Duluth calligrapher pens ‘The Lost Art of Handwriting’
Brenna Jordan took her time, gliding a metallic pen in swoops and swirls on labels in her Lakeside studio. The Duluth woman has been creating invitations, cards and more through her business Calligraphy by Brenna for years. In March, she released "The Lost Art of Handwriting."
It's nearly 200 pages of history, exercises and tidbits such as how George Clooney uses pen and paper for all his projects.
Its tagline, "rediscover the beauty and power of penmanship," points to a potentially quizzical topic in an increasingly digital age. It's one the author addresses in the first pages of the book. "Neurologists have discovered that freewriting can improve neural connections in our brains and spark creativity," she writes. More follows about handwriting as insight to the personality, how it can relieve stress.
People crave a personal touch and a lack of perfection that you don't get in an email or document, she said. (Jordan addresses this with a handwritten logo of her name in her email signature.)
And, she said, penmanship is seeing a resurgence.
In Duluth Public Schools, handwriting is taught in kindergarten, and cursive continues in the curriculum through 4th grade. But around the nation, cursive was disappearing as many states adopted national standards that did not require it, according to a 2013 Washington Post article. In September 2018, the newspaper also reported a cursive comeback.
Handwriting is raw and organic; it evokes emotions and connections to history, Jordan said, noting letters from her husband.
"These tender moments in life are enriched by taking a little extra time to slow down and use pen and paper," she writes.
It was a search for #handwriting and #calligraphy hashtags that led to Jordan's book.
Last year, Cate Coulacos Prato spotted Jordan's Instagram account and its videos of hand-drawn words such as "Double letters" and "Happiness" in sweeping moves. Watching the clips is relaxing to say the least, and Prato said she was impressed by Jordan's "simple yet elegant presentation."
The senior acquisitions editor at Adams Media (an off-shoot of Simon and Schuster) eventually pitched a book idea with Jordan at the helm. They wanted a fun, interactive and light-hearted book for adults unlike the workbooks of yore, and both the author and editor are happy with the end result.
Prato described her own handwriting as "nearly illegible."
While she sees the value in it, noting the journals of her grandparents who immigrated from Greece, "I, like many people, am always in a rush, and personally I lack patience," she said by email.
After working on this book with Jordan, Prato said she acknowledges the benefits of taking her time, for herself, and for the people reading her writing. "It's a gift to them, really."
Jordan said she sees a place for keyboards and handwriting.
"I'm not going to stop driving my car because it's very convenient, but I'm not going to stop walking the lakewalk either," she said.
Jordan started with a calligraphy kit in eighth grade. Four years ago, she launched her Calligraphy by Brenna. Before that, she called herself a "closet calligrapher" because she didn't advertise or self-promote.
Calligraphy is different than handwriting, she said. You get the nuance of the strokes and the strikes, and there are many ways to achieve different looks through slant, size, pressure.
Jordan studied for years different "hands," or handwriting styles. Her go-to tools range from an oblique pen and ink well to liquid watercolors. Her favorite tool is whatever's in her hand, and she loves writing G's, C's and B's.
The key is consistency and legibility, also size, spacing, angles and pressure, she said. She's also a fan of flourishing, or optional embellishment, which she does by incorporating rain drops in a drawing of the word "April" or leaves on the word "Growth."
And she's intentional when mixing styles and words — a Celtic option for an Irish quote, something formal gothic for a Bible verse.
"The lettering doesn't just say the words, it also expresses the meaning," she said.
Jordan works on a big wooden table with small ink stains she tries to cover up. There's a rainbow of different writing tools, a plastic palette, bottles of liquid watercolor ink.
On the wall are canvases written in different hands with sayings like "Love and you will have an occupation."
In nearby cupboards are stacks of pages from old notebooks covered with elegant alphabets in pencil. When she invents a new style, she files it here.
Her everyday handwriting doesn't mimic her calligraphy, and it changes with her mood. Sometimes, it's neat; sometimes, it's messy.
She's a doodler, always has been, and she travels with a notebook and writing tools.
Her work is never exactly perfect, she said, but "That's part of the beauty of handwriting because we're not perfect."
If you want to improve, make time for it and start small, such as writing the lyrics to your favorite song. It is a beautiful and functional skill that offers a window into a person, and she hopes her work and her book will help preserve it.
"People need language, so you might as well make it attractive and eye-catching."
• Visit Brenna Jordan's Instagram page: https://www.instagram.com/calligraphybybrenna/?hl=en