Have you ever felt like you have no one else to talk to about calligraphy? Today I want to talk about why I think it’s a good idea to be a part of a calligraphy community.
My late grandpa-in-law, Rudy Gonzalez was a calligrapher, sign painter, and artist. He would always have encouraging things to say to me along my journey.
He even went so far as to paying for my yearly subscription to the San Antonio Calligrapher’s Guild (even though I don’t live in Texas). Still, he was a mostly a broad pen and brush guy, and I was pursuing pointed pen. I couldn’t really ask him about the specifics of what I was trying to accomplish as a penman.
My wife is also a huge encouragement to me. She spent lots of time with grandpa Rudy, and developed an appreciation for good looking lettering. One thing I love about my wife is that she will never give my calligraphy an empty compliment and happily tell me if what I’m writing is up to par or not.
I cherish my wife’s discernment, but she is not a calligrapher by any stretch of the imagination. So instead of exploring Facebook or Reddit or other places like that to talk pointed pen calligraphy, I just kept at it by myself.
Without a community, calligraphy is a lonely pursuit
At the end of the day, calligraphy is a lonely endeavor. There is a lot that people don’t see when they see a finished calligraphy piece. Clients ask why a project costs as much as it does, even though the turn around time might be short.
Hours upon hours are spent studying and practicing single aspects of your script. Piles of practice paper accumulate. Frustration mounts. Why isn’t my hand doing what my brain wants it to do?
But then there is a breakthrough. Some mistakes are easier to avoid. Muscle memory starts to improve. You can more readily get into a flow state in your writing!
Now if only you had somewhere you could go to let others with the same struggles and triumphs know hear about it!
In a calligraphy community like the Facebook group, Copperplate Script for All, you can confidently post questions, thoughts, and your own work. You can know that the other members in the group have either been where you are, or are going through the same leg of the journey you are on.
A calligraphy community can build you up
If you are anything like me, you at some point probably looked at your work and thought, “Why am I even doing this? This looks like garbage.” I’ve come close to giving up calligraphy several times. Want to know what keeps me hanging on?
I love seeing other calligraphers’ work.
“What? I thought you quit social media because you didn’t like comparing yourself to others??”
That’s true. It’s one heck of a contradiction, isn’t it? I can look at a piece by a world class calligrapher and doubt my own skills and journey, or I could look at that same piece and be inspired to pick up my pen and do what I gotta do to increase my skill. Or at the very least do what I need to do to maintain.
I think the biggest inspiration comes when I see calligraphers at or around my own skill level post their work. I could look at that same world class calligrapher and know that even if I practiced 8 hours a day for a year, I would still need more time to reach their level of fidelity. But when I see someone’s work who is somewhere near where I am on my calligraphy journey, I think to myself, “That’s some solid work! They showed up and got after it, why can’t I?”
Find meaningful feedback
There is nothing like a well moderated calligraphy community that enforces helpful critique given in a kind manner. Here is the About section from the Copperplate Calligraphy for All Facebook group:
“A group dedicated to the beautiful art of Copperplate Script. which is for all levels of ability from beginners through to experts.
Everyone here is a different point in their journey and everyone is encouraged to post their work and progress.
We ask that those members who are more advanced help those who are at a different level and encourage them and give credit where due. Please do not denigrate, insult or otherwise adversely comment on a members work. You don’t know what struggles they may have which may affect their work.
This is not a group where arrogance or giving the impression of superiority is tolerated. We are all here for the beauty of the art and everyone should be given equal access to encouragement, tips, tricks and techniques to improve.
Beginners can find tutorials in the “files” section of the group.
For beginners, don’t be afraid to post your work and progress. Even the advanced penmen were beginners to start with.
For the intermediates and advanced practitioners, please do post your work. It is you who will inspire and motivate beginners. Beginners of today are the masters in the future so please offer encouragement.“https://www.facebook.com/groups/316268532646143/
How about that for reassurance? This group was started in 2019. If this group was around in 2017, I would have readily joined when I first started my calligraphy journey!
The members of this group truly respect this code of conduct, looking for things to compliment and lift others up about their penmanship, and offering considerations for improvement without sounding condescending or mean. It is a very uplifting experience.
The one time I did see someone say something that was unhelpful and down right mean, it was handled swiftly by the community and moderators.
In a helpful calligraphy community, you can and should ask for feedback. Even the most skilled calligrapher on the planet has aspects of their script/s that they seek to improve. There is no such thing as perfect in calligraphy. So since none of us have “arrived,” we can all benefit from others taking a look at our work.
Sometimes, you will receive well meaning critique that doesn’t apply to you because of the tools you’re using or exemplar you’re writing from. That’s okay! Whether you apply the feedback to your work or not, at the very least, you should consider thanking the commenter for taking the time to leave feedback.
They took the time out of their day to engage with you. So a simple “thank you” will go a long way in establishing my next point, which is-
You can help build the calligraphy community up
One more great thing about being a part of a calligraphy community is the opportunity to bolster others in their journey. Because you are also studying the craft, you have unique insight to some of the struggles that all calligraphers share.
You will come across people who post their work who aren’t looking for technical advice, but rather could just use a kind word. As you probably know, we don’t always have the best writing days. And when someone decides to share their work despite having an off day, that takes courage. What you tell someone might be just what they need to keep going.
Something that stuck with me from taking the Dreaming in Script Engrosser’s Script course, taught by David Grimes, is that there is always something positive you can say about even the most untrained pen work. Even if by some super slim chance, there were no redeeming qualities in a piece of script, the person who made it put in the work, got after it, and had the courage to show someone.
If someone is reaching out for feedback, make them a sandwich
A compliment sandwich is my favorite kind of sandwich. A close second is a peanut butter and apple butter sandwich. Look for 2 to 4 things right off the bat that you feel are working for the piece you are critiquing. You can split these up and make up the “bread” of the sandwich.
Then, as I learned in Dreaming in Script, find some low hanging fruit. What is the easiest thing or couple of things you see that could be ironed out in a practice session or two? There’s your sandwich filling.
A compliment sandwich is a good way to ensure kind delivery of help asked for. Anyone could simply say, “Oh hey, work on x, y, and z” and be done. But by thoughtfully putting together a compliment sandwich, you’re showing the recipient that their work matters. And we all know that sometimes we are reluctant to celebrate the successful aspects of our work.
This isn’t an exhaustive list of why it’s beneficial to be a part of a community of calligraphers. And my experience is limited to online groups. But the experience I do have in these groups has been overwhelmingly positive and I’m sure it only gets better in physical company.
Are you a member of any calligraphy groups or communities? What has your experience been?