I have enjoyed a passionate relationship with calligraphy for over forty years; we have been through thick and thin together and still, the alphabet continues to confound me as well as bring me great joy! From being the kid in school who designed all his friend's book covers, to addressing fancy envelopes to shipmate's girlfriends while in the Navy—and on to becoming chief calligrapher of the White House, calligraphy has always been a part of my adventure. I continue my quest for the perfect letter in my studio here in the coastal hills of Sonoma County. Please contact me to discuss your next special event, or that poem that you have always wanted written up real nice! If you want to read more about this enduring friendship I have with calligraphy, read on......
My (Calligraphy) Story—and I'm sticking to it!
It began with the fire of a $5.00 bill burning a hole the the pocket of a 12 year old boy. Actually, I had my eyes on that bottle of ink and Speedball text book at JJ Newbury's 5&10 for months before the $5.00 arrived in the form of a birthday present. I remember clearly now, over 40 years later, the excited walk downtown to make the purchase—and the even more excited run back home to try it all out! I can even recall the smell of that Speedball ink as I opened the bottle for the first time. I was hooked from the start. I began (of course) with the most elaborate, "the fanciest" hand in the book, "Old English." The ever-popular italic hand is much easier to achieve, so that followed pretty quickly and became a longtime favorite. During my teen years, I explored and enjoyed many art mediums, but calligraphy remained an on-going interest. When I was 16, my older brother, who had developed an interest in lettering, enrolled in classes at Butera School of Art in Boston. (Butera, the last sign painting school in the country, graduated its final class in 2011) Letters took on new meaning and new significance as I found a peer with whom I could enjoy hours of conversation simply around these 26 shapes.
At the impressionable age of 18, I had been convinced that a future in art was not a viable option and I decided to enlist in the US Navy, to see what I could see....and all I saw was the sea! (Okay, I saw much more than the sea, I just had to put that in there out of tradition.) Actually, I had a wonderful time in the Navy, flunking out of two schools before finally getting it right after a year of studying Farsi at the Defense Language Institute, in beautiful Monterey, California. It is not that I slacked off with the first two schools (electronics & Russian), nor that Farsi is a particularly easy language to learn; it has much more to do with letting go of stress and enjoying life more. Weird, but true; and why they gave me three shots at school instead of one is also a mystery. Throughout these four years, I continued to mess about with broad-edged pens and created everything from invitations for friend's weddings and Navy Day balls to place cards (in Arabic) for the Commander of Middle East Forces in Bahrain while stationed in the Persian Gulf. By the end of my enlistment, the allure of working with my brother the sign painter won out over the Navy's offers of reenlistment bonuses, advancements and world travel.
In August of 1983, I received my discharge from the military, and three days later began taking classes at Butera School of Art. (Talk about culture shock!) It became quickly apparent to me that Butera was not offering the level of knowledge that I sought, and I withdrew after one semester. I found Butera's approach to the study of lettering had very little substance. Granted, to this point I had never studied anything beyond the Speedball Textbook—but I somehow sensed that they were missing the meat and bones of what the alphabet is. They were teaching a technical skill, but not teaching the alphabet. I later learned that what was missing was the essential historical reference to our art. It was acutely absent at Butera. In addition to my disappointment with the curriculum at Butera was my own downfall of not being terribly adept with a brush. I did not find the same joy in brush lettering that I did with a much more easily controlled steel nib. At a loss of what to do next, I decided take this opportunity to fulfill a long-held dream of riding my bicycle across the US, and take that time to consider my next move.
Have I got you on the edge of your seat, wondering what is to follow? Please visit again soon for the next installment!