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Write it down – otherwise you will forget

Wise Words for Calligraphers

Sometimes it’s good to reflect on the wisdom we’ve built up over the years, and if that can be shared with others to their advantage, that’s great.

Although these are from a calligrapher’s experience, they probably apply in any creative pursuit, and quite possibly in other situations too.

Write it down – otherwise you will forget. 

How many times have you come back to a piece of practice (or finished work) and wondered how you did it?  At the time you will have made all sorts of choices – pen size, nib widths, techniques, materials, colours.  You may even have said those immortal words to yourself “I’m bound to remember”.  So you saved the 30 seconds it would have taken to jot a note in the border of the piece at the time, but possibly the secret for how you created that look is lost forever.

(If you do commissioned work, it’s even more important to keep notes, because it’s possible that your client may come back to you, wanting something similar or even identical).

tips for calligraphers - write it in the margin

Tracing is not cheating.

Tracing another person’s work and passing it off as your own is, of course, not acceptable.  However, the activity of tracing (or meticulously copying) a piece of work that you admire is an excellent exercise.  It will help you decide which tool was used, and increase your understanding of how the letters were formed.

If you were to trace a classic script (such as the Ramsey Psalter Harley MS 2904) it should help you to form your own foundational letters better.  It might be that you discover new ways to manipulate your pen that will become features of your own calligraphy going forward.

(Tracing is also a good exercise for getting your hand and eye and brain warmed up ready for a writing session.)

tips for calligraphers - tracing isn't cheating

You are unlikely to be 100% satisfied.

As our calligraphy skills grow, our hand gets better at creating the strokes we wanted.  At the same time, our eye gets better at spotting what is good – or not good – in the lettering.  Because of this, we are always going to spot foibles in our own work that we wish were better, and we’re always going to be saying to ourselves “if I did the piece just one more time I’d do this differently”.  Always.  So it’s important to learn to recognise that a piece has reached a high standard and is finished and ready for sharing.

Stop pointing out mistakes.

When you look at someone else’s calligraphy you (generally) see a beautiful piece of work, showcasing the calligrapher’s skills.  It’s almost impossible to view our own work in this way – instead we see a patchwork of all the things that didn’t quite go as we wanted them too, or that we’d do differently if we were doing the piece again.  What’s needed is to remember that’s not how others will see it.

But what do many calligraphers do when someone’s looking at their work?  POINT OUT all the things that are wrong!  It’s a bad habit, which we’d all do well to avoid.

tips for calligraphers - stop pointing out mistakes

Look how far you’ve come.

It’s a good habit to write the date on pieces and tuck away examples of your work.  If you find yourself feeling a bit disillusioned it can be great to look back at your earliest work and see the progress you’ve made.  Looking back at work you might also find ideas you’d forgotten about and even pieces into which you’d like to breathe new life.

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