The Calligraphic Line: Expressing Yourself in Letterforms

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  • Workshop Statement

    Writing, calligraphy, mark-making: these may seem like out-dated concepts. But nothing could be further from the truth. The world is growing together. The cultures of China and Islam are part of the global artistic debate. And these cultures are fundamentally calligraphic in their views of art and design. It is therefore urgent that users of the Latin alphabet increase their understanding of writing as a living process. Calligraphy is a deeply rooted source of meaning and communication. Letterforms are not static shapes living a changeless cyber-life. Text is a living, changing organism. Writing by hand is the fastest and most flexible way of designing text. Contemporary artists often make use of text. From Duchamp and Dada to the Conceptualists, from Cy Twombly, Bruce Nauman and Jessica Diamond to Jenny Holzer and Shirin Nishat, text has become a standard feature of modern art. Why is it there in paintings and installations? What forms does it take? What letterforms are used by artists? These are questions of great urgency, as they determine the look and meaning of visual language for designers and typographers. In this workshop we will explore a number of ways to create new letterforms by making variations on traditional scripts. Some experience of Italic calligraphy would be useful, but the workshop will be designed for all levels. Time will be short, so this workshop can only give a basic introduction to the principles of designing letters by hand. We will first use a traditional broad-edged pen to write a text in Italic script. But this traditional script will then be subjected to a series of changes intended to produce stronger graphic and expressive effects. Students will be given experimental writing instruments and asked to produce writing with a personal feeling. The principles of variation will be explained, such as varying the weight, height and density of the writing, but also the quality of the line, the level of legibility and the use of text to fill specific spaces. If time permits, we will also make experiments combining Arabic and Latin scripts. The two traditions may seem very far apart, but both are phonetic systems with a limited number of signs, and both use a traditional broad-edged pen. A cross-pollination of the two traditions could lead to new insights. The teacher will demonstrate the use (and abuse) of traditional and unconventional writing tools to produce new qualities of line. The demonstrations will take the form of debates between the students and teacher: students will be asked to challenge the teacher to make spontaneous marks and letterforms. This should make clear that there are no limits to experimentation. It is also designed to bring questions of function, legibility and meaning to the foreground. The teacher has worked for many years with film director Peter Greenaway. In Greenaway’s films, operas and installations, Neuenschwander’s calligraphy has played a prominent role. In this workshop we will look at how calligraphy has moved from paper to screen, from hand to mouse, and from the intimate scale of the drawing board to the vast scale of buildings and public spaces. We will discuss the strengths and weaknesses of various Greenaway projects and investigate how new technologies can be integrated with traditional hand techniques.