As a calligrapher the questions you’re likely to be asked include “How long did it take you?”, “did you do it on the computer?” and the favourite of all: “what do you do when things go wrong?”
Things going wrong – it happens. It’s part of developing our calligraphy. And it’s not the end of the world.
This article is going to look at ideas for reducing the chances of something going wrong. Of course it’s not good for our calligraphy if we proceed assuming everything will go wrong, but a few simple precautions can make life easier in the event of a problem.
Set up your workspace safely. Think about ways to reduce the chance of spills – of water and ink and wet pens and brushes. Have a pen stand (even a crumpled piece of paper will work) and think about making your ink anti-spill – cutting a hole out of a bath sponge and inserting the whole bottle into the sponge makes it more stable and catches drips too.
Use good materials. You have more options available to you if you have used good paper and an ink/paint that does not soak in. (Gouache Paints for example sits on top of the paper, making the scratching off of a rogue letter more possible.)
Check your materials. For example. if you were saving that beautiful piece of paper for your final piece, take a little scrap of it and check it behaves as you want – does the ink bleed? Can you rub out your lines without smudging of changing the paper surface?
Keep everything clean. Old ink on a nib or brush, dirt on the back of a ruler or a guard sheet can ruin your pristine lettering. (And if you have cats, dogs or children in your workspace they bring their own challenges!)
Fill your pen carefully. If you’re right handed you probably want to fill your pen to the right of your board, so have everything you need to your right. If you think the first stroke of the pen might have too much ink, mark the first mark on a scrap of paper.
Rule up two final pieces and work on each one. By doing this you can trick your brain into always believing that the other piece is the final one – this relieves tension and helps your lettering flow. If a serious problem occurs – you still have a good piece, and if it doesn’t, you have two!
Plan what to do first. As you work on a final piece with multiple elements (such as the text, an illustration, a title) if you can add the elements that you find most difficult first, then you will be more relaxed as you get closer to finishing. Of course we don’t always have the option to do this.
Make it easy to see what you’re writing. Have the words you’re writing right next to the sheet you’re lettering on. A good tip both for accuracy of the words and correct spacing is to use the final rough to guide you,: as you write a line you have your own lettered version just above or below where you’re writing. (Careful not to smudge wet ink though).
Always check back to the original. There is a danger that if you made an error the first time you wrote the words, you will then repeat that error in every trial and on into your final piece. Take the time to check that you’ve not accidentally drifted away from the original words.
Get someone to check for you. Consider asking someone to check your final rough – have you correctly copied the words from the original text?
Try not to be distracted. Holding conversations, listening to the radio or even to songs with words can all cause you to accidentally lose your place in your lettering.
Let it dry. It’s easy to spoil a piece by putting your hand on ink that’s still damp, or rubbing out lines before everything is bone dry. Be patient – better to wait overnight before rubbing out lines.
This list will probably prompt you to think of other ways in which you can increase your chances of creating a beautiful piece.
And sometimes we can be as careful as you like, and still something occurs…