Calligraphy is a delicate and expressive art form that dates back centuries. Combining emotive lettering with artistic design, calligraphy as an art form has evolved over the centuries as our needs and resources have changed. What follows is an explanation of some of the key philosophical and practical differences between traditional calligraphy, and its younger ancestor, modern calligraphy.
Any artist interested in mastering calligraphy should start with a base understanding of traditional calligraphy—the foundational elements and techniques first associated with this art form centuries ago. Lettering artists who still practice traditional calligraphy today tend to strictly follow the historical rules and techniques of ancient calligraphy styling. From the angle of the pen, to the use of different nibs, pen holders, papers, and guidelines, to the posture of the hand, to the movement of the letters, traditional calligraphy is defined and predetermined.
Traditional calligraphers base the foundation of their instruction on learning to design families of letters and letterforms, and care about techniques such as using proportional scales. Many traditional calligraphers practice the art today out of reverence for the ancient masters, and to continue to produce this enduring art form.
Modern calligraphy simply means a more modern, expressive, and less restrictive form of the craft practiced today by everyone from artists, to stationers, to students, to hobbyists. It should be no surprise that in today’s world where personal expression and individualism defines so much artwork and writing, modern calligraphy would evolve as a less restrictive, more interpretive platform to allow artists to express their personal style through this ancient medium.
For modern calligraphers, it’s all about expressive movements as a way to better connect to the ancient art form. Their focus is on expression and rhythm, not predefined form, and precision. They also hone their craft for practical applications, such as designing stationery, or hand addressing invitations. Much modern calligraphy also serves as inspiration for font design and typography, proving that ancient techniques still inform modern design.
Which best appeals to you? The traditional style, with defined parameters and clear guidelines for right versus wrong? Or a freeform alternative that allows for greater personal expression? Know that you don’t have to choose. Experiment with both. To start, choose a high-quality notebook, a calligraphy fountain pen, and quality ink.