Updated: Dec 2, 2019
If you want to master a skill, Malcom Gladwell tells us that it takes 10,000 hours of deliberate practice. Whether you agree with his figure or not, the point is clear: expertise comes with intentional commitment.
With so much focus required to become a master of something, the more we can drill down on the exact skill we want to master, the better! Turning our thoughts back towards calligraphy for a moment, let's think about what exactly the term 'calligraphy' encompasses.
Calligraphy is a BIG concept. Depending on who you talk to, it can mean handwriting, brush marker lettering, paint brush lettering, steel nib & ink traditional scripts, and typography, just to name a few. With such a large range, most calligraphers choose specific types of hand lettering to focus on mastering, rather than the art as a whole.
While I can confidently say that I don't personally have 10,000 hours logged in practicing, my area of focus is definitely in pointed pen calligraphy. I have a working understanding and proficiency with some broad edge scripts, but during my career I haven't focused on that side of the calligraphy world and it doesn't come as easily to me.
But let's drill down even further. Within pointed pen calligraphy, I specialize in traditional Copperplate script, as well as a few modern pointed pen variations / scripts. Through my studies and also through teaching my own students, I've developed a good understand of the 'why' behind much of the foundations of pointed pen work, and I enjoy digging into the theory behind what we do.
I'm also specialized in left-handed pointed pen calligraphy. This is more of a natural specialization, because I am left-handed. But my personal experience and understanding of how to approach calligraphy as a leftie makes me more knowledgeable than another person who may be right-handed and doesn't have any experience with left-handed calligraphy.
So why does this matter? Great question!
The simple answer is that in some cases, it makes little difference. But in others, it matters quite a deal.
Let's say, for example, that you'd like to learn Italic hand (which is a broad edge calligraphy script). If you're just starting out, it might not make a huge difference in who you choose as your first teacher so long as they have a working knowledge of the fundamentals. But, if you decide you'd like to continue past the basics, now it becomes very important to find a teacher who specializes in broad edge calligraphy, because they could tell you much more detailed and nuanced information that I could, for example!
Or let's imagine that you have a project idea and you're on the hunt for a calligraphy to hire. If you have a specific idea of the style you'd like for your piece, or the overall look, it matters quite a lot if the calligrapher you hire specializes in what you're looking for. Alternatively, if you love a certain calligrapher's work and you know what their style looks like, it doesn't matter that much what they specialize in because you're going to hire them to create something in their style.