Yes, Calligraphy can be Both Traditional and Modern

By Phawnda Moore in Art Business Advice > General Art Advice

The last decade or so has brought a lot of changes to calligraphy. Some interesting things are happening.

Writing tools have been vastly improved. Calligraphy has moved beyond the scriptorium—to the kitchen, the garden and the car. We have many choices for paper and other surfaces readily available. There’s less time (or it seems that way) so easier techniques are in demand. And thanks to social media, we have the ability to share with others around the world, exchanging solutions, materials and tips.

In your life as a lettering artist, you probably belong to one of two camps: the “traditional” camp, which references the historical rules of calligraphy; or the “modern” camp, where self-expression guides the heart and hand.

And the obvious question is: should you have to choose?

I think not. Classically trained calligraphers can learn from the free spirits and get acquainted with a more expressive way to create letters. The modern camp, may in turn find that our traditional mantra of “disciplined freedom” provides a deeper connection to an enduring art form.

Conversations make this possible. If we focus on our common ground, it even makes the exchange more interesting.

We (the traditional camp) could ask questions like: Did you learn calligraphy in the families of letters? Can I show you when to use a proportional scale? What letter shape is the foundation of the style you’re writing?

The modern camp could respond with: Would you like to learn how to vectorize lettering? What tips can I share in working successfully with event planners or buyers on Etsy? Can I show you how do hand lettering for chalkboards?

I thought of this imaginary exchange when I created a modern script in watercolor lettering. As I’ve written previously, a great way to practice is by writing with colors (literally and figuratively). I mixed my analogous watercolors and then, rather than drawing lines on the paper, I just started lettering, finding my way amid positive an negative space as I filled the page.


Like modern calligraphers, I aimed for expression and rhythm rather than precision. Like traditional calligraphers, I referenced my classical training in letterforms, color, and layout. It’s a new journey.

I’ll be teaching workshops on this lettering style in Sacramento, CA this summer. More details can be found on my Facebook page, so come if you can, all are welcome!


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