Dispelling two common myths about calligraphy

by Ariela

When I tell people I am a professional calligrapher, I get a lot of different responses, everything from "Wow!" to "That's a thing?" But two comments I hear the most are "I could never do that, my handwriting is terrible!" and "You must have a lot of patience." 

Today I would like to put these misconceptions out of their misery. Or at least try.

Misconception number one: you must have good handwriting to be a calligrapher

I can't speak for all calligraphers, but when I do calligraphy, I use a completely different process than when I am writing anything else. My equipment is different, the way I hold the pen is different, and the motions I make are entirely different. I have a sneaking suspicion that if my brain were scanned while I was writing a shopping list vs. calligraphing a text, different parts of my brain would light up.

My calligraphy is relentlessly regular. My actual handwriting is actually all over the map. When I am writing slowly it is reasonably neat, but when I write quickly it gets sloppy very quickly. Here is an example of something I jotted down for myself recently:

Yes, I scribbled the date and location of Troi and Riker's wedding on the back of an envelope.

Yes, I scribbled the date and location of Troi and Riker's wedding on the back of an envelope.

Looks totally different than my calligraphic hands. (Honestly it looks like a combo of my parents handwriting.)

If you want to learn to do calligraphy, it doesn't matter what your handwriting looks like. You must be able to hold a pen for extended periods; hold your hand steady; draw a short, straight line; and draw a curve. If you can do that, you can learn calligraphy. Some people, for many good reasons, cannot do these things. And while this might also lead them to have less legible handwriting, poor handwriting is not the reason they wouldn't be able to do calligraphy. Correlation not being causality and all that jazz.

Misconception number two: you must be really patient to do calligraphy

I have a hard time not scoffing whenever I hear this one. I'm a very impatient person. Perhaps not more than the average person, but I can only see what goes on inside my own head. Really, I am not patient. What I am is tenacious, perfectionist, meticulous, and stubborn as all get-out. If all  you see is me sitting, making stroke after deliberate stroke with my pen, yeah, it might look like patience. But it's being fueled by something very different.

In one respect I suppose it is kind of true that you must be patient, in that calligraphy is not a craft that you can pick up quickly. I had been doing calligraphy as a hobby for seven years before I apprenticed to a professional. I went through 3 months of apprenticeship before I was even allowed to do the smallest bits of jobs for clients. I did small professional jobs for two years before I started doing bigger ones. Even now it takes a while to complete any one piece.

So yeah, I spend a lot of time perfecting my craft. But so does any artist. Or author. Or athlete. And probably lots of other professions starting with other letters. But I bet that Yo-Yo Ma, N.K. Jemisin, and Serena Williams don't get told "Wow, you must have so much patience" in response to their explanations of their careers, even before they became famous.

So just because you are an impatient person, don't think that you cannot do calligraphy. Sometimes it will be hard and boring, yes, but if you want it enough, it will be worth getting through that time to get to the reward at the end.