Molly Suber-Thorpe is an accomplished modern calligrapher with her own studio and years of client work to look back on, and she has recently built a really helpful website around everything related to lettering and calligraphy, calligrafile.com. I especially like to refer people to the link archive with calligraphy suppliers all over the globe.
In her book Modern Calligraphy, published in 2013, she gives an overview on the art of modern calligraphy, from the very first steps to forming letters and then longer texts and projects.
While I find the variety of letterforms and alternates she shows very appealing, I would have wished for more traditional basic knowledge so that beginners can learn how the letterforms are constructed in the first place. In my eyes, these techniques are most important for anyone who dives into calligraphy, and this is also what I’ve gotten most as feedback from my own students – learning the basics is essential, and after you’ve mastered the strokes and letterforms you can work on the variants. Although modern calligraphy is more loose and free, it still relies on the same principles as classic styles (or at least I think it should).
Molly Suber-Thorpe gives a short overview on basic strokes and pen mechanics, and then leaves the readers with an overwhelming amount of letter variants. While those are really beautiful, well-thought out and inspiring, they can totally overwhelm a beginner who just wants to learn a single alphabet first. This is my main criticism for this book, and this is why I would rather recommend it to students who have already learned basic techniques and want to expand their stylistic repertoire or try their hand at own projects.
The author also covers different writing materials such as watercolor and gouache, and gives tips for handling these. She shows a range of applications and gives practical tips for working with different materials. This is indeed very helpful for someone who wants to work with, let’s say, colored ink, or gouache, or on dark paper. So thumbs up on material tips.
The whole book is full of images and examples of her own beautiful modern calligraphy, and in fact the second part revolves around do it yourself tutorials shown with step by step instructions for a variety of different projects like envelopes, digitizing calligraphy for rubber stamps, place cards or gift tags. These project tutorials will certainly be an inspiration for crafty persons, and they are a good addition, if not the main value of this book.
All in all, I see „Modern Calligraphy“ more as a source of inspiration and collection of very beautiful and well-made projects that can lead to your own ideas, than as a sound introduction to the writing mechanics of calligraphy. If you’re just starting out and you want to learn the basics, consider doing a workshop or some basic training like my online course, or get another book like Eleanor Winters’ Mastering Copperplate Calligraphy to really get comfortable with writing well-formed letters. I believe it’s so important to get a feel for this first before you start experimenting – too much experimentation can be confusing for beginners, because there are so many different variants of letters and so much to choose from, particularly when you look around the modern styles, where so many variants are possible.
It’s better to get a solid understanding of basic techniques, spend a little bit of time with them until you know what you’re doing, and go from there.
So after learning the basics, this book can be indeed a great addition and inspiration for your own projects and more intermediate techniques like writing with watercolor or light-on-dark. It is full of ideas and beautiful projects and you will get the most out of it if you’re looking for tutorials and how-tos on DIY projects.
I hope you found this review helpful. Do you know the book? What’s your opinion? I’d love to know. Join the discussion and leave a comment below.