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Western Calligraphy: A Brief History Webster describes calligraphy as an “artistic, stylized, or elegant handwriting or lettering” and “the art of producing such writing.” Many today consider handwritten calligraphy an art form and some dedicate their entire lives to mastering calligraphic technique by hand. Calligraphy has been used in various forms for thousands of years and there are four primary forms of this style of writing, all of which are distinct and unique. The four forms are Western, Eastern Asian, South Asian, and Islamic Calligraphy. This article will focus briefly on the origins and evolution of Western Calligraphy.

Origins and Evolution Western Calligraphy finds its roots in the Latin alphabet as it emerged from the Etruscan alphabet. Romans began using the script as they replaced papyrus scrolls and reed pens with the first books, fashioned from animal skin parchment, and quill pens. Illuminated texts using various calligraphic fonts can be found throughout the historical documents of Europe ranging from the Celtic Book of Kells to the Carolingian miniscule script developed by a scribe under the direction of Charlemagne. This script provided the foundation on which modern book type is based. Through the middle ages, illuminated texts were produced by the thousands. Scribes from various geographies favored different font types and would use and develop unique script for their texts, pushing the evolution of calligraphy through to our modern era.

Modern Innovators in Calligraphy The advent of the printing press and movable type in the 15th century did not eliminate the art of calligraphy, though it did significantly slow the production of illuminated and hand written texts. The end of the 19th century would leave two young men, Edward Johnston and Rudolf Koch, thoroughly enamored of the study of calligraphy. Johnston is considered, with Koch, to be the father of modern calligraphy. Both men published a variety of books on the topic and each developed calligraphic typefaces that are still in standard use today. In fact, the Johnston typeface was the foundation of the font in the signage of the London Underground and continues to live on since it was re-designed in 1988 and developed into the New Johnston typeface.

Modern Methods


Modern calligraphy still exists in the handwritten form and documents can be commissioned from professional calligraphers. Whole websites are dedicated to the art and tools of hand written calligraphy and training is available for those who truly wish to master this skill. For those in the graphic arts world, calligraphy lives on and has evolved with this digital medium. Software programs have been developed that enable designers to work with and design their own calligraphic fonts. Graphic artists will then utilize these fonts to accompany marketing campaigns, wedding announcements, logos, and many other documents and images. Calligraphy is far from being an antiquated or dying art. It is still thriving through both a handwritten and digital tradition and it will continue to evolve as more time passes. If you are interested in a graphic arts degree, College America has programs available through online and in-class instruction that will provide you with the skills and training that you need to truly succeed as a graphic artist.

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Western Calligraphy: A Brief History