Learning Index >> Calligraphy: an education in letter form

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Edward Johnston

Calligraphy exists as an art form within all the world's writing systems. In this module we are principally concerned with calligraphy using the Roman alphabet. The English word calligraphy is derived from the ancient Greek and means beautiful writing. Beauty implies the existence of an appealing visual relationship between letters and their various parts, i.e. letter shapes that are proportionally related. Writing implies that the marks made bear a direct relationship to letters and to the movements of a hand in forming them.

The American calligrapher Edward Catich offers a further distinction. Calligraphy he says, is like writing because the letters are made directly, without going back and with the minimum number of separate movements. He contrasts this with Letter making and lettering which includes letters built up from many small repeated movements. Sketched, drawn, engraved, filled-in and carved letters fall into this later group.

Perhaps there is a sliding scale with fluent and directly made letters down one end and carefully built up letters at the other; any particular lettering style results from a making process that falls somewhere between these two poles? Most of the letters you will see in this module would be placed at the calligraphy end of the scale. This is the skill I want to direct your attention towards.


Look at these images. Which do you think fall into the category of calligraphy and which into the category lettering?

  • Answer Calligraphy
  • Answer Lettering


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