Recently, I’ve gone back to doing a lot of basic strokes too. I’m currently learning how to write the beautiful Spencerian style with master penman Harvest Crittenden, and by going through the first lesson of her course I was reminded of what all calligraphy has in common – an understanding of the basics and thorough practice of these basic strokes. Without them, you won’t get far with any calligraphy style, modern or traditional.
I’m going through quite a journey right now. I’ve experienced a lot of frustration with trying to write Spencerian script in the past (which is a lovely classic style written with a pointed pen), and that was due to my negligence of really learning and practicing the basic strokes necessary for that style. I was aware of the need to learn the technique first, but I didn’t really go through with it, and so I was stuck with bad letterforms. Now that I’ve joined the course (Harvest offers her online course once a year and I’ve been waiting to take it the entire year), I’m doing my practice drills, every day for half an hour, and I’m (very) slowly seeing some progress. All I’m doing at this point is writing basic strokes, not even letters. Over and over, whole arm movements. It’s a relaxing process. And I’m learning a lot.
This process has made me think about the importance of learning the basic strokes, before you write any letters or words. Many calligraphy beginners jump immediately to writing whole words or even quotes – and I totally understand, because that’s what we see on Instagram all day, and those quotes are beautiful. But then most people get frustrated, because they don’t achieve the same results, and then they give up. Does that sound familiar to you?
The key to better calligraphy lies in learning the basic strokes first, through warm up sessions and every day basic stroke practice, and once you’ve perfected those basics you can move on to letters and words, and calligraphy will suddenly get a lot easier.
Over the next few weeks I want to take you through those first steps you should take when you want to learn calligraphy, so that you can study and understand the basic principles and then apply them to your letterforms.
What I want you to take away from today’s post is getting comfortable with going back to square one, especially if you’re frustrated – you should get the right materials, the right learning resources, and then really focus on your basic strokes practice every day. A good point to start is taking one of my workbooks, printing one out and focusing just on the page with the basic strokes for one or two weeks.
Even better is to do this with others and join the Instagram challenge I’ll be doing for the next two weeks. It’ll be focused on exactly those basic strokes! Feel free to follow along with me (@juliabausenhardt) and join the challenge by posting your practice strokes with the hashtag #practicebasicstrokes.
Another good way of learning is signing up for a course or workshop – like I’m doing right now for my adventure with Spencerian writing. I’m also happy to announce that I’ll reopen the sign-up for my own online course Calligraphy Essentials very soon (sign-up will be open before the end of January, just some last-minute things to add). I’ve restructured it a bit, and added some new content. The course starts with learning the basic strokes I just talked about, and after that you’re going to learn writing a whole alphabet with the help of these strokes, and closes with finding elements for your own style.
And remember, learning to write calligraphy is like learning any art. All the great painting masters started with learning how to draw and sketch, they studied every day. Everyone who wants to become a dancer needs to learn the basic dancing steps first. Learning calligraphy is no different. You’ll have to learn special strokes and movements, and practice them every day for quite a while to become a good calligrapher.