Calligraphy: A Scribe's Notes Art Blog
Historically, the entire diploma was written out, in Latin, on vellum; either prepared sheep or cow skin, hence, the nickname of ___sheepskin___ for diploma. Every word crafted by hand with ink and quill. A calligrapher would have utilized a variety of styles to give levels of importance to the information. These documents of distinction were often quite large as well. A diploma from the year 1900 measures an imposing 20 × 26. The majority of the text and illustration is a steel engraving with the name, date, and discipline written out in an elegant script. Hung on a wall it makes quite the impression.
With the advent of moveable type and printing techniques, it was no longer necessary to write out all the text every time. Once offset printing took hold it was possible to mass-produce diplomas, awards and certificates in traditional black with gold foil stamping and in color, but the individualization remained a problem. The typewriter came to the rescue; it was fast and anyone who could type could have the job. It soon became evident that the result was less than special. Up until the 1980__™s, most schools and universities were still upholding the tradition of the hand-lettered name on the diploma. Enter desktop publishing, laser and inkjet printers. Soon anyone could print out the diploma, name and all, with no need to outsource.
So why do some organizations continue to have their diplomas hand lettered? Ilze Meijers of The Conway School of Landscape Design in Conway, Massachusetts says, ___With a high faculty-to-student ratio plus a small administrate staff, we always interact with our students as people, not numbers. Part of our attention to individuality and creativity includes our special custom-made documents___ the high level of artful craftsmanship is something that could never be reproduced by a computer printout.___ They had entertained the possibility of imprinting the names via their inkjet printer but the results didn__™t meet their expectations.
We all have the image of the monk, sitting in the cold and dark, laboriously copying valuable information, and compiling entire libraries, one book at a time. As education spread, scribes were not always religious and not always men. Yes, there were women scribes recorded as early as the 1400__™s. At the turn of the century there were dozens of schools for Illuminating and Engrossing (elaborate lettering and illustration of legal documents). In 1905,it was said, ___It is no uncommon thing for skilled engrossers to receive upward of $5.00 an hour for their efforts.___ but the call for such fabulous documents was beginning to dwindle. In the 1970__™s and 80__™s calligraphy enjoyed a renaissance and one could take a calligraphy course almost anywhere. To become proficient however, the art takes years of study and practice, practice, practice. Today__™s professional calligrapher is trained extensively in materials, lettering styles and techniques.
Why hand-letter anything anymore? The reasons are simple. Why does a bride choose to have her wedding invitation envelopes addressed by hand or an organization bestow an award that is illustrated and gilded. Hand lettering says without question, ___I care enough about you to take the time to personalize and beautify my sentiments. I took time to prepare something that would make you feel honored.___
To earn a diploma or receive an award is an accomplishment worthy of special treatment. While vellum is no longer practical or politically correct and the sheer numbers call for some means of reproduction, a diploma or award with your name written out in calligraphy, while getting rare, is still very special. -------------------------------------------------
Mary Lawler is a graduate of The New England School of Art & Design, Boston. For 30 years, Mary has successfully combined her love of hand lettered forms with her skill as a graphic designer for non-traditional books, commercial applications, decorative arts, and commissions. Some of her calligraphic work appears in this article. Please visit her gallery.