Calligraphy sure is breathtaking, meditative & relaxing. It forces us to focus on breathing, movements & the beauty of writing. Sitting for hours & writing all day long is magical. It’s even more challenging to leave your chair when you are creating a beautiful calligraphic piece while enjoying the intricacy of writing but it’s not an active job. Soon you will likely to experience physical stress. If you are planning to take calligraphy as a profession or you want to keep writing for many years, keep on reading. I am sharing my experiences as a calligraphy professional & also helpful tips from some of the great calligraphers in the world who are working in this field over a decade.
Before going ahead, I had to tell you about this incident that happened with me very recently. Sitting for long hours & feeling pain in my body is quite regular & whenever that happens it usually reminds me to take a few breaks, to go out for a walk or to exercise. But 2021 was different. I was completely busy due to festive season & I couldn’t remember doing anything else but writing. I was so involved in new projects & assignments that I got stuck to my chair for hours & couldn’t even move inches. Slowly that started taking troll on my body. One fine day my knee started paining, I ignored it initially but soon I discovered that there is a swelling on my knee. I could not walk or even sit properly. I jumped out of my skin & rushed to the doctor that night. My Ortho suggested not to walk or climb stairs for few days & not to sit continuously for more than 40 mins. No squatting. No running. No sitting on floor with folded legs… That was a shock. I couldn’t believed what was happening to me.
My movements were slowed down & managing simple tasks that too with a toddler around me was very difficult. When we saw very less progress even after medication, we had to go through knee MRI. I don’t even want to remember that horrible experience. I was shivering & felt like this is an END to my writing life. I broke down. These past few months were terrified. I was unable to do simple things. My work speed slowed down tremendously. I was sad, upset & extremely frustrated. I felt like becoming a very old person. I realised that I had ignored my health for a long time & now I had to do something about it or else I won’t be able to write continuously in the future. I was so afraid to admit the fact that I am unable to walk in my thirties. During my classes, I always talk about posture, sitting arrangements & how not to write but I myself ignored my health completely due to workload. That was awful !
This incident was a wakeup call for me. I decided to give complete rest to myself & to recover from it as soon as possible. By God’s grace & with the help of my doctors I am back to writing. Not completely recovered yet but there is a huge improvement. I have made some lifestyle changes & sharing them below so that you don’t make the same mistakes that I did.
The first thing I did was to accept that this is happening to me at a very young age & I am responsible for it. So I had to change the newly adapted seating position, the way I write, the way I sit, the way I do my work. From there onwards the journey from sitting at one place to moving around began. Now I start my day with exercise & end it with exercise. Just a few simple warm up exercises for my joints such as leg crosses, arm circles, finger rotating to increase the mobility & strength.
I do take more breaks while writing. I hate this one as I totally enjoy sitting for hours & completing a particular piece in one go. But now I have told my mind to work smartly & to take more breaks especially if the work does not need a continuous flow. For e.g. Wedding envelopes, place cards, name tags, engraving where you are going to write names on different surfaces or different piece every time, unlike writing a letter or a long poem which needs a continuous flow of writing since beginning. Now, I take breaks after drawing lines, after making drafts, after writing & after packaging. Earlier I used to draw, sketch, write, erase, spell check & pack my orders with minimum breaks or no breaks at all.
I had learned to say NO to crazy deadlines & unnecessary urgency of the work. Especially when client insists to work with me & ready to pay more for it. Sure, that’s amazing but sooner or later your body will start responding to strict deadlines. Calligraphy is a slow art, it takes time & you can always ask for more time politely. Having extra time in hand always helps. You can plan better, write more calmly & give best results.
Using more flexible nibs for writing is a game changer. The biggest mistake that I did initially was to use Nikko G for almost 2 years for all my commercial work, haha !! My hands have already suffered a lot but save yourself from it. Use more flexible nibs especially for bulk orders or to write on hundreds of cards.
& last but not the least, taking weekly off. Giving complete rest to my hands & enjoying the day without writing. This is completely new habit for me but I am trying my best to follow this routine. Of course drinking plenty of water, having meals on time & getting enough sleep is a must for healthy lifestyle. You need to do it if you want to lead a happy, healthy & fit lifestyle.
I am doing calligraphy professionally since just 5 years but there are many amazing calligraphers who are working in this field for more than 20 years. That got me thinking about how do calligraphers survive in this field for decades? This article is just not complete without understanding their routine & secret to healthy lifestyle. Let’s see how they maintain their health & yet enjoy doing what they do.
(Suzanne Cunningham is a professional calligrapher with over 28 years of experience. She has inspired many calligraphy enthusiasts with her elegant writing & fabulous flourishes. You can find her on Instagram @suzcunningham )
" I have a few ways I maintain a healthy lifestyle while writing all day. I try to start my day each morning by going to the gym and exercising. Mornings work better for me because once I get busy with work, it’s hard to stop and go at that point.
I also try to move around at least once an hour. That could be anything from doing a load of laundry to running a quick errand. I feel like it’s very important to get up out of your chair, move around, and get your blood flowing for a few minutes.
My diet is very healthy. I eat lots of lean meats, vegetables, healthy carbs, and try to drink lots of water. I feel like this allows me to feel my best overall and helps me with a sedentary job."
(Heather Held is a Canadian freelance lettering artist. She has studied extensively with Master Penman Michael Sull and Master Penman Brian Walker. She conducts workshops in Offhand Flourishing, Decorative Lettering and Ornamental Penmanship world-wide. You can find her on Instagram @heathervictoria1 )
"As calligraphers, we are called upon to create work for very special and sacred occasions. The work requires us to respond with our bodies, our minds and our hearts. It is not just the technical practice of putting ink and ornament on paper. We are fully engaged with the process from the top of our heads to the soles of our feet while engaging our very breath and the full extent of our minds. It is demanding work and we must respect our minds and bodies as well work.
As a working calligrapher, I spend long hours in the studio. There is no set time schedule and I can start very early and work until very late at night. It never feels like work. It is always a joy and feeds such creative passions that I can often ignore signals to stand up and move. I have had to put things in place so I will stop working, change my position and partake in the beauty of each day that is outside my studio window. No matter what your deadlines are, maintain your routine of physical exercise. I have found it best to begin my day with my exercise routine before I start any work on my desk. I also do a mental warm up on paper with pencil in hand to get my mind in a calm and peaceful mode before I begin to do any work at my desk. We are normally in a seated position as calligraphers which can lead to all sorts of health issues. I have a notification on my watch that reminds me to stand up and move every hour. I will get up from my desk and not only move around the studio, I will also look off into the distance to change the focus of my eyes. Some of these hourly breaks are just a few minutes but it is important that you move around rather than stay seated at your desk.
I also build in at least two longer breaks in my working day where I will walk outside, sit with a book and a cup of tea, chat with a friend, or just leave the studio and do something else to give my mind a pause. Our work is intensive and we must build in breaks. The breaks are not luxuries, they are necessities. While I work at my desk, I prefer to work in silence and undistracted. I will be listening to the wind or the rain, or the sounds of birds outside. Mental focus is as important as the skills we are bringing to the paper and that means for me, that I can’t be listening to something else while I am working. I want to be fully engaged while I am working.
Beyond these few things, I am constantly aware of how comfortable I am while working. My chair is very comfortable, I am at a perfect height to my desk and I feel no shoulder or hand fatigue while working. I am also very aware that I need to stay hydrated when working. There is always a glass of water nearby. Over the years, I have learned to develop a very light touch with the pen which really helps with avoiding hand fatigue.
Finally, it was understanding that patience as we work through our process of calligraphic artwork is vital. We must be patient with the work in front of us, patient as our skills develop and patient with our bodies, knowing we require breaks and hydration as we work. All of these things are very common sense approaches but in the heat of deadlines, they can be forgotten. I hope the readers find these things helpful."
I hope this article was insightful & it inspires you to take steps towards a happier, healthier & productive lifestyle.
If you have any more questions or suggestions regarding this blog post, I would love to hear them in the comments below.
Keep Writing ! Keep Inspiring !