Super Quick History
Western calligraphy has been around since the first century. It was used for official documents, religious manuscripts, and signs; informal cursive styles were used for everyday writing. Some samples of early styles are below.
The Book of Kells is considered the most exquisite work of calligraphy ever made. It is an illuminated manuscript of the four gospels written in a style called Roman Uncial. It was produced during the sixth through ninth centuries in Ireland.
Awesome Chicago Resource
You can visit Chicago’s Newberry Library at 60 W. Walton St. to (gently) flip through their extensive collection of manuscripts written in different styles of calligraphy, including 260 manuscripts from pre-1500. That’s right, you can touch them, just like any other library book! I strongly recommend going—it’s a powerful experience to hold 700-year-old artwork in your hands.
Why Bother with Calligraphy?
Nowadays, few people think calligraphy is a valuable artform to spend time learning because computers, free downloadable fonts, and high-quality printers are so accessible. However, learning calligraphy has many benefits, including:
• Fonts and printers can’t reproduce the look and feel of handwritten text
• You can incorporate text in your artwork when printing it out on a computer is not possible or practical
• You will have a deeper understanding of and appreciation for the origin of the fonts we use today
• It can improve your handwriting
The Edward Johnston Foundation, named for the artist and teacher who single-handedly revived the popularity of calligraphy in the early 20th century, promotes awareness of calligraphy and its influence on modern-day typefaces.
Calligraphy in the Art Classroom
Calligraphy can be incorporated into lesson plans related to text-based artists such as Jenny Holzer, Christopher Wool, and Nancy Dwyer. However, I wouldn’t recommend teaching calligraphy to an entire class; it takes a great deal of time and dedication to learn, so it would be most suitable for an after-school art club or community art center where all the participating students are eager to learn it.
Calligraphy would be perfect for projects that involve the combination of poetry and artwork. Tim Botts’s works serve as great examples:
Want to Learn Calligraphy?
The Chicago Calligraphy Collective has a gallery, list of local calligraphers, and workshop/event schedule. They don’t have any beginner classes right now, but these places do:
Want to Buy Stuff?
Stores like Blick and Utrecht carry some useful calligraphy supplies, but I get almost everything I need from Paper & Ink Arts. They sell more than just calligraphy supplies—take a look at their entire catalog. If I need ink ASAP, I go to Flax Art & Frame on Adams & Wabash, which carries the best ink ever, Pelikan 4001.
Want to Read (Yet Another) Blog?
Check out Scribblers: The Calligraphy Blog.