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Calligraphy: Share the Craft, Preserve the Trade

Blog Post from theflourishforum.comThere is an interesting distinction between the senses in the ability to judge quality. Though tastes are vastly different, most people will know a good gourmet meal when they eat one or recognize an out-of-tune song when they hear it. But when it comes to the visual arts, there is a much wider, more subjective range, of what constitutes quality. We can see art but our thought processes and collective experiences combine to interpret the judgment of what we see.

With calligraphy, photography, and many other visual arts, there are two common things which make the business a little more vague: the ease of its accessibility in both producing and offering it as a business, and the seeming inability for many viewers to discern quality work. We can certainly look at some art and know instantly it is “good.” But there are many people who still scratch their head at artwork that hangs in galleries around the world which don’t really look like they took much skill but have broad appeal and are often highly valued. This can be seen in a variety of visual arts, including photography and calligraphy.

I have held a camera in my hand for about the same time I have held a calligraphy pen. Through high school and college, I spent hours in the darkroom developing my own prints and spent countless dollars on film and developing. Prior to launching my calligraphy business, I was already earning income as a photographer. I was one of the first calligraphers with a website and one of the first photographers in my area to “go digital.” The invention of the digital camera walked hand-in-hand with the rise of the internet. Thus a whole new group of people who didn’t have the desire, time, or money to learn the intricacies of a manual camera, developing film, and/or printing photographs could now become photographers.

What we saw with that was a huge range in the quality of work being produced. Those of us who had already been at it for years and knew the difference between an F-stop, ISO, and shutter speed thought, ‘they’ll never stay in business because they can’t offer the quality we can.’

Two interesting things happened. First, some people who had never picked up a camera before became amazing photographers producing some enviable work virtually over night. But second, and more so, we learned many customers could not or did not discern what made a quality portrait. We watched in earnest as our business dwindled as every mother with a camera opened up shop down the street. Fast forward fifteen years later and many good quality, professional photographers are now out of business. Sure, there is still a market for photographers and always will be, but it is a much smaller one as brides and grooms have friends take wedding photos with their phones, moms can now shoot their own children’s portraits with a digital camera, and most other school or major events are overwhelmed with amateur paparazzi.

Following a few years behind, and previously much more unknown, calligraphy is now experiencing a similar internet heyday as more and more enthusiasts pick up a pen. This is great in terms of the love of our craft and sharing that love with others, but perhaps not so good in terms of being able to make a living as a professional calligrapher. Apart from its accessibility, in comparison to other work-from-home trades, the practice of calligraphy takes very little supplies or money to get started. This makes it very appealing to the enormous group of young adults looking for ways to earn income in a challenging job market or while juggling the demands of raising children. And with the creation of “modern” calligraphy, nor is much time necessary in terms of learning the techniques either.

Like with any artist trade, there will always be varying levels of skill, talent, and experience. For the most part — of course there are always exceptions — time, money, and dedication spent on the craft will follow the adage of ‘you reap what you sow.’ However, as the past few years have shown us, with modern calligraphy, (as it was for photography) this isn’t always true. There are some extremely successful modern calligraphers who still make some more traditional scribes sit and scratch their head as they wonder why. (And kudos to them for whatever media, marketing brilliance, or sheer creative genius allowed them to use their skill successfully in a whole new way!)

Additionally, the internet has not only accelerated the spread of calligraphy but also made learning it easier. Over the decades previous to the world wide web, the exposure to calligraphy was few and far between, and instructional books and classes were minimal. Today, eager scribes-to-be can see literally thousands of examples and videos allowing a much swifter learning curve. I’ve watched in awe as some artists on Instagram have learned and perfected Engrosser’s script in just over a year; something that took me years to learn and two decades later I’m still trying to improve.

As we see the rapidly changing environment, easier-to-use nibs, a plethora of paper choices, and  accessibility to learning options, new people are picking up the pen daily. This is both exciting and frightening. It’s exciting to finally have people even know what calligraphy is, let alone share your passion for it. It’s scary because the market for calligraphy was small to begin with and we all know what happens to trends — they die a quick death after everyone becomes entirely sick of it. History has shown us traditional calligraphy will always stand the test of time. The question is, will modern calligraphy drag the entire art form down with it when (or if) it becomes passé.

It’s clear there is a calligraphy trend happening or more definitively, a new calligraphy era driven by modern styles. And with good reason. It’s energetic, fresh, and people resonate with its less formal appeal. It makes a once formidable looking craft in terms of learning, more approachable, just as digital cameras did for photography.

Since I love and practice both traditional and modern calligraphy, one of the things I desired to do with Flourish was bridge the gap between modern and traditional calligraphers. I believed us to all be the same in our love and pursuit of lettering. But as time goes forward, one distinction has become very clear. Whether they create more traditional styles like Copperplate, Gothic, or Italic, and/or other contemporary styles of pointed pen, generally traditional calligraphers study the craft, the history, the tools, multiple styles, and moreover, are dedicated students and stewards of the trade. Small industry circles equated to careful, thoughtful action within the community in terms of teaching or business. Many have spent decades learning and practicing before ever considering starting a business or teaching others.

Modern calligraphers are more apt to practice one style of their own pointed pen script, spend minimal time studying letter forms (as modern calligraphy has no one form), and feel ready to start a business or teach others soon after picking up a pen. Overall, I’m painting with a narrow brush and there can be exceptions to both, however, this has been my and others, general observations over the past few years. Not to say there aren’t those who are dedicated students or contemplative in regards to business, there definitely are. Thankfully, the craft of fine calligraphy will be carried forward by the growing segment of newcomers who bridged the gap by starting with modern calligraphy and then decided they wanted to go deeper and learn traditional styles.

The distinction though, also means something else; perhaps something more significant than just the sharing of a love of letters. The craft and trade of traditional calligraphy takes years, if not decades to learn, hone, and share. The basics of modern calligraphy can be learned in a couple of hours and in turn is often sold and taught in rapid succession.

So does it matter? Some would say no as we always need to adapt and change with the times, and like it or not, this is how it works in our world today. I would argue it matters a great deal. It isn’t about the differences between us, it’s about the quality of work we produce and share with others. It’s how what we do effects not just us, but an entire industry. As a calligrapher, I have always felt a great responsibility to do my best to help preserve the integrity of both the craft and the trade. I do not wish to drive a wedge between calligraphers and I would never discourage anyone from pursuing their dreams. Nor do I think one must study for years before deciding they want to start a calligraphy business.

However, I hope people will take an honest look at their work, solicit constructive and forthright feedback from other professionals, and ask themselves if they can offer a quality service and product which upholds the value of not just the market, but the trade as well.

I endeavor to continue to be a good steward so the practice and art of calligraphy will withstand the trend, be more about love of letters than love of money, and continue on as a meaningful expression of words. And I hope those who take up this craft, whether as a traditional or modern calligrapher, will do the same. While it may not matter to some, it will matter most to those who have made their living as a modern day scribe, those who have dedicated a lifetime to its study, and those who truly love not just the look of any given script, but the tradition and beauty of the craft itself.

Truly,

Erica

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Happy New Year!

Happy New Year Flourish Friends!

Just a quick note to say hope you all have a fantastic new year filled with fun, family, and flourishing! In honor of new years (and staying up late to wait for my teenager to come home safely), I created a mini-tutorial of Tips for Calligraphy & Design. I also added a new board called, Design & Layout where members can share their design tips, secrets, and examples.

Design Tips for Calligraphers

For all you new members, this is just one of many tutorials at Flourish. If you are a new member, please be sure to check out the Copperplate Tutorial video series in the Pointed Pen Nirvana section.

So grateful to all of the wonderful members at Flourish for answering questions, sharing information, and spreading the love of lettering! 2014 has been a great year!

Happy 2015!

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New 2015 Sharing & Caring Exchanges Announced!

As the year draws to a close, I am relishing in all the new friends made, new knowledge gained, and pure joy Flourish forum members have spread throughout the globe.

It’s been equally as fun preparing for the new year ahead. I’ve updated the homepage with some new colors and a new look. And I’ve published our new Sharing & Caring Exchanges for 2015!

This year’s exchanges were a smashing success and members shared beautiful calligraphy all over the world. In total, we sent over 2,000 calligraphed envelopes and cards! Next year promises to be even bigger with lots of fun themes and opportunities to share our creativity and love for calligraphy.

You must be a member to participate so if you haven’t registered yet, sign up now. Our first exchange, the ever popular Valentine’s Exchange has just opened up for sign ups and our first ever Advanced Exchange, “Mimic a Master” has just opened up as well.

Wishing everyone a very happy New Year with much health, happiness, and success in 2015!

Flourish Forum Calligraphy Exchanges

 

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UPPERCASE Magazine #23 – “The Calligraphy Issue”

This is one of those “pinch me” moments.

I am a HUGE fan of UPPERCASE Magazine which is published, edited, and designed by Janine Vangool. Janine is seriously a creative genius. Issue after issue is so incredibly inspiring and so full of creative content. It is really quite remarkable how one person can do all that she does and do it so well.

So you can imagine how excited I was to see Issue 23 was scheduled to be “The Calligraphy Issue.” But you can’t imagine how over the moon I was to be asked for a feature. I am incredibly humbled to be included among some of the calligraphers I most admire.

I highly recommend you purchase not just this issue, but a full subscription. And as a sweet deal to all you letter lovers out there, Janine has offered this fabulous discount. Use the discount code, “letterlove” for $15 off subscriptions until October 31st. You can purchase here.

Erica McPhee feature in UPPERCASE #23

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Practicing with Precision

Hello Flourishing Friends!

For those of you interested in modern calligraphy, if you’ve been following along with our copperplate tutorials, you now have a general background with which to branch out into your own style. I hope this tutorial series has helped you understand how to use a pointed pen and the basics of learning copperplate.

For those looking to learn a more formal copperplate, I highly recommend Dr. Joseph Vitolo’s Script in the Copperplate Style ibook as well as IAMPETH for learning Copperplate a/k/a Engrosser’s Script.

For both groups looking to hone their skills, I have added a quick tutorial to our Pointed Pen Nirvana board about practicing with precision. This video outlines the next steps for studying a more formal copperplate, specifically how to square off the tops and bottoms of your letters. It also includes tips for paper, pen, and hand angles. It includes a detailed, slow motion, close up of how the nib creates the squared off tops and bottoms.

I hope you find it helpful. As always, you know where to find me!

Truly,
Erica

 

How to Practice Copperplate with Precision

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Final Copperplate Capitals Tutorial is done!

I can’t believe it but I have finally finished Capitals Q through Z. If you knew what I had to go through to finish this! First, my firewire cord stopped working. So I ordered a new one. Then that one wouldn’t work, then I tried uninstalling movie maker, then switched the cords around. Then I dropped my computer and voila – the firewire started working again! But then my scanner wouldn’t work!

Unfortunately, the version of movie maker I re-installed didn’t have narration capabilities (weird that Windows would remove that function in an upgrade!). So I uninstalled and reinstalled various versions of Windows Live Essentials FIVE times! When I loaded the final version, the “add narration” button was there but once it finished loading, it disappeared! What?!

So I gave up and just gave in to the fact my life is always full of these petty things trying to trip me up! GRRR! I used a separate sound recorder and finished! Hooray!

This completes our Copperplate lessons. I am so pleased to have accomplished this and to provide an introduction to learning. Remember the lessons are only available in the Pointed Pen Nirvana board which can only be seen if you are logged in. I hope you all have enjoyed the tutorials as much as I have enjoyed making them!

I’m off to work on Dasherie Magazine!

Truly,

Erica

Free Copperplate lessons at theflourishforum.com

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How to Find the Tutorials!

Happy Spring!

A few members have expressed difficulty with finding the tutorials in the forum. The Pointed Pen Nirvana board is only visible if you are registered with the forum and logged in. Once logged in, it is super easy to find and I promise, once you get the hang of forums in general, you will be able to navigate your way around lickity-split!

The nature of forums is linear and categorical but they seem really confusing until you understand how they work. Then they make sense because they really are logically laid out.

If you are at all confused about how to find the board, please take the time to watch this 15 second GIF or video below.

How To Find the Pointed Pen Tutorials!

 

Once you are finding your way around the forum, I highly suggest reviewing this post, “How Do I Not Miss Anything Good,” which details how to find your way around the forum.

I hope that helps! I don’t want anyone feeling frustrated or left out because they can’t find the tutorials! :-)

Truly,

Erica

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Lesson 9 – Capitals I through P – is now available!

Hi Flourish Friends!

I am so excited about my announcement of the upcoming premiere of Dasherie Magazine.  If you missed it, Dasherie will showcase exquisite, stylish, and contemporary calligraphy and lettering designs for a wide range of social events, home decoration, lifestyle, and marketing products. I hope you are all as excited as I am!

Meanwhile, I have been hard at work preparing the next tutorial in our Copperplate series. These tutorials are only available in the Pointed Pen Nirvana board which is only visible to registered members of the forum. The forum is free and so are the tutorials but you must be registered and signed in to see them. This lesson covers capital letters I, J, K, L, M, N, O, & P!

The forum is really flourishing with so many wonderful things all related to calligraphy and lettering. Thank you to all of our awesome members for the fantastic sharing and contributions.

Truly,

Erica McPhee

Learning Caps I through P at theflourishforum.com

 

 

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How to Design Calligraphy Monograms

I’m really excited to present this tutorial to the forum. I have loved monograms almost as long as I have loved calligraphy. Designing a special monogram for a new bride and groom is such a thrill. You are creating the first symbol of unity which will hopefully become a treasured heirloom identifying their togetherness. It is so symbolic and such an honor to create.

Creating a monogram for a special friend and then printing note cards for a gift has always been well received.

So I hope you enjoy this tutorial and find it of use. If you design a monogram, we’d love to see it in the forum!

Truly,

Erica

How to Design Calligraphy Monograms

 

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Capitals E thru H!

Hello,

Lesson 8 is a super quick video teaching capitals E, F, G, and H as well as spacing tips. It’s only about 4 minutes long but gives a few more letters to practice. You can never have enough practice of capital letters! I hope your calligraphy is coming along. Several members have posted their work for critique and received excellent feedback from our more experienced members.

If you aren’t a member, sign up, membership is free and is the only way to view the Pointed Pen Tutorials in the Pointed Pen Nirvana board! So click the “Enter the Forum” box, register, sign in, and learn calligraphy!

Truly,

Erica

Learning Capitals E, F, G, & H at the forum

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