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Calligraphy and the practice of handwriting

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Hello dear friends,

It's been a long time since I posted here, but I'm glad to be back with a question!

I'm currently working on a dissertation that will help me graduate and officially become a "graphotherapist".
In France and Belgium, it's the name given to occupational therapists that specialise in problems related to handwriting. We mostly help children and teenagers who have illegible / painful / slow handwriting.

My dissertation is about using the calligrapher's approach of studying and practising a writing style (from the beginning to developing personal variations) to support the rehabilitation process.

So my question to you is: how, as calligraphers, do you approach a new writing style? What are the different steps that you take? And do you think these steps can help learn new handwriting habits?

My own steps are :
- Finding an appropriate model
- Studying the proportions and making guidelines that will support my practice
- Studying and practising the fundamental strokes
- Practice drills to loosen up and acquire a good general movement and rhythm
- Studying the letterforms by groups: this includes the correct letterforms and their variations, but also finding out the limits of what can be done with them, often made mistakes.
- Joined letters (minums and words by groups of letters then mix it up)
- Hard to join groups of letters
- practice at different sizes (with handwriting the goal is to ultimately write with a 2-3mm x-height max)
- practice as much as possible, with various mediums (project ideas?)

For handwriting, speed is very important. From my experience, it comes from regular practice and drills. So I start slow and gradually become more comfortable and I can write a bit faster. Do any of you have any tips to introduce more speed ?

Has your experience with calligraphy helped you in any way with handwriting?

I guess that's more than just one question... But I'd love to know what you think!

Erica McPhee:
Hi Sybille!
So nice to hear from you! Congrats on your dissertation. Wonderful news!

This has always been an interesting topic to me as I was an honor student with bad marks in penmanship. And today, my penmanship is still horrible. I sometimes skip letters, have poor form, and even write completely illegibly. I think my brain works faster than my hand.

All three of my children had difficulties with writing (immature pencil grasp) and two still have rudimentary handwriting as young adults. Only one had occupational and developmental therapy but not for handwriting.

Since we also homeschooled for several years, I can tell you how challenging it was to teach them both manuscript and cursive. Both kids had immature pencil grasps and processing disorders. My youngest daughter, in particular, was extremely resistant to learning. I designed the lessons just like I learn calligraphy - breaking the letterers into similar groups, going over how they are similar (and differences). Practicing individual letters, then words, then sentences.

As it turned out, they made the best progress, and offered the least resistance, when practicing the sentences. And they liked it even more if the sentences made up a story. I believe it was the context which helped them most. I suppose this makes sense as one only truly improves their calligraphy once they start practicing not just words but also sentences or quotes. Perhaps it is the rhythm of it, too.

One thing that helps me with my handwriting is if I think of it as drawing while I am writing. Even trying to write business penmanship doesn’t really help unless I do it with a pointed pen. So we did exercises where we drew letters into animals or drew a word like cat and then a cat around it. I don’t know if that shifted their thinking or just helped strengthen their lines.

Lastly, as with calligraphy, I do it best when listening to music or a podcast. They also did better when listening to music as they practiced.

Best of luck on your dissertation!

Greetings Sybille!  I would not characterize myself as a calligrapher, but I am very interested in handwriting and want to develop more speed and rhythm in my writing. I started learning cursive (Spencerian) completely from scratch about 2 1/2 years ago having only used printed writing for the last 50 years or so. I suppose mine was a "calligrapher's approach" to learning the script, and I struggle now with wanting to write as though it is my handwriting and not calligraphy.

As for speed, I found this exercise in David DiGiovanni's video [link below] interesting. Perhaps it may be of value to you. At around 12:00 he speaks about using a metronome. At 12:07 he demonstrates making a lower-case "i" to the beats of the metronome as follows: On a count of three, the upstroke, downstroke and then exit stroke are all made ON the beat. But then at around 12:34 he demonstrates another approach for speed where the upstroke is on the first beat and the the downstroke and exit stroke are on the very next beat. I've found that practicing letters in this way -- first the slower, deliberate approach, and then interspersing multiple strokes within single beats helps to trick my brain into faster writing.

Although this video is one of David's at his "Write With Your Arm" website, he isn't necessarily suggesting that everyone learns to write exclusively with arm movements and goes into the pros and cons of each approach allowing everyone to make their own decisions. I've chosen arm and "muscular" movement for myself so that I might circumvent decades of bad habits ingrained in my finger movements/muscle memory.

Wishing you the best of success on your dissertation! It is exciting to hear of your interest in the "helping professions" where you may see first hand how your efforts, education and training will assist other human souls. Brava!


Mmmm…..  Has calligraphy helped me with handwriting in any way?  When I as in high school and college my handwriting was pretty decent.  As time went on I think I started printing more than writing for some reason.  Consequently, when I started calligraphy my handwriting was not that great anymore.  I do feel like after I started learning Copperplate, my handwriting slipped even further.  I think it was because Copperplate is more “drawn”, and coupled with the fact that a I wasn’t actually writing that much, my brain could no longer seem to navigate the smooth strokes of handwriting.  My handwriting now seems very choppy and jerky.  Recently I have been learning Spencerian, which is very similar to the cursive writing I learned in school.  Interestingly, my hand and brain are still separating writing cursive from writing Spencerian.  I think in order for my Spencerian to help my handwriting, I am going to have to make a very conscious effort to combine the two.  I am not sure if this helps in any way, and maybe ( probably) I am just an oddball, but it has been my experience.  Good luck with your dissertation…. Keep us posted!

Wow congrats!  What a great endeavor

How does different language differ with script selection?
And how do you propose to maintain each person’s interest high?

In English, I felt instant gratification with italics, boring compared to fancy scripts like Spencerian. Italic is slow but I found italic in cursive form is quickly written.

But my brain always drawn to Spencer for speed but it took so much more effort (especially with drills) to achieve.

I have two pens in my pocket, one for BP and one 1.8mm chisel.  Whichever I pick up is the one I make my notes with.  I am in solely to improve handwriting, everyday handwriting

Some days when I rush through my notes, I see I still regress to my former self. And kept reminding myself … someone will eventually read my scribble and scrawny scribbles. Might as well take a deep breath and write slowly

In the end, I speed up over time and looks legible but nothing like a calligrapher

I am happy.


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