By Emily Glory Peters
Calligraphy—once the stuff of ancient scripts—has risen again as a covetable skill amongst professional artists and casual hobbyists alike across Los Angeles. This past week, they converged at CalligraFair, a two-day event hosted by Monrovia’s own Smitten on Paper.
Now in its third year, CalligraFair has flourished from a modest celebration of the medium to a full-fledged calligraphic playground. Last weekend’s event drew calligraphers from across the country and even internationally who enjoyed demonstrations, a vendor fair and hands-on workshops taught by renowned artisans in the calligraphy community.
Because yes—there is such a thing as a calligraphy community. Just ask Nina Tran, who co-founded CalligraFair alongside Theresa Kuo, founder of Smitten on Paper.
“I’m part of a ‘Pen Meetup,’” she laughs, describing her group of calligraphers who meet to write and chat all-things-penmanship. Running in the same pen circles, Tran initially connected with Kuo as a means to host her classes. After reflecting upon the success of their meetups, Tran recalls Kuo musing on how to grow. “She asked, ‘What if we did this—but on a grander scale?’ All I could say was ‘tell me more.’”
Since then, CalligraFair has become its own pen group of sorts, attracting an avid following of eager learners. All types of calligraphy were covered in the fair’s workshops, from Kuo and Tran’s favorite “Copperplate” style (an old English style characterized by open, flowing shapes of varying thicknesses) to more modern freehand techniques. Angi Phillips, owner of Angelique Ink and CalligraFair demonstrator, believes in the advantages of them all.
“Just the tactile nature of calligraphy, connecting the pen to paper, is therapeutic. There’s so much about it that’s tied to memory and retention and fine motor skills that it honestly becomes a meditative practice,” says Phillips, whose CalligraFair demonstration focused on the basics of building a hand-lettering business in the wedding industry. “And even though this was a dying art, this resurgence has allowed people to take a skill and make a really good living. She adds, “there’s value in that.”
Not all demonstrations were geared towards those looking to monetize their skills. Free demonstrations covered everything from glass engraving to envelope addressing to how to mix different inks and medias.
“You’re never too old or too young to learn calligraphy—I started writing again in my fifties,” notes David Mark, who led the inks and media demonstration. “You don’t even have to have good handwriting skills to write calligraphy! I have my three ‘P’s’ I tell my students: patience, practice and persistence. And if you need help, find a calligrapher that will mentor and inspire you.”
The accessibility of CalligraFair makes finding that inspiration a breeze. Just $18 covered admission for both days, including demonstrations, access to the vendor fair and more. For an extra fee, attendees could sign up for intensive workshops, with all the proceeds benefiting the workshop instructors. Plus, all the tools needed to start your calligraphy journey is available in-shop at Smitten on Paper—which is unique amidst other stationery and art supply stores in San Gabriel Valley.
This year’s event attracted a record number of attendees, an indicator that the calligraphic underground is slowly making its way to the surface. While she’s open to how it grows, for now, Kuo loves that CalligraFair is held within the beautiful confines of Smitten on Paper—and that everyone can participate.
“This event was designed to give people a place to meet new friends; to learn and play and practice a new skill without being intimidated—and at a really low cost,” she says. “We love the idea of keeping it in this atmosphere and keeping it casual. Each year we just make it better and better.”