“Now I Know My A B C’s…”

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.

In addition to a wide range of pens and markers, you’ll find an array of hand-lettering instruction books, as well as practice pads and marker sheets.

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?

21 Comments

  1. I do appreciate calligraphy and hand-lettering, though I’m not really a fan of the style of modern hand-lettering that a lot of card makers in particular use, much of it tends to be over-stylised to the point of illegibility…

    My handwriting has never been pretty, reasonably neat but nothing more. Mind you, given how little I actually write these days, other than scribbled notes, it’s not surprising that it’s a bit rough now… I have tried to get a grasp on the basics of calligraphy at various times over the years, but being left-handed makes it harder.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’m not going to get too involved with calligraphy. I love seeing it, but mostly I’m just learning to do “hand-lettering” so I can use it in my art journal. I still write a lot — 3 notebook pages almost every morning. That was an exercise Julia Cameron came up with in “The Artist’s Way”, and since I enjoy writing, I started doing “morning pages”. I skip weekends and days when my husband is off work.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I did some calligraphy in high school. The lady up the street taught me to do fracturschrift, it’s the PA. Dutch lettering with serifs and illuminated letters. I had a lot of fun with that! I’m naturally left handed too and back then I switched to my right so I wouldn’t smear the ink. Do you letter left handed or right? Do you normally hold a pencil in your right from making yourself do it?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I usually write with my right-hand. Occasionally I switch to my left, especially if I’m painting, and especially with watercolor. I think it would be fun to learn a few fancy illuminated scripts, but I’ll just stick with simple, modern hand-lettering. There is an unending number of things to do, and sadly, only a limited amount of time each day. 😦 I think I have a workable art schedule now each day, but that means keeping some things to the side.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. LOL… I just mentioned in my replay to Chris Ludke that there’s never enough time and that keeping a “workable” art schedule means putting some things aside. What’s working best for me is to choose 3 or 4 “art areas” to work on, following tutorials, reading books, or trying specific projects. I focus on those things, and everything else stays on that proverbial back burner. Right now my “art agenda” includes my oil painting index card project, a bit of acrylic pouring, and calligraphy. On weekends, I play with mixed media and art journaling. This scheduling method gives me a chance to work on a variety of projects, yet it doesn’t leave me overwhelmed. I spend my mornings in the studio, then after noon I still have time to fix dinner and straighten the house. It’s working so far. 🙂

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  3. I did calligraphy in High School Art Classes in the 1980’s. Yeah I do think handwriting should still be taught, sadly I heard it isn’t. I suppose most young people today would consider it antiquated. I still write checks to pay bills, so knowing how to write your signature should at the very least still be taught.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Hi. I just read your blog post and loved it. I have practiced calligraphy for a bunch of years now and it does have an effect on your everyday handwriting. I have had a lot of compliments on my handwriting. I still use a fountain pen, which is my favorite. I am still learning to use the pen nibs. It was fun seeing that there are people who still practice this dying artform! Thank you for the link, I will check it out! Happy writing! Karen

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi, Karen. Glad you enjoyed the post. When I did calligraphy before, I used fountain pens and learned a couple “fancy” scripts. I enjoyed it. For now, though, I’m doing a much easier form of lettering using a “brush-tip” pen. I’ve tried lettering with watercolor, too. That’s really a challenge for me. I’m in an “art journal” group, and I loved seeing the lettering other artists were doing on their pages, so I decided to follow along with the free “lettering lessons” on the site. I’m hoping I’ll improve with practice, so all those practice sheets are very helpful.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I always had a good handwriting..neat clean and a bit cursive..my primary school teacher was so good in teaching me that..it’s funny but I heard the name Calligraphy few years back when I was reading a book by Paulo Coelho ” witch of Portobello”. It striked me and I researched..I knew this is the thing I want to explore more..I did tried and still trying..I am not much into very complex lettering style. I like sleek and simple more into classic style.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Calligraphy certainly runs the gamut from very simple to extremely complex! I’m keeping my learning very simple to use in my art journal or when I make greeting cards or birthday cards for someone. Maybe someday I’ll play around again with really fancy letters, but for now I’m content to keep it simple and classic.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. I’m so sorry you were one of those lefties that family worked to change to right handedness! I’m sure you’ve read Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain and the author’s opinion of that practice. I’m glad you are able now to use your right brain to create and enjoy art! Learning to letter must be fun, too.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I know my grandfather meant well, and while I do write with my right hand, I still do virtually everything else with my left hand LOL… so I’m not sure how successful his efforts were. My husband is also a leftie as are several of the grandchildren. In our home, being a leftie is almost “normal”. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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