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A fine line: Students drawn to calligraphy classes

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

For Mary Doerr of Pawleys Retreat, last week’s calligraphy class at Georgetown Library came too late for her to address her son’s wedding invitations in a beautiful hand.

Undeterred, she enrolled in the class taught by Natasha Lawrence, a calligraphy instructor at the Charleston Museum, so she can be ready when her granddaughter gets married.

In the meantime, Doerr says she plans to use the Italian italics style she learned Saturday to address Christmas cards and to write inside books she gives as gifts.

“I still like to write letters,” Doerr said.

It only seems that hand-lettered envelopes are becoming obsolete, Lawrence told the 20 people attending her early class — a second session had to be added because of unexpectedly high interest.

“People really appreciate something you’ve done yourself,” Lawrence said. “Even if you’re just addressing an envelope, it’s an art form. And the person who gets that envelope, before they even open it, appreciates the fact that somebody has slowed down enough to handwrite the envelope with calligraphy.”

Lawrence said she addressed 250 envelopes for a Charleston restaurant event with walnut ink that dried in shades of brown. She overheard a man say the beautifully hand-addressed envelope convinced him to open the invitation and attend.

“It gets a response,” Lawrence said. “It means so much.”

She showed students how to hold the calligraphy pen at a 45-degree angle and how to move their arms to create letters instead of their hands. “This is not a ball-point pen,” she said. “Write with your whole hand. Pick up and put down the pen.”

After students filled a page with practice strokes, the lesson moved to letters in Italian italics, which Lawrence said is one of the easiest fonts to learn. Then she showed students how to add flourishes.

Calligraphy is an art form requiring almost no artistic ability, Lawrence said. She told one novice that even his poor handwriting would look better with consistency of size and form.

She told students to spend time doodling. “It’s the most important thing you can do,” she said. “It’s not a race.”

Lawrence was an art major in college who became a history major with a love of penmanship. She teaches a hand that developed during the Renaissance to increase the speed of the monks who were hand-copying manuscripts.

“We go from plain italics to something with flourishes,” she said. “It can be very beautiful.”

Lawrence gave her students a few tricks of the trade, including a grid to put inside an envelope as a guide to keep the lines straight. Most of all, she said, write slowly and keep the pen moving.

“Be brave,” she told her students. “The light bulb will go on. Trust me.”

Trudy Bazemore, assistant librarian, said people are asking for advanced classes. One is scheduled next fall.

The adaptations are endless. Lawrence displayed a number of simple watercolor paintings as background for the beautiful lettering and the lettering can be art on its own.

Gloria Ford of Georgetown said she took the class so she can handwrite her poems.

“I love the way it looks,” she said.

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