May 8, 2017

What is calligraphy?

Calligraphy defined

noun cal·lig·ra·phy \-fē\
the art of making beautiful handwriting

It came from the Greek kalli- (from kallos) meaning beautiful and -graph (from -graphia), meaning, "to write"

Putting these together we get, “to write beautifully”

Definition of Calligraphy

To verify this, I searched the internet for other sources of its definition. While some gave the same definition, some added dimension to the definition of calligraphy.

Mediaville, Claude (1996) as cited by wikipedia, defined calligraphy as:

"...the design and execution of lettering with a broad tip instrument, brush, or other writing instruments"

"the art of giving form to signs in an expressive, harmonious, and skillful manner"[4]

Nico Zardo (2015) wrote in the Perini Journal article Calligraphy: The Art That Was Born Twice that

"Calligraphy is the art of beautiful penmanship... But beautiful penmanship or an elegant style are not sufficient to yield true calligraphy, just like knowing how to draw or play a musical instrument correctly is not sufficient to create art."[5]

The most informative definition from all that I've encountered is probably that which I found from a website by Katherine Beckett. She summarized comments from 30 calligraphers and yielded this definition of calligraphy: 

It’s a set of skills and techniques for positioning and inscribing words so they show integrity, harmony, some sort of ancestry, rhythm and creative fire. [1]

East Asian Calligraphy

What does that mean?

I summarized the information from the website and comined it with my own interpretation and here's the result:


- a mark with an agreed-upon meaning in a language (e.g. letter, number, words, chinese/japanese characters etc.)


- the letters and symbols should be formed by the artist themselves. The form and shape of the letters or symbols, should come from the materials and tools used.


- Letters should be arranged in a visually harmonious manner. Notes are to the musician as letters are to the calligrapher. Just as a musician arranges the notes in a harmonious manner to make music, so does the calligrapher arranges letters.


- Calligraphy has a long history. Western Calligraphy started from the Etruscan, Phoenecian and Greek alphabets evolving into the Roman letters. There's also East Asian Calligraphy (Chinese,) South Asian Calligraphy (Indian, Nepalese and Tibetan), and finally Islamic Calligraphy. Given this, the heritage of the different techniques, tools, and symbols from various origins should, in one way or another, be reflected in the calligraphy artwork.

Rhythm and Soul

- You can see rhythm in the width and spacing of letters. You can feel the soul of the artist/art as you write/read the words.

Creative Fire

- this is the force that fuels the creation of any piece. It is the artist that imparts this valuable component into the artwork.

Pointed Pen Calligraphy

With this, we now understand that calligraphy is more than just beautiful handwriting. Calligraphy uses  symbols that may form words that could be legible or illegible. These symbols/letters/characters are formed by the artist him/herself, and reflect the tools and materials used with integrity (no cheating!) and harmony, without neglecting the heritage of the art. The art exhibits a pattern (e.g. the widths and spacing of the symbols) such that there is a visual representation of rhythm. Lastly, and I think the most important thing about calligraphy, is that it shows the soul of the artist and its creation is fuelled by his/her creativity.

Having said all that, it's now time to ask:

For you, what is calligraphy?

Up Next: What Calligraphy is not: Calligraphy vs. Hand Lettering vs. Typography
BACK: Project Launch: Learning Calligraphy


[1] Beckett, Katharine. "What Is Calligraphy Really?". N.p., 2015. Web. 6   
      May 2017.

[2] Chander, Harish. "Calligraphyindia". N.p., 2010. Web. 6 May 2017.

[3] Merriam-Webster. "Definition Of CALLIGRAPHY". N.p., 2017. Web. 6 
      May 2017.

[4] Wikipedia "Calligraphy". N.p., 2017. Web. 6 May 2017.

[5] Zardo, Nico. "Calligraphy: The Art That Was Born Twice". Perini Journal. N.p., 2015. Web. 7 May 2017.

Image Credits:


  1. Calligraphy is a soulful penmanship ❤️

    Kelan mo kami turuan nito? Haha

  2. Are you going to learn to do it yourself? I want to try this! Maybe it will be my next life skill to unlock...

    1. yes! we can be calligraphy buddies! share with each other our learnings and progress :)


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