Writing by hand feels so old-timey, doesn’t it? Like it’s something people did by the light of a lantern back in the 1800s. Well, pick up that pen nib, people, because calligraphy is having a major resurgence.
The reason for the upswing goes beyond the renewed appreciation for old-fashioned put-your-own-stamp-on-it letter writing.
“It is really a collision of the DIY and off-the-grid movements,” says leading graphic designer and calligrapher Molly Suber Thorpe of Plurabelle Calligraphy & Design Studio. “For many people, machine-made uniformity is now less desirable than the tiny, human imperfections and effort recognizable only in hand craftsmanship. The resurgence in calligraphy is specifically a response to the uniformity of digital typography.”
And the art has transcended its somewhat fusty reputation, says Suber Thorpe, also the author of Modern Calligraphy: Everything You Need to Know to Get Started in Script Calligraphy.
“The perception was that calligraphy is the stuff of illuminated manuscripts and college diplomas, not a twenty-first-century craft,” she says. “Now, dozens of hand lettering artists have emerged in the forefront of this field and shown the world that calligraphy and lettering don’t have to be quaint — they can be fresh and modern and even influential to other graphic design trends.” Side note: Remember that designer who wrote all of her texts in calligraphy for a week? That was bold.
Look at all the fancy tools you get to use as a calligrapher! Photo: Molly Suber Thorpe/Plurabelle
If you’re interested in taking up the brush, you’ll find plenty of opportunities to learn. Suber Thorpe teaches both online and in-person workshops, as does Melissa Esplin of I Still Love Calligraphy.
Margaret Corley of Proper Prints, meanwhile, teaches in addition to overseeing an active community of about 2,000 lettering fans at The Curious Calligrapher. You can also reach out to a calligraphy guild near you.
Some words of wisdom from Esplin: “Beginners need to be okay with spending time troubleshooting issues and practicing with purpose,” she advises. “The phrase ‘Practice makes perfect’ is completely false. It’s more along the lines of ‘Practice makes permanent.’”
Corley adds, “It definitely took many, many hours to get the hang of it … I think any new calligrapher would just need to know not to give up. Each time you pick up a pen, it will get better and better.”
Says Suber Thorpe: “For the real newbies, I recommend a simple project like creating a layout of your favorite quote or song lyrics. Make sketches of the layout in pencil first (that’s not cheating!) and consider not only how the letters relate to one another within each word, but also how the shapes of the lines can interact to create an eye-catching layout.” (Also: Try her cool rubber stamp project!)
When you’re ready, try out one of Esplin’s great beginner projects:
6 + Ways to Address an Envelope
Have you ever received something this pretty in the mail? Photo: Melissa Esplin
This project is ideal for newbies because envelopes are fairly cheap and, even if you mess up, you can still send it off to your family or friends (let’s be real: the recipient will be psyched just to get mail from you and/or see something in her mailbox that is not a bill.)
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Lettering with Watercolors
Dip into the watercolor trend with these cards. Photo: Melissa Esplin
“Calligraphy with watercolor is one of my favorite trends right now,” notes Corley. “You can actually brush watercolor onto the dip pen and create an ombre type look or fade from one color to another easily. It’s a beautiful effect that always gives you something original.” Give it a go with this tutorial.
Captain’s Mirror Art Frame
Ahoy! Awesome calligraphy ahead! Credit: Melissa Esplin
Once you’ve got your feet (I mean, brush) wet, you’re ready to try your hand at making something that you’d love to display in your home. This DIY helps you letter a special word or phrase, then create a cool leather frame for it.
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