Memory’s muscles

The body has a memory of old skills.

Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 11.53.32 pm Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 11.54.15 pm Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 11.55.50 pm Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 11.54.53 pm Screen Shot 2015-02-27 at 11.55.13 pmIt must be 15 years or more since I did any calligraphy on a regular basis.

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.

26 thoughts on “Memory’s muscles

  1. anne54 says:

    Very nice work, especially the second one. Is that from a Yeat’s poem? Your musings about children and calligraphy these days is interesting. I think I read somewhere that actually physically forming the letter helps a child to understand it and aids reading. So there is another advantage too.
    I remember the thrill of getting my fountain pen at school, and loved using it. I have recently bought one for myself and am loving it all over again!

  2. katechiconi says:

    It’s from ‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’ by Yeats; well spotted! I’m practising for lettering the whole poem in gold around the border of my niece’s wedding quilt, which will be inky blues and dark greens and rich jewel colours, spangled with stars and a crescent moon. I agree, I like the second one best, and some form of this is what I shall use. I used a Waterman fountain pen for about 20 years until I started to find it very hard to get the cartridges for it. By that time, they had discontinued that model and I could no longer get the self-fill reservoir adaptor for it. These days I like a rollerball or fibre point, but I do miss ink…

  3. Calligraphy is a beautiful art form – I did a little bit for O Level Art, and always meant to go back to it, but life runs too fast to do everything planned! Your quilt will be a very lovely heirloom.

  4. tialys says:

    Gorgeous! I keep meaning to buy myself a starter kit so that I can have a go at calligraphy.

    • katechiconi says:

      It’s not hard, it’s very satisfying and you get gratifyingly impressive results. The only input is lots of practice. My teacher told me that writing out a poem a day was the best way. “That way you stretch your mind as well as practice your strokes” was what she said. Once you get more proficient, the practice result can make nice little gifts!

  5. EllaDee says:

    I did calligraphy and tech drawing at school and loved it. I still have the books! Writing out a poem as practice is a wonderful idea, especially with good paper, inks and pens, a wonderful exercise in itself. I wonder if it might even improve my atrocious handwriting.

    • katechiconi says:

      Seriously, it can’t hurt, and it’s such a satisfying activity. My handwriting isn’t bad, but lack of practice means it is deteriorating. It’s a pleasure to make beautiful marks with a pen in my hand again. I think most people stop caring about how their writing looks once they achieve the point of fluency and a modicum of legibility. I cared about the look too, and this led me to calligraphy and a somewhat italic handwriting style.

  6. rutigt says:

    I have never tried calligraphy, cause it would take so much practising, since my handwriting is not very good 🙂

    • katechiconi says:

      It’s not fun for everyone, and it does need a LOT of practice, but I do love the results, so I shall carry on practicing till the next quilt, which needs lots of it.

  7. Kirsten says:

    Beautiful 🙂

    We used to have hand writing lessons at primary school but I doubt any these days would bother with such a thing, which is a shame. I love writing by hand. I was given a calligraphy pen with different nibs as a present and still have it, although I never managed to master it. I should give it another go, especially after finding an on-line course.

  8. Nanette says:

    I love the look of your calligraphied offerings. I always like to add old pages or music to my mixed media pieces, and your practise pieces would make lovely additions to stitching & embroidery. Perhaps i should take it up………nah, maybe not, as Viv says, life runs too fast to do it all. You could bring some with you to show me if you have room in your saddle bags 🙂

    • katechiconi says:

      I’ll see what I can do! A sketchbook and fibre tip pen don’t take too much space. I can always do you a special sheet for your work if you’d like that?

      • Nanette says:

        Wasn’t hinting, just suggesting ways pretty writing could be used somewhere in other works. See how you go with other things like making hexies maybe ( just read your latest post) sounds like you have plenty to do. A close-up look at your work will be lovely.

      • katechiconi says:

        No, no, I’m volunteering! If I have the materials with me you can tell me what you want the calligraphy to say and I can leave it with you!

  9. What a nice skill to have.
    I bought myself a book a few years ago to try to improve my awful handwriting and lack of penmanship. I have no ambitions to calligraphy; I just wanted prettier and more legible handwriting. Apparently, the book’s contents cannot be absorbed through a closed cover. Too busy sewing, I am!

    • katechiconi says:

      Very inconsiderate of them to miss out the telepathic transmission of data option… If only it would work as an audio book, with telepathic illustrations. I do believe there’s a nice handwriting style out there for everyone, no matter how dreadful their current effort is.

  10. Body memory, yes. But not always. Like the time I thought I’d execute an exuberant cartwheel after not doing one for (garble) years. Body memory failed me dramatically, with much limb tangling and a thud, although it surely amused the neighbors.

    • katechiconi says:

      Ah. Perhaps it was the lack of the practice part? I’m sure the neighbours would be glad of the entertainment value if you decide to take up cartwheeling again!

  11. katechiconi says:

    Thank you, glad you like it!

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