Continuing Education calligraphy instructor Cathy Shiovitz says she first found herself mesmerized by the magic of letterforms in the 7th grade. “My English teacher wrote in calligraphy on the class blackboard. I tried to mimic her and later in high school we had an art class devoted to learning calligraphy,” she says. Shiovitz’s fascination with calligraphy has only continued to grow, leading her to constant study, exploration and the inception of her new class, The Art of Calligraphy: Expressive Calligraphy, a class in which students may celebrate their love of the art form by bending the rules.
What we have come to know as Western calligraphy dates back to 600 BC Rome. Calligraphy ultimately pervaded Europe, taking root in monasteries where the elaborate lettering style became the institutional method for copying the Bible and other religious texts. Passed down from generation to generation, calligraphy has crossed borders and branched into numerous styles, each with their own unique qualities and specifications.
“Calligraphy means, ‘Beautiful Writing’ and in order to develop consistency and rhythm some rules need to be followed,” says Shiovitz. “In class I try to introduce students to a few basic rules and principles and then offer suggestions for variations. We study historical scripts and see how we can duplicate those efforts with modern tools.”
The uninitiated are left wondering, why in this digital age where letterforms are easily downloaded and arranged with the click of a mouse would anyone bother to learn something as archaic as calligraphy?
“Learning calligraphy has many advantages,” says Shiovitz. “Computer fonts are terrific and many are based on historical calligraphic hands (or fonts). However, with handwritten letterforms you have opportunities to explore a more tactile and expressive means of communication. It works especially well when you want to write something personal like a poem or card.”
Even after studying calligraphy for over 25 years, Shiovitz still takes classes herself. “There is always something new to be learned and to refine my own skills,” she says. “I have often repeated a class to help develop a solid base of knowledge.”
Shiovitz points out that her personal exploration of creative self-expression has not been an isolated one and her fellow calligraphers are anything but exclusive. “The calligraphy community is very enthusiastic, welcoming and encouraging at whatever level you are at. As I have gained more experience, I have become more adventurous in breaking the rules and trying to express myself in more gestural strokes. There are many different calligraphy tools available now to be expressive. I have not created my own alphabet but as with handwriting I put my own unique stamp on whatever work I do.”
Students joining The Art of Calligraphy: Expressive Calligraphy will have many opportunities to learn and bend the rules. “The art of expressive calligraphy is about breaking rules and trying lots of different ways to write from using unexpected writing tools to making our own pens,” says Shiovtiz. “We will learn some simple alphabets that may look different depending on the writing tool chosen and try to develop an emotional connection in our writing.”
When teaching calligraphy, Shiovitz has made it clear inclusivity is a big part of the process. “No previous experience is required to be welcomed in my class,” says Shiovitz. “I want all to have an opportunity to be creative and I will help each person find their way through some basic skills and materials. We will have some simple projects that can be used for cards, poetry, quotes, etc.”
Each week Shiovitz plans to introduce some new ideas for alphabets in addition to new ways of writing them. “We will experiment with different papers and other writing surfaces,” she says. “Some layout information will be shared and simple projects to make to use our new skills.”
Shiovitz looks forward to students leaving The Art of Calligraphy: Expressive Calligraphy with a wealth of new ideas to inspire them to write with greater facility. “It may be a writing tool or new art material that gets you excited to be creative,” she says. “Whatever the reason finding another way to express our thoughts and experiences is so important whether it be in a journal or just a “thinking of you” card for a friend. So much of our lives is in trying to please others and in class we have an opportunity to please ourselves. There is not just one right way to do calligraphy so we focus on developing skills to help achieve an overall harmony and beauty.”
Learn more about The Art of Calligraphy: Expressive Calligraphy.