handwriting as art

I love to write. Not only in the sense of being published, or for the love of crafting beautiful prose, but physically writing—by hand.

Beautiful paper, ink and stationery make me swoon. I am a self-proclaimed fountain pen geek. My modest collection includes, among others, a Mont Blanc, a Visconti, and a few vintage pieces. They are all in working order and I write with each one of them.

My favourite pen, a 1990s Visconti Van Gogh, with a fine nib.

Everywhere I turn, I hear about the death of handwriting. Kids aren’t learning it in school, letters are a thing of the past, typing is so much more efficient.

But what about art and self-expression?

When I was learning cursive, it was the first time I could express my individual artistic flair. My notes were their own little works of art. By changing the shape of an “m” or an “b” I could change the whole tone of my handwriting. I was a handwriting chameleon, shifting with my moods, adding circles to my “i”s and crossing my “t”s differently. Changing the slant or rounding my letters, writing big or small, using high ascenders and low descenders, adding a bow to my “o”s and choosing to join or not to join all my letters.

Actually, handwriting as art is age-old. Many artists are as famous for their handwriting as they are for their paintings. Each letter highlighted in the article are tiny works of art, snapshots in time of the lives of the writer. These are just a few of the hundreds of thousands of letters in the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.

Teachers didn’t like this individuality, though. Of course, like everything in school, there is a right way to learn cursive and I was doing it wrong.

I loved to write on the chalkboard. I would always volunteer to be a scribe and write notes on the board. One day, I was using a personal font that I was particularly fond of, and my teacher told me that it was ugly in front of the whole class. Humiliated, I limited my creativity to “acceptable” forms of cursive writing.

While I acknowledge the importance of the STEM programs in the education system, the loss of so many forms of artistic expression in grade school, including a decline in handwriting practice, distresses me. There will be very few artifacts of handwriting art from this generation of keyboard typists for the museums to display.

I’ve since lost that sense of chameleon malleability that we have as children. As neural pathways in the brain get more entrenched as we age, I can’t as easily shift my basic writing to look differently. The pace of note taking and writing for efficiency doesn’t lend itself well to conscious letterforms and individual expression.

But I still love expressing myself through writing and practice calligraphy. The pace allows for careful construction of forms. Slowly shaping the words, letter by letter, and thoughtfully planning each sentence takes on a zen quality. In our fast-paced world, calligraphy is a modern form of meditation.

Hand-drawn thank you tag for gifts

There are so many talented calligraphy artists out there right now. Some of my inspirations include:

As far as I can see, handwriting is still very much alive. I think it will survive this technological revolution just fine. The value of hand-crafted, imperfectly perfect products created through artistic expression is immeasurable. Brides not only commission invitations but hand-addressed envelopes as well. Businesses are choosing one-of-a-kind fonts designed by calligraphers for their logos. Murals in offices and restaurants include quotes and sayings. Beautiful, organic, hand-written art is all around us.

And the trend in fountain pens is not slowing down. Toronto’s Pen and Writing Show, Scriptus, has been growing every year. According to an article in the Chicago Tribune, “pens and other writing tools generated revenue of $16.2 billion worldwide in 2014 and are expected to reach $20.2 billion by 2019”. Despite our reliance on technology, the rising demand for writing tools can be linked to rising literacy rates and the use of pens as fashionable accessories and high-end gifts.

If you are interested in fountain pens, here are a couple of online resources:

8 Comments on “handwriting as art”

  1. I’ve been surfing online more than 4 hours today, yet I never found any interesting article like yours. It is pretty worth enough for me. Personally, if all site owners and bloggers made good content as you did, the internet will be a lot more useful than ever before.

  2. Right now it seems like WordPress is the best blogging platform available right now. (from what I’ve read) Is that what you’re using on your blog?

    1. Yes, I do use WordPress, and recommend it to new bloggers! But don’t take my word for it, I am a big fan of Blog Tyrant, and he recommends and uses WordPress too.

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