Brush it Off

Director, writer, and artist Jean Cocteau is famous for saying “An artist cannot speak about his art any more than a plant can discuss horticulture” (Newsweek, 1955). Though Cocteau suggests that artists are not the best verbal communicators, many artists include words, characters, and writing into their works. Here at the DMA, we have many examples of handwriting and calligraphy in our collection.

Last month I took an introductory calligraphy class with my friend and fellow intern Emily Wiskera at Wildflower Art Studio. I learned a lot from our teacher Emile, and have not been able to stop practicing since! I thought it would be fun to give you guys a quick and basic tutorial on brush pen calligraphy. You can add calligraphy to your art, you can address a letter, write your name, or make a fancy grocery list! For this tutorial you will need a brush pen in the color of your choosing (which can be bought at any craft store) and a piece of paper. I have used scraps of watercolor paper for this tutorial.

Tip #1
Pressure makes perfect. When writing, upward strokes require a light amount of pressure and downward strokes require firmer pressure. Practice using different amounts of pressure by drawing straight lines. Once you feel comfortable with straight lines, try drawing loops while applying the same pressure techniques.

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Tip #2
Practice your alphabet. Brush lettering should be fun! I like to practice writing the alphabet using variations in the thickness of the letters, with assorted flourishes, and in different styles. Develop a style of your own or find a template (like this one) of a calligraphy style you like. Now practice, practice, practice! Whether you use a found template or your own, you can use tracing paper and pencil to trace over the letters.

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Tip #3
Take your time! Calligraphy takes concentration, but it can also be very soothing. You want to write at a pace that is not too fast and not too slow so that your letters are nice and smooth.

Tip #4
Put it all together. Once you are comfortable with your loops and alphabet you can now combine the two! Try to write the alphabet with the brush pen calligraphy technique. Once you have gotten the hang of it, writing your name can be a fun way to practice your letters, too.

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Tip #5
Make it your own!
Keep it simple or add flourishes— it’s up to you. Your calligraphy style is as unique as you are! I went back and added a few little hooks at the top of my capital letters “R” and “M.”

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Show us your samples by using the hashtag #dmabrushtips on your social media sites. I’ll-pha-bet they look great! Make sure to check out our C3 gallery and Spirit and Matter exhibition to see more examples of writing and calligraphy on display at the DMA.

Whitney Sirois
McDermott Graduate Intern for Gallery and Community Teachin


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