We’ve heard from many people that calligraphy is a lost art. Maybe it’s because we’re immersed in the art or maybe it’s because it truly is everywhere, but we think calligraphy is just as popular now as it ever was! Maybe even more so, when you consider the different variations of calligraphy that are available.

Walk into any hobby or craft store and you’ll see signs and home decor with hand lettering and modern calligraphy. And with technology, you can even learn to letter on your iPad.

We first learned calligraphy at age 11 because of our love of handwriting and cursive, but we started with more traditional lettering and old-school rules. And while we teach our students the rules, we also teach them how to break them. That’s probably the most fun part of learning calligraphy!

Here’s a look back at calligraphy through the ages and when newer styles came to be. Knowing the history of calligraphy just might help you decide what type of lettering you want to learn first (or next!).

Origins of Calligraphy

Calligraphy literally means to write with beauty, based on the Greek origin of the word. It requires a handle on correct form and the skill to maintain proportions as it’s composed.

Many languages are based in script and illustrations, like Arabic, Asian languages, and Hebrew. It’s thought that calligraphy’s roots come from ancient China, where characters were carved on animal bones and tortoise shells. Eventually this writing gave way to Chinese ink brushes and writing on paper. Artists recognized that the ink brush, paper’s water absorption, density of the ink, and other factors all had a hand in the final result of the work.

Chinese calligraphy influenced the practice in Japan, Korea, and other areas, where people created their own styles–much like we do today.

Western Calligraphy

You’re likely most familiar with western calligraphy, which is recognizable because of its use of the traditional Latin alphabet. Romans wrote on long rolls of paper using reed or quill pens that were dipped in ink, and later Christian churches used western calligraphy to copy Biblical texts.

Eventually, steel nibs were invented to replace feather quills. They were more convenient to use because you didn’t have to cut and sharpen a new quill, plus they lasted a lot longer. Steel nibs that come to a sharp point at the tip are called “pointed” nibs, and there are also flat or “broad edge” nibs used for specific calligraphy styles. (source)

To reproduce the handwritten work of scribes, an engraver would carve the strokes onto metal plates used for printing. The plates were made of copper–which is where the name Copperplate calligraphy comes from.

Watch us write with a Pointed Pen in the Copperplate style below. We’ve added some flourishing to make it look extra captivating.

Eventually the invention of printing caused fewer works of calligraphy to be published, but it has since seen a revival in hobbies and business alike.

Modern Calligraphy

There are so many different styles of calligraphy that it’s difficult to define “modern calligraphy.” The important thing to remember is that it doesn’t necessarily conform to traditional rules; it allows you to play around with variations that make it your own.

Unfortunately, children are rarely taught handwriting (cursive) in school, often making modern calligraphy more difficult to learn. But if you have a good handle on shapes and lines, modern calligraphy isn’t difficult at all.

The easiest place to start is in our free Faux Real Calligraphy course.

In this video we’re showing you a preview of what it’s like to write in faux calligraphy.

Hand Lettering

Hand lettering got its start in traditional calligraphy, but it takes those basic strokes and shapes and evolves them into a different art entirely. It involves drawing and building up the letter. You can create an outline of a letter and fill it in, or start with the “bones” of the letter and add on to it. Most people do the latter. Calligraphy is different because lines are created in a single stroke.

One of the best things about the art of hand lettering is that it doesn’t have to be perfect. Letterers are encouraged to find their own style, and styles can vary widely from artist to artist.

Just like the modern alphabet and the many fonts that come with our computers today, lettering has been modified and has evolved into a form of art that is so common now in home decor and other crafts.

Brush lettering is different from traditional handwriting because it uses more contrast between different strokes in each letter. It plays off of traditional and faux calligraphy, which is why it’s so important to learn those basic strokes before learning how to break the rules.

Let us show you some of the basic strokes of brush lettering in the video below.

Not sure where to start on your calligraphy or hand lettering journey? Take our quiz and find out!