Meghan Markle’s a pen-and-ink pro (perfect for place cards at the wedding, maybe?) and the fashion pack are big fans… Fiona McCarthy finds out why fancy handwriting is having a moment.
If we ever doubted Meghan Markle’s suitability as a perfect match for Prince Harry, she has one secret weapon that will surely please even the Queen. We’re told she’s an absolute whiz at calligraphy – working for clients including Dolce & Gabbana in her early, cash-strapped days of auditioning. Just think of all those beautifully scripted place cards at the wedding (and ensuing thank-you notes) if she and Harry ever say ‘I do’.
Miss Markle is just one of many enjoying the resurgence of calligraphy, along with the millennials who are now swapping cocktail hour for workshops on the art of putting swirling, twirling pen to paper.
For Leicestershire-based Imogen Owen, author of Modern Calligraphy Workshop, calligraphy has ‘the charm of the handmade’. In this digital age where everything feels so impersonal, it means so much more, Imogen says, to receive ‘something over which someone has taken time and care’, than an email or WhatsApp message. ‘I never regard the pings of my email inbox in the same way. You can see someone’s hand in calligraphy – the imperfections are all part of the beauty.’
Lucy Edmonds, of stationery store Quill London, noticed the trend for calligraphy coming out of the US about five years ago. Despite its relaxed style, modern calligraphy is still characterised by the combination of contrasting fine lines and thicker strokes, but emphasises individuality. ‘It takes practice to learn, but seeing your progress is so satisfying,’ she says.
When Lucy launched Quill London’s first Modern Calligraphy class to gauge interest, it sold out immediately – and continues to sell out. Alongside Lucy’s book on mastering the skill, Modern Calligraphy, Quill London recently introduced a London Letters Club to champion the art – and ethos – of letter writing, which includes evenings dedicated to giving members the time and space to catch up on their correspondence. ‘The response has been overwhelming,’ she says. ‘Handwriting is the perfect antidote to digital – it’s personal.’
The fashion world has been swift to embrace this contemporary take on an ancient art form. Last September, bouncers were needed at a Burberry and The New Craftsmen event in London to control the queues waiting for artist and calligrapher Rosalind Wyatt to inscribe bons mots on keepsakes.
For Fiona Leahy, the go-to event designer for Louis Vuitton, Dior, Charlotte Olympia, socialites and royalty, calligraphed place cards and menus set a distinctive tone, showing that every detail has been thought through. ‘I love the uniqueness of each letter drawn – words become art,’ she enthuses.
Chiara Perano, head of boutique design studio Lamplighter London and regular tutor at Quill London, is in hot demand with the fashion crowd (Saint Laurent, Matthew Williamson and Jimmy Choo are all fans) and was even commissioned by Claridge’s to teach the staff perfect penmanship so that they could write welcome cards for guests.
‘Calligraphy is all about beauty in words,’ says Chiara, author of Nib+Ink. Her distinctive modern style is so popular that her new range of customisable cards, invitations and menus for online stationer Papier was an instant bestseller.
But calligraphy shouldn’t be confined to parties and weddings – ‘It can be used for labelling food jars, immortalising a special moment by scrawling a date or name on a stone or for capturing a favourite quote or family mantra you want to frame,’ says calligrapher Kate Watson of Olive and Reid.
Starter kits begin at about £12, and as a hobby it’s not just accessible – ‘You only need a pen, ink and paper,’ says Athena Cauley-Yu, of Bath stationer Meticulous Ink – but good for us, too.
‘I’ve noticed I benefit from the calm required to keep the lettering consistent and the nib flowing lightly,’ she says. Even watching it being done is therapeutic – the films posted on Instagram of artist Seb Lester writing single words or quotes get hundreds of thousands of views.
Neuroscientist Dr Jack Lewis, author of Sort Your Brain Out, says: ‘It seems that simply wielding a pen is sufficient to get your brain in gear for better thinking.’ Another study, published in the journal Art Therapy, found that just 45 minutes of creative activity dramatically reduces the stress hormone cortisol.
Betty Soldi, a London-trained calligrapher now based in Florence, whose book Inkspired has just been published, caught the bug at seven. ‘I remember being wowed by my teacher writing the alphabet on the blackboard, seeing the chalky letters appear, each with its own shape, meaning, look and feel.
I have loved letter forms ever since,’ she says. Her work merges old and modern type, not only on paper and packaging, but on furnishings, windows and walls. ‘The beauty of developing your own calligraphy style is that it doesn’t have to be accurate. It’s intuitive and unique to you.
My partner Matteo and I still have stacks of handwritten letters to one another from 30 years ago. One day we’ll use them as wallpaper in our dream home.’
By Fiona Mccarthy
Modern Calligraphy Workshop (Quadrille, £15); Modern Calligraphy (Orion, £12.99); Nib+Ink (Virgin Books, £12.99) and Inkspired (Kyle Books, £16.99). To order these titles with a 20 per cent discount until 5 November, visit you-bookshop.co.uk or call 0844 571 0640; p&p is free on orders over £15