Author Topic: Calligraphy and the practice of handwriting  (Read 5297 times)

Offline sybillevz

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Calligraphy and the practice of handwriting
« on: February 22, 2023, 09:36:19 AM »
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!



Offline Erica McPhee

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Re: Calligraphy and the practice of handwriting
« Reply #1 on: February 22, 2023, 08:56:58 PM »
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!
Warm Regards,
Erica
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Offline Zivio

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Re: Calligraphy and the practice of handwriting
« Reply #2 on: February 22, 2023, 11:21:43 PM »
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.

https://writewithyourarm.com/lessons/the-lowercase-letters/

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!

~Karl

« Last Edit: February 22, 2023, 11:23:23 PM by Zivio »
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Offline TeresaS

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Re: Calligraphy and the practice of handwriting
« Reply #3 on: February 23, 2023, 07:52:33 AM »
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!
Teresa

Offline InkyFingers

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Re: Calligraphy and the practice of handwriting
« Reply #4 on: February 23, 2023, 08:23:13 AM »
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.

Offline Erica McPhee

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Re: Calligraphy and the practice of handwriting
« Reply #5 on: February 23, 2023, 08:33:00 AM »
  Interestingly, my hand and brain are still separating writing cursive from writing Spencerian.

Yes - this exactly! That is how it is for me as well!
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Offline sybillevz

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Re: Calligraphy and the practice of handwriting
« Reply #6 on: February 24, 2023, 06:03:56 AM »
Wow, thank you all for your input!

There are several things that come to mind when I read about your experiences:

1. To answer @InkyFingers : language and geography influences the writing style that is taught in schools, because we have different cultures. The American cursive handwriting is descended from spencerian, while the cursive we use in France and Belgium is closer to English roundhand. Few people here would recognize a capital I or G in BP...

2. Teaching children how to write is very different from learning a new writing system as an adult. Adults are more methodical and should have fully developed their fine motor skills, while kids need to be entertained and don't always have the fine motor skills required to have a mature penhold (we spend a lot of time working on that, even with teenagers). This difference also explains why your hand and brain are still separating cursive and spencerian: one was taught to you as handwriting when you were a child and the other was studied when you were grown up. Each style / tool sparks different connections in your brain.

@Erica McPhee : kids need to make sense of what they're learning and they don't enjoy just repeating letters and doing drills! We seldom practice letters on their own because of this, but it's also important to not focus on form and give attention to movement : so we would practice a basic stroke (begin with the loop), do a few lines of loops, differenciate between a small and a big loop, and when the child is comfortable with the movement, we show them how to transform their loops into letters and how to write words. With e and l, we can write "le" and "elle" in French... we're lucky.
You'd do the same with other basic strokes (the i, the oval, the inverted oval is useful to introduce the arch,...) and gradually introduce new letters and build bigger words.

3. @TeresaS You're not the first calligrapher to see that their handwriting deteriorated after learning calligraphy. For one, you're probably writing too fast, maybe to compensate for the slow movements of calligraphy. Speed is one thing and rhythm is another: don't just slow down, think about what you're writing.
My theory is that the study of letterforms makes us so familiar with form and movement that we are actually able to write faster (our brain can process the movement faster than before), but we just go too fast and lose rhythm and jumble all our strokes together... That's just from my own experience.

4. @InkyFingers can you write Italic as fast as your normal handwriting? Italic was promoted by calligraphers and typographers (adults) because it's neat and legible, but it's not as efficient as a cursive and children tend to distort the letters (they're too angular, children find it easier to write rounded curves).

5. @Zivio thanks for sharing these resources, they're very interesting! However, as I said, this works well for adults, but I doubt that children adhere to such exercises. We do timed drills (they write as many loops as they can within one minute) and I use a metronome, but they don't love it.

Handwriting is a very complex thing, so there's a lot to unpack!
Thanks for your comments, they're helping me see clearer ;-)


Offline jeanwilson

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Re: Calligraphy and the practice of handwriting
« Reply #7 on: February 24, 2023, 08:36:51 AM »
I did not have time to respond yesterday - and was pleased to see that all the points I would have made have been made.
My teaching career started with substituting in kid's art classes and expanded to both kids and adults - art as well as penmanship/calligraphy/lettering.

IMHO - with any age and any subject - the teacher needs to understand the motivation of the individual student and find out if they have any expectation - and if that expectation is realistic. If the student's motivation is to just put up with the class until they can escape - then the lessons need to be more creative. For example - when you dovetail handmaking books with the penmanship or calligraphy the whole project can become more interesting.

Kids as young as 5 and 6 are familiar with quills so weaving some history into the lessons can engage students on a different level.

I spent 3 months doing a variety of brain therapies after my brain injury and at the end, I said to the occupational therapist as well as the speech therapist - that the entire process seemed like more of an art than a science. Both of them said, "YES!" Then I said - "But as *medical* people, you would not tell patients that you are practicing an art, would you?" They smiled and said, "Nope."

Many brain rehab rooms have the word *neuroplasticity* posted - very large. It seems to me that the hardest part of their job is convincing people that the brain can rehabilitate - and the patient needs to be *patient* but also determined. It's the same thing in penmanship. People who have some reason for why their penmanship is poor are not going to change their mind - unless they generate some kind of personal motivation.

At any age - forcing every student/patient down the same path is probably not going to get everyone to make the same amount of progress. Allowing the student/patient to participate in the process (and providing alternatives) can help them with motivation. I could tell that the brain rehab therapists would start and end each session with conversation that included my perspective. That was something that reminded me of the way I ran my penmanship and calligraphy classes - individualized.

Skilled calligraphers who insist that they are unable to have pretty daily penmanship are not unable - they are unwilling. Younger students are more open to the possibilities.

While italic penmanship is somewhat more angular than copperplate - Spencerian is more of a hybrid - and was meant to be written quickly. If you combine italic and Spencerian motions - you can create a hybrid that is fast as well as legible. One of the joys of penmanship is that it can be personalized. IMHO  penmanship teachers who insist that everyone conform to a certain set of shapes rob students of any enjoyment they might have had.

My 2-cents -- on one of my very favorite topics.



Offline Starlee

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Re: Calligraphy and the practice of handwriting
« Reply #8 on: February 24, 2023, 06:54:27 PM »
What an awesome field to get into Sybille!

I agree with you. Methods of learning calligraphy can be used to help improve handwriting. So many excellent points already covered. Another I would add would be to teach them to self-critique themselves in a kind and patient manner; to learn to identify their poor habits (e.g., u and n looking the same, not closing the o, etc.) and work to correct them.

Another thing to keep in mind is why the person is coming to you for rehabilitation in the first place. The points you outlined definitely apply when the issue is mental in nature or from lack of knowledge. But if they are there because of physical inability, then all the studying of proportions and repeated practice will not help if the physical issue is not also addressed. And if there is a physical component, the type of physical issue will influence even that approach.

As for the comments about differences between handwriting and calligraphy, I have terrible handwriting...but I can also have excellent handwriting. I don't think it's just a matter of being unwilling. Handwriting is tricky because we write under all sorts of contexts and moods. How I write a reminder note to myself vs a birthday card to my niece or a thank you letter to someone will all look very different. Also, if I am angry, happy, sad, distracted, rushed, sick,....theses are all extra factors that will show up more easily in handwriting. With calligraphy, we train ourselves to suppress these things as well as our personal quirks in order to 'stay true' to the letterforms. The awesomeness of handwriting is that we have much more freedom in how it looks in the end....but often that freedom is taken too far to the point of illegibility. Also, intent matters. The end goal of calligraphy is typically not a grocery store list but rather a piece of art. Even in practice, being able to (eventually) make some form of art is usually the driving desire. Now, we could open up the old can of worms: is Spencerian really calligraphy? But even when writing Spencerian in modern times, the person is most often using it to make a desirable final product. With handwriting, desirable product isn't always the goal. Sometimes it's more important to get the thoughts down. If possible I try to use typing when those moments pop up now.

A final comment on neuroplasticity vs rehabilitation. My dissertation was on neuroplasticity; I cannot resist. I often hear the two terms used interchangeably, when mean different things. Neuroplasticity can be a part of rehabilitation. But rehabilitation can also involve other compensations or modifications to get around the problem. And @jeanwilson, you so so right, it is very hard to convince people that the brain can change. It does.... on a daily basis, whether you want it to or not. This is why our habits, behaviours, and actions are so important. Our brains change for better or worse depending on our choices.
Star

Offline sybillevz

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Re: Calligraphy and the practice of handwriting
« Reply #9 on: February 25, 2023, 05:26:11 AM »
Hi @jeanwilson! I hoped you'd pitch in  ;)
I completely agree with you, especially about this :
IMHO  penmanship teachers who insist that everyone conform to a certain set of shapes rob students of any enjoyment they might have had.

It's precisely what I find tricky about teaching handwriting: a model is necessary but schools have conform to the constraint of the "cultural model". "you have to know the rules before you break them" also applies with handwriting. So children need to understand the model (and most of all what makes a given letter legible / illegible) before they can add personal variations. And this is where I have a problem with the French cursive model: people are attached to antiquated forms that are difficult to make for small fingers (looped ascenders and capitals), some forms are a constant source of problems.
There's also the problem of neatness vs speed / continuity of stroke: teachers who want neat handwritings teach "discontinued letters" (pieces of letters that make a whole thing, like we tend to do with copperplate and formal calligraphy styles). But then, the kids need to be precise. Those who manage are slow, and the letters lose their structure when they have to speed up.

So the trick is to show correct shape and ductus without focalizing too much on that.

@Starlee Your comment is very interesting and right on point!
Self-critique is definitely something important, but we have to keep in mind that most of the kids that come to rehabilitation hate handwriting. They had to endure mean comments and sometimes punishments because of it. Some love it but they're too slow because what they do is calligraphy: people tell them they write beautifully and they don't want to give that up.

You are right to point out that physical inability is underlying most problems that I see. Rehabilitation involves a lot of physical training. The lack of knowledge can only be addressed after correct movement has been made possible. But is has to be part of the process in many cases, mainly because the model is complex.

So yes, I do think calligraphy practices can help and it can bring a bit of colorful enjoyement in the rehabilitation, but I'll have to be cautious about framing the target exercises properly.

Thank you both!

Offline Erica McPhee

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Re: Calligraphy and the practice of handwriting
« Reply #10 on: February 25, 2023, 02:25:45 PM »

Skilled calligraphers who insist that they are unable to have pretty daily penmanship are not unable - they are unwilling.

I vehemently disagree with this. Most will not understand (or even agree with) the following but I will share anyway because I think it is fascinating. Handwriting is also tied to our personalities and can be influenced by other, changeable, influences. Our personalities, characteristics, etc. express themselves in our handwriting. As a homeopath, I have noticed a distinct difference in my handwriting when I am taking certain homeopathic remedies. Since homeopathy is energy medicine, and influences our own vital (energetic) force, I am quite curious as to why this is. Uriche Welte, a German homeopath, has a 344 page book on this very topic in which he details 20 years and thousands of cases.

As Welte says, handwriting is a frozen image of our motion patterns (energy pattern). As much as I am willing to change my penmanship, and the countless thousands of hours attesting to such, I’m sad to say it is often beyond my control. Which ironically, or perhaps evidentially, when I take a certain remedy which has as its picture, one of control and trying to control one’s environment, my handwriting and calligraphy are at their best. Whether this means the medicine is particularly a good fit for me or is just addressing that one piece is beyond the scope of this topic.  :-*
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Offline sybillevz

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Re: Calligraphy and the practice of handwriting
« Reply #11 on: February 25, 2023, 02:35:34 PM »
The implications of this are intriguing!
Could homeopathy be a meaningful help for people who complain about their handwriting, then?

Offline Vintage_BE

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Re: Calligraphy and the practice of handwriting
« Reply #12 on: February 26, 2023, 06:20:31 AM »
I started grade school in Belgium in 1967 and was taught the “D’Haese” script (https://handschriftdhaese.nu/nl/letterbeeld), which does have some similarities with Copperplate (the main difference, for me, is the more vertical slant as compared to the 55 degree Copperplate slant).
Back then, handwriting was a much more important life tool (there were no computers, laptops, smartphones, etc.; typewriters were largely reserved for business use).  That explains why until the sixth grade (age 12) one of the weekly classes was… calligraphy (“schoonschrift”). 
All that changed in high school: no more calligraphy class, no more grading of your handwriting. As long as your script was deemed “legible”, all that mattered was writing speed. And when I started university (in 1979), almost everyone had switched to ballpoints and was scribbling notes furiously in their own “style”. A minority of my classmates maintained a degree of consistency in their penmanship, but for most (including me) “handwriting” slowly degenerated into chicken scratch.
A few years ago, I started trying to improve my handwriting. I had no idea that I had been taught the D’Haese method and struggled with character shapes, slant, and spacing. I discovered, through the web, “business penmanship” (Palmer, etc.), and then its “original”, Spencerian. Some three years ago, I took a Spencerian course, not to become a calligrapher or practice ornamental penmanship, only to improve my handwriting. In short, for me, there is no distinction between handwriting and “calligraphy”. The “steps” that the OP lists are a good summary of what it took me to learn Spencerian.
In terms of speed, I can write (very) slowly only - because I still need to concentrate on every shape, on maintaining slant, on getting the spacing right, etc. “Ductus” for me means snail pace. I have been trying to increase my writing speed, but the only way for me to put down anything that is half way legible is to go slow. (See the enclosed wring samples). I am fine with that - today, at least in my world, there is very little benefit in writing fast. So, for me personally, the OP thesis “For handwriting, speed is very important” does not (or no longer) apply.  If I want to quickly jot down a note, I fire up my laptop, or take my mobile phone to type a note of to send an sms, a whatsapp message, or an email. I very much enjoy handwriting, and I write daily, but my output consists only in letters, meditation texts, entries in a journal or (with some hesitation, since I’m not a calligrapher) birthday wishes and Christmas cards.
Needless to repeat: this is my personal opinion and no doubt YMMV.

Offline jeanwilson

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Re: Calligraphy and the practice of handwriting
« Reply #13 on: February 26, 2023, 09:21:51 AM »
Hopefully I can clarify the difference between the *life-long* penmanship/handwriting that has been evolving since we were children -and- the choice to adopt a new style of cursive for everyday use. My everyday penmanship is seriously unpleasant unless I make a conscious effort to use my *pretty cursive.* My calligraphic studies (for 30 years) have done absolutely nothing to erase the bad habits from the first 30 years.

My decision to learn beautiful, everyday cursive was 100% intentional - and whenever I write something, I have to *turn on* the skills that I have learned. Symmetry, slant, rhythm, etc. Beautiful everyday penmanship is something that I *will* myself to do.

My suggestion that a skilled calligrapher can choose to have beautiful everyday penmanship is based on their history of studying a style and honing that new skill. Palmer penmanship has a lot in common with copperplate, Spencerian or any of the script styles.

A new cursive style will not over-ride any of the decades old habits. IMHO - that original penmanship from our earliest years is *etched in stone* and can be layered with new issues. My brain injury has messed up my eye sight as well as my calligraphy and penmanship. It’s challenging, but, the whole point of rehab was to educate me about the variety of things that I can utilize to promote improvement - neuroplasticity.

Perhaps the damage is permanent - but, if I do not even try to improve - it is unlikely that there will be any spontaneous improvement.

 What we consume (or practice) can have an effect on everything else - so, I’d take it a step further from homeopathic remedies and say that what you consume or practice on a daily basis influences all kinds of things - including your success at maneuvering your pen or pencil across a piece of paper. If I ate a deep dish pizza with a lot of mushrooms and washed it down with a soda - my ability to do anything that required attention to detail or fine motor skills would be seriously diminished for several hours.

If I declare that progress is beyond my control - it’s likely that I will make that prediction come true. I had a student with Parkinson’s one time who was really struggling - but he was highly motivated. I had a brainstorm to introduce him to much larger writing - and voila - he had much greater success. His fine motor skills were deteriorating - but his whole arm movement was still doing very well. He let me know that he was painting large signs at home. I always wondered what they said. *Better living through penmanship" ?? probably not....


Offline Erica McPhee

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Re: Calligraphy and the practice of handwriting
« Reply #14 on: February 26, 2023, 12:16:57 PM »
The implications of this are intriguing!
Could homeopathy be a meaningful help for people who complain about their handwriting, then?

This is an excellent question and one I am contemplating for myself. It stands to reason it could if the handwriting is perceived as a “symptom” to be cured. However, even if it is not, it does have an influence on such. As someone who has treated many children on the autism/ADD/ADHD spectrum, including my own children, I can say it has profound influence on muscle control, speech, and general well being. That does not mean I would select a remedy for someone based on their desire to improve their handwriting.  :)
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