Modern Calligraphy - what's it all about?

It's National Stationery Week - and today's theme is #PenandPencil. So it makes perfect sense to talk today about a fast growing trend: Modern Calligraphy.

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Calligraphy is defined on wikipedia as a visual art related to writing; the design and execution of lettering with a broad tipped instrument brush or other writing equipment. Traditionally calligraphy and hand lettering were linked with creating special records of events political, personal, national and international - starting right back in the middle ages when monks were the only people who knew how to write and created beautiful books like the Bible; some very special documents are still created in this way.

But what do we mean by ‘modern calligraphy’? To get an explanation I contacted Lucy Edmonds founder of Quill in London ‘ who hopes that her stationery and modern calligraphy studio... will  inspire meaningful correspondence throughout London and beyond’ . Her definition is that it is...

A style of pointed pen calligraphy that’s based loosely on the Copperplate style. Although it is sometimes condemned as merely ‘fancy handwriting’, and admittedly modern calligraphy is less demanding in its approach than the rigorous traditional scripts of the Middle Ages, it has become an analogue outlet for those who wish to shut down their computers, switch off their phones and relax by putting pen to paper. Perhaps this is why it has become so wildly popular. It’s accessible, anyone can do it, and you can create your own lettering style from it. Just like Copperplate, which has a set of rules that make it recognisable, modern calligraphy has its own set of characteristics that make it so.

Modern calligraphy and hand lettering are now very popular and can be seen all around us. I have commented previously that there are strong links between the trends in greetings cards and stationery and this is a good example because for the last few years there have been a significant number of card ranges featuring calligraphy and hand lettering because the cards are featuring messages rather than images. 

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There is a lot of debate around the amount of writing children do and whether using a pen and paper will die out in favour of the use of electronic devices and while there is a clear move to a greater use of computers for work and organising our lives, sales of diaries, notebooks and journals are holding up strongly suggesting that many of us are using both mediums... I know I certainly am!

I remember when I was at school being taught to write with a broad nib pen on specially ruled paper doing my up, down and sweeping strokes so that I got the varying thick and thin lines. Nowadays I believe very few children will be taught to use a fountain pen at school so what is encouraging people to learn modern calligraphy? 

My hunch is that it is a combination of things and that it goes back a while; I think that it probably started to grow in importance around the millennium when scrapbooking was a huge art and hobby trend that came to the UK from the States.

Scrapbooking pages would use a combination of themed papers, personal photos and images on each page with pertinent comments added either in type set or in a hand script. Then after the last recession in 2008 there was a focus on saving money which encouraged many to start making things including their own stationery for special events like weddings, so here was another reason to learn how to letter nicely. 

When I spoke to Lucy at Quill she pointed out that there is also a meditative element to calligraphy, which shouldn't be forgotten:

It’s a beautiful thing to be so absorbed in something that you forget about notifications or answering messages, which is really significant in our increasingly digital age. In reality, not everyone has the time to put real long-term commitment towards learning one of the more formal scripts, but the modern way is slightly more ‘forgiving’. While it is still a skill that has to be practised (it’s definitely trickier than our first-timers imagine!), people can pick it up and put it down and fit it in when life allows.

 So maybe for some modern calligraphy is taking over where colouring left off? 

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When I was growing up it was perfectly normal to have a fountain pen and write with it all the time but these days a rollerball or ballpoint would be most people’s writing instrument of choice. Buying a broad nib for calligraphy on the high street would not be that easy now with only larger WH Smith or Rymans stocking that type of product. So unless you have a good art shop or stationer nearby you would probably need to resort to the internet to buy this type of specialist writing instrument.

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There are fibre tip versions from brands like Berol or metal nibbed versions from Sheaffer, Lamy and specialist brands like Manuscript. You are more likely to find these products in art shops, rather than stationers, with Hobbycraft offering a great range of pens and papers as well as specialists like Quill in London. This is a situation where the internet is a god send because it doesn’t matter that most retailers don’t support this product: they are readily available online.

Social media has also been very useful in this area with the rise of blogging being a great way of spreading the word about the equipment you need, techniques to use and reassure you that while it is not easy, patience and practise will pay off so that it can become an enjoyable and effective pastime and for some even a business. I was amazed to watch a modern calligraphy tutorial on line, it was very well paced and made it seem very achievable, I can see how people get hooked!

The Manuscript Pen Company have been experts in calligraphy and writing instruments since 1856. A family run business now in its 5th generation they are the market leaders as suppliers of calligraphy writing instruments worldwide driving innovation in the industry, whilst ensuring they continue to produce high quality writing instruments, at competitive prices.

The trend in hand lettering and modern calligraphy continues to be popular with hand lettering and bullet journaling growing to the point that they are becoming a practical part of everyday life for some. 

To cater for this demand Manuscript are launching their new Callicreative Switch Tips Range -  a complete set offering abrush tip, a fineliner and two italic nibs that can be used in one single pen making it the perfect solution for creatives of all disciplines. 

Because modern calligraphy continues to stay in vogue, Manuscript are adding an Oblique Calligraphy Set and a more comprehensive Modern Calligraphy Set to their Modern Calligraphy collection. These sets are ideal for experts and beginners alike and a new pack of Duotip Brush Markers in 10 great modern calligraphy colours completes the set!

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This expansion of the range ensures that retailers have product available to calligraphers of all disciplines and offers a broad set of price points from under £10 to £34.99.

In August 2017 they celebrated World Calligraphy Day at The Pen Museum in Birmingham reaching over 152, 000 people around the world and in 2018 they will be celebrating again on Wednesday 15th August. 

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Once I knew I was going to be writing this piece I became more aware of calligraphy products being offered to retailers and I was amazed to see that Rex International,  a major supplier into the gift market, has introduced a Modern Calligraphy Beginners Set at £9.95 available as part of their range this year which shows how popular modern calligraphy is becoming. This set  is intended to be a gift for beginners be they creative teens or arty adults and includes, pen and nib, ink, a how to sheet and practice paper

As a member of the Stationers Company I recently received an invitation to a course being offered in Modern Calligraphy - suddenly modern calligraphy and lettering are being talked about all around me!!