Copperplate Calligraphy, Round 1

Last night I started copperplate calligraphy over at the New York Center for Book Arts. It was great!

I’m not sure what I expected, I just know that I was extremely excited by the idea of learning something that has always captured my attention.

Anyway, I do have to start off by saying that the center is around the corner from the Ace Hotel which houses Stumptown Coffee Cafe (or shop?) which makes this gal happy! I ordered a dinner latte before my three-hour class and walked on over to the Center.

The Center is quite cozy. Also the love of paper smacks you in the face as soon as you enter. I don’t know why or how I did not know about this place until a couple of months ago, but now that I do know, I will frequent it often. They have a few small exhibitions going on and the staff are all incredibly attentive and helpful.

When I sat down, there were six of us, but that quickly changed to 10. Even the instructor, Karen Gorst, was shocked that we were overbooked (her words) this session.  Three of the other students and I introduced ourselves and started chatting. Before I knew it class began and Karen introduced herself and allowed for student introductions as well.

One of the things that amazed me was how many of us were there to learn something with our hands. I’d say almost everyone does art in some capacity–graphic designs, website coder, painter, resident artist, etc. In the end almost half of us were there because we spend too much time on the computer and want to use our hands. Amazing, no? Considering all the talk that education and the old-fashioned skills are out the door thanks to technology, I have to say I was incredibly impressed.

Speaking of modern technology, when I’ve shared that I’m starting to study calligraphy, I get the same comments–why when you can use cursive fonts in Word? That’s when I explain that the reason I create the stationery that I do is so that things are not just digitally created. While digitally created art is beautiful and reflects much about a designer and the people who buy it and it’s being designed for, it’s still lacking. What I often times find lacking is called quirk. It’s the slight imperfections that you find in something that is handmade. It is what truly means it can’t be replicated beyond maybe a hundred without hand cramping.  (Yes, I measure uniqueness by pain. I’m kidding, people!)

I’ve digressed.  After our introductions, Karen got us working. And I got my table partner laughing. It was great! I think the most memorable was when Karen explained that in order to remove the coat of oil used when making the pen nibs we had to clean them with spit. Oh, how I despise spit, but apparently human spit contains and enzyme that effectively removes the oil. Go figure! However, this means that me, the gal that can’t even spit when running, had to create wads of spit to clean my nibs. This involved embarrassingly explaining to my instructor and my table partner that I don’t know how to spit and it brought an equally embarrassing lesson in how pull spit from the back of your throat to the front to create a wad of spit worthy calligraphy. Ha!

The main thing I learned last night was calligraphy is hard and that I will become obsessive and absolutely addicted to the art and craft. I don’t know that I will be so addicted that I will take all my time up learning and studying calligraphy and not make any more stationery, but I have decided that when I go to Japan to study paper making, I will also take up Japanese Calligraphy and I will incorporate as much of calligraphy as I can into my work.  Karen, who is quite an accomplished calligrapher, not only does calligraphy, but her specialty is manuscript illumination and she has years of experience doing this. I intend to learn as much as I can with her.

Karen offered to teach me how to calligraphy on my favorite paper in the next class, since paper weight and inks can be a tricky combination at times.  She also seemed very interested in the fact that I am studying calligraphy for my stationery company. In many ways, I walked in without an expectation and ended up feeling like I’m home.  I can’t wait for the next four Mondays now and for a skill that I feel will come in handy very much.

This morning as I pondered practicing yesterday’s lesson, I wandered over the New York Public Library’s website to learn about an exhibit they have currently called “Three Faiths.” Karen is curating it and had mentioned it along with three videos on youtube that briefly discuss different techniques. My favorite of the three is about parchment and paper naturally, but I highly recommend watching them. I oohed and ahhed quite a bit. I also fell a notch more in love with what I already love. Isn’t it amazing when that happens? I think so!

I intend to check out the “Three Faiths” exhibit at the library this week. I’ll share my thoughts soon.


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s2 stationery & designs

A rule-breaking designer, artist & entrepreneur who's passionate about paper and handcrafting stationery. I also write, travel, and focus on eco + social good.

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