July 08, 2012

Confused Italics

It has been at least twenty years since I last applied myself to learning a style of lettering and I have developed all sorts of bad habits in the interim. Not that my habits were good to begin with, but hurried notes and too much time spent at a keyboard have taken a toll on my handwriting. Lately I’ve returned to pen and paper, primarily because I find that drafts or lists made in such quaintly concrete form seem to have a greater permanence in my mind, and lead to bigger things, but also for the pleasure of it. A challenging pleasure, it has to be said, one beset by inky fingers, lost pages, even lost-er hours and a grimacing dissatisfaction with the results. Having worked through every pen that I own—no brief task—I have had to accept that it’s my handwriting that’s at fault, not the tools.

Gunnlaugur Briem is an Icelandic calligrapher, designer and publisher. I was lucky enough to find a copy of “Sixty Alphabets - selected and introduced by Gunnlaugur SE Briem” (Thames and Hudson ISBN 0-500-27414-2) sometime in the late 1980s and it has never been far from my desk. There is a website at briem.net that appears not to have been updated since 2008 but it has available for download a weighty (40MB) PDF presentation entitled “Handwriting Repair”. It is an introduction to the Italic hand and describes a simple approach to learning it, along with worksheets and samples. Briem has done a lot of work in teaching Italic to children: this level of simplicity suits me just fine.

And so, I have begun. And I have already faltered at the most basic zig-zag level. It matters not, I’ll keep at it. There is a lot of unlearning to be done before I can start learning, and many pages to be filled with scribbles and an occasional burst of frustrated speed-writing to remind myself of how little progress I’m making. It is fun though.

An appropriate sound to illustrate where I’m at with the project would be this, which is the sound of scrolling too quickly through Briem’s PDF.

Update 27.02.2013 Gunnlauger very kindly asked me to contribute to his “Letterforms Report”, a copy of which can be downloaded, free, from operina.com.