modern calligraphy

How a Portland Calligraphy Class Inspired Steve Jobs

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There’s a connection between Portland, calligraphy, and Steve Jobs that often goes unnoticed. It dates back to 1972 when Jobs audited a calligraphy class at Reed College. It happened to be taught by Robert Palladino, a world-renowned calligrapher and Roman Catholic priest who introduced university students to the elegance of the handwritten word from 1969 to 1984 (following in the footsteps of legendary calligrapher Lloyd J. Reynolds).

It stuck with Jobs and he attributed an appreciation for letterforms and the beauty they possess to these classes. Margalit Fox detailed the story of Palladino and Jobs in her beautifully crafted New York Times article, Rev. Robert Palladino, Scribe Who Shaped Apple’s Fonts, Dies at 83. Here’s a bit of the story:

The college’s calligraphy program, which flourished from 1938 until Father Palladino’s retirement, was widely regarded as the foremost in the country, training many respected artists, typographers and graphic designers. For decades, nearly every sign and poster on campus was the graceful fruit of its labor.

“‘I learned about serif and sans serif typefaces, about varying the amount of space between different letter combinations, about what makes great typography great,’ Mr. Jobs said in a 2005 commencement address at Stanford. ‘It was beautiful, historical, artistically subtle in a way that science can’t capture, and I found it fascinating.’ He continued:

‘Ten years later, when we were designing the first Macintosh computer, it all came back to me. And we designed it all into the Mac. It was the first computer with beautiful typography. If I had never dropped in on that single course in college, the Mac would have never had multiple typefaces or proportionally spaced fonts. And since Windows just copied the Mac, it’s likely that no personal computer would have them.’”

Little did I know that when I signed up for an elective calligraphy class on a whim my senior year of college, it would be taught by none other than Robert Palladino. He was dedicated to the craft of calligraphy—pensive, honest, and absolutely aghast if his immaculate penmanship was ever mistaken for a font. He used to tell the story of writing a check at Home Depot and having an employee say that it was so perfect, it looked computerized. Palladino was mortified.

Palladino’s life was devoted to the beauty and artistry of the handwritten word, and he shared this passion with his students. He has quite the legacy to show for it. Though writing by hand is becoming less prevalent or necessary in our increasingly digital world, I owe my own love of calligraphy to this first class—and it’s also why I teach. Whether or not we need to write, it is worthwhile.

I’ll leave you with these final words from Margalit Fox:

Though Father Palladino demonstrably influenced Mr. Jobs, the converse cannot be said. To the end of his life, Father Palladino never owned, or even once used, a computer.

“I have my hand,” he would say, “and I have my pen. That’s it.”

Tips for More Calligraphy Practice

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When it comes to practice, if you wait for an expanse of time free of interruptions, it’s likely that it won’t happen very often. There are a million other things that can come in the way, and I’m sure you can think of a few right off the bat. But, if you’re like me and you wonder how you’ve managed to spend way too much time scrolling mindlessly on social media or perusing that new app you downloaded, you’ll quickly realize those little bits of time really add up.

What if you take those extra minutes and do something else? You might not have three hours, but you might have ten minutes. If you head a few posts back, I talk about this, and it’s really a shift in mindset. Because it begs the question, what are you doing with those in-between bits of time? What about ten or fifteen minutes after dinner or before you start your day or while you’re waiting on someone? Because the key to improvement is practice, and the key to practice is often as simple as starting. It doesn’t have to be perfect practice, or every-single-day practice, or even long stretches of practice. It’s simply putting pen to paper and making those shapes.

I want to help you make that happen. I’m excited to be sending over some tips, resources, words and phrases to practice over the coming weeks for #20calligraphyminutes. Ready to join in? Sign up to receive the emails as they’re sent out. I’d love to help you make time for some creativity in your life!

(Pictured is a snippet of my #20calligraphyminutes, writing out a favorite Mary Oliver poem, Wild Geese.)

Get Your Calligraphy Pen and Write Words You Love!

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Hey, friends. I want to inspire you to carve out a little time this weekend to write. It’s still early here on a Saturday morning. It’s going to be warm and sunny. So while it’s still early and my tea is steeping, I’m taking a few minutes to break out my calligraphy pen, Nikko G nib, and ink and get started with some modern calligraphy. And here’s the thing, I think these words from Elizabeth Gilbert are important. If you write words that are meaningful to you, if you write what you really want to say, the process will be much more enjoyable.

It was years ago, in a traditional calligraphy class (I was learning italic at the time) that I first heard this. A beloved calligraphy teacher shared this reminder with the students, and it turns out it’s true. Though I encourage students in my classes to practice a few particular words that are fantastic for beginners, it really is important to move on to words that speak to you. Whether it’s someone else’s or your own, the process will be transformed. You’ll care about what you’re writing.

So, here’s my reminder for you today, for #20calligraphy: write something meaningful to you. Write words you love. Write what you really want to say. Vent or dream or quote or write a letter to your dear grandmama on those pages. Get ink on the page. Don’t worry too much about making everything perfect. It’s a work in process, and that’s the fun (but don’t forget to practice those warm-up drills).

Happy writing!

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Goal Setting: 20 Minutes of Calligraphy Every Day (and a new mixtape!)

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After a little hiatus (well, almost a year), the playlist is back and this time it’s #calligraphynotes! I’ve told students in my last few brush lettering and pointed pen courses about a new goal: practice calligraphy for 20 minutes every day. Simple, right? So far, it’s proven more difficult than I would’ve thought. Carving out some just-for-me time to cue up favorite songs (hence the playlist for your listening pleasure), pour a glass of wine or cup of tea, and write—well, let’s just say it isn’t happening every day. As I know, life can derail even the best-laid (simple) plans. Not to mention the normal, even good, life interruptions and a generally unending to-do list.

But I’m also aware that new habits take time (and intentionality). So I’m forging ahead. As I like to tell my students, keep your calligraphy supplies out and ready to go. When you have a few minutes, it’s more likely that you’ll practice (rather than, say, mindlessly scroll Instagram) when your pen and notebook are sitting out in plain sight. For me, it’s the dining room table. So I’m doing that. The good thing? You don’t actually need a three hour block of time, even 15-20 minutes will do. And the beauty of calligraphy practice? It can be meditative and it’s actually really good for your brain.

So instead of scrolling mindlessly through social media and the inevitable #FOMO, here’s an idea. Write! Write with a brush or a pen or a pencil or a pointed pen or your favorite calligraphy tool that you found at the little corner store near you.

Want to join me on a journey to #20calligraphyminutes? It can be a work in progress… and nobody’s counting, but who knows! It might help make life a little happier and your brain a little sharper along the way.

In the meantime, here’s the playlist for your writing pleasure. I’ve returned to a few longtime favorites (Neil Young “Heart of Gold,” Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers “Learning to Fly,” and Ray Charles “What’d I Say”) and a handful of new-ish tunes that I’m loving (Billie Eilish “When the Party’s Over,” Beyonce “XO,” and Barns Courtney “99”). Calligraphy and good music make a good combo, IMHO. I hope it’s a wonderful backdrop for whatever it is you find yourself doing on this beautiful day.

And I’ll let you know how the #20calligraphyminutes unfold over the next few weeks. Happy Writing (and listening)!

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P.S. I just listed a new Introduction to Brush Lettering Workshop which will be at the cutest little shop in Sellwood-Moreland in my favorite city—Portland, Oregon. If you’re looking to join for an afternoon of wine, lettering, and, yes, delectable butter (!), now’s your chance.