It’s not often that I learn an entirely new skill on a random Thursday evening. In fact it’s not often that I learn an entirely new skill full stop these days. I mean don’t get me wrong, every day is a school day right? We’re always growing as individuals and each day learning something, but once you reach adulthood, you do fall into a familiar routine of doing things you already know how to do.
Now that I’ve reached my thirties, I already know how to do most of life’s basics – I can ride a bike, I can swim, I can cook (I can’t drive but that’s next years project). My studying days are behind me, I no longer have maths homework to get myself in a tizzy about or a bowl of fruit I need to spend five hours painstakingly painting. I have a career where, for the most part, I’m fairly confident I know what I’m doing, I read the type of books I enjoy reading, watch the type of films I enjoy watching and indulge in the hobbies that have stuck after years of doing them.
But I guess as I get older, and maybe as I move out of that – I just want to have fun and not think about the future – phase I was in in my twenties, I have more of an urge to expand my knowledge, build upon my list of ‘things I know how to do’ and generally push myself into new challenges. Yup, I know. I sound ridiculously middle aged. I’ll be taking up night classes next.
But I know you’ll have one too – that list of things you’ve always wished you could master but somehow never have? Most of mine are probably terribly unrealistic – I’m pretty sure it’s too late for me to become a world class ballerina – but others aren’t quite so far from reach – learn to KRUMP (look it up), learn a musical instrument, learn dressmaking, master film photography. And one other, which I made my first tracks towards a couple of weeks ago on that random Thursday evening; Learn calligraphy.
Now I realise this skill isn’t a huge departure from many of the things I already do in my day to day life (it’s not exactly free running or skuba diving now is it?) but it is genuinely something I’ve always wanted to learn, and something (other than a few handwriting tutorials at school with one of those awful Berrol pens) I hadn’t until this time tried my hand at.
So what prompted me to head back into central London on the evening of a tube strike in the blistering heat to partake in a modern calligraphy class with the folks at Quill London? Well I guess you could say the wedding made me do it (its been my excuse for many of my more irrational moments this year). I’ve been pouring over beautifully addressed invites, and perfectly inky wedding signs on Pinterest for quite some time now and trying (and failing) to teach myself the art. I bought a basic calligraphy quill for our save the dates and gave the envelope addressing a go, which didn’t turn out too badly but definitely wasn’t at the level of those on my Pinterest board. And, having heard so many others rave about the workshops that Quill London put on, I decided to give it a bash.
And so, that random Thursday evening of a tube strike, I left my parents in the pub (they’d just arrived for the weekend) and made my way to Tottenham Court Road in the sweltering summer heat to get crafty with ink and paper, and I’m so glad I did…
The Quill London workshops are held all over London and in various locations – from pubs to shops to studios – but my one was at the West Elm store on Tottenham Court Road, which for anyone who hasn’t been, is a lovely little store that I could happily spend hours in, pouring over all the interior goodness. There’s a small cafe bar at the back of the shop, and that’s where I found myself oohing and aahing over the pretty tables that had been all set up for us as I arrived for the class. Each place set out with our very own calligraphy set – paper, pen, shiny new nib, ink, worksheets – we all arrived, said our hellos, refueled on iced teas and latte’s and took our seats to begin. I ended up (by total accident) being on what I coined ‘The wedding table’, seated with two fellow bride-to-be’s also hoping to master the envelope addressing and the two brains behind Zouch and Lamare – a wedding planning business (which I urge you to check out because they were lovely and also annoyingly brilliant at calligraphy-ing).
The class was taught by the wonderful Imogen Owen, who really does make it look as easy as pie, even though it is most certainly not (I know, I tried). The workshop I chose was ‘Modern Calligraphy’ which is actually a little different from the more traditional style of calligraphy (all medieval and gothic) which you might be familiar with. It takes it’s inspiration from copper plate, and is much more about the fluidity of the form rather than the precision of the lettering. I learned that the type of calligraphy quill you have, and the size of the nib, is actually hugely important in terms of achieving the right look (and coincidentally where I’d been going wrong with my Save the Dates – I’d been using a wide nib). We were all given a fine point nib which allows you to control the thickness and thinness of your letters by applying pressure at the right points, as opposed to letting the pen do it for you.
It definitely took a bit of getting used to, and a lot of concentration (and frustration when it didn’t seem to be going right for the first half of the class) but it achieves a much more beautiful writing form (in my humble opinion) once you get it right. What I like about this type of calligraphy is that there is room for a little personality – it’s all about mastering how to create those forms, and then throwing the rule book out of the window to find your own style and run with it. Once you know how an A should look for example, it’s up to you how big that A should be, how many loops or curls that A should have, and how it should link up with the next letter on the page. If you too have a Pinterest board dedicated to this pretty style of writing then you’ll know what I mean – often letters are looped together in random fashions, some letters big, some small, and not necessarily running in a straight line on the page.
We began by practicing various exercises in order to get us used to applying and releasing pressure with the nib. This included simple downward and upward strokes, loop strokes and eventually little circles. The idea is to apply pressure on every downward stroke and release on every upward stroke, which is much easier said than done believe me. Imogen describes those upward strokes as being like a whisper on the page, but I swear mine were more of a screech to begin with.
We then moved on to practicing the letters themselves, by partaking in one of my favourite exercises (if only because it gave me the illusion I was actually good for a moment) – tracing. By the time I’d traced the whole alphabet I almost felt like I had a handle on things (I’m pretty good at looking at something and learning to copy it, it’s when I’m left to my own devices that I’m not so good) but then came the really hard part – joining the letters up to form words. Who knew making one letter lead onto another could be so difficult?
How it should look – some of Imogen Owen’s examples…
In my defence I perhaps started with too large a mission – we were told to pick a word (or phrase) to practice and break it down into sections before eventually joining each section up. Instead of choosing ‘hello’ or ‘love’ as I later wished, I embarked on a wedding related phrase I wanted to learn for one of our signs – ‘Welcome to our Winter Wedding Weekend’ – and let me tell you that many W’s will drive anyone crazy after two hours of fierce concentration. After a little frustration, and a few failed attempts I quickly realised my mistake and went back to simpler words.
They key they say, is practice. And so, I’ve been trying hard since to dedicate the odd evening here and there to just practicing that alphabet, and I think it’s slowly paying off. I’ve not attempted those W’s again just yet but I am focusing on a more simple task – learning to write ‘Jac and Stu’ beautifully (check my Instagram to see where I’m at for the moment). Once I get that, all I’ll need to do is master the names of every friend and family member we have for the envelopes (ahem)… lucky I have loads of time to perfect it right? What’s that? Oh yeah I’m getting married in 117 days and probably should have already sent out invites by now – oops.
If you’ve ever wanted to learn more about modern calligraphy I’d definitely recommend one of the Quill London workshops – they’re loads of fun, taught by very talented individuals (who are very nice and agree to write all of your wedding phrases for you at the class so you have a sheet to shamelessly copy – or pass off as your own) and provide you the perfect starting point with which to develop your skills. I took the beginners class, but should you want to move on from that there’s also an advanced level too.
Big thanks to Quill London and Imogen Owen (find her on Instagram here) for a great evening!
You can find a list of the upcoming Quill London workshops dates and locations here.
*My modern calligraphy class was complimentary in order to write this review, however the opinions are as always all mine!*