«Skillful drawing of a calligrapher always captivates by the unity of strict discipline and free creative impulse expressed in the rhythm, melody of the letters and their interweaving. Expression and discipline are two sides of the art of calligraphy. In the work of a mature and experienced artist they do not argue with each other but are balanced and combined in harmony. Probably, only music and calligraphy can express innermost feelings of their creator as fully as that. Calligraphy is much more than the graphic beauty of the letters, calligraphy is a constant perfection of form and incessant mastering of the writing skills.»
Hermann Zapf, International Calligraphy Today. NY: Watson-Guptill Publications, 1982
The seminar we are covering in this post was devoted to calligraphy. We believe this art is an essential part of the graphic beauty and a perfection itself in every smallest font detail. Learning calligraphy and mastering the skills of touching the surface with a stroke of a writing instrument is highly important for understanding fonts of different types and classes. If you at least once try hard to picture beautiful letters with your own hand, you will never issue a business card with the font Comic Sans on it (nothing personal).
Dmitry Prudnikov as the one who knows calligraphy as well as his own five fingers, shared this knowledge and experience with the rest of our designers at this graphic beauty seminar of ours.
Source of inspiration
At some point of my life I came across works of a contemporary Dutch calligrapher, typographer and designer Niels «SHOE» Meulman, who successfully made the transition from the street to high end design. He is a founder of calligraffiti — a graphic art and a stroke of genius that combines aesthetic of street art, basically graffiti, and contemporary typography. His works are often described as classical freehand calligraphy. It seems they emanate a sense of сhaos and spontaneity sweeping across the slopes of letters vested with the rights of waves, that stream down vehemently full of speed and precision.
You can see his works visiting the permanent collections of MOMA San Francisco and the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, not mentioning the fact that Niel’s letters and a famous Shoe word can be run into while wandering the streets.
Getting to know Niels Meulman and his art was something determining for me. Since then I can’t imagine my life without calligraphy.
Calligraphy tools and why fonts multiply
I think everyone has a favorite font or at least the one they are used to. I have noticed in my work that people always prefer simple styles of fonts. It’s quite obvious that distinctive and easy to follow fonts are more eyes friendly. There appear more and more styles which alongside with the already existing ones are trying to disrupt this signed by calligraphy writing business. Even though all new is long forgotten old, font designers are trying their best to make the fonts unique and competitive while leaving the past behind. During our seminar we looked at the main styles of fonts and discussed the possible reasons of why the transformation from old fonts to the new ones happen. One of the answers to this question you can feel while holding a pen in your hand — this is simplification of letters’ shape and growth in the speed of writing.
Then we had a talk about different calligraphy tools. There are many instruments one can use to make calligraphy his own merit. Each tool has its advantages and disadvantages, its own character left on paper. There are good tools like metal pens and those, that are worse, like usual stationary felt pens or markers.
Metal pens give a better precision and accuracy without leaving any gaps along the lines of the ink. Felt pens and markers making a thicker line and being quite convenient to use, at the same time don’t make a good quality work and depend a lot on the surface you put a piece of writing on. Then there is a brush — the most artistic tool which makes picturesque letter designs but demands tidiness and good skills with a great deal of patience.
Different strokes for different folks
The most essential part of our seminar was given to practical exercise. It took the biggest part of the seminar and was a terribly interesting thing to do. So what we did is tried out a plenty of tools, practised painting different typeface classes from Antiqua to Blackletter, felt the difference between Texture and Schwabacher, by taking a glimpse into history, learned why Fraktur doesn’t belong to Gothic fonts.
If you ask me, I’d say I am a big fan of Blackletter typefaces, so I’ll tell you a bit about them. These typefaces were created by using diagonally trimmed goose feathers as a writing instrument. A distinctive characteristic of such typefaces is that the letters are situated quite close to each other and the width of the gaps between the strokes equals the width of the strokes themselves. This is explained by the need of cost savings, because parchment back in the day was very expensive. This gothic sounding class whose letters look like they were taken from a sacred treasury wrapped into legends of the glory days widely uses ligature and shortenings in its old sophisticated style.
All those goose feathers and plucking chicken for the art’s sake is really fun, but what about modern calligraphy? The most popular contemporary tool is called Pilot Parallel Pen. These pens have a unique stylus construction — two parallel steel plates welded together with a little gap in between. Such pen design allows to make a continuous stroke of any length both with a side cut and an angle of the side cut providing a smooth flow of ink along the width of the pen.
Guess what is all calligraphers’ favorite? Of course most creative writing artists prefer brushes. Flexibility of this painting instrument, a variety of its forms and bristles, give absolutely unique, lively and even unpredictable results.
That was all about calligraphy for one designer seminar. However I am sure this art needs more talk about and penetration being an ultimately important skill for an artist to keep mastering. We are done for today, but there is always more to see and try out.
By Dmitry Prudnikov, Designer at Yalantis