It is interesting teaching calligraphy to high-school students who mostly type. Most people of a certain age remember the green hand-writing charts that ran around the top of the chalk-boards (another anachronism!) in our grade-school classrooms. I am told that the systematic teaching of cursive hand-writing is being phased out of schools.
Calligraphy is related to the part of the brain that draws. Interestingly, it isn’t the same as the part that controls writing. So, when I teach calligraphy, I always encourage my students, pointing out that, while my own hand-writing is nothing to brag about, I am able to do calligraphy.
I’ve been teaching calligraphy to kids since the mid-90’s, and it seems that, the less they write by hand, the more fascinated they are with calligraphy. They watch with rapt attention as I demonstrate how to use a chisel-shaped brush or pen, how the tool makes the thick and thin parts by itself, where to begin the strokes for the letters, how to figure out the proper height. For an hour or so, the classroom is silent as they dip their pen into a bottle of ink, shake off the excess drops onto scratch paper, prime the pen with a few strokes, and hold their breath to write until the ink runs out and they have to repeat the process. It’s meditative, repetitive, mesmerizing. I tell them that calligraphy itself is not a particularly creative art form, it’s more of a discipline. It trains the hand and the brain. It allows the hand to draw and paint with more mastery, control, confidence. Calligraphic letters can provide a framework and structure for a riotous explosion of creative expression.
I specialize in illuminated marriage contracts. I guess that probably makes me the queen of obsolescence: writing by hand, illuminated manuscripts, not to mention marriage. The pen I use is the same one I learned on in high school (Speedball handle and nib, C-4 for Hebrew), but I have learned a great deal about painting since I was a kid and now I decorate my manuscripts with egg-tempera paint instead of what we used to call “magic markers”.
I am increasingly fascinated with hand-written text. We see less and less of it, and when we see someone’s hand-writing, it’s almost like catching a glimpse of an intimate scene through an open door on a busy street. It’s a glimpse into the personality of the writer. The Owing Project, my exploration of owing and debt which will be exhibited at ARC Gallery this summer (July 21- Aug. 14) and at The Art Center, Highland Park in April of 2011, has collected many slips of paper with anonymous hand-written answers to personal questions about what people owe, how they feel about it, what they feel they owe the world, and what the world owes them. The little papers are fraught with emotion, which is conveyed in the handwriting of the author.