Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Forty Years #4: Learning Calligraphy

Learning calligraphy suited me. It serves a certain kind of impatience and needs a certain kind of patience. I had taken pottery classes but didn’t have the patience for preparing the clay or the continual struggle to center it on the wheel. I didn’t have the patience for the darkroom even though I loved taking pictures. Getting started in calligraphy was immediate. Find a piece of paper, dip a pen in ink, make a letter. The journey begins. Instantly there is something to react to on the page. 
But there is also patience. When I taught calligraphy at Rivier College, I always told students that learning calligraphy was more like learning how to play an instrument than learning how to draw. Repetition and practice are necessary. You have to love, or learn to love, the 26 letters to keep going, to put in the time (hours, days, weeks, months, years) to make them your own. 
I was prepared for that. I had been a competitive swimmer. Back and forth in the pool- a mile or two a day for ten summers. Each movement required attention: is my elbow coming out of the water at the correct angle, is my kick consistent? And it was the same with calligraphy. So many questions to ask for each letter. How am I gripping the pen-lightly or am I squeezing it? Is the nib at the correct angle in relation to the line? Is the letter well shaped? Is the m arching properly? You can look at a blank page as an invitation to boredom or an offering of opportunities for fresh encounters with the 26 letters. I chose the latter.

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