What Is Western Calligraphy?

T. Carrier

Calligraphy — also known as artistic writing — is a form of writing that uses fancy lettering. Generally, practitioners place emphasis on the appearance of the letters rather than other writing factors like ease and speed. Students of calligraphy may spend many years learning the craft and the specific curls and flourishes that make up letters. Writing may require use of special devices called calligraphy pens. This calligraphy form has Latin and Greek roots.

A traditional quill may be used in calligraphy.
A traditional quill may be used in calligraphy.

Subdivisions of calligraphy can occur via the region from which the writing is practiced. Subtle differences in letter strokes, equipment, and writing purpose may underlie different types of calligraphy. Examples include Indian calligraphy, Arabic calligraphy, and Western calligraphy.

A calligraphy nib can be fitted to a fountain pen to achieve the same results.
A calligraphy nib can be fitted to a fountain pen to achieve the same results.

The roots of Western calligraphy can be found in Latin and Greek writing systems. During earlier eras, alphabets were being developed with specific structural standards in mind. Since a majority of regional populations were illiterate, leaders hired professional scribes for the sole purpose of transcribing information into written form.

Several writing styles developed, with Western calligraphy eventually merging different forms like Rotunda and Gothic. The former emphasized roundness in writing, while the latter favored more spiked shapes. French officials in the 17th century helped promote this form of writing as a means to increase legibility. 19th century artistic movements such as the Arts and Crafts Movement helped Western calligraphy move into aesthetic domains.

Different purposes may underpin Western calligraphy. In many cases, this type of writing is viewed as a work of art, even containing special touches like gold-laced painting. Letters and symbols are meant to be fluid and spontaneous, so particular appearances may vary widely. Sometimes, the finished product may not even be legible. When individuals view Western calligraphy as a work of art, aesthetic value is key.

Some practitioners, however, do learn specific forms for different letters and symbols. Individuals may also add common flourishes to the ends of letters and symbols. Such techniques can make a piece of practical traditional writing like a letter or an invitation appear fancier. Uniform appearances also helped software developers in creating many of the electronic fonts that resemble calligraphy.

Special pens with broad ends are primarily used for writing Western calligraphy. Brushes, felt-tip pens, and even ball-point pens may be utilized as well. The writing utensils are often tilted at certain angles in order to achieve the slightly curved and dimensional calligraphy effect. Other important components for proper calligraphy writing include water-based inks and quality paper.

Water-based ink is an important component of calligraphy.
Water-based ink is an important component of calligraphy.

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