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An image of a white card with the words "Copperplate Calligraphy" written on it in Copperplate calligraphy. Four calligraphy pens sit underneath.

February – Week 2 – Copperplate and Spencerian and Roundhand, Oh My!

Wow. I knew I had a lot to learn about calligraphy. But I never knew just exactly how much there was to learn. This week I decided to look into Copperplate calligraphy, and I thought it would be a relatively straightforward thing to learn. Wrong! My head is now swimming with different types of calligraphy, ascenders and descenders, and slant angles. And I still feel like I haven’t even scratched the surface of what there is to know about calligraphy. So let’s get started.

The first important thing I learned this past week is the meaning of the word calligraphy. This word is Greek in origin, and it literally means ‘beautiful writing’. Which is very appropriate, because calligraphy is indeed beautiful writing. I also learned that calligraphy is not just mere handwriting. The purpose of handwriting is to be quickly and easily written while also being accurately read. The purpose of calligraphy, on the other hand, is to be beautiful and expressive, while conveying the personality and artistic talent of the calligrapher. Calligraphy is an art, because all calligraphers are encouraged to put their own artistic stamp on their work. But it is also an art form that is deeply entrenched in historical and cultural traditions. If done right, calligraphy provokes an artistic reaction from the reader, while also providing a link to the past.

What’s fascinating is that calligraphy used to be one of the most esteemed art forms. Especially when most of the population was illiterate. However, the invention of the printing press drastically changed the game. Writing could now be produced by machines, and calligraphers suddenly found themselves much less in demand as artisans. Some people even predicted that the art form would die out completely. And yet, calligraphy today is thriving. What’s even more fascinating is that some people actually attribute this revival to the digital revolution itself. Digital fonts are designed to be consistent. Meaning, when it comes to today’s printed word, the digital age is an era of intense consistency. Some people speculate that calligraphy is so popular because it offers a refreshing change from all of this consistency. As I said. Fascinating.

I also learned that there are four main types of calligraphy: Western, East Asian, South Asian, and Islamic. This week I’m going to be looking at western calligraphy, and Copperplate calligraphy specifically. Copperplate is the most well known and appreciated calligraphy style worldwide, originating in England in the 1660s. It is considered to be traditional calligraphy, and includes the styles of English Roundhand, Engraver’s Script, and Engrosser’s Script. See? I told you there were a lot of new terms to learn. And I’m just getting started.

Traditional calligraphy differs from modern calligraphy because it has more rules and rigid formats. For example, Copperplate calligraphy has consistent baselines and letter slants. There are specific proportions for the body of the letters when compared to the ascenders and descenders. And Copperplate calligraphy is known for its shaded downstrokes and hairline upstrokes. And yes, I had to look up all of those terms.

I also had to look up Spencerian calligraphy, because it is constantly mentioned alongside Copperplate. And I quickly discovered why. Both are examples of traditional pointed pen calligraphy, but Spencerian was developed in the US by Platt Rogers Spencer in the 19th century. Hence the name. Spencerian calligraphy is very similar to Copperplate, but the main difference between the two is in the lowercase letters. Copperplate calligraphy has shaded downstrokes while Spencerian does not. If someone had told me a year ago that I would one day be able to distinguish between the two, I would have laughed in their face. And yet here we are.

There is still so much to learn about calligraphy, so be sure to come back next week. I’ll be looking at the other three types of calligraphy, as well as their cultural history. I can’t wait!

Happy Sunday! See you next week.

Suggestions for artists I should check out? Please contact me with your ideas. I hope you enjoyed your daily helping of art!