December 1st, 2016 by D. T. Grimes

Last night, I had the unique opportunity to demonstrate my love of Engrosser’s Script alongside two of my incredible students, Mr. Brandon Bartell, and Mrs. Kimi Tang at a Portland calligraphy and design event hosted by the Oregon Museum of Science and Industry.

While my hands are still recuperating from four hours of non-stop as-fast-as-you-can writing, I hope to explain exactly why I think things like this are important for your writing progress, how you can seek them out, and ultimately how to organize them.

calligraphy demonstration at OMSI

Those of us who have been studying Engrosser’s Script for any amount of time are painfully aware of how the further you pursue this wonderful facet of penmanship, the more you find there is to learn. While some experience rapid growth punctuated by periods of directionlessness, others fight tooth-and-nail for every inch of progress they make up Mt. Norder.

From the very beginning of your Engrosser’s Script journey, you should try to cultivate an attitude surrounding growth that both acknowledges your strengths, and is understanding of your weaknesses. There’s nothing worse than a downward spiral of “I’ll never be able to do this” or worse: “I used to be able to do this, but now I can’t”.

I’ve said it before…progress in Engrosser’s Script isn’t linear or straightforward. Sometimes you have to go backwards to rediscover your way.

Kimi Tang, David Grimes, and Brandon Bartell at OMSI

Letting Go

During those times, it’s important to take a step back and realize that the way we equate our ability to enjoy our writing with our ability to write really well is product of our ego. I’ve definitely felt that in my own journey, and the expectations that I’ve placed on myself have held me back in many situations where if I could have been just a bit more vulnerable, or a touch more carefree, I could have learned a lot.

Participating in a calligraphy demonstration is a great way to take yourself out of your normal mode of thinking and put you into a ‘production’ mindset. The sheer number of pieces that you will produce over the course of a few hours means that you have to make sacrifices somewhere. The first to go is going to be your dedication to masterfully crafted strokes, followed quickly by taking yourself too seriously.

That breaking down of the attitude that you’ve worked so hard to construct is a really healthy process, because it allows you to see yourself and your work, from the outside for a moment. You’re able to witness your creation with less critical eyes, and see the beauty in the elements that you can do even when you’re not at your best.

Regardless of how it’s received by the audience, you’re forced to set that ego aside for a moment and recognize that the reason your there, right then, is very different from the reason that you show up every day in your studio with your Zanerian Manual and your favorite Spotify Playlist.

Kimi Tang at OMSI

Building Confidence

As we geared up for this demonstration, I reiterated a concept that I’ve said to Brandon and Kimi both several times, and that is that the work that we do, as students of Engrosser’s Script, is very, very far beyond the scope or detail that a normal person is likely to see. When reviewing work for another penman, or when creating something for someone who you know has a good eye, we should take the time to appreciate the small details, absolutely. But in an environment such as a demonstration the things that will stand out are much less technical and reside more in the way that calligraphy is experienced by spectators.

For this particular event, we settled on a simple dove design that could be executed in six strokes for the body, three for the face, and some drawing work for the eye. In the weeks approaching the demo, I timed both Brandon and Kimi on their ability to throw these strokes, and we were able to distill the essential form down to about 20-30 seconds, with the face taking the majority of that time, by far.

Throughout the night, we heard many different comments, ranging from “oh wow! Look how fast they are!” to “How do you know where each stroke needs to go so quickly?”. Short of the occasional person asking for something other than a dove, we really didn’t have anyone who wasn’t entranced to see their card thrown before their eyes.

This element of speed offers a couple of different benefits. The first is that it keeps the line moving quickly, and more cards going out the door. The second is that it, again, forces you to give up this notion that whatever you’re going to make is gonna be some ‘perfect representation of your skill and ability’. It humbles you, and makes you feel like you’re flying all at the same time. As the penman, you get to know that it’s not your best work, but the positive reaction from the crowd is incredibly encouraging nonetheless.

This was the real meat of why I wanted Brandon and Kimi to come with me to this event. As penmen, we need that confidence in our strokes. We can’t learn it, it’s not in the Zanerian Manual, we have to find it through doing. The experience of taking something that is so deeply personal and important to you, and showing it to someone in a vulnerable and sub-standard state, and still being told that it’s incredible is not only validating, it’s downright magical. If people react that way to your on-the-spot script, imagine how they’d feel if they could see all of the the small details you’ve been working on? Imagine if they could see your best work.

calligraphy demonstration at OMSI

Making It Happen

If you’re on board with that this is a good idea for you to try, Congrats, you’re ready to take it further than most people ever will. It’s time to put yourself out there.

You can start by brainstorming and reaching out to a couple of places that have lots of foot traffic and are likely to attract people who will be willing to stand around for a few seconds. Stationary shops and book stores are great places, but don’t overlook the value of going into a coffee shop and just offering to make stuff for people who come over to watch you write. Make an effort, invite them over, explain what you’re doing and ask if they’d like one to take with them. Even if you only make one thing for one person, you’re likely to feel a little bit of that magic that I’m talking about. You just have to be brave enough to try it.

David Grimes at OMSI

What about you?

What do you do to learn to relax and take your work less seriously from time to time? Have you ever participated in a calligraphy demonstration? If not, what about it is the scariest to you?