Stop Comparing Your Handwriting to Calligraphy

An acquaintance said to me recently, “you know, for being a calligrapher, and doing what you do, your handwriting sure is hard to read.”

Here’s a sample of my personal handwriting. Most of the time, I’m the only one who has to read my writing. So I let my weird, natural letter connections fly.

I accidentally write the letter u instead of an i sometimes, and I just dot it and move on. I’m not trying to make it pretty — I’m trying to keep up with my thoughts!

You don’t need good handwriting to be able to write calligraphy. I’d say that’s the most common myth about starting calligraphy (here are a few more myths). Also: a gentle reminder that the quality of your handwriting doesn’t measure your quality as a person.

And a side note that may be disappointing: my favorite pen to write with is a plain old Bic RoundStic! Here are a few more thoughts and uncommon knowledge about calligraphy and handwriting. Enjoy!

The Qualities of Handwriting

A friend of mine is redeveloping his signature and wanted my opinion as a calligrapher.

He wrote it for me, showing me a shape that worked its way into one of his letters. He said he doesn’t know why he does it, but he likes it. He asked if I liked the new signature, or if that shape was too distracting.

I said, “Yes, I like it, and here’s why: because of the way you feel when you write it. Not only is a signature the way it looks, but your own energy as it flows across the page. This is exactly why I don’t think calligraphy is necessarily better than handwriting!” Comparing your handwriting to calligraphy in a mechanical sense just isn’t accurate!

What Handwriting Is

Years ago, during my calligraphy hiatus, I read in a handwriting analysis book that our handwriting is our own unique, subconscious, energetic line. Even though many of us learn to write in specific ways as children in a group, most of us develop a distinct handwriting.

I look at handwriting as a way to say that a person was in a place at a given time. This is why I don’t say that wedding vows in calligraphy are better than a person’s handwritten vows. They aren’t. I believe handwritten vows come straight from the heart. Every thought and emotion that flows as a person is writing something so personal belongs on the page. It doesn’t need to be polished to be valuable.

Calligraphy Differs from Handwriting

An example of how calligraphy letters are pieced together

A calligrapher learns a calligraphy hand by practicing repetitive shapes that make up the letters (See my YouTube video, Practicing Basic Strokes). They write shape by shape, not letter by letter or word by word.

The other distinctive difference is in the writing tools a calligrapher employs. Depending on what they’re writing with, calligraphers use skills such as pressure and release, maintaining a pen angle, and twisting the pen in hand as they write. This is in addition to having memorized the order of writing the strokes — and hours of practice writing them well!

When emulating a calligraphy script, calligraphers follow specific rules regarding geometry, ornamentation, and rhythm. It’s hardly the same as jotting down a grocery list! Though they look similar from the outside, these processes of writing are entirely different. Don’t fall into the trap of comparing your handwriting to calligraphy!

Calligraphy to Improve Handwriting?

a hand writing with a ballpoint pen

Any new habit, anything you’re learning, is going to take time to implement. I’ve heard many people over the years say that they took a calligraphy class in order to improve their handwriting. The biggest benefit of taking a class, however, is the act of slowing down the writing.

Learning calligraphy isn’t going to necessarily imprint itself onto your natural writing style. But slowing down as you write normally can give you time to make the choice to do something different.

Tips for Practicing Your Handwriting

  1. Decide on the improvements you want to see and list them. Be specific!
  2. Set 10 minutes aside a day to write out an inspiring quote. Could be a song lyric, nursery rhyme, a passage from a religious text, something you saw online, or a pangram. Take your time with each letter.
  3. Then take a couple notes about what went well and what you want to try or do differently tomorrow. This kind of study will help you remember what you’ve learned the next time you’re casually writing.

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