Everything You Need to Know
About the Art of Caligraphy

We’ll start with a seemingly simple question: what is calligraphy, exactly? Although many will nod their heads in confirmation that they know the correct answer, putting it into words is a much bigger challenge. And, in all honesty, it’s not surprising that many can’t provide a reliable explanation of what calligraphy is as modern times definitely blurred the line of this discipline’s description. In fact, the introduction of printing machines has been slowly deteriorating the reputation of calligraphy as everyone who needed something written usually opted for the more effective, faster and cheaper method. Such a situation only escalated with the inventions of home printers and computers. However, calligraphy managed to survive all the difficulties history placed before it and is still regarded as a valid artistic discipline despite flying a bit under the radar for centuries. In the remainder of this article, we will attempt to clarify what calligraphy exactly is and what it is not, as well as take a look at some contemporary occurrences that dictate the current direction of the lettering craft.

What Calligraphy Is Not

The dictionary definition states that calligraphy is a skill of handwriting, or even something more vague as simply stating that it’s beautiful writing. Although undeniably true, these interpretations do no justice to calligraphy as this craft is much more than just well-performed penmanship. In fact, it is these half-hearted theories that are dimming both the value and characteristics of the calligraphic discipline. Bear in mind that the primary goals of handwriting are being quick, easily written and accurately read. Beauty, personality and artistic impact all fall second to these demands and are not at all important in handwriting as clarity and speed. On the other hand, these are some of the key features calligraphy strives to achieve. Another common and obscure explanation is that calligraphy is the process of making ornamentally decorated letters. This is, as well, partially true as dressing up the pages with different forms of decoration is a big part of the discipline. However, this is also just a segment of calligraphy as a whole and is far from a complete definition of the entire discipline.

So… What Is Calligraphy?

Calligraphy is the artistic process of forming beautiful symbols by hand and arranging them in a way that inscribes words that possess integrity, harmony, some sort of ancestry and rhythm. In this definition, integrity represents admirable proportions and design of letters and symbols. Harmony is a pleasing relationship between the words, characters and single letter’s elements. Ancestry refers to the preservation of heritage of letter-shapes, materials and techniques which calligraphers use. Finally, rhythm is a deliberate repetition that creates feelings of pattern and emphasis within the eyes of the viewer. On their own, any of these factors do not amount to a valid calligraphic discipline – only when they are all assembled together does the entire process start to take on a shape of calligraphy.

Many calligraphers agree that there is another ingredient in the mix of perfect lettering and that is creative fire. A bit puzzling and nebulous, this can be explained as a slightly mysterious life and individuality of any piece of art. This individual stamp of the calligrapher’s personality on the work is ultimately what makes calligraphy a valid member of arts, it’s the key aspect that separates it from conventional penmanship and any machine standardized letter form. Calligraphy aims to produce a reaction, just like any quality piece of sculpture or painting, its goals are to invoke a deeper meaning and communicate with the viewer on both the linguistic and creative level. Although a bit too metaphorical to be considered a valid definition, many experts recognize that reading calligraphy is the closest way one can get to hearing music with eyes. Interestingly, this may be the most precise explanation of what calligraphic creative fire actually is.

Different Types of Calligraphy as Unique Lettering

Fully analyzing the entire history of calligraphy is an almost unsurmountable challenge, one that would take thousands upon thousands of pages to be considered comprehensive. Since the dawn of civilization, every single community had its own variant of calligraphy, all of which were founded between a mix of necessity and creative desires. All of them had differing styles and tools used. Calligraphers are very aware of such ancestry and it plays a major role in contemporary calligraphy which is shaped by a long, inventive heritage. In fact, imitating historical handwriting is a wide and encouraged method of achieving calligraphic success. Learning how to write in historical styles is an excellent means of training both the hand and the eye. It should be noted that mere copying of ancient handwriting does not represent the creative purpose of calligraphy. However, it does provide both a fine starting point for beginners and an interesting exercise for those with more experience. Many specialists agree that calligraphy can be classified into four broad categories: Western Calligraphy, Eastern Asian Calligraphy, Southern Asian Calligraphy and Islamic Calligraphy.