My bookshelves are brimming with stories. Running my fingers across the colourful spines, I touch memories of childhood, adolescence, college courses, summers at the beach and many a night curled under a blanket. While the vast majority of these titles have simply provided pure enjoyment, there is a small handful of books that have made a profound and tangible impact on my life.
My entry into the world of lettering began with a Christmas gift. I flew home for the holidays with a bargain-bin calligraphy kit I had found a few weeks earlier, thinking I would take up a new hobby during vacation. I had grown up admiring the calligraphy of my father and his sisters and once took an after-school class. My brother Aaron clearly noticed me struggling with a cheap fountain pen, because on Christmas morning I pulled back wrapping paper to find a clear box of shiny nibs, a bottle of ink and a copy of Modern Mark Making by Lisa Engelbrecht.
I found myself swept up in the colourful pages, amazed to find details on everything from traditional Roman capitals to vintage pointed pen styles to funky scripts and even graffiti inspired lettering. Lisa’s writing voice is warm and down-to-earth, and her philosophy about calligraphy is remarkably refreshing.
"For me, lettering represents an opportunity for uninterrupted inhibition, expressing oneself with spontaneity! It is a joyful, intuitive, physical act."
She begins with a simple yet comprehensive overview of supplies, including a fantastic picture of her “grungy personal collection” of pen holders. Shiny new supplies are great, but I always relish the opportunity to see an artist’s most well-worn, well-loved tools. The book is full of alphabet exemplars (which break down the direction of strokes for each letter), as well as numerous samples of calligraphy and artwork from a diverse array of lettering artists.
When I turned to the Resources page at the back of the book, I had to blink twice. Lisa had included a website link for the Society for Calligraphy, her guild in Southern California. Wait, what? At this time, I was living in Los Angeles and had no idea that calligraphy guilds even existed, much less in my own neighbourhood.
When I returned back to LA after the Christmas vacation, I dove in head first. I showed up at an annual general meeting for the society, bright-eyed and eager, not knowing a single soul in the room. Little did I know, a whole new world was revealing itself to me. I not only got to meet Lisa but also Carrie Imai, now a dear friend and mentor. I enrolled in classes, took workshops and was encouraged to join the guild’s board. I attended my first calligraphy conference (four days of pure heaven), edited the society’s Calligraph journal and eventually began to take commissioned work. And upon moving to Montreal, it was the calligraphy community that welcomed me to my new home in La Belle Province.
And I still marvel how it all began with the gift of a book.