What is Modern Calligraphy?

This post was actually inspired by another post that I’m working on; in an attempt to quickly define “modern calligraphy”, I realized a quick definition was not going to happen without a separate post for the full one. Outlining the definitions of and differences between modern calligraphy, calligraphy, hand-lettering, and handwriting will really help you understand what exactly modern calligraphy is and isn’t, and the broader realm of hand-lettering.

For starters, let’s get handwriting out of the way. Handwriting is exactly what it sounds like and what you know it as – the way that you write letters and words. Initially, you might think you won’t be successful at modern calligraphy because you have bad handwriting, or that good handwriting will give you an advantage, but those are both common misconceptions! You can be an amazing calligrapher with terrible handwriting. And interestingly, if you have good handwriting, you may struggle to break some of your handwriting habits and muscle memory in order to be a better calligrapher. While my good handwriting originally sparked my interest in modern calligraphy, I actually had a hard time getting the hang of some techniques because I wanted to fall back on my handwriting! Long story short, the Venn diagram of handwriting and modern calligraphy is two circles.

Moving onto hand-lettering, this is an umbrella term for the art of drawing letters. “Drawing” is the key word in delineating hand-lettering and handwriting. In this case, you are drawing each letter, not “writing” it. Calligraphy is one of the many types of hand-drawn letter and word art that hand-lettering encompasses.

Calligraphy, as I mentioned, is one type of hand-lettering, distinguished by a specific set of rules about HOW the letters are drawn. In order to “count” as calligraphy, letters must be drawn stroke by stroke, where a thick line is used for all downstrokes and a thin line for upstrokes. Typically, when you hear “calligraphy”, you think of traditional calligraphy – monks hunched over Bibles, a “Ye Olde Pub” sign in medieval times, or an invitation to tea from the queen (which I expect any day now). There are several different types of traditional calligraphy, such as Copperplate and Uncial, and each type has its own set of additional rules that calligraphers must adhere to in order to create the desired look of each letter. In the case of something like the monk-made Bibles, those rules ensure consistency from person to person.

Modern calligraphy, as the name implies, is the modern take on calligraphy technique. While modern calligraphy still follows the “thick down, thin up” paradigm of drawing each stroke, that’s about it. In contrast to traditional calligraphy, modern calligraphy is all about putting your own unique spin on drawing letters, which results in a more freestyle and, well, modern look. Each person’s lettering looks totally unique and you get to develop your own style (or two, or more!), and that is what I love about it!

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