Updated: Dec 2, 2019
Everyone knows that practice creates improvement. [Notice I did NOT say perfection there!] But how do you know you're practicing well?
It's not something we often thing about, but there is a right way, and a wrong way, to practice calligraphy. We want to make sure that when we sit down to practice, we're not instilling bad habits, or incorrect form. Too often we (myself included!) are only interested in checking the box on our to-do lists, and we sit down and hurriedly scribble out some letterforms, maybe write out a quote, and then pack it up and continue on with our day.
So if there's a right way to practice, just what does that way look like?, you're probably asking. Here are some tips for making sure your practice is as meaningful as it can be!
Think about your posture.
Calligraphy is an art, and it takes my whole body to perform it well. When I still down to practice, I want to be sitting up straight, my muscles relaxed, and my shoulders back. I love taking several deep breaths, eyes closed, to center my attention on the practice at hand and loosen up any tension I have from the day.
Setup is important -- even for practice.
I know, I know, you just want to start practicing! But I promise, taking a few crucial minutes to make sure your work station is set up properly will make your practice time much more enjoyable and efficient. Keep your work area well-lit (use a lamp if natural or room lighting isn't cutting it). Set up your ink and cleaning cloth on the proper side of the page, and in comfortable reach. Secure your paper to the work surface (painter's tape or large rubber bands work well), but remember to keep it mobile, so you're always writing in your comfort zone. If you can, use a desktop easel or drafting desk to encourage good posture (and save your shoulders and neck some problems).
Warm up those muscles!
No one can pick up a calligraphy nib & ink and create beautiful, consistent strokes stone cold. We need to make time for some simple stroke exercises, and a few drills to warm up those muscles and get our minds focused on the present.
Slow and steady wins the race.
There is no prize for finishing first in calligraphy -- seriously! I cannot stress enough with my students to take things slowly. Slow calligraphy is gives our brains a chance to really focus on each individual stroke, making our work more constant and visually-pleasing. Drawing our letterforms slowly creates rhythm, our muscles moving in loose gestures, and our breathing steady and deep. Conversely, quickly dashing off letter forms interrupts our natural artistic flow, and fights against the calm, relaxed state of mind and body that excellent calligraphy demands.
Keep your exemplar or workbook open and close at hand.
No one wants to practice bad habits. Even if you know the script you're practicing well, keep your exemplar sheet or workbook out and open in sight in your practice area. You'd be surprised how often we mis-remember how this letterform is created, or what this stroke should look like. Knowing you're creating the correct letterforms instills confidence in your practice, which makes everything easier.
Treat each practice page like a final draft.
Don't be scared by this statement - of course this is still just practice. What I want you to focus on is making sure that you're using the proper technique, with the proper tools and in the proper way. Always use an extra piece of paper underneath your hand to avoid getting skin oils on the page. Use good-quality paper...all the time! Practicing calligraphy on paper that catches your nib, or on which your ink bleeds just increases frustration. Move your paper to keep working in your comfort zone (directly in front of you, where it feels most comfortable to work), and give each stroke as much attention as you would if this practice sheet were going to hang in an art gallery.
I hope these practice tips help you enjoy your next practice session even more! Do you have any great tips for good practice techniques? Share them below!
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