I began lettering somewhere in the early 1980s (I was about 10) using two books – one by Margaret Shepherd and one by Ken Brown. I hardly met anyone else who knew about or studied calligraphy until I was in high school. My art teacher was quite good at Old English or Blackletter but not interested at all in discussing calligraphy with me. In fact, he gave me a B on a final project on which I had worked extremely hard. It was a crest with a monogram and ribbons at the bottom surrounded by roses. I loved it. However, he told me he was the only one in the class that was worth an A. (Way to encourage your students, Mr. P!)
It wasn’t until I was in my early 20s that I found out there were others and <gasp> they even had group meetings called guilds where everyone got together and talked about calligraphy! Then I found out there was even a supply catalog for all things calligraphy – John Neal Bookseller! And then another – Paper & Ink Arts! Pens, and nibs, and inks – oh my! I’ve posted previously about how I discovered Maria Thomas’ work and pointed pen in a Victoria magazine one fateful day in 1993. When I learned about pointed pen, my whole world shifted! Love at first sight. Italic, uncial, and blackletter took a back seat to copperplate and spencerian script.
I was even more lucky when I took a chance calling calligrapher Laura Cedar, a wonderful lettering artist who advertised in Martha Stewart weddings like I did. We talked on the phone almost daily for years although have never met in person because she is on the west coast and I am on the east coast. We were fast friends and shared so much in common, especially our love for pointed pen.
I then met a few fellow local calligraphers and was invited to a guild meeting. I still felt alone though. Whether real or imagined, I felt judged for having learned calligraphy in a vacuum by a book. And not only was I <gasp again> self-taught, but apparently, I didn’t do italic the “right way.” Then I found cyberscribes, an online calligraphy community, and met even more fabulous calligraphy lovers.
Initially, calligraphers still held things close to the chest. Every new thing I learned was like uncovering a hidden calligraphy secret. At most workshops, we weren’t allowed to take photographs of the artist’s work. Completely understandable as the fear of copyright infringement was rampant and most artists were not yet sharing portfolios online. (Most calligraphers did not have websites yet, and it would still be a decade or so before Pinterest existed and we would all *want* people to repost our stuff all around the internet!)
However, about this time, the internet was developing at a rapid rate. Calligraphers started sharing their work more and more online. Somewhere along the way – boom – we let go of much of that worry that sharing would somehow rob us of our hard-earned work. Sharing became the new norm. I have found calligraphers by nature are very caring, sharing, and loving people with very big hearts.
There has also been a delightful shift over the past few years to a new style of calligraphy. I call it Contemporary Calligraphy, others call it Modern Calligraphy. Suddenly in the past year or so new lettering artists are popping up all over the internet. It is absolutely refreshing to see the shift go from perfect copperplate or spencerian letters, all evenly lined up to the expressive, personal lettering we are seeing today. While of course, good quality, rhythmic pointed pen will always be cherished, this new style is so free and such a beautiful reflection of the artist.
Some scoff at the “beginner” look to some of the styles and say artists should learn to master the rules before breaking them. I say, flourish away – be free – express the beautiful letters inside you! You don’t *have* to spend years mastering the traditional styles before you can develop your own contemporary style. They are not the same thing! And each has its own intrinsic beauty.
It’s exciting to see all the new lettering artists blossoming out in cyberland. And they are also such kind and sharing people. People say cursive lettering and handwriting altogether will become a thing of the past. I say pishaw! I am just thrilled to see a whole new generation in on the calligraphy secret.