Calligraphy may well be simply an artistic version of another form, that is the ideograms which make up the poem, but then not only does it reflect the character and temperament of the artist but . . . also betrays his heart rate, his breathing.
― Dai Sijie, Once on a Moonless Night
Calligraphy is art, this much is true. As with any creative act, it entails an awareness that is expressed here through hand strokes and letterforms. It is indeed poetry in motion — a calligrapher’s hand dances with the writing instrument — the conscious and measured steps of which are recorded as beautiful marks on paper.
Calligraphy is penmanship transformed and elevated. Through mindful practice and focus, the everyday action of writing by hand becomes an inspired craft which results in symbols that can carry both meaning and aesthetic sense. It evokes inspiration and discipline as the calligrapher is attuned to the skills, techniques, and tools to compose a finished piece. In this sense, calligraphy is music that our eyes can appreciate..
The Art Form
The word calligraphy originates from the Greek kallos for “beauty” and graphein, “write, express by written characters”. The translation of beautiful writing however is merely skimming the surface of what is considered to be a complex visual artform.
Any piece of art possesses certain elements that all contribute to make the whole work pleasing to the beholder. The artistry portrayed in calligraphy is an interplay of —
Form and proportion – As symbols, the letters used to convey meaning
have a cohesiveness of structure and shape that exhibits the skill of the
Arrangement – The letterforms are then brought together to create a unified and harmonious relationship between the text and surrounding space.
Heritage – The techniques, materials, and scripts calligraphers employ denote the sense of tradition passed on through generations of scribes representing different cultures.
Pattern – The individual variations and purposeful repetition of marks and spaces portray a visual flow and rhythm born from the physical process of composing the whole piece.
Creativity – The temperament of the calligrapher is expressed through their creation. This element signifies the uniqueness of a particular person’s work that is attuned to both the rules and the freedom they allow.
Given these elements, calligraphy surpasses its etymological origins. It is not merely beautiful handwriting which aims to be effortlessly written and correctly read. It seeks to resonate with what we find skillful and exquisite.
The virtuosity that is conveyed through calligraphy takes time to develop. It starts with learning and involvement in the process. Add dedication to refining the skills until the hand moves with memory as an extension of thought. To illustrate this journey, these calligraphers share their personal insights —
Lorraine, also known as @calligraphyspot and the Vice President of Fountain Network Philippines, has inspired and mentored so many in the fountain pen community through her wonderful pieces, her calligraphy classes during pen shows, and dialogues during pen meets.
Ruel, also known as @poetryjunkies, continues to hone his craft and makes creative ink swatches — in addition to sharing his knowledge and experience with friends during local pen meets.
What initially piqued your interest in calligraphy?
Lorraine ⁓ My mother was a professional calligrapher, and as a child, I loved watching her work. Several years ago, she sent me a box of her calligraphy supplies — it felt like opening a treasure box! In the box was a single crow quill dip pen, a single bottle of black ink, and one book on calligraphy. I was in the middle of planning a themed dinner party, and thought I’d try my hand at making handwritten scroll invitations. That started it all!
Ruel ⁓ It all began when I stumbled upon the Fountain Pen Network Philippines Group on Facebook while searching for a specific pen. At that time, I had no idea what calligraphy was. However, a fellow member named Lorraine (also known as Penwoman) captured my attention with her incredible talent for beautifully written words. Though I mostly lurked and admired her work from afar, I eventually reached out to her through a comment, and asked where I could find more examples of beautiful writing like hers. To my surprise, she invited me to her calligraphy group — CalligraphySpot — where I could attend meets, share pens and talents, and even make new friends. Needless to say, it was a life-changing experience that I will never forget. It also opened up more hobbies and friendships, which is something to look forward to when I’m stressed from my day job.
What advantages do fountain pens have over dip pens when it comes to calligraphy?
Lorraine ⁓ Convenience, mostly. Dip pens will always have my heart, but inked fountain pens are so much easier to travel with — especially when doing on-site work. The choices are wonderful these days too — all sorts of beautiful pens, filling systems, fountain pen ink choices, and maybe most importantly, nibs! Ultra extra fines, super flexibles, italics… it’s a calligrapher’s dream, really.
Ruel ⁓ Personally, I prefer using fountain pens for calligraphy because they are much cleaner and easier to work with than dip nibs. In particular, I find that the Pilot CH912 with FA nib offers a smoother and more fluid writing experience than the sharp tip of a dip pen. This means I can create beautiful calligraphy without worrying about accidentally scratching or damaging the paper, which can happen all too easily with a dip pen.
What are your Top 3 Tips for using fountain pens for calligraphy?
- Get inspired. Find calligraphy pieces you love, save photos of them, study them, figure out why you love them. Contact calligraphers you admire, and ask them questions — most of us are friendly, and love to talk about our craft!
- Start with what you have. Don’t go nuts right away with the acquisition of every tool, but try to master what you have at hand first. I realized recently that maybe I’m not the best reviewer of pens and nibs, because I find something to love about every writing tool!
- Consistency and fun. Technically two things, but the most important every time I teach. Once you’ve learned the correct letterforms, write and write and write so you build muscle memory — and have fun doing it! Your enjoyment will show through your pieces.
First and foremost, practice is key. The more you write, the better you will become at controlling the pen and creating beautiful lettering.
Secondly, it’s important that you find the right tools that work for you. Experiment with different pens, nibs, and inks until you find the ones that suit your style and needs.
And finally, don't be afraid to seek guidance and inspiration from experienced calligraphers. Joining calligraphy groups and attending meets are great ways to learn new techniques, get feedback on your work, and connect with other enthusiasts who share your passion for this beautiful art form.
And there we have it — two voices with common threads when it comes to discovering and learning about calligraphy using fountain pens. It is encouraging to know that this particular art form can be enjoyed with the writing instruments we are already familiar with.
I have yet to fully apply myself to learning calligraphy, and I appreciate the dedication involved and artistry expressed in this craft. Calligraphy opens up more opportunities for inspiration and imagination to take flight. I have been moved by so many pieces combining the delicate text of different scripts and intricate lines of illustrations. The most important thing is to start — and continue. I hope these insights provide that spark for you as well, and may they fuel your own creativity.
Thank you, Lorraine and Ruel, for your valuable insights!
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Written by @lekzumali
Check out her musings on Instagram!