Get started in calligraphy part 1 – Paul Antonio explains the importance of posture

Calligraphy expert Paul Antonio talks us through the importance of good posture and why it is essential for successful writing

In my 30 plus years of doing calligraphy, the one question I get asked from people wanting to start is, “How do I learn calligraphy? What tools do I buy?”. The assumption is that you buy tools and start working and then the magic happens, because so many people will tell you that it is the pen that does the writing!

So you want to start calligraphy, right? You want the pretty tools, right? And the pretty papers and inks and holders, right? The most important task you can set yourself is learning to sit correctly. Good posture is the key to good writing.

Sit up straight

If you are slouching over the work a number of things will happen. Immediately, your lower lungs will not be able to take in fresh air, carbon dioxide will collect and you let out a big yawn! If this happens when you are writing, know it is not because you are bored, it is because your body is screaming for oxygen. So, sitting up is key to good writing.

With the lungs fully expanded you are much more aware and alert, and that means fewer mistakes, but it also extends into something we rarely equate with good breathing, and that is good spacing of the letters. One of the biggest issues calligraphers struggle with is poor spacing. You can have terrible letters and good spacing and it looks good, but good letters and bad spacing will always look awful. Generally, we inhale on the upstroke and exhale on the downstroke. For majuscules (capitals) every stroke is an exhalation.

This instantly tells us we must write slower. Slowing down the pace immediately allows the tool the time to form the letters. The rhythmic breathing allows for rhythmic writing, not just the proper forming of the letters. This then leads to rhythmic spacing. Try it and I can guarantee you will see a definite improvement in your work.


A good view

The other thing good posture does is it allows you to SEE the whole page. Most people lean on the desk they are writing on, and are usually so close to the desk they might as well climb on top of the desk. If you are less than 30cm to the page, you can’t see the end of the line, you are only fixated on the letters you are currently scrivening and this means your lines might start sloping down or up, but never straight because you are looking at the straight line at an angle. By sitting back and away from the desk you have an exceptional field of vision.

Sitting up also ensures you are not leaning on the writing arm. Another huge issue with calligraphers is the use of the fingers to write with. The fingers are busy, they are holding the pen! If you give them more than one thing to do, you run the risk of them failing at one or both things. Writing should really be done with the wrist and arm or an arm movement only. This ensures there is very little tension in the hand, and consequently will lead to very little damage to the hand, but that is another article on position!

  • Note position of feet, shins, back, neck, head and hands.
  • Position yourself at the middle or front of the chair, never to the back.
  • Do not let your lower back touch the back of the seat.
  • Roll a cushion under yourself for extra height.
  • Don’t bend your neck and tilt your head to look up under your hand.

  • Shins. Thighs.
  • Sit on left side of table.
  • If there is a straight table leg, it should be positioned between both of your legs.
  • Knees should be set apart as wide as your shoulders to allow the pelvic girdle to sit within the space between the thighs.
  • Place feet with one foot flat, the other tilted. This allows you to lean forward (on the tilted side) and keeps you upright on the straight foot.
  • Tilt forward from the hip, not the back, shoulders or the neck.
  • Do not slouch.

  • One thigh is parallel to the ground. This disengages the hip flexor muscle and engages the abdominals.
  • Other thigh is at an angle sympathetic to the tilt of the foot.
  • Lean forward toward the table, keeping your back straight.
  • Rest the WHOLE ARM on the desk.
  • Keep the elbow about 2.5cm (1”) from the end of the desk. This is essential.

  • Be conscious of your neck and head. Avoid twisting the neck or bending the head.
  • Turn your neck gently, by about 5º to 10°. Look with your eyes.
  • Your head does not need to be tilted at an odd angle when writing.
  • Do not look up under the hand.

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One Comment on “Get started in calligraphy part 1 – Paul Antonio explains the importance of posture

  1. lewiskathryn

    July 11, 2020 at 11:40

    This has really helped me think more carefully about how I sit and use my hand when lettering. Thank you for all these very useful tips.

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