Being a Calligraphy Student

Numbers for my website have jumped, people being home or online as a result of self-quarantine measures. Firstly, thank you for participating in physical distancing. It’s one of the many ways we can work together as a community to stay the damage of this virus and its effects. Secondly, welcome to the world of being a calligraphy student.

I’m seeing tons of creative learning opportunities spring up online. For the first time, people have the time to dive into something that’s maybe been on their list for a while. Calligraphy is so popular right now and it can be difficult to find a “way in”. Online calligraphy can be deceptive because often times we just see a hand, writing. There is sooo much more to calligraphy than that. It’s like driving in a stock car race compared to driving a regular car. They look the same, but one is way more nuanced and focused than the other. Calligraphy isn’t a life or death situation, but at times there’s a lot more at stake than say, penning a letter to a friend.

I’ll offer the things that have worked for me the best in my experience of being both a yoga student and calligraphy student over the past 20 years and counting.

Allow Yourself to be a Beginner

This is the most important thing I have had to learn in my own studentship. It sounds like this in my head, “Why would I judge myself for not knowing how to do something I’ve never done before?” I love to learn and I always have, but for a while I was trapped and boxed into thinking that I had to be perfect and the best on my first try. The key for my mental adjustment was to let go of judgement of being a beginner.

My Beginner Mindset:

  • I am in class to learn. I signed up because there was something I wanted to learn how to do or be better at.
  • I respect and trust my teacher. I listen to what they have to offer without letting what I thought I knew get in the way of what they are offering. I know when my ego is getting in the way of learning.
  • I learned to have the humility to let myself make mistakes in front of my teacher and classmates so they can help me. No matter what class I am in, my success in a new skill does not reflect my value as a person, no matter how good or bad I am at it. I get to experience curiosity in my character, my willingness to be a novice, and my aptitude to learn how to get better.

Let Go of What You Think You Know

This is a sensitive issue. Sometimes we do things a certain way because it has kept us safe for a period of time. I understand and respect that. Stepping out of that zone can be uncomfortable and there’s nothing wrong with that. Only do that when you are comfortable and in an environment with people you feel can trust.

When you get to this point, let your teacher teach you. That is what they choose to be there to do. When you are attached to the way you are used to doing something, new modes and ideas can’t make their way into your consciousness. Actively allow the space for knowledge. Let yourself try something for size, to see if it works for you. It doesn’t mean you can never do things in your comfortable way again. Even small changes can take your skills to new heights. One other thing I will offer around this is that sometimes when your teacher has you do things a certain way, it’s to protect you. Lean into the experience of your teacher, but do take care of yourself and do what’s right for you as a calligraphy student.

Ask Questions

I will be the first person to say that I still have to practice this and put effort into it. I rarely think of questions when I’m in a class, I just follow what my teacher offers. When classmates ask a question, I get a new perspective on the subject and I get to hear even more of my teacher’s knowledge. My favorite teachers are devoted calligraphy students who are open to discussing other paths around the topic.

Don’t Be So Hard on Yourself

I’ll try to keep this narrowed down to learning.  ONLY measure your progress according to what you could do before. Don’t give up on yourself before you even start! I can’t tell you the amount of times I’ve heard, “Yeah, right!” and “Easy for you!” from classmates during a class. Out loud! In a class that they chose to take and pay for! What that sounds like to me is, “Why bother?” And that’s not why we’re here.

Try to be tender and gentle toward yourself. I don’t know if you learned to tie your shoes on the first try, but I sure didn’t. Don’t expect your first attempts to look exactly like your teacher’s. Give yourself time. Think of it as a path you get to come along. And you get to walk it with the only person you’re with for your entire life. Yourself. I’d much rather walk with a supportive companion than the alternative. But also, take breaks because things get frustrating and working on it angrily isn’t going to help. Seriously.

Celebrate Your Successes

As in, yes, be proud of yourself! Positive reinforcement has been effective for me in encouraging growth. It’s important for me to know what I did well and what’s working. It inspires me to come back and do it again. There’s no final destination of perfection in anything that you do. We make mistakes. We approach things differently each time because we are constantly changing and adapting. Create the space for joy around your efforts, and don’t be devastated if you make a mistake. Paul Antonio, my calligraphy teacher with 30+ years of experience still says, “Oops, sorry” if he’s demonstrating and a stroke doesn’t come out quite right. Then he just shifts the paper over and starts again.

I think I used the word “try” more than any other word in this post.

You know. You were there. By using that word. I’m encouraging you to come back to the lessons and revisit what you know. Revisit how you’re approaching your efforts. Don’t be shy about seeking support or mentorship. Everything you have a question about leads to more knowledge and skill. Maybe take a little time to examine what being a student means to you and how you personally approach it.

Check out my Learn page for more articles about getting started as a calligraphy student. I have short lessons and tutorials coming soon to my Instagram TV page, which I will link to for easier access. Stay home and stay well.