The body has a memory of old skills.
There’s a difference to how you hold your pen to write a letter in your normal handwriting, and how you hold a pen to form letters in calligraphy. It’s a mixture of precision and relaxation. More and more these days I type rather than write; my keyboard speed is far faster than my pen, so my hand does not lag behind my brain. So, like riding a bike, I needed to reacquaint my hand and brain with the process.
It takes a while for the hand and brain to remember what they’re supposed to be doing, but it does come back.
The hardest stroke is where you are directing the nib from right to left – if you’re right handed, like me, that is. You must let it flow lightly, smoothly and confidently. If you press and push, you’ll dig a hole in the paper with the square nib, it’ll splutter and skip and your beautiful curve is spoiled. It’s a skill of the whole hand and arm, not just the fingers.
It’s curious to note that now that penmanship is no longer a skill taught in most schools, younger generations find learning calligraphy much harder, lacking the years of practice we older generations put in on shaping our letters. If you’ve never paid attention to the way you hold a pen, never operated a fountain pen with real ink, or observed and consciously selected your preferred letter forms and signature cursive style, calligraphy is hard, and needs to be painfully learned from scratch. It’s harder still for an adult to learn this, because for a child, learning to shape letters is embedded into the whole process of learning to write.
Increasingly, calligraphers are being paid to make personalised items because the beauty of a hand written object is acknowledged but cannot be achieved otherwise. Sad for the population at large, to have lost this skill, but great for a new generation of professional calligraphers.
The same ‘body memory’ applies to embroidery and hand sewing of all kinds. Once learned, the skill is retained, and after a little practice, the body remembers, and miraculously, starts to build calluses on the figures to cushion the needle – or indeed, the pen.
After several hours with a couple of different writing tools, I feel more confident in shaping and marking.
I don’t think I’ll be ashamed of my eventual results…
Exercises written with Artline 0.2 Calligraphy fibre-point pen on paper and Sharpie Fine Point on fabric.