Updated: Dec 2, 2019
We talk a lot about practicing here....and with good reason! Practicing your craft is the only way to make progress, and it's how you spend 90% of your allotted time.
Despite all the difficulties, practicing is the best thing you can do to feel more confident with your calligraphy skills.
And of course, I want to help! That's why I'm sharing the ONE tip that I've learned, that completely changed the way I approach my practicing.
This idea comes from Sheila Waters, an internationally-renowned calligrapher (who, incidentally, was married to Peter Waters, one of the most famous bookbinders of his time...talk about a power couple!). In her book, Foundations of Calligraphy, Sheila talks about approaching practice from either an Analytical or Rhythmical approach.
The biggest thing I learned when studying Sheila's approach to practicing is that when we try to do both Analytical AND Rhythmic practice at the same time, we end up stagnating our progress because our brains are pulled in two very opposite directions.
In order to explain what I mean, let's take a deeper look at Sheila's two approaches to practicing:
This approach to practicing focuses on analyzing our lettering and paying close attention to the rules we learn (so that we can break them artistically later!).
When I choose an analytical practice session, it might look like this:
~As always, I start by setting up my workspace, warming up my arm, and making sure I'm working with properly-sized guidelines. I'll also place my chosen script exemplar close at hand for frequent reference
~As I begin to letter, I'll stop frequently to check things like my letter and word spacing, the consistent shapes of my letters (i.e. round 'o' or ovals), lifting my pen at the correct places, correct order of strokes in each letter form, etc.
~As I notice specific letters that need improvement, I'll pause and repeat them a few times to work on correcting my technique. The same goes for spacing: if I see that my 'sa' letter combo has too much space in between, I'll stop to repeat and correct.
~I concentrate extra care on the fine details, such as consistent entrance and exit strokes and making sure my nib is connecting with the paper at the correct angle. I'll keep a sharp eye out to make sure each line of ink has crisp, clear edges and I'm not leaning on one tine more than the other as I add pressure to my strokes.
In contrast to the Analytical approach to practicing, when I practice rhythmically I focus on the flow and feel of my calligraphy, rather than the technical details.
My rhythmic practice session might look like this:
~I still begin with a good setup, warm muscles, and proper guidelines. But this time, I'll review the script exemplar before starting to refresh my memory, and then put it away. I don't want to pause to study it while I work.
~I choose a passage of prose to letter, and get to work! I try to memorize about a phrase at a time, to help eliminate unnecessary pauses in my lettering.
~As I letter, I'm focusing on an even, rhythmic pace to my lettering. This type of practice session often feels a bit like being "in the zone" or meditating, because I'm fully vested in the present moment. I don't stop to check and/or correct anything, and if I make an error I just keep going. It's all about the rhythm and flow of lettering a whole sentence/paragraph/page/etc.
As an added step, after you're finished practicing (I often walk away and come back later for this part) you should look over your work and critique. Now is the time to check for errors or bad letterforms, and make a note to spend some time drilling and correcting those errors in your next practice time.
Now, think again about trying to work in BOTH of these mindsets during the same practice session. No wonder I would always end up frustrated! Being able to split our practice into two very different types makes it easier to focus on both sides of calligraphy: the strict rules, and also the artistic rhythm and feeling.
If you haven't read Sheila's Foundations of Calligraphy, I would highly recommend picking up a copy! It's chalk-full of helpful tips and will change the way you approach calligraphy, no matter what style of lettering you study!
I'd love to know what you think! Have you heard about Sheila's approach to practicing before? Do you think this approach will have an impact on your practicing? Let me know in the comments below!
*Foundations of Calligraphy, Sheila Waters. Published by John Neal Books, copyright 2006, 2008, 2014