Written by Stephanie Michelle Scott
with featured hobbyist Justine Hwang
When I was first introduced to calligraphy, I’ll admit I was motivated by the commonly held belief that it would be an easy way to up my scrapbooking game and prepare a unique card for my mom to let her know how much I appreciate her. And hey, how hard could it be? I’ve been playing with cursive writing for most of my life, learning calligraphy couldn’t possibly be too hard to master for someone like me who loves the feel of pen on paper.
“Some people think that if they have good handwriting it is similar but that’s not the case because calligraphy is really about lines and strokes. That’s good news if you think that having bad handwriting disqualifies you! If you can draw a straight line and you can draw a curve then you can do this.”
Justine Hwang, calligrapher.
Calligraphy, in traditional form, goes back centuries. In recent years and with the support of communities finding each other online, there has been an exciting resurgence in interest. In fact, Justine can remember a time when there were just 3 people locally teaching workshops in Vancouver and now, a scan of youtube will show you every type of form you can imagine being expressed in creative ink flows of color, texture, mediums and community’s “word-of-the-day challenges”.
Taking that first run at it on my own was an ego crusher. The crisp, detailed lines that looked so simple to copy quickly eluded me. No matter what I tried, the image in my head just wasn’t communicating with muscles in my hand that struggled to manipulate my newly purchased pen. But not to worry according to our local expert, and workshop instructor Justine Hwang “in the beginning we are all awful at it”. That may feel overwhelming but that quickly becomes part of the fun.
Vancouver has plenty of calligraphy communities that love pen and ink . Our local artist recommends getting in touch with:
- The Happy Lettering Challenge features a daily prompt to write one single positive word each day.
- Lettering Challenge HQ reposts many of the challenges each month. From Harry Potter, to candy bars, you can find prompts here that match your interests!
- The Vancouver Lettering Community is also a super encouraging community of pen enthusiasts, with lettering challenges on Instagram, as well as practice in person social meetups and events.
Meet Justine Hwang : Vancouver Calligrapher
Justine Hwang is a self declared social impact calligrapher, and workshop facilitator out of Vancouver. But what makes her workshops stand out? Her approach involves sharing her personal experience with burnout and art to explore self awareness around topics like mental health and racism, both at a personal and societal level. In her recovery she rediscovered a childhood love of calligraphy and founded It Just Flows, a fusion of hobby, self discovery workshops, and community efforts that would make anyone’s heart sing- just a little.
The historical ties to calligraphy run across all continents tracing origins back to ancient China and extends to over a dozen ethnic cultures.
“The earliest script to emerge from the Dead Sea writing was the Early Sefardic (Sephardic), with examples dating between 600 and 1200 A.D. The Classic Sefardic hand appears between 1100 and 1600 A.D.” Quote from National Today.
In a diverse city like Vancouver, your ability to tie your craft to a cultural community that can expand and celebrate its significance could make this activity all the more rich.
Scripting the meticulous and the expressive
Calligraphy is a really easy way to get creative. People naturally spend time juggling a little bit with anxiety when there’s an empty page they need to fill up. That can be a struggle for some people. Calligraphy is a great relief because one can start by literally copying simple lines onto that page.
When you attend one of Justine’s workshops you will see a creative spin that infuses her unique expression for graphic design and the impact of the words on how they speak to her. Here colorful works take the form of shapes and good design principles to be worthy of any wall art.
This style is called hand lettering, which is an art form that focuses on drawing/illustrating the letters, including paying attention to typography and layout. Adding the meaningful emotional connection is what Justine calls expressive lettering.
Justine would emphasize “it’s not about the technical, it’s about the therapeutic use. The words are written to express the emotion. It’s a great way to work through something, like a break up for example. This type of expression pairs well with journaling because it’s really more about writing the emotion into the lettering than making it pretty —if I’m angry I might use heavy red strokes around those feelings.”
Expressive writing taps into one’s heart space and posing questions such as, “Why did that quote draw you out in the first place? What is the mood of that quote? What do you want to remember and is there an illustration you want to add to help you remember that emotion?”
“My background in graphic design comes in to when I script,” says Justine. “My thumbnails sketches are used to block out the start of the post and the elements I’m going to add. It’s where I plan where I’m going to add this curve and I’m going to explore good design principles like balance and contrast and repetition. I really like to work with shapes so I’ll write in a shape of a heart or teardrop playing with the external lines of the shape.”
Dipping oneself into the Calligraphy World
According to Justine, there are several basic writing instruments in the calligraphy family. Each presents a different tactile experience.
It’s not a rule but part of Justine’s advice is to start with one pen type and practice each upward and downward stroke until you feel comfortable with the results.
- The bullet tip, is just like your average fine tip marker or a ballpoint pen. It offers a great place to begin because it is so easily accessible and will let you get used to the strokes without taking on much expense. The versatility makes it great for DIY beautifying projects. And online search of “faux calligraphy”will give you an idea.
- The brush tip, made popular by instagram. This recent popularity ensures lots of youtube videos to guide first attempts. The style differs in that it is more casual due to a lack of a precise tip. The artistic designs flow and the brush instrument can mimic the look and feel of bounce lettering which purposely adjusts the baseline of each character giving the writing a free style look. And online search of “brush lettering” will give you an idea.
- The pointed pen nib is often the most difficult pen for beginners. It is the type of pen we all envision when we think about calligraphy, but it can be unforgiving and requiring a little more practice. Of course after that practice there is a very high likelihood that you will be volunteered among your friends to be their wedding invitation calligrapher,- wink-. This is the pen to use for traditional forms such as copperplate or spencerian. To add to the fun, and the delightful mess, this is the type of tip you stick in your pen holder and dip in the ink and that’s what people typically think of when they think of calligraphy. An online search of “pointed pen calligraphy” will give you an idea.
- The broad edge nib has a flat square tip. Think of a highlighter, but without the angled tip.According to Justine, broad edge tip is not as popular but has ties to traditional forms of writing we are all familiar with in print, like roman italic of microsoft word or a more medieval or gothic style, such as what you may have seen in a celtic pub, a form called Uncial calligraphy. And online search of italic calligraphy, uncial calligraphy, or gothic calligraphy will give you an idea.
6 Steps to Calligraphy
Step 1. Hit the net, find the style you’d love to copy
To set yourself up for success you will want practice until you develop muscle memory for a specific lettering style. This is easier if you are inspired by what it will become.
Tip: Don’t overlook all the places and media where calligraphy appear: walls, glass etching, cups, and towels within art.
Step 2. Choose an appropriate pen
There are three basic pen types. Choose one and stick with it (for a while.) The technique you develop with each will differ slightly so it is best to give your all to one before moving onto the next nib.
Tip: First learn the style don’t worry about making it pretty
Step 3. Learn the Basic Technique
Justine emphasizes that calligraphy is made up of down strokes which are thick and the upstrokes which are thin. It’s part of what gives calligraphy its characteristic dynamic look. Take the letter O, it starts with an oval and adds an extra layer on the right hand side.
TIP: Have fun with it. Fill in the thick strokes with colors, dots or something else.
Step 4. Practice – be like Justine!
When Justine dedicated herself to learning she chose a style and wrote everything in that style. Shopping lists, thoughts, letters, everything. This allowed her to really apply the style across plenty of types of lettering needs. If you do, you will be thrilled to see you progress over time when you put the work in. A few minutes regularly is better than a binge practice session once in a blue moon.
TIP: Try including photographs from your travels if painting backdrops is not your thing.
Step 5. Be gentle with yourself
“Unlike other forms of art in abstract, with calligraphy everyone knows what good writing looks like and when you get started it can feel like you’re a toddler walking all over again. The letters don’t look good and the dopamine hasn’t started to hit and it doesn’t feel fun because it doesn’t look great and it’s my job to get them into the engaging creative process.” – Justine
TIP: An instagram account is free, try these tags to find a community for inspiration :
#miniature #miniaturemaking #booknookshelfinsert #fairygarden #miniature #shadowbox And add #BIVcrafts #DIYwithSteph so we can see what you’ve come up with.
Learn more on ;
Beginner Calligraphy : Refresh your heart and be empowered with the creative confidence and tools to live an inspired and intentional life of impact.
Italic Broad Pen Calligraphy Basics : Get inky with this elegant style of calligraphy in this introductory workshop using the broad edge pen.
Design Layout for Lettering : take your lettering exploration to the next level by adding design principles and decorative elements.
Justine Hwang (She/Her)
In her workshops, Justine strives to bring out a spirit of freedom to learn and be creative. As the founder of It Just Flows, she hosts workshops teaching creative tools for mindfulness, where she holds space for people to connect with their hearts, with others, and the community by donating handlettered encouragement notes to marginalized neighbors. She has been the focus of many Vancouver interviews and speaking engagements. She leads the Vancouver chapter of the Rising Tide Society and is honored to be chosen as one of 2019’s “20 on the Rise,” a celebration of individuals who are making waves and raising the tide in their industry, based on empowerment, impact, purpose, and passion.
For a more detailed breakdown- get on Justine’s mailing list.
Stephanie is a contributing writer to Bored In Vancouver always on the hunt for niche communities and people with hobbies and activities to share. She is currently looking for people to include in a book that celebrates hobbies, for the love of it. Submit yourself for an interview