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Doing calligraphy is like painting with words. Calligraphers try to make words come alive through beautiful writing!

The letters of the alphabet that we use for just about everything we write today were developed between the Roman period and the Renaissance (100 to 1600 AD). That's according to New York-based calligrapher Jim Bennett.

Modern typefaces, or "scripts," as they are known by calligraphers, are based on a few major alphabets, including the Roman alphabet, explains Bennett.

Calligraphers show their stuff when they achieve a balance between copying the letters of the traditional alphabets and blending in their personal style and creativity. They achieve the "art" in their work by adjusting the strokes and angles of their inked pens or brushes.

You might expect that calligraphy has gone the way of the dinosaurs with the advent of computers and the electronic age. The opposite appears to be the case.

"In our technological age, appreciation for the art of calligraphy has grown incredibly. Calligraphy is a fun hobby, a great business and a creative art," says Bennett.

Calligraphers have actually found opportunities for their craft in the digital world. "Calligraphy is a form of drawing and certainly drawing can be done through computers, although it's not a full-bodied experience by any means when you use a computer to create telegraphic letterfaces," says Georgianna Greenwood. She is a calligrapher from California.

"To earn a living with calligraphy, a person really needs to be a graphics designer as well," she points out.

That is the case of Ivan Angelic. He makes a living combining his passion for calligraphy with graphic arts and technological skills. He uses his calligraphy skills to create things like logos and lettering designs for businesses ranging from hotels to bottled water supply companies!

Susan O'Keefe is a calligraphy buff. She believes the interest in traditional hand-drawn calligraphy will continue to grow as computer technology becomes embedded in our lives.

"When things get too automated in life, people start being nostalgic and will come back to wanting things done by hand," she says.

She was the first president of the Friends of Calligraphy. That's an international group of amateur and expert calligraphers that was organized in 1974 to promote the study and practice of calligraphy.

Now, simply doing a Web search for calligraphy societies can yield hundreds of responses. In fact, there's probably a calligraphy guild or society in your home town, or somewhere close by.

It is impossible to say exactly how many people are involved in calligraphy these days. But some organizations boast memberships into the thousands, such as the Association for the Calligraphic Arts. This organization represents 5,000 calligraphers, mostly in the U.S. and Canada.

Getting Started

One of the best things about calligraphy is that it is accessible to everyone. It is inexpensive to get started and you can do it just about anywhere!

"Indeed, it requires very few materials. You don't need very much space. And since you can probably write anyway, you already know the basics," says Bennett.

For about $50, you could set yourself up with a good quality pen, and the ink and paper needed for calligraphy, Greenwood says.

She says that the serious or professional calligrapher shops mostly from catalogs. She adds that some products marketed in stores for calligraphy are not ideal for the art. "For example, fountain pens are not the best thing to use because they don't make a good enough mark. In general, you need to use dip pens," she says.

John Stevens is a calligraphy buff from North Carolina. He suggests beginners use bond paper for practice because it is fairly smooth and won't bleed. He says you should use high quality, more expensive papers for your finished work.

Anyone can learn calligraphy, according to both recreational and professional calligraphers.

Calligraphy buffs agree that patience and an attention to detail are required in calligraphy, much more than having natural artistic talent. "A 25-line poem could easily take two or three hours to do," notes O'Keefe.

"You've got to set it all up first. I'm only inking one-third of the time I'm working," explains O'Keefe. "Everything I do is perfectly set up in pencil first, partly to make sure it's right and also so I can concentrate on the art form itself."

O'Keefe says she is normally not a patient person. She gives calligraphy credit for teaching her this skill. "I guess it's [because] I like the art form. I know I'll be pleased with the outcome, so I'm willing to be patient to achieve it."

You can learn the basics of calligraphy a number of different ways -- through books, courses or even through the Web. Beginner calligraphy classes for evenings or weekends can often be found in community college or recreation calendars.

Most experts think it's wise to get together with other calligraphers to learn from each other. Workshops often have space for both beginner and professional calligraphers.

O'Keefe's only calligraphy training was in a short class in high school years ago. She found herself recently teaching a couple of calligraphy classes for seniors.

"Because I was self-taught, I never thought I could teach others, but it turned out pretty well. I used my notes from high school," she says.

"I started out with Gothic, which is an old English script that really shows you how the pen works. Then I taught italic, which is a more popular script. Once you know that, it just depends on how much you want to practice. You can only take so much instruction," says O'Keefe.

Greenwood has been teaching calligraphy for 36 years. She agrees that the best way to learn calligraphy is by actually doing it. She says that it doesn't take long to learn how to do calligraphy. The basics are fairly easy to learn. "The crucial thing is uniformity of letterfaces, and good letter and word spacing," she explains.

You can do calligraphy just about anywhere. Try it on a paper napkin while waiting for your food at a restaurant, or on a bookmark in your open book while you're riding a bus. For the most part, however, calligraphy buffs usually create beautiful writing in the tranquil environment of their own homes.

"I need complete silence when I sit down to do calligraphy," says O'Keefe. She has been making money from her art on a part-time basis for 15 years. "I usually only work when my husband is out, otherwise I'm too distracted."

There is an endless list of the kinds of things people create for personal enjoyment, or for work projects, using calligraphy. Some examples are invitations, menus, certificates, logos, or even lettering for the Web, film or music packaging.


Association for the Calligraphic Arts (ACA)

Friends of Calligraphy


Calligraphy for Everyone
A quick and fun way to begin to learn calligraphy online

Calligraphy Center
Includes info on a week-long workshop held twice a year in North Carolina

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