Calligraphy might look pretty, but it’s harder than it looks

Calligraphy might look pretty, but it’s harder than it looks

The amount of pressure you apply, the type of nib, the type of pen ... everything can have an impact on the outcome

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Angie Chan (L) helps Christy Cheung get the grasp of the fountain pen.
Photo: Catherine Wang

Hidden in Sheung Wan, Enchanting Studio is a dainty and charming wood-themed room adorned with low-hanging lightbulbs. We settled into the calming atmosphere almost instantly. Our teacher, Angie Chan, greeted us warmly and started the lesson by showing us the basic components of a calligraphy pen.

The “oblique pen” was new to me. Chan explained that it’s a pen specially designed for writing calligraphy. The pen consists of two parts – the holder and the nib. The reason for this is because the nib can be at an angle to the paper, meaning you can produce slanted calligraphy without slanting your arms or hands into a weird position. The pen we used was a dip pen, which meant we had to immerse the nib in ink before writing.

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Photo: Angie Chan

There are dozens of calligraphy fonts in the world; maybe even hundreds. But we focused on a font known as “round hand of copperplate calligraphy” for the three-hour class.

The writing part of the workshop was what I imagined it would be like – writing with a quill, and feeling like a poet from the olden days. It’s possible to change the technique or effect by changing the nib. The one Chan gave us was a pointed nib. She said this would be stiffer than most calligraphy pens, and is ideal for beginners who are used to regular pens, because it’s easier to control the pressure you apply. One interesting thing I learned was that the number engraved on the nib distinguishes the different types, meaning calligraphers classify the nibs by number, rather than name.

Christy Cheung


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At the workshop we learned a variety of calligraphy techniques. We went from learning how to hold the calligraphy pen, which still feels odd to me, to using it to write the basic components of letters, such as solid lines and curves. Chan also taught us different creative techniques that we could use to enhance our calligraphy, such as writing by coating the back of the nib with diluted pigment to get colour, or by using the calligraphy pen to draw curlicues – an intricate twist or curl – or other symbols.

What distinguishes calligraphy from regular handwriting is that calligraphy is all about control. Calligraphy demands great effort and concentration – from the angle of your nib to the pressure and length of each stroke – to ensure that the words you print are exact, legible, and aesthetically pleasing. Every single element can affect the ink and shape, thus affecting the big picture. So not even one element can be neglected throughout the process.

Catherine. Catherine. Catherine. A case of practise making perfect in practise.
Photo: Catherine Wang

It might not sound difficult, but I actually made a few mistakes when writing Catherine, my own name. When I wasn’t completely focused on the writing or if I neglected it for even a second, ink would seep into places it wasn’t supposed to, messing up the entire word. Interestingly, “r” in calligraphy is not the same as “the modern r”, as Chan calls it, which took me some time to get used to. Unfortunately for me, writing it was unavoidable, as my name has an “r” in it.

Like most arduous tasks, calligraphy has its own inherent sense of reward. I found the experience to be incredibly inspiring. It was refreshing to focus intensely on something other than homework or worries about the looming future, and I went away feeling inspired. Calligraphy is certainly not for the faint of heart, or for that matter, faint of hand. Yet, it has its own rewards: learning a new skill, the opportunity to relax, and the satisfaction of creating something tangible.

Catherine Wang

This article appeared in the Young Post print edition as
Writing from another angle

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2 Comments

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