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Calligraphy, Handwriting and the Alphabet

Overview:

This lesson explores the history of calligraphy, the art of beautiful writing and its influence on the art world. While utilizing internet resources and students' creativity, students will produce projects using writing skills and unique tools.

Featured Artist: Inga Dubay

Video Description: Inga is a Portland artist whose life was changed by taking a calligraphy class. She melds her calligraphic skills with her background in painting. She also has become an expert on Italic handwriting, a writing system given to us from the Italian Renaissance. She sees handwriting as having a voice; it is very personal, it is what we are about, it identifies us as does our walk or our thumbprint.

Clip Length: 5:50 minutes

Themes Explored in this Unit:

  • Handwriting: the handwritten note or letter versus email or type; the history of handwriting and reading during the Renaissance; the Italic script itself being very beautiful and legible.
  • Calligraphy: the art of beautiful writing. Traditional western calligraphy dating from medieval scribes developing into contemporary calligraphy, letter design and typography, even graffiti, which is not a new thing.
  • History: the history of our alphabet (calligraphy and handwriting) directly follows the history of western civilization, from Mesopotamia (the Cradle of Civilization), Greece and Rome through the Italian Renaissance to now. Writing was unified under Charlemagne and his scribe Alcuin of York
  • How color can be used to enhance calligraphy producing what could be called calligraphic paintings.

Notes to Teachers About this Lesson Plan:

Inga mentions in this unit two historical references: the Italian Renaissance and William Morris, the Renaissance giving us beautiful letterforms and Mr. Morris elevating everyday things to art including handwriting, which has been called “everyman’s art.” This can be a start for the study of the Renaissance as well as a look into the Arts and Crafts movement of the mid 1800’s, as a response to the Industrial Revolution. We are going through a similar thing now with the event of the computer age.
Color can also be discussed and how it creates a mood in artwork. Interdisciplinary subjects could include history of course, philosophy, English (there is always new vocabulary in studying something new).

ACTIVITY 1: OUR ALPHABET

Objectives:

  • Students will view the video about Inga Dubay (5:50 minutes).
  • Students will discuss and investigate (with help from the internet and research books) the origin of our Roman alphabet (look at the Phoenicians and Greeks), letter by letter.
  • Students will create a collaborative chart listing the 26 letters and their origins.

Estimated Time Needed for Activity:

Two 50--60 minute sessions:
First Session for viewing, discussing and researching.
Second Session to create the collaborative chart.

Notes:

  • A valuable resource that includes much of this information in a nutshell is the book, Write Now, a Complete Self Teaching Program for Better Handwriting, by Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay pages 13--31 and pages 75--83 for reference.
  • Also each student could be assigned a letter to research and make an illustration for the collaborative chart.
  • Grades K--3 can use the Getty Dubay work books that can be copied freely for in--school use (a teacher manual is available with plenty of project ideas).
  • Grades 5--6 can also use the Getty Dubay workbooks as well as the book Write Now.
  • Grades 7--12 can do a bit more research into the origin of our alphabet even going back as far as the drawing/paintings in the caves of Spain and France then on to pictograms, cuniform writing and Egyptian hieroglyphics.

Addressing Cultural Diversity in the Learning Environment:

Other languages in the school may have very different alphabet (for example Russian, Asian, Middle Eastern, African). An activity could be created to explore calligraphy and handwriting of those cultures.

Materials Needed for this Activity:

  • Internet access and search engine for “alphabet”, “calligraphy”, “handwriting”
  • Books on the calligraphy, the alphabet and possibly typography
  • Map of Mesopotamia (Iran and Iraq…Middle East: the Cradle of Civilization) where our writing is said to have originated
  • Uniform paper sizes and markers for each student to make their letter on for the chart
  • Large chart--size paper for the collaborative chart
  • Attach individual letters with glue stick

Additional Resources:

  • http://www.42explore.com/index.htm (subject index, calligraphy)
  • http://www.columbia.edu/cu/libraries/indivi/rare/images/date.htm/ (for images from Medieval and Renaissance manuscripts
  • “Write Now” video (Getty Dubay)
  • Write Now by Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay
  • The Story of Writing by Donald Jackson.
  • Italic Handwriting Series by Getty and Dubay (Continuing Education Press, Portland State University).
  • Lloyd Reynolds Italic Writing Series (OPB--1970’s)
  • Invite a local calligrapher to discuss calligraphy and the history of our writing
  • Association of Calligraphic Arts
  • Bibliography specific to Calligraphy available from local calligraphers
  • Young Audiences (Oregon statewide)
  • Regional Arts and Culture Council ( Portland metro area)

Procedure:

  1. Before viewing the Dubay video have students speculate as to where our alphabet has come from, what calligraphy is, and the importance of handwriting.
    (For MS and HS suggest that each student keep notes as to their speculations for comparison after the video.)
  2. View video.
  3. After viewing discuss the alphabet, calligraphy, and handwriting and compare to speculations.
  4. Research and investigate the origin of the alphabet ( using previously listed resources).
  5. Have each letter and its origin (or history) on a separate piece of paper (26 pieces all the same size) Each student or pair of students can be assigned to an individual letter.
  6. Arrange all 26 letters into a chart form on a large piece of heavy paper and adhere with glue stick.
  7. Display the History of Our Alphabet Chart in a prominent place.

Assessment

Extensions and Adaptations

  • Students could be encouraged to make up their own system of writing. Reference to JRR Tolkien and his languages and symbols in the Lord of the Rings books.
  • Investigate artists that use letters or marks in their work for example Paul Klee, Ben Shahn, Mark Tobey, even possibly Jackson Pollack.
  • View two other ArtBeat videos that show artists creating their own alphabet marks: Timothy Ely and Margot Voorhies Thompson.

ACTIVITY 2: WRITTEN BY HAND

Objectives:

  • Students will recall (or view again) the Inga Dubay video, paying special attention to the tools Inga uses.
  • Students may try writing with different tools such as a reed or quill or pointed pen or modern felt--tipped calligraphy pens.
  • Students can compare writing by hand to typing: which is faster, which feels better, which makes you think better. Discuss the phrase, "I think better with a pencil in my hand."
  • Students may try a crash course in Italic Calligraphy.

Estimated Time Needed for Activity:

One 54--60 minute session for discussion and tool experimentation
Two 60--minute sessions for a crash course in Italic Calligraphy

Notes:

  • The crash course would be a very fast overview of how to use the edged pen to write the italic script, using either an edged felt pen or a traditional edged dip nib pen.
  • There are several calligraphers state wide that are willing to come into the classroom to demonstrate or help with teaching calligraphy. Also Young Audiences and the Regional Arts and Culture Council has an artist list that can accommodate certain disciplines as well.
  • In learning calligraphy it is very good to have real phrases for students to write out. It does little good to just practice the alphabet over and over. This might be a good lead in to some Shakespearian work. Shakespeare looks great in calligraphy.
  • Encourage students to write a lot and try large as well as small writing. Emphasize they are not wasting paper. Sometimes that thought hinders their enjoyment and progress. All of this paper can be recycled.
  • Objective #4 from above," a crash course in Italic Calligraphy" could be an activity on its own.

Addressing Cultural Diversity in the Learning Environment:

Other languages will have different alphabets that can be explored as well.

Materials Needed for this Activity:

  • Historical tools as well as modern writing tools for exploration: a cut reed or bamboo pen, a quill pen, a pointed Spencerian or Copperplate pen, modern edged felt tipped pens, a dip nib pen (Speedball C--2), regular pencil and/ or a carpenters pencil, even a stick.
  • Paper and lots of it. Computer paper works well, especially out--of--date stuff. Please encourage students to write a lot and remind them that they are not wasting paper. It can be recycled.
  • Possibly a typewriter in addition to a keyboard. How different are they?
  • Instructional materials for Italic Calligraphy
  • Write Now by Barbara Getty and Inga Dubay
  • Write Now video by Getty Dubay
  • Italic Handwriting Series by Getty and Dubay (Continuing Education Press, Portland State University)
  • Edged felt tip pen, a 2.0 or 3.0 mm size available at art stores

Additional Resources:

  • http://www.42explore.com/index.htm (subject index calligraphy)
  • www.eNASCO.com (For art supplies)
  • Write Now and Italic Letters by Getty, Dubay
  • Invite a local calligrapher to give two lessons on Italic Calligraphy.
  • Young Audiences (Statewide in Oregon…they can provide a list of artists from which to hire)
  • Regional Arts And Culture Council (Mult. Wash. Columbia and Clack Co.)

Procedure:

  1. Break up students into small groups ( 4 or 5)
  2. Create “writing stations” for each group to visit. Each station will have a different writing tool (for example station one will have 5 bamboo pens and ink for the group to try. Station two will have 5 pointed pens and ink to use. Station three might have chop sticks and ink to try).
  3. Allow each group 3--5 minutes at each station.
  4. After each group has tried all stations, gather as a group and discuss the merits of writing by hand and typing.
  5. Ask the question “ Do you think better with a pencil in your hand?”
  6. The calligraphy lesson would be best served by a teacher that has done a bit of calligraphy or inviting or hiring a calligrapher to provide this service.

Assessment

Extensions and Adaptations

  • LIST EXTENSIONS HERE

ACTIVITY 3: Understanding Color Simply

Objectives:

  • Students will recall or view again the Inga Dubay video, paying special attention to the section on her color chart.
  • Students and teacher will discuss color terminology (or nomenclature).
  • Students will make their own color wheel.

Estimated Time Needed for Activity:

One 45--90 minute session depending on grade level

Notes:

  • Grades K--3 can make a basic primary color wheel: red, yellow and blue.
  • Grades 4th to middle school can go further with secondary colors of orange, violet and green.
  • Grades in middle school to high school can go on to tertiaries, hue and value.
  • Color awareness is developed through experience and trial and error. A sense of color can be cultivated by observation and actually mixing colors. A very useful starting point is making a colorwheel.
  • The COLOR WHEEL is a method for identifying color relationships at a glance. It can be simply composed of 3 primaries or the addition of 3 secondaries or the addition of 6 tertiaries.
  • PRIMARY COLORS: red, yellow and blue (No mixtures yield these colors but other colors are derived from them.)
  • SECONDARY COLORS: colors that are produced by mixing primary colors: R+Y=orange; R+B=violet; B+Y=green.
  • TERTIARY COLORS: colors produced by mixing adjacent primary and secondary colors: Y+G=yellow green; B+G= blue green; Y+O= yellow orange; R+O= red orange; B+V= blue violet; R+V=red violet.
  • PROPERTIES OF COLOR:
    • HUE refers to the name of the color or kind of color such as red, blue, red violet, blue green etc.
    • VALUE refers to the degree of darkness and lightness of a color. In opaque paints such as gouache or oils this means adding white or black. In transparent watercolor, the addition of water changes the value. When white is added it is called light or tint. (for example pink is called a tint but is a light or high value of red). Black is added to create a dark or low value often called a shade.
    • INTENSITY refers to the brightness or dullness of a color. Paint cannot be made more brilliant by mixing a color can be dulled by adding its complement to it. The complement of a color is the color directly across from it on the color wheel. When mixed together in fairly equal amounts a neutral grey or brown should result.(the phrase “ the colors are muddied “ refer to the mixing of too many colors and their complements.

Materials Needed for this Activity:

  • Stout paper for painting
  • Water--based paint (tempera or watercolor paints in a pan or tubes)
  • Pencil and compass to make a circle
  • Paint brushes of varying sizes
  • Water containers
  • Mixing palettes (paper plates work well)

Procedure:

  1. Students and teacher talk about color. Color evokes emotional responses: half personal likes and dislikes, half cultural. What is each students favorite color? What does RED say to the students? What does BLUE say? List these responses on the board.
  2. Students will make their own color wheels for future reference.
  3. Make a 6 or 8 inch diameter circle.
  4. Divide the circle into a pie ( 3 pieces for k--3, 6 pieces for 4--MS, 12 for MS--HS).
  5. For the 3 piece wheel, have students carefully and precisely paint in the three primary colors: red, yellow and blue. For the 6 piece wheel, have students carefully paint in the 3 primary colors in every other space. Then have them mix two primary colors to create secondary colors that fit between the primary colors. For example, mix yellow and red to make what they think is orange and paint that color in the blank piece between the yellow and red. Carefully mix and paint in the remaining secondary colors. For the 12 piece wheel divide the circle into 12 pieces. Have the students carefully paint in the 3 primary colors with 3 empty pieces between them and proceed as mentioned above to fill in the rest.
  6. Label the colors around the outside for reference.
  7. When color wheels are dry hang them up and discuss how the mixing went and how different each violet is, or green or orange,etc.

Assessment

Extensions and Adaptations

  • High school grades can go on to discuss tone and contrast, color temperatures, contrasts, complementaries, discordant colors, limited palettes, color symbolism.
  • They can also create a grey scale to develope a more discriminating sensitivity to color. This entails making a gradual scale from white to grey to black, mixing color to create visually equal steps. This can be done with color too.

About the Author: Colleen Cavin

A calligrapher, book artist and Fulbright Scholar, Colleen has over 15 years experience teaching calligraphy and book binding to children and adults. She has taught for Pacific Northwest College of Art, Oregon College of Arts and Crafts and Portland Community College. Currently, Colleen serves as a contract art teacher for Multnomah County.


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