Letter Artistry

Professional Calligraphy by Design

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Flourishes and Blots - The Beginning

"Occupation?" the Custom's Officer said, idly thumbing through my passport.  His eyes were slightly glassy, no doubt a coping mechanism to get through a day of travel-weary passengers with turblent dispositions.  Air travel isn't what it used to be, after all.  At least that's what my grandmother tells me.

"Calligrapher!" I beamed my cheeriest smile.  I've heard the mantra about attracting flies with honey, after all (although why would one want flies to begin with?)

"Really?" his eyebrows shot up, and his eyes became more focused, "Do people still do that nowadays?"

"Oh yes, it's a profession still quite alive and kicking.  There's even a guild for it in Ottawa," I nodded, doing my best to seem like an upright, outstanding citizen.  

"So do you do, like, weddings and such?  Met any crazy brides?"

"Oh," I laughed, "Not too many crazy ones.  It's really amazing how organized some of them are, though!  No I do other things too, commissions, government work, that sort of thing.  It's quite fun, although you really have to be pretty self-motivated."

"Huh.  Well it's something different, I guess," he gave my passport an emphatic stamp and handed it back to me, "You have a nice day now."  His gaze was already turned to the next passenger, although my vanity fancied that perhaps there was a spark of alertness in his eye that wasn't there before.

Certainly when I graduated from University, my first plan of action wasn't to be a calligrapher.  I had but the most cursory knowledge of it, aside from a kit I had gotten for Christmas many years ago.  As an avid historian (my study of choice), I had run into a fair number of manuscripts to admire, but the thought of doing anything remotely like that simply didn't register as an option.  

Yet here I am, with my own studio stocked with a plethora of ink, a mountain of nibs, and (almost) more paper than books in my library.

One can never have too many calligraphy nibs...

I'm afraid part of the blame must lie with my husband, a wonderful man for whom I gave up living in a land where the word 'snow' incites a mass rush to the grocery store, followed by everyone closing shop until the threat passes.  Upon moving up to Canada after our wedding, I was extremely unprepared for the cold.  I spent a lot of my time indoors, heaped with blankets and many cups of tea, while waiting for my Permanent Residency to clear.  After rereading many of my favorite books to pass the time, I decided to learn something instead of staying stagnate.   So I searched online for calligraphy primers, having fond memories of working on envelopes recently for my own wedding, and ordered a few tools and a book on Copperplate calligraphy (entitled Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy by Elanor Winters).  

My first authentic calligraphy book.

While the book provided good instruction, I came to realize that there was only so much I would be able to learn from it.  I needed to actually see a professional at work.  One can only puzzle over phrases that don't make sense, except to someone who already knows what it is, before hair loss from frustration ensues.

I was extremely fortunate to come across the Calligraphy Society of Ottawa and take my first six week class on Foundational calligraphy (the irony of the script I was learning was not lost upon me).  Rick Draffin, a professional calligrapher who has studied under many famous calligraphers, including Shelia Waters, was the instructor and his enthusiasm was infectious.  Suddenly all those cryptic notes and "helpful" hints I read about made sense.  So this is what loading the nib meant!  No wonder broad edge nibs weren't meant to be dipped!

From that moment on, I was hooked.  Once my PR card cleared, I did a few odd retail jobs here and there, as there were no teaching positions to be had, but my passion was always calligraphy.  It wasn't enough for me to master just a script or two and then leave it behind.  I wanted to truly master as many scripts as I could to capture this art.  I didn't want to trivialize the skills passed through the ages by merely swishing my pen on the paper until I thought it looked pretty.    

There is a true science to calligraphy, a balance that is necessary to both traditional and modern styled calligraphy.   I try and bring that to my work every day, and not grow complacent in thinking "That's good enough."  To think such a thing would be truly inconceivable. 

The finished piece for the Foundational Script course | Calligraphy Society of Ottawa

Eventually I had so many commissions that I decided to focus on calligraphy full time.  Being in charge of one's own business is a blessing and a heavy burden, for no one is going to keep on top of things except for you.  Early risings and occasional late nights are still a part of the daily routine.  When I'm not occupied with commissions, I enjoy honing my skills, which generally involves an excessive use of the word minimum (a word that is good for checking the consistency of one's letters and spacing).   But I find that I do best when there is a challenge, even if it means going through the daily grind to get that beautiful finished piece.

After all, you have to go through blots to get to the flourishes!