- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 25, 2005

McLean resident Yvonne Chen leans over a lighted drawing board as she slowly and carefully writes out an Emily Dickinson poem, “This is my letter to the world.” She concentrates on keeping each letter consistent in size and shape, centering the lines.

“It’s a different way of doing something we do every day,” Ms. Chen says.

Ms. Chen is writing in the Italics hand, a style of calligraphy that originated in Italy.

“It’s contrary to the way you write normally,” says Jonne Clemmer of Vienna, who finds it difficult holding the pen at the correct angle. “You don’t write in calligraphy. You draw your letters,” she says.

Ms. Clemmer and Ms. Chen are students in Kate Purvis-Montoya’s six-week Italics course, which ended in mid-December and will be offered next year through the Fairfax County Public Schools Office of Adult and Community Education.

“If you’re a Type A [personality] and want to write fast, you’re going to have to slow down. It’s a skill that’s learned over a long period of time,” says Ms. Purvis-Montoya, a calligraphy instructor and member of the Washington Calligraphers Guild. “You can learn the basics in six weeks. You can learn another hand or letter form in another six weeks.”

Calligraphy courses are offered through a variety of outlets, including:

Continuing-education programs, as in Fairfax and Arlington counties.

Parks and recreation departments, as in Anne Arundel and Howard counties.

Craft stores, such as Jo-Ann Fabric & Crafts and Michaels arts and crafts stores.

Museums, art leagues and galleries such as the Smithsonian Institution, the Loudoun Academy of the Arts in Leesburg, Glen Echo Park in Glen Echo, and the Oh My Word Calligraphy gallery in Ellicott City.

The Washington Calligraphers Guild.

“You do not need to be an artist to do this. You don’t even need to have good handwriting,” says Tamara Stoneburner, past president of the Washington Calligraphers Guild and a freelance calligrapher in Ashburn, Va.

Courses typically begin with lessons in the Foundations hand, which was developed in the late 19th century by Edward Johnston, credited with being the father of modern calligraphy. Calligraphy comes from two Greek words that roughly mean “beautiful writing.” The term “hand” derives from books being written out by hand before the invention of the printing press in the mid-15th century.

Each hand originated in a different area of the world, and some of the hands are based on other hands, says Sheila Waters, founding president of Washington Calligraphers Guild and a calligraphy instructor who lives in Fairfield, Pa.

“The whole process is one of evolution,” Mrs. Waters says, adding that within a hand, “Each letter needs to be easily identifiable for itself, but they all work together as a whole.”

The letters in the Foundations hand are based on a circular shape and require a 30-degree pen angle, Ms. Purvis-Montoya says. Italic, another basic hand, is based on an oval or elliptical shape and requires holding the pen at a 45-degree angle, she says.

Other hands taught to more advanced students include Copperplate, Uncial, Carolingian, Medieval Illumination and Gothic, which have letters of different sizes, shapes and angles.

Ms. Purvis-Montoya teaches the principles of forming letters, including their height and shape and the number and order of strokes they require, and working with the space between letters and the lines of a page, she says.

“You have to learn how to do the different parts and put them together,” Ms. Purvis-Montoya says. “You think about the space around your letters and in your letters. You think about the letters and not just the content of what you’re writing.”

Private calligraphy instructor Ann Pope of Northwest says she teaches the shape, balance and weight of the letter form.

“It does take some practice, working at each type of lettering … to suddenly feel like you’ve got it,” says Mrs. Pope, who is a freelance calligrapher.

Students taking classes can start with a calligraphic marker set, which is sold at craft stores, a fountain pen or a broad pen, which has a flat, broad edge and a metal nib, or tip. The broad pen relies on different angles to achieve thick and thin lines and is used for the Foundations, Italics and Uncial hands.

The pointed pen, alternatively, is necessary for the Copperplate or Spencerian hands to produce more refined and fancy lines. It has two tines that, with the application of pressure, split apart to release a flow of ink and produce thick lines; with less pressure, the tines close together and produce thin lines, says Pat Blair, calligraphy instructor for the Loudoun Academy of the Arts and a guild member. The nibs come in a variety of sizes and widths, she says.

“There is a definite correct form to all of these letters. That’s what gives it its beauty,” Mrs. Blair says.

The letters used in a hand go from very thin to very thick lines, says James “Jim” Roberts, co-owner with his wife, Colette Roberts, of Oh My Word Calligraphy, a gallery in Ellicott City that represents 40 calligraphers from across the nation.

“It’s not a continuous circle like in penmanship,” Mr. Roberts says. “You’re constantly lifting your pen off the paper.”

To write the letters of the alphabet, calligraphy pens or brushes, another type of writing tool, are dipped in calligraphic ink or gouache, a watercolorlike medium for lettering in colors. The letters are written on parchment, newsprint, drawing paper and laser printer paper for practice and watercolor paper, canvas or cloth for posterity.

Calligraphy is considered both a craft and an art. It can be used to address envelopes; write invitations, greeting cards and certificates; do scrapbooking and family trees; and improve handwriting. Or it can be used for poems, phrases and quotations and to letter handmade books.

“It’s not just about forms and strokes; it turns into art when it stands on its own,” Mrs. Stoneburner says.

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