Fine Art
12:49 pm
Mon May 27, 2013

Is this calligraphy? Group challenges view of the art

You might think you know what calligraphy is, a beautiful form of writing or lettering usually used on stuffy formal invitations for weddings and charity banquets. But if you think that's all it is, think again.

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Last week, Pen Dragons Calligraphy Guild had an exhibit at the Second Christian Reformed Church in Grand Haven. And if you looked around the room, you would see that this is not just one type of art.

“There’s so many types of ‘hands.’ Not a ‘font,’ it’s a ‘hand’ style of lettering,” says Chris Orsolini, the exhibit chair for the guild. “To me that’s what makes calligraphy interesting is cause you can explore all of these different styles of lettering. And go back to some ancient texts and so on, and really bring it into the modern world. And do it in any kind of medium, any kind of tool. You know people have done pieces with piece of wood or a sea shell or whatever. You know, beyond the feather quill or metal nib.”

Pen Dragons' Kim Dixon does calligraphy on silk. She described how she put a personal message in the background of her painting of a pink amaryllis, a type of flower.

Kim Dixon: “And in the silk painting you have to kind of work in reverse because the background would have actually been done last. I had finished painting the flowers, I would have put wax filling those in and then I would have done the background.”

Church-member: “Do you know what it actually says in the back?”

Kim Dixon: “Somebody just asked me that recently. I was like, 'It was so long ago when I did that one, I kind of have forgotten what that wording was in the back.'”

Some calligraphers use background text like this to add texture to their art. Calligrapher Jane Ewing is a rule breaker. A lot of her work is free-form or ‘gestural.’

“After all the years that I had of formal lettering practice and studies…it had to have more rhythm, it had to have more me,” she says.

In one of her pieces, she scraped green and brown paint to make what almost looks like a tattered wall, and then wrote a gestural quote on the side. Ewing says, before a calligrapher can start doing this kind of work, they have to learn the basics. And that isn’t easy.

“You’re pen angle. The distance between one letter and the next letter. And it all varies because if you have two straights they can be farther apart, but if you have a curved and a straight they can be closer together. You have two curves you keep them closer together because your eye fills in that space," she says. "So, you study all that and that is intense, that’s hard.”

Pen Dragons' Julie Kechele agrees.

“Someone will come up and say ‘Well, I could do that on my computer.’ And I will just say ‘Try it.’”  

Many times Kechele doesn’t use words in her art at all.

“Most people would say my specialty is the Celtic design,” she says. “I put text on some of it. I like to do that particular hand that goes with it that’s based on the Uncial alphabets that you’ll see on the descriptions up here. But a lot of times I’ll just do it for the knot work. It’s very mesmerizing for me to sit there and draw that.”

Though they may have very different artistic styles, the members of Pen Dragon agree on the value of writing.

“There are nice looking fonts, really nice looking fonts,” says Ewing. “But the person that puts the pen in hand and writes there…it’s the rhythm and there’s some soul there.”

You can catch members of the Pen Dragon Calligraphy Guild at their meeting tonight. It’s at 7 o’clock in the basement of Parchment Community Library. They’ll also be at this year’s Irish Fest in Kalamazoo, doing calligraphy on bookmarks.