as a work of art, some forms of handwriting are, as they’re designed to be both functional and beautiful. Calligraphy is one such form of writing, and it’s a type of art that’s accessible to anyone. With a bit of practice, patience, and a few basic tools, anyone can create beautiful calligraphy.
Calligraphy is the art of creating decorative handwriting with a pen or brush. Words written in calligraphy must still be legible, but they should also be created with artistic intent. Each stroke is made thoughtfully, paying attention to the aesthetic impact of every thick or thin line.
Calligraphy is thousands of years old, dating back to the origins of writing itself. Ancient texts written in Aramaic and Hebrew show variations in stroke width for artistic effect, as do some of the earliest copies of the Quran. One of the earliest civilizations to place a high value on calligraphy was China during the Han Dynasty, when calligraphy was first thought of as a type of art. It was also crucial to know for those who wanted to be able to write well using Chinese characters. In fact, for more than a millennium, from the late 500s to the early 1900s C.E., calligraphy was a required skill for Chinese government workers. However, despite its long history, the word “calligraphy” wasn’t coined until the early 17th century. That’s because until the 15th century, most texts were written by hand, and since legibility was usually prized more than aesthetics, they didn’t really need a word for calligraphy, any more than we need a special word today to mean “neat handwriting.” Once typesetting took over and most texts could be printed instead of written by hand, calligraphy came into its own as an art form. Today, calligraphy is used mostly for art and to lend a touch of class to party invitations.
If you want to learn how to do calligraphy, you’ll need a few basic supplies, including paper and a writing implement. Many modern calligraphers use brush pens, which are easy to use and allow you to create continuous lines of varying widths. But if you want to use the traditional approach, you can use a dip pen with nibs and ink. Once you have your supplies, you’ll need to master the different types of strokes and letter forms. This is a lot like how you learned to write as a child. You can print out worksheets to trace over, or you can follow along with video tutorials, but either way, you’ll need to practice each shape over and over again. In time, you’ll perfect each letter and build the muscle memory you need to create it.
Ascender: The part of a letter that rises above the center of the line
Baseline: The line on which the bottoms of the letters sit
Counter: A partly or fully enclosed space within a letter
Descender: The part of a letter that extends below the baseline
Gothic: A style of calligraphy characterized by pointed, angular letters, commonly found in medieval European manuscripts
Italic: A style of calligraphy characterized by sloping, slanted letters
Kerning: The spacing between letters of a word
Ligature: When two characters are combined into one connected unit
Majuscule: A capital letter
Minuscule: A lowercase letter
Serif: Small decorative strokes added at the tip of the main strokes in a letter
Stroke: A single line
Tines: The metal points at the end of a pen nib that spread apart when you apply pressure
Underturn: A curved stroke that moves downward and then curves back up
X-Height: The height of the main part of a lowercase letter, not counting ascenders or descenders