We see calligraphy every day: on invitations, or on shop signs hanging above the street. Old-fashioned with a vintage vibe, this kind of handwriting is difficult to master – but we can see calligraphy today, written by the hands of many teenagers, in different styles.
“It was a hobby at first, as calligraphy only requires a couple of tools, so it was easy to pick up,” says Joyce Chiang, an architect who started doing calligraphy more than a year ago.
“Then I just started learning by myself and writing more, in an elegant and whimsical style. Soon I incorporated my own style and aesthetics into creating my own font.”
Chiang soon set up an Instagram account to share her work with the world. Today, apart from daily posts online, she helps make weddings perfect by designing invitation cards, place cards and even toppings for cakes.
For her, calligraphy is a creative outlet.
“With lettering, you have 26 letters. You can use them to write different words. But you can go further than that: you can mix them with other media like watercolours or illustrations to create art pieces,” she says.
People have been creating beautiful writing as a form of artwork for centuries. While modern calligraphy owes something to the old styles, Chiang says it has its own
“Modern calligraphy is like a freestyle script, where you can write however you want. The only rule that applies is [you do] a thin stroke when you go up and a thick stroke when you come down,” she says.
“In the traditional style, there are plenty of guidelines to follow to achieve the ‘correct’ lettering. But just like society, calligraphy is changing and becoming more free as time passes.”
Chiang shows us the variety of tools and pens she uses for calligraphy.
“I mainly use a dip pen with a nib, which is the traditional way,” she says as she rolls out her tools. “You have a pot of ink, and you can dip your pen in it and write a few letters before you have to dip again. But I’ve also used a brush pen. It has a soft tip, similar to a paintbrush, which is another tool I use.”
As in other kinds of art, calligraphy allows you to use your imagination when choosing the “tools” and the “canvas”. Apart from pen and paper, you can use leather and a special kind of liquid to produce an embossing effect. Some calligraphers also use wood as a canvas, with the writing burned onto it.
So what is it about calligraphy that is so attractive to teenagers that they’re picking up this “vintage” method of lettering?
“People have started this hobby again because it has been gone for so long. We know that technology is replacing handwriting as it’s more convenient, so this old-school hobby is interesting for the younger generation as it’s not often seen.
“For me, modern calligraphy allows me to use a personal touch so I can have my own connection with the words and art,” she explains.
As an artist, Chiang has high hopes for this city that has been unfairly called a cultural desert.
“I sometimes think the reason Hong Kong took a step back from developing art is because most people here are quite commercially minded, and they put money as a priority. The city is more practical and that is why art isn’t as prominent,” she explains.
“We have seen recent changes with events like Art Basel being held in Hong Kong. But of course, there’s always room for improvement.”
Finally, she has a message for everyone who is interested in improving their calligraphy.
“You have to practise a lot,” she says. “You can learn the basics, like holding a pen, by going to a workshop and taking a couple of classes. But in order to develop your own style, you just have to practise. Good calligraphy comes a lot from muscle memory, or even just good posture when lettering.
“On top of that, I always encourage people to [set up] a public social media account for their calligraphy. When you put your work out there and allow people to comment on it, you can actually learn a lot from their advice. Building confidence through dialogue with this online community can help you progress,” she says.
“It also acts like a personal diary, so you can see your improvement and your changes in style over time.”
Chiang is holding a workshop on upper-case lettering on April 22. You can sign up via her Instagram: @inknflourish.