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Why Everyone is Picking Up a Calligraphy Pen

In the wise words of Ferris Bueller, life moves pretty fast—so sometimes we all need to slooow things down just a bit. Screen-free hobbies like coloring, pottery, and macramé have all seen a resurgence in popularity, and now calligraphy is making its mark. You probably think of it as just the fancy-schmancy writing reserved for wedding invitations (see: Meghan Markle’s pre-Duchess gig!), but here’s why it’s having a renaissance.

The Origin Story

In the most basic terms, calligraphy is the art of writing letters or characters in an expressive way, and it’s been around for thousands of years both in Eastern and Western cultures. In ancient China, calligraphy was considered the highest visual art form and a medium for self-expression, and other East Asian and Islamic cultures developed calligraphy styles that were just as revered. The Latin lettering those of us who are English-speakers are most familiar with stems from the Greek tradition of using wide-nibbed pens—as opposed to brushes used in other forms. It rose to prominence in the 10th century, and the word calligraphy actually comes from the Greek term meaning “beautiful writing.” Starting in the Medieval times, using the flourish-heavy style signified a person was educated —and quality penmanship could open doors. Just look at Timothy Matlack, the beer brewer and Continental Congress delegate who was chosen to write America’s original Declaration of Independence thanks to his serious quill skills.

The Rise to Fame

Putting pen to paper has been trending lately thanks to people’s interest in new creative outlets or just improving their handwriting. In an era when emails and emoji rule, a well-lettered note feels extra-extra-special—in fact, recent research shows composing one can even reduce your stress levels. And while it doesn’t have to be written in calligraphy, some who’ve taken that angle have turned their newfound skill into a business (the ease of sharing on social media provides a solid assist). Oh, and The New Yorker recently did story on the calligraphy stars of Instagram, so what more proof could you need that the pastime is back in a big way? Just don’t call those practitioners hand-lettering artists—while the art, a close cousin of calligraphy, is also having a moment, it’s just not quite the same thing.

5 Ways to Explore More

  1. Dive into Abbey Sy’s Insta for creative inspo, and then take a look at her latest book for a complete breakdown of the process so you can start practicing on your own.  
  2. But what to calligraphy on?! Laura Hooper Leader shares her favorite papers for minding writing your Ps and Qs.
  3. Did you know that faux calligraphy is a gateway to the real thing? The Postman’s Knock tells you how to get started.
  4. If you’re ready to get serious, Skillshare offers an online class to take your beginner lettering game to the next level.
  5. Explore Japanese calligraphy and prepare to be mesmerized by the performance art of Aoi Yamaguchi, who puts her whole body into it.

Put Pen to Paper