Calligraphy: A Guide For Beginners In India

Calligraphy has intrigued and inspired many artists to revolutionise art by creating stunning scripts with their wondrous talent. And if it intrigues you too, but you don’t know where to begin, we’re here to help. We’ve compiled this little guide that should offer some insight and hopefully, spur you on in a bid to help you bring some letters to life!

Of dots and blots; of scribbles and strokes. Calligraphy is more than just transforming a body of text look ‘pretty’. It is a form of art; a form of expression that takes months to learn and years to master. It’s all around us, too, and knowingly or unknowingly forms a part of our everyday life. From choosing the font for your wedding or business cards, to even picking one for this blog, it’s all possible only because someone back in the day grabbed a pen or a brush, let their creative juices flow, and produced it on a sheet of paper. Having been around for centuries, calligraphy has intrigued and inspired many artists to revolutionise art by creating stunning scripts with their wondrous talent. And if it intrigues you too, but you don’t know where to begin, we’re here to help. We’ve compiled this little guide that should offer some insight and hopefully, spur you on in a bid to help you bring some letters to life!

The History Of Calligraphy

The history of calligraphy can be traced back to the origin of the written word itself, i.e., circa 3000 BC. When the Latin script came into existence in Rome, it was carved on stones, painted on walls, and by the 1st century, the Roman cursive became a part of daily use. As the Roman empire expanded, so did the script. Multifarious variations started being developed in different regions in subsequent centuries, many of which form the basis of modern calligraphy today.

Zoomorphic Calligraphy was invented by Turkish calligraphers who were skillful at transforming Arabic words and phrases into the shapes of animals.

In India, the earliest signs of calligraphy can be traced to King Asoka’s edicts, that were carved out on stone. Subsequently, copper and palm leaves were used, and the Indic script was brought to India by the Indian traders, colonists, military adventurers, Buddhist monks and missionaries. However, it was the introduction of Persian and Arabic calligraphy that was the real game changer. Unique and influential blends started to be produced regularly. The Kufic style of calligraphy was used to write famous texts (most notably, on the walls of the Qutub Minar) as well as to note down the achievements of the Mughal Kings. Zoomorphic calligraphy was introduced as well, and a lot of the Arabic and Persian forms of calligraphy, albeit with Indian twists, continue to be used even today.

Experts Speak

Every expert was once a beginner, so nothing beats hearing about the art from the horse’s mouth. A renowned Mumbai-based calligraphy artist, Sudeep Gandhi loves inspiring people to take up the art. “Calligraphy is all about creating beautiful texts, images, and symbols using the beautiful concoction of one’s talent and imagination,” he says. “Calligraphy has evolved into what it is today because of people who weren’t afraid to break the rules of traditional art. However, I’ve always maintained — to break the rules, you need to know the rules first. As a beginner, and I cannot stress this enough, it’s essential to understand that you’re not simply writing words in a fancy manner — you’re carving the anatomy of every alphabet. Once you understand the anatomy and characteristics of alphabets, you can eventually move on to learning scripts. It’s a slow process that requires a lot of discipline and patience — so know what you’re signing up for.

“In my opinion, one should begin with the Chancery Cursive script. Once you get a hang of it, move on to something a little more complex, like Old English or Copperplate. Once you’re confident enough that you’ve mastered those, go berserk. There are no boundaries or limits to explore calligraphy!”

Sudeep reiterates that no matter how prodigious you are, you won’t get results overnight. “Calligraphy requires a lot of practice and patience along the way. Every artist who has mastered the art form has climbed scores of flights of stairs — there’s no elevator to the top! Practice regularly so that your skills don’t get rusty. And most importantly, believe in yourself. Calligraphy not only improves your skills but also helps you in your personal development and growth. All in all, it’s a wonderful hobby to nurture that only has rewards.”

The Tools And Tips For Beginners

The tools used for calligraphy have a stark difference from your everyday pens. It’s important to understand the structure of the fountain pen so as to avoid blotting or ‘bleeding’ (a term used when the ink spreads on your paper) all over.

Image courtesy: The Pen Chalet

Moreover, educate yourself about the intricacies of the skill. For example, it’s important to hold your pen at a 45° angle to get the best results. Furthermore, you must apply pressure on the downstrokes, but also remember to release pressure on the upstrokes. “In my opinion, beginners should start with cut markers on graph papers,” says Sudeep. “Once you get familiar with the angle in which you need to hold the tool for a certain script, you can start with Calligraphy Metal Tools on glossy papers.”

The buying and upkeep of calligraphy pens, nibs, and ink is a tad heavy on the pocket, so make sure you buy wisely. Supplies are always available online, although, as a first timer, it’s wiser to buy the material from your local stationery stores.

Is Calligraphy Meant For You?

It is often argued that to be successful at calligraphy, you need to have some amount of artistic talent at the very least. While it’s true that a naturally artistic mind holds an added advantage, there’s no reason why the average person cannot take it up as a hobby. With a bit of desire, flair, and a whole lot of practice and patience, you will get progressively better at it.

“It’s imperative to take it one step at a time and not try to overachieve instantly,” says Sudeep. “You’ll be tempted to jump to the advanced bits because it’s more fun to play around with, whereas basic calligraphy can seem a tad boring to many — especially the layman who isn’t familiar with the subtleties and nuances of art. But that’s where your patience will be tested. All you need is a steady hand, an eye for detail, and to let your imagination run wild. Rest assured, the fruitful results will follow!”

Can Calligraphy Be More Than Just A Hobby?

It’s tricky, we’ll be the first to admit that. A major reason for this is that there are barely any institutes in the country that offer recognised calligraphy courses to begin with. If you do want to master the trade, Indira Gandhi National Centre for Arts (New Delhi), Achyut Pallav School of Calligraphy (Mumbai) and Vikrant Karia Institute of Art (Mumbai) are a few institutes that should definitely help. Apart from that, you’re pretty much at the mercy of online courses, local classes, or good ol’ YouTube videos.

Sudeep Gandhi creates and retails limited edition art inspired by calligraphy. Featured above is his Aksharnirmiti Calligraphy Art.

Secondly, art isn’t fully appreciated in the country — so making money off it won’t be a doddle. However, if you learn to adapt, there’s always a way to build a career. Calligraphy forms the basis of scores fields today. If applied correctly, it can be used to produce creative business and greeting cards, design logos, menus, and art prints, and is even largely used in modern graphic designing. In fact, if you’re bold enough, one can use calligraphy to become a tattoo artist, or to create and sell your own merchandise! On Engrave itself, Sudeep Gandhi’s work with Zoomorphic calligraphy and Devanagari script, and Panchatatva’s application of calligraphy on their nameplates and Dsignz’s application of calligraphy on their accessories are excellent examples of how one can turn calligraphy into a full-fledged successful business.

Panchatatva creates name plates with calligraphy-inspired lettering. Featured above is their Double Gauge Name Plate.

If you’re looking for more successful Indian names, look no further than renowned calligraphy artist Achyut Palav, whose exceptional work with Devnagri and English scripts for over three decades has seen him inspire a whole generation of artists, win numerous awards and recognitions, and also start his own school that nurtures the calligraphy artists of tomorrow. Furthermore, there’s also Anaroop Kerketta, whose incredible work with various forms of calligraphy has seen him become an ambassador for a globally renowned calligraphy group, Calligraffiti.

Dimple Pandhi (Dsignz) creates some great accessories with her calligraphy. Featured above is her Personalised Signature Necklace.

So, can Calligraphy be a hobby or a career? That depends on your dedication to the cause, and how well you develop and hone your own skill. If you apply yourself, though, there’s no reason why it can’t be both. Our recommendation? If it intrigues you even in the slightest, pick up the pen, dip it in ink, let your imagination soar, and get calligraphing right away!

Rameez Shaikh

Rameez Shaikh is a twenty-three year old writer. With a degree in journalism to his name, he's an aspiring author with an absolutely astounding admiration for alliteration. Leisure propels him to read, dance, pen fiction and gloat about himself in third person. On weekdays, he works as a features writer. On weekends, he's a Manchester United fan.

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