MenagerieThe art of decorative writing
The art of decorative writing
March 29, 2015
March 29, 2015

Literally translated as ‘beautiful writing,’ calligraphy is essentially defined as written letters, differentiating them from drawn or digitally designed lettering. In oriental cultures it is one of the purest and most esteemed art forms, while in Western cultures it has a definite formal basis in modern designs based on Greek, Roman, and early Christian letterforms. A simpler, current definition that most people who hear the word ‘calligraphy’ think of, as Google aptly describes it, is decorative handwriting.

Among the many traditional and cultural crafts, calligraphy stands out for its simplicity, grace, and accessibility. This being said, there is a discipline required to make even the simplest shapes and letters intricate. While calligraphy has been around for a long time, its revival and recent practice are fast on the rise.

In the Philippines, interest in calligraphy is a growing trend. All over Facebook, Tumblr and Instagram, amid the sketches, photos and numerous selfies, one may come across something simpler, yet refreshing to look at—a quote or saying, intricately written in colors and curlicues that somehow add beauty to the meaning of the statement itself.

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All it takes is pen and paper

While mastering calligraphy requires a lot of time and effort, learning the basics is fairly simple if you’ve got a real interest for it, and the tools of the trade are even easier to find, especially in today’s world.

The usual tools for calligraphy include, of course, paper and pens. Try using different kinds of paper to find what’s most comfortable for you to use, but what’s often utilized is thin, plain white ‘layout,’ or even photocopy, paper. As for pens, calligraphers may use fiber-tipped pens, which are good starter tools; fountain pens, which come in different sizes; and dip pens—think old-style pens with wooden handles and metal nibs—often used by professionals as they can be used with all kinds of paints and inks. All of these pens can be found in online calligraphy or typography sites, or even at your local National Bookstore or
supplies shop.

Spicing up your artwork means using different-colored inks or paints. For inks, you may use either cartridges for fountain pens, or bottled inks for dip pens. For paints, watercolor is the simplest and easiest to use.


A more personal touch

There’s a certain truth that we’ve both lamented over and found comfort in: there are things from the past that eventually become lost with the passage of time. Art forms fade into obscurity because of the development of new traditions. Smart phones, computers, and the internet have changed our way of communication and expression. Despite this, the traditional art of calligraphy has made its way through time into modern culture.

Writing letters by hand, which is still practiced, and doing calligraphy are closely linked in a sense that both use the aesthetic poise of script to add sentiment and depth to words. This could be the reason why calligraphy has endured and resurfaced—it is our primitive instinct to attach ourselves and incorporate something of us in our surroundings. We identify ourselves through the traces that we leave in everything.

Modern technology created a gap between us and those that surround us. Yes, we easily communicate with others, but we do not connect with each other the same way. The art of lettering suggests physical involvement and presence, long hours, commitment, and effort.

On the other hand, texts, chat, and electronic messages exude an air of detachment. The very fact that anything can be typed using fonts and they will all look the same means that everything can be uniform, orderly, and monotonous. Calligraphist Katia Naval tells us the honest truth: “At some point, people will always yearn for something personalized, something
unique. Calligraphy in designs adds this personal touch.”

Calligraphists Jelvin Base and Marie Castro both agree with this claim, saying that “people are used to the digital stuff already” and so they “tend to appreciate more [calligraphy’s] ability to add a personal human touch to art pieces compared to digital art.”

Calligraphy has resurfaced out of this necessity—to clutch the rails of raw and sincere expression, to remember that we were once capable of the spiritual and almost ritualistic act of writing on paper, instead of pressing square buttons against a white screen. Most artists who start on this art form have an innate desire to make words look more beautiful. As Marie describes, “I’ve always loved reading, especially when the writer knows how to transform simple sentences into elegant statements. Some of them can make words evolve into something lovelier by adding an invisible melody to it… I wanted to rewrite certain quotes and make them look as beautiful
as they sounded.”


Art for R&R

The reason calligraphy draws people, according to Katia, is that it “gives you an outlet for your creative juices and destresses you.” It has become a source of meditation—a way to calm one’s self and take a break from the hustle of 9-to-5 desk jobs as well as from the anxiety that comes from dealing with problems. Imma Frias agrees, stating, “Calligraphy is something that is therapeutic… once you get the hang of it, it’s actually soothing.”

Perhaps the reason calligraphy is a relieving or relaxing hobby is that it promotes individuality and uniqueness, as one is free to experiment with different styles and strokes. As Marie says, “The versatility of this art form is what makes it interesting. No matter how long you’ve been practicing it, your handwriting will always grow and evolve.” Imma adds as well, “You get to learn something new every day because it’s such a dynamic form of art, and you also get to interact with generous people who share the same knack for ink spills and smooth paper.”


Making money from a hobby

Finally, calligraphy can also be a source of income today. It is used to design invitations for formal events, postcards, posters, print for fabric, and art pieces for interior design. Even in the most modern sense, Jelvin adds that “it can be advantageous as well for designing logos, for example.”

Calligraphers themselves can also conduct workshops for those who are interested in learning the art and developing their skills. It’s all about creating a community that enriches both human relationships and the art itself.

Calligraphy is a rapidly growing form of expression. As a traditional art form in modern society, it’s an answer to modern society’s yearning for more personal and more ‘human’ connections.

Who would have thought that a set of words fashioned in ink and unique handwriting would become that medium? Amidst the convenience and advancement that technology has mothered us with, there is something comforting about how elemental and unique calligraphy is. The depth and intensity of how we feel is transcribed to paper in stunning colors and strokes, giving a pleasure that cannot be received from a word processor. So the next time you feel Times New Roman or Comic Sans isn’t enough to convey what you really want to tell someone, why not write it in calligraphy instead?