A Love of Lettering

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This past weekend we took a three-hour Calligraphy workshop taught by designer and calligrapher Jenna Blazevich. The class took place in Durham Brand & Co's cozy studio space and was carefully styled and managed by the team behind Social Design & Events. We were of course late to the class so after grabbing our beautifully made name tags (see Amanda's above) we found the last two seats at opposite sides of the table. Joined by about 10 other ladies (apparently calligraphy holds very little appeal to men) we set out learning the basics of pointed pen calligraphy and all of the tools needed to achieve this art form. Jenna had sourced the following supplies for the workshop, all of which can be found online at John Neal Booksellers or at any decent art supply store.

  • Oblique nib holder
  • Higgins Eternal Black ink
  • Gillott 303 & 404 nibs
  • Faber-Castell Brush Marker
  • Marker Paper
  • grid paper

We started off with the 303 nib (pen tip) which is slightly smaller and more flexible than the 404. Using an oblique grid paper placed under a sheet of marker paper we practiced creating downward angled strokes. Having an expert in the room was very helpful, as Jenna was able to go around and correct our hand grip and arm positioning and provide us with quick tips to make the slightly awkward angle and method for writing more comfortable. I think I can safely say that we both had a rather primitive knowledge of the art of calligraphy going into this class and it was amazing to see what variety in line weight you could achieve by simply applying more or less pressure to the pen. Every act must be intentional and thought out. The nuance of your line stroke- the weight of each letter- is evinced in the amount of pressure applied, the direction of your stroke and the amount of ink in your tip. After getting a feel for the 303 nib we switched to the 404 nib, a stiffer nib with a slightly rounded tip which was much easy for everyone to work with and was the nib we used for the remainder of the class. Jenna had provided us all with a custom scripted alphabet which we used to practice our upper and lower case letters with. The upper case letters were especially tough, as the extra swirls and flourishes added to each form had to be planned out carefully to ensure you were able to achieve the mix of hairline strokes with the more robust line weights (which can only be achieved on downward strokes with the pen.)

After a lovely snack break (provided by Canteen Bakery) we continued practicing these letter forms for a bit before moving onto the Faber-Castell Brush Marker. The marker brush has some advantages over the pen and ink method- first and foremost you don't have to worry about running out of ink mid-stroke. It was challenging to get the same thin line weights that we were able to achieve with the pen and nibs but was definitely a fun alternative to try and a good solution if you're looking for something with a crisper, cleaner look to it.

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Calligraphy is truly an art and a science- an equal combination of an expressive and creative self mixed with a meticulous and formulaic method needed to create each letter form. It's also a very approachable, and relatively inexpensive art form to try out. If you have a love of lettering, are interested in adding a more expressive style to your handmade cards, or perhaps have an upcoming wedding to design for, we highly recommend finding a class to take or looking online for some tutorials. After you purchase the basic tools and familiarize yourself with the way of writing keep practicing those letter forms until you feel comfortable putting them all together!

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Happy lettering!

-c&a.