Have you been pounding the key-pad of your computer that bit too much? Or overworking your thumb on your iphone and now find it tricky putting pen to paper? Or perhaps you just feel that your writing style doesn’t display who you are? Well we chat to Cherrell Avery, Lettering Artist and Calligraphy expert who helps you perfect your scribe.
Q. Why do people come to you for help?
A. Often people simply want to convey something personal to others, that is stylish and reflects their personality. They recognise that the tangible handwritten item has more feeling and intimacy than any printed document.
I also help people who want to write for work or leisure but have specific issues they need to overcome such as writers’ cramp, slow speed and illegibility. I once spent a number of months helping a young waiter write decipherable orders. Children are referred to me as their poor writing hinders their progress at school.
Q. You teach in a lot of different forums, from one on one to workshops and classrooms. Who are your students?
A. I teach handwriting to people from five to 80 years old. It is never too late to change your writing habits!
My calligraphy teaching spans adult groups, the public in museums and galleries (I had a Residency at V&A for 6 months in 2012) and advanced courses to train the next generation of professional scribes.
Like all new skills taking up calligraphy or changing handwriting habits takes plenty of practice. It is like taking up a new musical instrument, or one you played as a child. The motor memory gradually becomes embedded to achieve confident penmanship.
Q. So, would you say handwriting is as relevant today as it was in the past?
A. Absolutely, but it’s relevance is different to the days when it was the main way to communicate. It is no longer constrained by this so it can be a pleasurable and expressive alternative to typing or texting. It is life enhancing, an absorbing manual skill that we can all enjoy. Furthermore, research has shown that the physical act of handwriting helps the brain make connections to aid creativity, problem solving and memory.
Q. The styles of calligraphy you do for commissions are amazingly varied. Where do you get the inspiration?
A. Many of the calligraphic “hands” I use originate from historical examples from Western manuscripts. All aspiring calligraphers are introduced to examples to copy based on scripts from anything from 8th to 15th century to help them develop their skills. They are a rich and endless resource of shapes and styles that can be copied exactly or adapted to look more modern. I also use elements of non western lettering to create a different feel to an alphabet or I look to contemporary art, textiles and nature for inspiration and am forever striving for new ways of expressing words in my personal exhibition work.
Having been a calligrapher for many years I now have a large “vocabulary ‘ to call upon. It is not just the scripts but a mastery of other writing tools and layout to enable me to respond appropriately to the words I am conveying. For example a sombre piece would not be written with bright, dancing letterforms and conversely, a celebratory piece of work would not be written in straight lines of black capital letters!
Similarly I use my teaching skills to help others be able to express themselves they way they want to on paper to engage their readers. I love it all.
Map of Poland, commissioned for inclusion in a memory quilt containing names of death camp survivors.
Original art work, Christmas greetings in 9 languages