Fremont Frameworks

Exploring Calligraphy in All Its Beauty

In the word ‘Calligraphy’, ‘kalli’ in Greek translates into beautiful in English and ‘graphia’ into writing. Combine the two and what you get is an English word ‘calligraphy’ which means beautiful writing, also referred to as penmanship. It is a form of visual art wherein a broad-tip writing tool, meaning a pen or a brush, is dipped into a bottle of ink and used to express symbols and forms in an artistic manner.

At first glance, calligraphy may appear to be quite curvy and classical and it might take a bit of concentration to be able to decipher the individual letters. However, anyone who has had some exposure to Roman alphabets and classical typography will have no difficulty in reading or understanding calligraphy. This is because modern calligraphy has its roots in Roman alphabets since Roman script has probably been the only one which has been recorded over the centuries in the most systematic way possible. Given the widespread dominance of the Roman Empire, it was but natural for this style to be accepted in most of Western Europe as a means for writing and it soon became a standard.

Over the years, several styles of calligraphy evolved wherein each was an echo of the cultures and traditions prevalent in that particular region. To this effect, most of these forms developed parallel to each other and formed broad categories which are discussed as follows –

Western – Europe was the birthplace of western calligraphy and its first appearance has been traced to 600 BC when the Latin script was developed and incorporated for the first time as a mode of communication. Subsequently, the scripting style underwent several changes during each progressive century till the English script eventually made its appearance in the 18th century.

A typical characteristic of western calligraphy is geometric formation of alphabets and a strict adherence to rules owing to which it gives an overall impression of being rhythmic and regular. Like Chinese and Arabic calligraphic script, each entity in western calligraphy follows a particular order of strokes and is accomplished by employing tools such as a flat-ball or round-nip pen, a water-based ink for writing, brush and a knife for erasing.

East Asian – Having evolved in East Asian countries of China, Korea and Japan, this form of calligraphy is enmeshed deeply into the cultural fabric of the region and is referred to as shuta in China, seoye in Korea and shodo in Japan. Style of calligraphy in China varied as per the preferences of the ruling dynasty and credit for much of the script which is used today goes to the Song Dynasty.

Tools used for calligraphy in East Asia are referred to as ‘four treasures of study’ in China and ‘four friends of study’ in Korea. ‘Four’ in these phrases refers to four implements of writing namely ink, ink brushes, ink stone and paper and these are further supplemented by paperweights and desk-pads. There are several parameters that determine the final outcome namely the type, size and shape of the ink-brush, color and density of ink and eventually the pressure and direction applied by the writer.

South Asian – Calligraphy in South Asia is categorized as Indian, Nepalese, Tibetan and Thai wherein each is an off-shoot of the culture practiced in the land where it originated. Indian calligraphy emerged during the rule of King Asoka and was written on a variety of surfaces ranging from metal and clay to leaves and barks of trees. Style of writing was either Kharosti or Brahmi wherein the former was more prevalent in the north-west regions and Central Asia.

Nepalese calligraphy is based on Ranjana script and its derivatives and is used for writing Buddhist texts in Pali or Sanskrit languages. Tibetan culture portrays calligraphy on prayer wheels and has played a central role in the troubled nation’s culture for many years.

Islamic – For followers of Islam, calligraphy is the epitome of artistic expression and hence is widely used in mosques and religious texts. This form of calligraphy peaked during the Ottoman rule and particularly noteworthy is the Persian script which is probably one of the oldest as also the most versatile with its alphabets being horizontal, vertical, diagonal and shaped to resemble nails.