We’ve probably all sung that little song about learning our alphabet, and I’ve been singing it again quite often in recent days. I’m going back to calligraphy — or, more accurately — hand-lettering, a pen-and-ink skill I first began learning back in the 80’s.
I’ve always had beautiful handwriting. Maybe that sounds a bit immodest for me to say, but it’s true. I’ve actually been paid by various companies for such little tasks as addressing their annual Christmas cards, not with any fancy script, but simply with my nice, neat, precise, lovely handwriting.
If you’ve read much of this blog, you might already be aware of why I have nice handwriting. I was raised by my grandfather, you see, a man who was very well-read on topics of his day, and one of those topics was the work of Cesare Lombroso. I’m sure Lombroso is probably not a “household name” for most families, but his theories played an important part in my life. Lombroso is sometimes referred to as “The Father of Criminal Profiling”, and much of his profiling centered around left-handedness. So, when I began showing a preference for my sinistre hand — with that ugly Latin word translating directly to our English sinister — my grandfather stepped in to save me from a life of crime. I was taught to use my right hand for everything. The result was that I became a clumsy, awkward child who “had problems with scissors”, spilled things at the dinner table, and generally made a mess of any arts or crafts project I attempted.
Part of my “daily training” was a nightly ritual of sitting down with pen and paper and a Spenserian handwriting workbook. I was surprised to see that these books are available at Amazon.
“In the mid-1800’s, the Spencerian form of penmanship became a standard. An elegant handwriting was much prized. “
So says the advertising blurb at Amazon, and so said my dear grandfather. Night after night, I patiently copied letters.
I’m copying letters again now, not from a Spenserian workbook, but from hand-lettering sheets I’ve downloaded at Let’s Make Art. These are freebies, and you can find them by clicking on the “lettering” videos. A tab will direct you to the catalog where you can then download various sheets.
Unlike the old-fashioned fountain pens I used as a child and the special calligraphy nibs I worked with before, today’s modern art of “hand-lettering” uses much simpler implements. Most drawing pen sets come with at least one “brush tip”, and you can also purchase pens designed specifically for hand lettering, such as the Tombow Dual Tip Brush Pen. These pens are fairly inexpensive and are available in more than 60 colors!
I’m now following along with the free tutorials at Let’s Make Art, and I’ve learned the basic principle for modern hand-lettering:
Thin on the UP
Thick on the DOWN
I recite those words as I practice upstrokes and downstrokes, work on my capital letters and carefully write out the lowercase letters. One of the surprising things you’ll learn from the videos is that lettering and handwriting are two very different things, so while I may have beautiful handwriting, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I won’t need to practice a lot with hand-lettering. The reverse, of course, is also true. Even if your handwriting isn’t good, you can still learn hand-lettering.
Now that I’m learning my A B C’s again, I went browsing a bit at Amazon, and there’s a treasure trove of materials available for learning and practicing hand-lettering.
I’m enjoying my hand-lettering practice each day, and I know it will be useful for my art journaling and other projects, such as lettering for Christmas cards or birthday cards.
In the 1800’s, as I well know from personal experience, elegant handwriting was, indeed, prized. Now, in 2020, cursive writing isn’t even taught in many schools. It’s become a bit of a relic, something quaint, something no longer meaningful in today’s world. I disagree. I love cursive, love writing by hand, and I love hand-lettering. I love playing with different fonts, and as I continue my lettering practice, I hope to learn to use many different scripts.
How about you? Do you believe handwriting and hand-lettering are important to learn? Have you done calligraphy or hand-lettering?