Beginner's calligraphy; and am I hampered by being a lefty?

I know that there are already a few posts in the forum on beginning calligraphy, but I have slightly more specific needs. I'd like to learn calligraphy, especially since at some point I'd also like to do a bit of type design, and I have already come across a number of books on Amazon and elsewhere. The problem is that I'm not really sure if such books cater for left-handers, or if indeed it makes any difference at all. Any thoughts or specific recommendations?

typerror's picture

Henry

Pure malarky!

William Berkson's picture

Thanks Michael, I was just waiting for that :)

hrant's picture

Why do some "old-timer" calligraphy teachers brush off lefties?
(I'm not saying they're right in doing so.)

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Hrant, I'm sure you agree that when ‘reading’ what you are in the process of writing one is not engaged in immersive reading. Indeed, insofar as one will most of the time be looking at partially formed words, one isn't really reading at all. My concern in such a situation would be whether it is easier to make spelling mistakes if one isn't looking at the text at a normal angle. I wonder? But the other thing to bear in mind is that we're not talking here about everyday writing but about calligraphy, i.e. writing as a kind of art, and a lot of practice goes into that. I doubt if the challenges imposed by having to rotate the page present major difficulties that could not be overcome with such practice.

I think taken as you present it, Noordzij's statement is simply fact. He's not saying that this is an ideal way in which to write, he's saying that if a lefty wants to produce the traditional forms of [Latin-script broad-nib] calligraphy the only comfortable way to do this in terms of the relationship of hand and pen to the page is to rotate the page. Certainly, it is a suggestion far more sensitive to the ergonomics of left-handed writing than the kind of contortions to which I regularly see lefties reduced, even if in some of those positions the page is better oriented for reading.

hrant's picture

I can see that "reading" could be misleading in the context of
me saying it on Typophile. :-) You could call it "recognizing",
and something that's rotated 90 degrees is essentially not the
same thing, not as easy to recognize, not "natural".

> Noordzij's statement is simply fact.

Only if you use a very narrow meaning for "comfortable".
Separating the creation of text from its use is misleading.

Noordzij's stance only makes sense for blind lefties. :-/

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Hrant, as I wrote, I don't think Noordzij is suggesting that writing with a rotated page is in any sense optimal, even in terms of comfort. He's saying that this is the most comfortable way, given both the constraints and the options, for a lefty to create these particular forms of letters. He's not saying it is some kind of perfection of comfort, but that it will be easier, less tiring and more egnomically sound to do it this way than to do it in another way.

Separating the creation of text from its use is misleading.

I think stating that as some kind of general rule is misleading. There are lots of different kinds of text in and on lots of different kinds of media. Arguably, the very constraints imposed by the broad-nib translation stroke make it less important for the text to be angled relative to the writer in a particular way, because the writing tool itself will largely control the stroke contrast. Being able to see letters as they will be read becomes more important in outline-drawn letters, when one cannot rely on the tool for such control.

Again, remember that we're not talking about everyday handwriting; we're probably not even talking about something like professional scribal text creation of the kind that doesn't really exist anymore outside of a couple of Urdu newspaper publishers.

typerror's picture

You are welcome William!

I tire of theorists analyzing what I and others do.

@ Hrant My first student was a leftie. I took her on more as a learning experience; it taught me that traditional approaches to my art are better left to the theorists. I cant my paper, in one style I work totally perpendicular to the paper, other times I work upside down, I both push and pull strokes, I hold my pen incorrectly etc. When I taught I always heard "You cannot do that," to which I replied, I do whatever it takes to get it done! One must adapt.

Adaptation is integral and essential to the craft. In is not an affliction to lefties only... it is necessary to "survival."

@ Henry

To me lettering is like chess. The first stroke one lays down essentially determines all that follows.

"They tend to over-adjust their movement -- and often even their plan" (and you know this how?)

I do words, not letters. The letter knowledge is stored deep within, it is a subconscious guide, the execution is spontaneous based on THAT knowledge and the "landscape" that determines the "fit/execution."

Michael

hrant's picture

John, something I should have brought up earlier:
But why does Noordzij (and others) worry so much about reproducing
the traditional rightie forms? Instead of promoting a more clever
way of making lefties uncomfortable (in the broad sense) he should
be thinking of how to make them equals. This actually interestingly
parallels the relationship of black and white in letterforms, where
I maintain chirography can want to treat the white equally, but in
the end simply cannot.

> we're not talking about everyday handwriting

Indeed, I -and we- have to admit that having to read one's
calligraphy/writing isn't nearly as relevant as it used to be.

Michael: I'm actually in line with much of what you say, but I do
see the need to discuss why some calligraphy teachers dismiss lefties.

> One must adapt.

Bravo. Now, what have we done to adapt to lefties?

hhp

typerror's picture

@ Hrant

"why some calligraphy teachers dismiss lefties"

They are scared shitless. I taught my first student from underneath a clear glass table because I could not watch the letters as she made them... her hand covered them. I adapted... to her adaptations.

"I maintain chirography can want to treat the white equally, but in
the end simply cannot."

By calligraphy's very nature one is "laying black on a white surface." One must always strive to treat the white equally, even use it to their advantage. You seem to be more obsessed with the forms themselves, if that be the case I have no solution for you. I adore traditional forms even when they are adapted to abstract. I am playing nice now Hrant. Traditional forms are what they are, Arrighi did the same thing I do. Had the same intentions. Used the same tools, basically. Was concerned with the same black/white interplay that I am.

Jokingly Michael says... if you want to take calligraphy to task beat up on the blackletter guys! No respect for white :-) And yet weren't they playing off the white, or using it as a foil?

typerror's picture

After about ten years of practice I realized that white played as an important role as the "ink" did. It will not change my take on those forms. Only their relationship in a line of words.

Here ya go. When I look at my house I see strong horizontal lines of say writing (the siding) broken by a secondary rhythm (large apertures, windows). It is to me a "figurative" use of black and white. I don't see every board (letter/word) I see texture and design.

To me letters are architecture, and tradition provides, for me at least, stability. The guys who put it up were lefties and just held their hammers at a different angle. :-)

John Hudson's picture

Hrant: But why does Noordzij (and others) worry so much about reproducing the traditional rightie forms?

Presumably because they are the letters of our alphabet.

Do you remember my scans of Latin letters written with rotated and reversed pen angles in an earlier thread? Not only do they look freakish, some shapes simply don't work because they are predicated on a particular angle. The shapes of letters are not abstract concepts or even skeletons to which arbitrary patterns of stroke weight and contrast can be applied. They are cultural artefacts that evolved through writing with particular tools, and their normative shapes reflect those tools and the dominant writing practices of the time in which they evolved.

typerror's picture

John

You are truly what I would like to be when I grow up :-) Informed, persuasive and eloquent.

hrant's picture

> they are the letters of our alphabet.

That's giving one particular rendering
of the alphabet way too much credit.

hhp

typerror's picture

LOL Hrant.

John Hudson's picture

Hrant, consider: most of the letters we read, write, typeset, etc. are lowercase letters. What are these? Where did they come from? As it happens, we have a huge wealth of palaeographic evidence that documents the development and evolution of these letters during the mediaeval period, i.e. a record of how these letters came to have the normative shapes that they have. And that evidence is pretty much entirely of minuscule letters written with a broad-nib at a fairly consistent angle. This is the crucible in which the shapes of our letters were formed, and if the tool had been different or the angle had been different, we would reasonably expect those shapes to be different. Like it or not, this does put constraints on how these letters can be written with that tool, and even some constraints on how they can be written with other tools, although changing tools always introduces new freedoms as well as new constraints.

Now, why would a lefty want to go to the trouble of adapting to these constraints so as to be able to write these letters? I suppose there are individual answers to that, but it seems to me that most people who want to take up calligraphy, regardless of their handedness, do so because they have seen and been inspired by works of calligraphy. Since calligraphy, in every scribal culture I can think of, is a deeply traditional craft, mastering historical exemplars is one of the things that is both expected and, I am sure, one of the things people want to do when they sign up for calligraphy courses.

Conversely, if one wants to invent new ways of writing, without learning to master traditional styles, one might as well just stay at home and start playing with tools and media. Don't go to a teacher if you're not interested in the thing that the teacher is able to teach you.

hrant's picture

To me calligraphy is now art, which means it's about self-
expression, not emulation; which means lefties have to rebel.

> Don't go to a teacher if you're not interested in
> the thing that the teacher is able to teach you.

But sometimes he will teach you something in spite of himself!
Everybody has something to teach anybody, but any student
necessarily has to filter and repurpose what the teacher says.

When I took that calligraphy class I was smiling and learning
the whole time. But I wasn't smiling about or learning what
the teacher thought I was (which, if he's an ideal teacher, he
wouldn't mind at all).

--

BTW, Michael, this isn't the ideal place to do this, but I've
long wanted to get an expert third-party opinion on this
small piece I did at the end that class:
http://www.flickr.com/photos/48413419@N00/222343485/

This might go without saying, but: brutal honesty preferred.

hhp

John Hudson's picture

Hrant: To me calligraphy is now art, which means it's about self-expression...

Well, you've always been wrong about that. Self-expression is one particular purpose of some art; it's also a fairly recent, romantic view of art, which cannot explain most of the art that has been made in most of the world throughout most of human history. Art expresses many things, and many of these, e.g. nature, culture, are very much bigger than the self.

An art that only expresses the self, frankly, isn't up to much. I've been trying to find the passage in one of Bringhurst's essay where he says something to this effect, but perhaps his conclusion is all that needs to be stated: art can express the world. He and I happen to live in a place where art of the aboriginal inhabitants demonstrates this in particularly powerful ways. But a walk around any museum in the world will quickly convince you that art is expressing more than the paltry self of the artist.

hrant's picture

I concede that art doesn't only express, and there is expression beyond art.
And it's certainly true that any expression goes beyond the self. In fact I've
often said that there is no pure art (or pure anything).

My wording was sloppy/rushed. Basically I guess what I was getting at
is that a leftie who is mainly interested in following in the footsteps of
righties is a largely boring an irrelevant person.

hhp

typerror's picture

Whoa, in light of what John just said and what you have asked I am hamstrung... well maybe not. John hit it on the head. Edward Johnston said letters must reflect their times.

Hrant said...To me calligraphy is now art,

In a sense you are right. Today it is self indulgent and ill informed, in a lot of cases, and for the most part reminiscent of post pubescent rebellion. To be quite honest, it is an affront to the black and white interplay that you and I dance around.

As to your example Hrant, it is an admirable representation for a new student. I am not going to nit pick because I see it for what it is, an valiant effort. Could it become a typeface... sure, if you made some adjustments. Is it good calligraphy... it is certainly a great start. However, as a nun, I would have rapped your knuckles with a ruler for the flourish on Verona... Just kidding Hrant :-)

typerror's picture

Why would effort EVER be boring or irrelevant?

typerror's picture

And where in the hell did Henry go to... I have some issues with him :-)

henrypijames's picture

Yeah, I've suddenly become rather busy these few day. But to briefly answer your question: As a non-calligrapher myself (but with some basic training during my childhood, as stated before), my views are based on conversations with professional calligraphers I know (there are some in my family, and I know some friends of theirs, too).

typerror's picture

Once again a theorist with friends who dabble. No better research than that :-)

hrant's picture

Well, I certainly agree that the onus of marking real progress, of
breaking from the rote of precedent, is on the expert practitioners...

hhp

typerror's picture

Now Hrant... I cherish the sarcasm, but did you read my comment on your flourish? Are you left handed? Seriously, who did you study with?

hrant's picture

I read those comments. I just can't see any difference in the results; as much I like theory, I have a strong practical streak too. I'm right-handed. Reuben
Allen was my instructor.

hhp

typerror's picture

I am not familiar with him but he definitely imparted some visual wisdom to you.

Any difference from what? What theory are you speaking of?

hrant's picture

I mean a difference between minding the white and not.
At least not enough of a difference. Or maybe I didn't
get what you were talking about.

http://netra.glendale.edu/cse/instructors/allen.html
BTW, do you like Maury Nimoy's stuff?

hhp

hrant's picture

Wait a second - I just figured out when you meant! Sorry.

The flourish: interestingly, I remember Reuben didn't approve either.

hhp

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