Archive for category Medium: Calligraphy

Start Calligraphy || Maureen Sullivan

Basic lettering guides come and go and, if this is what you’re looking for, you’ve always been spoilt for choice. By their nature, they don’t differ very much and it’s often hard to choose between them.

For some reason, though, there don’t seem to have been as many in recent years – perhaps publishers realised that the market was saturated – and so this one has a clearer field in which to work.

Of its type it has the great merit of being simple. One of the complaints against this kind of book can be that they try to teach too much at once. There are a great many letter forms and shapes in calligraphy and it’s all too easy for the beginner to get overwhelmed with minuscule, majuscule, italic, uncial and roman.

The first third of the book is taken up with materials and basic techniques, which is just about the right proportion, with the rest being devoted to six hands. I was surprised that it’s that many because it’s all handled in only about 60 further pages, which means that you only get the most basic coverage for each one, and that’s about right for the beginner. Having followed this sampler approach, there are plenty of other books you can go to for further study, but you’ll do so with a lot more confidence than you would from a book that’s just left you confused by too much information at the start.

Calligraphy can be as simple and cheap or as complex as you want and it’s a satisfying craft you can follow very easily just from books. This is the best introduction I’ve seen in a good many years.

Buy it on Amazon


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The Simple Art of Japanese Calligraphy || Yoko Takenami

The title of this book offers a huge hostage to fortune, for Japanese calligraphy is anything but simple and to suggest that it might be is to reduce it pretty much out of existence.

This is intended to be a project-based craft book of the kind that offers simple and colourful demonstrations that the beginner can easily follow and which presents a result which is sufficiently seductive that the reader will always feel they have a chance of emulating, however tentative their initial steps. There are plenty of books such as this and their continued appearance indicates a popularity that suggests that the approach works, so we shouldn’t damn them with accusations of triviality.

The problem that this book has, however, is that, as well as showing some very attractive ideas, it also needs to go at some length into the formation of actual characters in several different scripts and this takes up a third of its length. Already, we’re into a more specialist area and, while I can see the value of being able to write Happy Birthday or Happy Halloween correctly, some of the details of the order of brushstrokes and the characters for unexplained voiced sounds seem just a little more than is necessary in a book essentially aimed at the beginner or, dare I say it?, the dilettante.

There’s no getting away from the fact that any calligraphic letter-form book is always going to look worthy and unexciting and this aspect seems to jar with the colourful and imaginative projects that occupy the last half of the book are which are the reason, I rather think, that you might consider buying it. None of this might matter if the book had had a title which suggested that it was more than something for the beginner, but then I’d be complaining that it wasn’t comprehensive enough. No, it can’t win, but I think that’s more the fault of the format that it is mine for being picky.

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Calligraphy Alphabets For Beginners || Mary Noble & Janet Mehigan

There’s no shortage of letterform guides for aspiring calligraphers, so you might ask whether the world really needs another one. Stop right there, because this is the one that renders all the others obsolete!

Although it’s not published as part of the Artist’s Bible series, this well thought out little book is in the same format, with spiral binding that lays flat without having to be weighted down and pages that are designed to be viewed as a set of spreads. This layout has proved to be the answer to a great many subjects and media and this is no different.

The authors give is a generous selection of alphabets including Uncial, Roman, Carolingian, Copperplate and Gothic and they also include a short guide to basic working methods and some advice on choosing which letterforms to use for a given job. This section is concise and isn’t intended to supplant a general guide to calligraphy, allowing the book to concentrate on its main job, which is to show the reader how to form the letters they actually want to use.

For clarity, attention to detail and not being diverted from the avowed purpose of the book, you’d have to give this 12 out of 10.

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The Complete Guide To Chinese Calligraphy || Qu Lei Lei

At first glance, you’d be forgiven for not recognising what an important book this is. Presented as a series of projects that can be completed by the amateur working at home, it has the outward appearance of a relatively superficial pictorial guide. There’s so much more to it than that, however.

Qu Lei Lei has written many books on the practice of Chinese art. Born in China, he came to the UK after the Cultural Revolution in 1981 and writes from both the Oriental and Western perspective, having both an understanding of the culture as well as the ability to describe it in a way that is immediately comprehensible to the general reader. As a result, this is a much more authoritative book than you might first think.

Oriental art forms have long held a fascination for us in the West, as witness the huge success of the Terracotta Warriors exhibition. Even coming to this book as a non-calligrapher, therefore, I find myself drawn to the history and culture behind the letterforms and Qu Lei Lei explains what the various scripts represent and how they were originally used, as well as demonstrating ways to write them. Yes, the book does indeed take the form of 16 projects, as well as a guide to materials and a series of technical exercises, and you will certainly be able to create a wide variety of artefacts as well as learning about the background to what you are doing. Qu features five major scripts and explains the background to each and their specific uses within this ancient and highly developed culture.

Between them, the author and the publisher have co-operated to produce a book that is both beautiful to look at and also remarkably comprehensive within the scope of its coverage as well as being clear and authoritative. It’s a considerable achievement.

CICO Books 2007

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